I love the sizzle of Parmesan-crusted chicken hitting the frying pan. I love the ruckus of the blender whipping steamed spinach and crème fraîche into a dazzling green puree. I love the aroma of my fall-apart brisket, redolent of tomatoes and onion, that fills the house and summons me back to the oven. I love everything about the kitchen.
In the kitchen, I have complete control. And I like it that way.
When my parents announced their divorce, I found that I was not in control of a lot of things. At 15 I was forced to deal with changes without the help of my brothers, who had gone to college. It is frightening to feel alone at such a vulnerable age. I do not like change, big or small, and this was big.
But in the kitchen, I am in charge.
I decide how much lemon juice will give my lemon risotto with prosciutto and asparagus just the right amount of pucker. I decide how long to whisk my olive oil and balsamic vinegar until they emulsify to a tangy vinaigrette. It often takes a few tries to get my recipes the way I want them, but in the process, I have learned patience and how to have fun. Plus, I get to lick the spoon!
Food has always brought my family together. Dinnertime was important because it was the one time when we all came together. It seemed impossible for me to accept that food could not mend my broken family.
I tend to think analytically, so when my parents divorced without an obvious reason, it was hard to wrap my head around. I often puzzled about the cause of their divorce, and thinking about it took a toll on me. Despite a happy facade, I often cried myself to sleep.
Fortunately, I did both my best thinking and my best escaping in the kitchen. Uncomfortable times call for serious comfort foods, like my Brie mac ’n’ cheese with figs and toasted breadcrumbs, and my beurre blanc sauce makes everything better.
Cooking is no longer just a hobby; it’s my salvation.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to feel pressure: to do well at school, to be popular, to be versatile, to be responsible, to avoid mistakes. In short, to be perfect. The kitchen gives me an outlet for all that stress. The pressure to be perfect is relieved, because I’ve learned to accept that sometimes my culinary creations come out as planned and sometimes they don’t, and that’s life. There are no mistakes in the kitchen, just adjustments that need to be made. Cooking is my healthy way to process everything; I’d much rather make a mess in the kitchen than make a mess of my life.
Testing new recipes encourages me to take risks without any real fear of failure. I am not always sure what the finished dish will be, but as I determine what ingredients to add or what process to use, I enjoy my creative freedom and respite from forces that I cannot control.
Because of the kitchen, those nights of crying have become less frequent and my real smile is slowly returning. The therapeutic nature of the kitchen has helped me conquer some great difficulties in my life.
My mom always told me the best part of cooking is licking the spoon. She was right.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.