I have a recurring fantasy that goes a little like this: Channeling Ina Garten, I effortlessly truss a garlic- and lemon-stuffed chicken. As it bakes I roll out my yoga mat, grab a glass of wine as I come up from my last down-dog, and pull the chicken out of the oven as I sit down to a balanced (of both plate and mind) meal. But that's not what happens. Not even close.
We hear it all the time: Cooking is therapeutic. Our editor Ali wrote about it just this morning, Ruth Reichl told us that the smell of tomato and butter is "one of the most comforting smells in the world," and even Food52's Cooking Manifesto states, "We love spending time in the kitchen." But short of a glass of wine, my weeknight cooking experience ressembles more of a stumbling two-step than a graceful waltz to mindfulness. So I asked the pros for their advice. Here is what our editors cook and do when they're cooking to relax:
Kenzi: I make risotto. So much stirring—it's like flow yoga but with one arm. Sometimes I put on Terry Gross just so I can hear her voice in the background. I hardly listen to the content when I do this, to be honest—I just space out in a Terry/NPR/radio dreamland.
Amanda: I make something I know how to cook by heart! If I want to be soothed/calmed while I cook, I don't want to worry about anything (such as missing a step or an ingredient). I am also a fan of playing music in the kitchen and cooking barefoot.
Kristen: I've had angry little knots in my upper back for most of my adult life and cooking is literally the only thing that makes them stop hurting when they're en fuego, before I even realize it's happening. Better than massages or Pilates or drugs. It can be pretty much any act: Daring myself to make an egg sandwich in under 10 minutes, the exhilaration of making stuff up as I go, light butchering, testing something new, or making an old favorite, like Merrill's steak salad with Amanda's squashed potatoes, the holiest, most celebratory, fastest, least-dishes dinner I know. Also doing a big-ass sinkful of dishes. Podcasts and music help, too.
Gabi: For the past few months I've had Seinfeld playing in the background while cooking. I think that the extreme stress felt and/or caused by everyone on the show creates an equal and opposite reaction in myself. Namaste.
Samantha: Music is very important to cooking-as-soothing for me. When I want to vibrate on a lower frequency than is normal (for me)—when I don't want to get hyped up to tackle X recipe—I listen to either Brian Eno's Music for Airports or Handel's Water Music. Also, while it feels contrary, I often find I want to try new things to be soothed. When I successfully cook a new dish for the first time—that's meditative to me. But this too: The simple act of roasting vegetables.
Caroline: I like to cook something that makes me use my hands. Touching all of the ingredients is so deeply soothing to me, which is one of the reasons I like making pie dough, and dumplings, and anything that requires lots of chopping.
Riddley: I make bread! Kneading the dough is like squeezing one of those stress balls. I also tend to bake really elaborate desserts. There's something about weighing out every ingredient down to that .01 of a gram that's soothing.
Taylor: I do as Julia Child suggests and always have a glass of whatever wine I'm cooking with. Or, for the ultimate comfort food when I'm really feeling down, I make a chicken noodle soup that's a little heavy on the cooking sherry. I also play music whenever I'm cooking—it tends to lead to lots of dancing around using a wooden spoon as a mic.
Lindsay-Jean: I kick everyone else out of the kitchen.
What do you do to relax while cooking? Tell us in the comments below!
Top photo by Bobbi Lin; all others by James Ransom