Welcome to Living Wild by Danielle Prewett, a wild game cook and contributing editor at MeatEater. In this series, she explores what it means to eat consciously and live mindfully. For Danielle, that way of life relies on hunting, fishing, foraging, and gardening. Her stories aim to inspire you to live a life more closely connected to the earth and to celebrate its natural bounty in your kitchen.
I know I’m not alone when I say that 2020 has been challenging. This year I’ve lost a relative, had a home improvement project go terribly wrong, and like everyone else, I’m coping with the intensity of our current social climate. In these stressful times, I find myself spending more and more time in the kitchen. It’s where I go when I need to block out the noise and regain my peace.
We all have busy lives, and it’s easy to take shortcuts so that cooking doesn’t take up too much of our time. It can be overwhelming to feel as if we have to plan our meals out continually, because it is! However, I firmly believe that if you carve out time in your week for cooking, it can be cathartic.
I like to think of it as a form of meditation. Self-care is about reserving time to make yourself a priority so that you can better serve yourself and those you love. Instead of thinking of meal prep as a chore, let it be a way to unwind from the day. Get lost in your dinner. Take the time to mindfully create something that will enrich your day, satisfy cravings, and nourish your body.
After a stressful work week, I decided to take my own advice and reserved a Sunday to spend in the kitchen. I prepared for this date with myself in advance by making sure the house was clean. I turned my phone off to remove distractions so I could feel present in the moment. This concept is so important to me that it’s changed the way I live. Walking into my home is almost like going back in time. There’s no TV in the living room, only a record player. I don’t have a microwave either, just an analog gas oven without any electric buttons. I chose my unconventional range to encourage awareness and to cook intuitively. It has drastically improved my skills.
When I’m cooking for pleasure and not for need, the ambiance is everything. I set the mood by lighting candles, uncorking a bottle of wine, and playing Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ album on vinyl.
I dedicated the day to making fresh pasta, something that I rarely eat, let alone make from scratch. I had to drag out old cookbooks and refresh my memory on the ratio of flour to egg, how long to knead and rest the dough, and how thinly to roll it out. It was invigorating to feel challenged again.
While the dough was resting, I pulled meat from the fridge. My ravioli filling would be made with ground venison from a whitetail deer my husband shot last fall in South Texas. Several years ago, we committed to living off the land as best as we could. Choosing to hunt and butcher all of our meat can be labor intensive, but it’s our way of life, and I can’t imagine it any other way.
I had to run the venison through a meat grinder before browning it in a hot sauté pan. Then, I pulsed it in a food processor with sautéed onions, sage, ricotta, vinegar, and warm spices. It created a rich and savory filling that would be perfect for a fall-inspired dish.
As I began to stuff the pasta, I could hear Dylan’s passionate voice echoing in the background as ”A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” played. One by one, I laid a sheet of pasta over the other, pressed the air out, and crimped the edges of each piece as if it were a work of art. I took my time, letting the process become meditative. By the time I was done, I had realized the butternut squash was also ready. I had thrown it in the oven early on and the sweet, caramelized aroma filled the room. I scooped out the flesh and pulsed it in a blender with a whole stick of browned butter to make a silky sauce.
When the mise en place was complete, I got a large pot of salted water boiling. After three hours of work, it only took three minutes to cook the stuffed pasta—and the same amount of time to eat it. It felt like a ridiculous thing to do- slave over a meal only to finish it in moments. And of course, there would be plenty of dishes to do. I laughed because I honestly can’t tell you how many hours went into this dish. From the hunt to the pasta, there were no shortcuts taken.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t enjoy doing this every day. However, I appreciate how deeply satisfying it is to create something tangible that you can eat and enjoy, even if the moment is fleeting. Somehow, I believe this type of work is connected with our emotions. Hunting and cooking have proven time and time again, that I will always experience a reward that is equivalent to the effort put in. This recipe is no exception. The truth is that the benefit isn’t the three minutes of indulgence; it’s finding peace and happiness through the entire process. This is what self-care feels like for me.