Written by Emily Garbutt 

— 

I’ve never been an intuitive cook. At one point, I was not an intuitive eater, either, and both tasks were a challenge. Now, I like food and I like eating, but I’m still not a natural in the kitchen – perhaps a by-product of time spent shying away from what was on my plate. 

When I’m trying to decide what ingredients to throw together for myself, my thought process has always been: what can I make with one pan? What will produce the least amount of washing up? I’m happy to try new things, but I need recipes to guide me, grams and millimetres and preheat-the-oven-to-180-degrees laid out in Times New Roman bullet points.

I’m not a natural cook, but I like to cook for other people. For other people, I will happily throw the one pan rule out the window. Not for everyone – cooking is an intimate act. I feel self-conscious the first time someone eats something I’ve made. When lockdown began in March, time took on a weird, liminal quality, but cooking for my parents made sure that at least part of my day was meaningful. 


"Our conversations may have started to go round in circles a few weeks in, but being around other people felt like exhaling. We’d keep to ourselves during the day – as much as is possible when you’re all under the same roof – drifting together again in the evening like clockwork."


We sat down and ate together every evening, sometimes at the table and sometimes on the sofa in front of the TV – either way, eating together became a ritual of sorts. Before lockdown I was rarely at home, either out at work or with friends, so togetherness had a novelty to it when this all began. The novelty may have worn off a little over time, but I still appreciated it. 

Our conversations may have started to go round in circles a few weeks in, but being around other people felt like exhaling. We’d keep to ourselves during the day – as much as is possible when you’re all under the same roof – drifting together again in the evening like clockwork. Working from home was a struggle – when I had work, at least. When I didn’t, I was stressed, despondent, demotivated. Cooking and eating with my family in the evenings was a reprieve from those feelings, a guaranteed hour or more of distraction and nourishment.

Of course, I cooked before lockdown. I made food for myself, mostly, hurriedly and lazily; after a commute standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers on a tube and then a train and then a bus, I was tired and I didn’t want to make an effort. But then suddenly I wasn’t commuting, and I had no excuse.


"I take pleasure in the way the skin of a cherry tomato wrinkles and separates in hot oil and the way your eyes water when you pour balsamic vinegar into a pan. I love spooning portions of fluffy rice into a bowl, sticking a knife into a chunk of boiling sweet potato to find that it’s the perfect firmness."


I began to make an effort; to enjoy peeling away the outer layers of an onion and the sting in your eyes as you dice it up. I now relish the sizzle as it hits olive oil and the smell as the chopped garlic joins the pan too. I take pleasure in the way the skin of a cherry tomato wrinkles and separates in hot oil and the way your eyes water when you pour balsamic vinegar into a pan. I love spooning portions of fluffy rice into a bowl, sticking a knife into a chunk of boiling sweet potato to find that it’s the perfect firmness, the sizzle of a roasting tray of vegetables fresh from the oven.

I grow my own herbs now, basil and parsley and coriander unfurling from little pots of soil on my windowsill. They need watering frequently and it feels good to have something to care for and look after, something that relies on me. I check on them every morning, spraying them with water, another comforting routine. Watching them grow during lockdown was a reminder that time was passing, even when every day felt the same. Eating something you’ve grown yourself is a small joy I’m glad to have discovered.

"In early June, my boyfriend dropped round a container of vegan mac and cheese that he’d made for me. I ate some, and portioned the rest up to freeze and eat later. In his absence, I wanted to make it last."


Sharing these small kitchen joys with anyone outside of my small household was not so easy – it required a little more imagination but I relished the challenge, thinking of ways I could still enjoy food with people who were tens of miles away from me. Sometimes this was accidental. 

Back in April, I baked – I made cookies and posted a picture of them on my Instagram story. A friend, in lockdown over 80 miles away, replied to ask for the recipe. I sent her the link, and told her which ingredients I’d swapped out. She texted me a photo of her own cookies, three days later. It wasn’t the same as baking together, or sharing them on the sofa in front of whatever reality TV show we were binging, but it was something.

In early June, my boyfriend dropped round a container of vegan mac and cheese that he’d made for me. I ate some, and portioned the rest up to freeze and eat later. In his absence, I wanted to make it last. It wasn’t the same as cooking together, leaning against the kitchen counter and getting under his feet as I offered to help, or eating together in companionable silence, but it was something.

"I do not skimp on butter or oil or salt the way I might have once denied myself “too much” of these things. Delicious food doesn’t feel like an indulgence when I make it for others, so why would it take on different qualities for myself?"


I don’t think I became a 'better' cook during lockdown. I became a more innovative cook, as I found new ways to share food with people who could not be in the kitchen with me; and I became a more joyful cook. I discovered that when I am cooking for people I love, I don’t care about the nutritional value of the food, about calories or saturated fat.

I do not skimp on butter or oil or salt the way I might have once denied myself “too much” of these things. Delicious food doesn’t feel like an indulgence when I make it for others, so why would it take on different qualities for myself? What I care about is whether it will taste good, whether it will fill them up, whether it will make them feel warm and nourished and taken care of. That is what’s important to me. When I dish up the food I have made onto plates and into bowls, I feel like I am saying, "I love you."