I pressed the widest part of my knife onto the wooden cutting board and felt the peel ease off from the garlic clove. With the same motion, I gently smashed the rest of the cloves then peeled the skins off. The crush of the knife released the garlic oils onto my skin. I knew I'd smell it for hours. My feet ached from standing for too long, so I rocked my weight from one side to the other and kept on peeling. The olive oil coated the bottom of the pan and warmed gently, the garlic slowly started to cook before juicy fragrant tomatoes drowned them and stole their flavor, making it their own. And then it took hours, hours of patience, of stirring, of smelling, of taking it all in.
More than once I sat over a pot and hypnotized myself with the slow swirl of a wooden spoon inside the pot. I watched as kale shrunk down, polenta grains puffed up, tomato sauce thickened up, and tens of identically cut cubes of zucchini softened up. I live for the process and all the sensory experiences that came along with it.
The gentle bubble of a stew cooking calmly, pocket of air after pocket of air bursting into the most imperceptible sound. The sight of that elusive wave of steam disappearing into the air over a simmering pot. The hum of the fan inside the hot oven. The graceful dancer's move of the knife rocking back and forth, nose still on the cutting board, piercing a layer of pecans, inaudibly clanking on the wooden cutting board. The thrill of washing the blade of a sharp knife, tips of my fingers running slow strokes on its edge, trusting it won't hurt me. The scent of ground cardamon, grated nutmeg, minced ginger, crushed coriander- all strong enough to wake your senses, make you open your eyes a little wider to see what is going on around you.
Alone, but never lonely, I share my space with people I see in my dishes- in that red terrine dish I am crazy about, in the vinegar a special friend brought me, in the rose water I bought for a special recipe. I share my experience in the way I chop, in my commitment to straining, in my habit of rinsing rice three times before I cook it- never lonely.
This is an entirely selfish experience, one that makes a lot of sense around the holidays. Not one sound or distraction in the house, but the occasional look at my cell phone, I am in a space that is just mine. In silence, perfectly organized, cleaning continuously, peeling, searing, chopping, trussing, simmering or mixing, alone I am having my moment with cooking - my affair, my quiet time. I cook for me, for the process more than the result, for the experience more that the final product. And it works. Try it.
Tomato Sauce, a stress-relieving recipe
Ingredients: 1/2 cup olive oil; 6 cloves of garlic, peeled; two 28 ounce cans of San Marzano tomatoes; 1 teaspoon fine sea salt; 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes.
Over a medium flame, warm up the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic cloves and stir for about 10 minutes until the garlic softens and begins to color.
Pour the tomatoes in and stir the salt into the mixture. Let it simmer for about an hour over medium-low heat then crush the now-softened tomatoes in the pot with a masher or other similar object. Stir well and let it continue to simmer for about 3 hours. Pack it in your desire jars, keep it in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen for a few months. Or use it as a gift.
Photography by Jennifer Olson.