Welcome to For Your Consideration, a series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.
Six years ago, I set out to make the most time-consuming and difficult dish I’d ever made: a lobster bisque that boldly claimed to be “better than sex.” I spilled and I burned and I had to start over on several of the steps. I was unseasoned as a home chef, and I was also distracted by the impulsive decision to come out to my mother once the soup was finished, a goal I did not meet. I wrote about it right here on this very website. I was pretty sure I would never make the soup again or at least not for a very long time. Not because it was too difficult, and not because I see my inability at the time to come out to my mother as a failure — that shit just takes up an entire day and, as delicious as it is, is really just an appetizer and not even the main attraction. It demands a very special occasion.
Well, what occasion came in the form of my grandmother’s 80th birthday this year. My mother asked me to make the bisque; she didn’t have to say which one. This time around, I was heading into my mother’s kitchen a significantly more experienced home chef. I wouldn’t have to look up any of the terms in the recipe this time around. I barely use recipes anymore, especially for soups, preferring to come up with things on my own or cobble together multiple recipes with my own twists.
But unbeknownst to my mom — or to anyone, really, other than myself and the ex-girlfriend I had just broken up with a mere month before — I hadn’t cooked something from scratch in well over seven months. I had barely stepped into my own kitchen other than to pop seltzer in the fridge or take seltzer out of the fridge, occasionally to use the microwave or feed my cat or make tea. My Postmates spending was through the roof. It still is.
Cooking, especially complex cooking that takes many hours, has long been a way to one-two-punch both my anxiety and depression. Its rhythms and rules — which, crucially, can be broken but still provide a semblance of order and control — act as de-stressers, quieting my anxiety. Even kitchen chaos is preferable to any chaos that happens outside of the kitchen. And I genuinely derive joy from cooking, too, especially cooking for others. It’s something that makes me feel like I have purpose and worth, even when depression tries to tell me I don’t.
The “for others” is an important part of the puzzle and the real reason I had taken a hiatus from cooking. I’d lost my favorite dining companion, the person I loved to cook for the most. The last thing I cooked for me, for her, for us, before everything changed, was a spicy bean soup. I made it for her while she was cheating on me, but I didn’t know that then.
I like being a kitchen top! I like kicking everyone out of the kitchen so I can focus on the ingredients and the choreography without having to worry about bumping into anyone! If absolutely necessary, I like having a sous chef who I can tell what to do, but mostly I like being alone in the kitchen.
When my mother asked me to make The Lobster Bisque again, my first thought was “the coming out bisque!” My next thought was “do I even remember how to cook?” My third thought, inexplicably given the second, was “how can I make this already pretty complicated recipe a bit more complicated?” I decided to make a chicken stock from scratch for the bisque instead of buying it boxed. Making stock isn’t complicated, but it does add a few more hours to the process. I had apparently decided I wanted to be in the kitchen all day.
It felt like the first time in a long time where I had actually chosen to be alone. I was alone all the time in the months after the affair. I was alone all the time during the affair, too. Even when she was around, I was usually alone. I hated being alone, and it made me want to hold on despite so many things telling me to let go. Even now, I still struggle with solitude. It’s so easy to spiral with no one else around.
I wasn’t technically alone for Lobster Bisque Round Two. People flitted in and out of the kitchen all day, relatives having traveled from as far as Norway for my grandma’s surprise birthday party. My sister hovered throughout, documenting the process this time in glorious portrait mode and occasionally stepping in to assist when I asked for it. But from around 9 a.m. when I started making the stock until soup was finally served at 7 p.m., I felt alone in the best way imaginable. It was just me and some crustaceans and an array of high-quality ingredients lined up by my mother the night before. I used my phone to update my Instagram story, excited to share the bisque in a way I hadn’t the first time around, but between that and the actual cooking, there wasn’t time to text or obsess over unanswered texts or let my mind wander to anything even tangentially connected to the affair.
I thought I would never be able to detangle food from my relationship, but here I was doing just that. The first time I made this bisque, I desperately wanted to tell someone something huge. This time around, I just wanted to not think about something huge. And it worked. Maybe this bisque is magic, maybe it’s the Room Of Requirement of internet food recipes, becoming whatever you need it to be. This time, I put my own twists on the recipe, taking control in a way I couldn’t have the first time.
There is something intensely satisfying about completing a recipe that takes many hours, that forces you into a bubble of chopping, sauteeing, mixing, stirring. I’m not a baker, but I imagine that pies that require making the crust, the filling, a topping — like this banana cream pie with salty bourbon caramel — yield the same effects. Every Thanksgiving, I watch my aunt tackle a homemade meringue for her lemon meringue pie, and it doesn’t always peak perfectly, but the process alone is tantalizing. I didn’t even care how the bisque tasted when it was all done (but for the record, it was amazing once again). It was a complete and total escape, one I hadn’t had in a long time. (Maybe it was a bit like sex after all! Though “better” still seems a stretch.)
Make the bisque or the other recipe you’ve been wanting to tackle or a slightly more complicated version of something you’ve made a hundred times. Become a kitchen top, even if just for one day. Maybe watch the feature film No Reservations while you’re at it (I have not revisited it since 2007, but it feels relevant to being a kitchen top). Challenge yourself in the kitchen and maybe fail or even start a small, not-serious fire! Kitchen chaos is different from outside world chaos — it’s true. There’s no need to process anything during the process. In fact, sometimes you really just need to step away from processing things and make a fucking great soup for ten hours.