As someone firmly in the ‘can’t cook won’t cook’ camp, this writer was surprised to find that retreating to the kitchen has been her key to surviving lockdown.
I’ve often heard the kitchen described as the ‘heart of the home’ – but for me this was never the case. Throughout my childhood and teenage years my single mum was a hardworking nurse at an elderly care home. Her days were long, working 8am until 8pm shifts, but with handover and paperwork still left to do, she often wouldn’t come home until gone 1am.
As you can imagine, shared mealtimes were out of the window and when she did get a day off, spending hours in the kitchen cooking was the last thing on her mind.
Me and my mum have always been super close and we found different ways to maintain our bond like Lord of the Rings marathons, rooting around in antique shops and late-night chats cuddled up with a hot chocolate in bed. But cooking together and putting an importance on sitting down for meal time every night, wasn’t how our little unit worked.
As the years went on, through university and living with flatmates in London, my thoughts on cooking seemed to follow this pattern: go out to a lovely restaurant and spend an evening eating with friends? Yes! Slave away in a kitchen for hours, only for the meal to be gobbled in 15 minutes? No.
So, I never learned to cook and it never seemed an issue (I like beans on toast, OK?), that is until I moved in with my boyfriend in January. Because within weeks of moving in together on New Year’s day, coronavirus had become a real threat. By the second week of March we’d both opted to work from home for the foreseeable future.
Before lockdown started he’d insisted he was happy for the kitchen to be his domain and had cooked our every meal. But now that going out to eat was no longer an option and our one bedroom flat was the entirety of our worlds, I started doing something I couldn’t have predicted…
You see, lockdown has been quite hard on our relationship. Moving in together was blissful – my friends had warned me of the adjustment phase when arguments and irritability with each other were normal, but we didn’t experience any of that and loved living together from the moment we started. However, that was when I was commuting into London (from Brighton) and wouldn’t arrive home until 7.30pm, had a busy social life and weekends full of plans.
As I’m sure lots of couples in lockdowns have experienced, living on top of each other is hard. When arguments happen there’s literally nowhere to go. So, I’ve found myself retreating to the one place I didn’t expect – the kitchen.
It started on a Sunday afternoon. Neither of us had left the flat for days and lack of exercise, no fresh air and weirdly disturbed sleep (anyone else more tired than ever?) had made us both grumpy, so when he started moaning at me for something that I saw as insignificant, my anger felt immediate and irrationally palpable.
It was like a fizzing, frustrated energy inside of me that I needed to get out. In that moment, I wanted to get away, but there was nowhere to go. I put my headphones in to blast some loud girl power music (my choice being Ugly Heart by G.R.L if you’re interested) to try and create some distance, but moving into another room to just sit felt so unsatisfying.
I found myself being drawn to the kitchen. I must admit, the reams of banana bread pictures on my Instagram feed had slowly infiltrated my mind so the idea of baking was already floating around inside of me somewhere, but I hadn’t expected to actually do anything about it. Before I knew it, I was slamming cupboard doors, dragging butter, eggs and flour onto the work surface and surveying my bakewear options.
Spoiler alert: the offering was (and still is) dismal. For my first bake I decided on brownies, but with no mixing bowls, electric whisk or cake tins, they came out flat and stodgey. I also burnt half of the chocolate while melting it on the hob and mixed the ingredients in the wrong order, meaning I had to start again.
The kitchen was literally covered in chocolate powder, with saucepans spread out across the counter tops, acting as vessels to stir and fold my various concoctions in. None of this mattered to me, though. With music on full volume, a glass of wine on the side and an activity to expel some of my pent up energy (oh, and lots of licking the bowl), I felt a little more peaceful in a way I hadn’t yet been able to experience in lockdown.
After the baking experiment was finished I had calmed down considerably, so I trotted off to the bedroom to tell my partner about the (probably inedible) chocolate brownie in the oven.
In unison, he’d also gained some perspective over the last hour and revealed he’d snuck into the kitchen to apologise once already, but after seeing me flinging around mini marshmallows and clouds of flour above my head, the tinny sound of Shout Out To My Ex exuding from my headphones, he’d decided to leave me alone sensing I needed the time.
By that evening we’d long got over our argument and were happily feasting on sprawling, sludgy brownies, straight from the oven tray.
Since then, I’ve started using the kitchen to escape even when there isn’t an argument. I still don’t have the right tools, and I’m still really not very good, but there’s something so therapeutic about using my hands, going through the motions and thinking about only the task in hand.
I appreciate this isn’t ground breaking knowledge and that many people already use cooking to unwind, but it feels like the longer we’re in this unusual, unnatural situation, the more we’re learning about ourselves and the little ways we find to cope – and there’s something beautiful in that.
Images: Megan Murray / Instagram