Cooking as therapy

I was having a wretched Sunday, full of ungraded papers and free-floating anxiety. (Have you ever really, really wanted something — say, a fellowship — and been consumed with terror that you won’t get it, and also with terror that if you think about it too much you’ll jinx it? And have you ever been so tense that your body started to complain with twinges and vague feelings of unease? That would be about it.) So, remembering that cooking nearly always calms me down, I went home and made what turned out to be a kickass lamb stew. Then, full of good food, I sat down to read some of the essays in J. D. McClatchy’s Twenty Questions; shortly thereafter I found, to my surprise, that I wanted to write and that a poem I’d been working on desultorily for weeks had started to crystallize. And by the time I looked up from the page, the terror had gone.

The stew cheered me up so much that I’m going to post the recipe, even though I don’t usually blog about food. Here it is.

Mediterranean Lamb Stew for the Fretful (with apologies to the New Basics Cookbook)

Take a pound of lamb cut up for stewing. Make a marinade consisting of a cup of orange juice (squeezing the oranges yourself is not mandatory, but it is therapeutic), a tablespoonful of olive oil, a generous grinding of black pepper, some chopped fresh basil or mint leaves, a couple of teaspoons of dried oregano, and three or four coarsely-chopped garlic cloves. Whisk the marinade together in a big bowl, put the lamb into it, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it commingle for two hours.

Meanwhile, make sure that you have the following: 3/4 cup dry white wine, e.g. a nice Pinot Grigio, and 3/4 cup beef stock; a tablespoonful of tomato paste; a cup of chopped carrots; a cup of cooked white beans (canned beans are God’s gift to lazy cooks); a cup of diced seeded tomatoes (the same goes for canned tomatoes); and half a cup of pitted black olives. (Canned olives, on the other hand, are eeeeevil. Get the real kind.) You’ll want the wine and stock and tomato paste in one bowl and the other ingredients separate. Pour yourself a glass of the wine, while you’re at it.

Preheat the oven to 350. When the lamb is finished marinating, heat a splash of olive oil in a Dutch oven on the stove. Take the lamb from the marinade, patting it dry with paper towels and removing stray garlic bits. Keep the marinade for later. Brown the lamb in the hot oil. When it’s browned, pour off the excess oil and add a tablespoon of flour to the lamb. Stir it around over low heat for a few minutes. Then pour in the marinade, the wine/stock/tomato-paste mixture, and the carrots; slap on the lid on the pot and put it in the oven. Leave it for 40 minutes. Use the interval to wash the dishes, do laundry, drink more wine, and watch The Simpsons.

Next, add the beans. Put the pot back in the oven, without its lid this time, for another 15 minutes. At this point, make some couscous to go with the stew.

When the 15 minutes are up, add the tomatoes and olives. Bake the stew uncovered for another 10 minutes. Then take it out and adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately over couscous with a green salad and more of the Pinot Grigio, and all will be right with the world.

4 Responses to “Cooking as therapy”

  1. Kris says:

    This is lovely. Maybe I’ll be able to grade papers and not think about(jinx) jobs and interviews.

  2. Rana says:

    Yum. I’ll have to keep an eye out for a Dutch oven at the next swap meet. 🙂

  3. Michelle says:

    Super. I love this. Long felt that cooking and writing have a correlation. Slacker cook that I am these days… You should read Krista from Arete sometime if you haven’t. She posts occasionally about cooking experiences that seem nearly as sensory-related. Cooking is a creative process, and it’s a tangible result of your efforts, as is writing. It’s also a thinking exercise. You can plod along, planning, staging, figuring, and otherwise engaged in the detailing, but also, you have moments of stirring and staring. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

  4. Michelle says:

    Rana, if you don’t have a dutch oven, just buy one at Wal-Mart like I did 15 years ago, unless of course, you’re against Wal-Mart purchases, based on that mega-store thing going on there.