Sometimes, when I have an empty afternoon, I step into the kitchen, carefully position my laptop somewhere in between the chopping board and the hob and cook something big and filling over the course of a few hours, watching TV all the while.
Maybe it’s too simple to call it a ritual – it’s just a pairing of everyday activities, after all. But still, I really love doing these two things at the same time: cooking and watching TV.
The things you need:
an afternoon (multiple hours, stretching out ahead of you); a recipe for something you love making for yourself;
an empty kitchen (or, at least, a kitchen you are able to take over entirely, with the volume turned up on your awkwardly placed laptop so that you’ll still be able to hear it over the boiling kettle and extractor fan).
I should be more specific about the recipe: it’s no use making anything too simple, or anything you’ve mastered – I, for one, have finally learnt how to make a BBC Good Food Bolognese off by heart (pretty impressive, I know).
The things that work best include some of my favourites: the kinds of foods you have to assemble, like lasagne or moussaka. These are the meals that can feel like a thankless chore when trying to squeeze them into a routine weekday – but if the aim of the game is to watch as much TV as possible while you cook, batch frying numerous slices of aubergine suddenly makes a lot more sense.
I would like to tell you this is a ritual I struck upon after going through a bad break-up and spending lots of time alone, or something similarly poetic. The truth of it is, it started last summer, when my boyfriend would drive out of London every Saturday to play cricket all day. Either through choice or lack of plans I’d find myself at home, my Saturday stretching ahead of me, golden with the possibility of all the things I might get done. But something always happened. As the slow rise of morning dropped away into afternoon, the golden feeling would be replaced with something dull and heavy – not quite the feeling of boredom, but of wasting something precious.
I cherish time alone, existing in my own space. Even when I’m enjoying time with friends, I feel like I’m keeping a list in the back of my head of things I need to do, that I can only tick off when I’m alone again. It’s possible my bullet-journal habit has made this worse. Most likely, I will look back on this obsession with ticking things off lists and say what my great aunt recently said when remembering how house-proud she used to be: I was a fussy bitch. But for now, I need my space.
One of my favourite things about cooking is how much space it requires, how much space you take up when you do it. The hob, the chopping board, the sink: all become your domain, in constant use even if you’re not currently using them. Set up a TV in there, turn up the volume, and you effectively seal up the spaces in between.
When I take over a kitchen in this way, slicing aubergines, stirring a roux, and going through as many pans as I do episodes of The Fall, I feel like I’m ticking something off a list while also throwing the list out of the window.
The things I like to cook the most could be described as comfort food. Lasagne even looks comforting, bubbling and soft, and there’s something reassuring about all those layers, the fact that the same ingredients could very well have been thrown together into that quick BBC Bolognese, but were instead arranged for you in this way, cleverly increasing the surface area for cheese in the process.
A lasagne is usually eaten in a kitchen that is warm from the oven having been on for a good thirty minutes, and a TV can fill up home and heart in the same way. When you’re alone, you can leave the TV on in the background to make the house feel less empty. When you’re stressed, you can rely on TV to fill your brain with laughter, or drama, or romance. I have realised that, when I’m tired, letting the benign chatter of the Gilmore Girls flood my neural pathways can be infinitely more rejuvenating than actually trying to sleep.
I suppose what I’m saying is, food is comforting, and TV is comforting. When you’re alone and the days are stretching out ahead of you, knowing that you can both feed and entertain yourself is comforting. So, when the fear that you’re not doing enough starts to creep in, go into your kitchen, turn on the oven and then the TV, and remember that sometimes the best thing you can do is make time for yourself – and make yourself some food.