Pre-pandemic, I loved the idea of cooking. I made casseroles for Friendsgiving parties. I taught friends how to fry an egg, or grill hamburgers at barbecues. Pre-pre-pre-pandemic, when I was a kid, I would, of course, shadow mom and grandma. Cut the vegetables for the salad, help peel hot tomatoes for borscht, bake cupcakes (“What is a cupcake?” — our Russian guests, probably) for dessert when company is coming over.
But left to my own devices — between commuting to work, to the gym, to New York for special occasions and then back home to Boston, to dinner with my boyfriend, to the incredible sandwich shop because it’s been a long week and I deserve it — something always got between me, the one pot and pan I owned, and the stove.
During the past year, I’ve been lucky. I’ve watched family and friends get sick far away from me, and I’ve (virtually) watched them recover. I’ve lived with a loving partner who helps me stay sane and feel taken care of. I’ve been able to sit around and feel bored, to drink wine or cider while reading Milk Street and New York Times recipes. And I’ve learned to slow down in the kitchen, and really cook — like, in the way I always dreamed of. Like, I actually know why wine can deglaze a pan, or how gluten bubbles inside bread to give it texture.
Food has become the constant I return to: on weekdays right at 5 p.m., on lazy weekend mornings when I have time to let dough rise and rest, on Friday nights when I just want to feel festive. And, unlike many others who are reporting feeling tired of their own cooking, I’m sorry to say: I never do.
But what happens to this constant if you stop feeling hungry?
Around two months ago, something shifted inside my stomach. One morning, I woke up not feeling hungry. Hours later, I still didn’t feel hungry. (For those who know me, this was a shock. I am the breakfast person.) I tried to eat an egg sandwich, and I felt sick. Surely this was a cause to go to the doctor?
Well, I did, a few doctors. Just wait it out, two different ones told me. Eat oatmeal for breakfast, chicken noodle soup for dinner. So, I did, for weeks. I was starving — getting headaches or feeling a full-body cold (two staples for me, letting me know that I Need To Eat). But my stomach still didn’t feel hungry.
The long and short of it is: I seem to be on the mend. It took time to get an appointment with a specialist, and it looks like I may have eaten something bad (my boyfriend and I joke that it’s an undercooked sausage he gave me), or had some sort of virus, or stressful incident, or change in diet and exercise, or or or… The general theme of all of my doctor’s visits has been: There’s something happening. It’s just no real cause for concern (whatever that means).
But between the doctors and bloodwork and my symptom diary and Amazon delivery of the bathroom scale I had to order to make sure I wasn’t losing weight and the vitamin supplements, I had to eat something. Meaning, if I wanted to keep a semblance of myself intact, I had to cook something.
What follows likely comprises a list of any good gastrointestinal specialist’s “Do Not Eat” list and is in no way dietary advice. But it is an honest list of recipes I loved to cook and to eat, even when I wasn’t hungry.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading.
For dinner with my boyfriend’s parents during their first visit to our shared apartment, something that felt impressive (and gluten-free, per dietary restrictions):
For the salmon:
2 pounds skin-on, salmon fillets
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 tbsp. salt
3 tbsp. dill, fresh and chopped or dried
Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine salt with dill. Place salmon, skin down, on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Rub mixture into the flesh of the salmon, refrigerate uncovered for at least 20 minutes. Once done marinating, rinse the salmon with cold water to remove salt. (Trust me, the flavor will hold.) Pat dry with paper towels, place skin-side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and spoon oil over the top of the fish. Season with freshly ground pepper. Bake for about 23-25 minutes, until the fish is opaque and is flakey. Season with more dill, and serve with lemon wedges on the side.
For the risotto:
3.5 cups vegetable broth
¼ oz. dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
4 oz. baby bella mushrooms, chopped
6 tbsp. salted butter
1 cup arborio rice
1 tbsp. sage, fresh, minced
1 oz. or ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
4 tsp. white balsamic vinegar
If you are going to make your own vegetable broth
(I always do), simmer the dried porcini mushrooms, 2 celery stalks, 1 yellow onion, 1 tomato, and 2 garlic cloves (all chopped) in 5 cups of water for 20 minutes, with a lid partially covering the pot. Discard the solids at the end, keep the broth warm. Combine ½ cup of the broth with sage in a bowl. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a dutch oven, and add uncooked arborio rice and baby bella mushrooms. Cook while stirring until the rice begins looking slightly translucent, just a few minutes. Add 2.5 cups of broth (not the sage broth), bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Stir constantly, cook for 10 minutes. Add sage broth, and cook for 5 to 10 more minutes, stirring, until the spoon leaves a noticeable trail. Remove from heat, stir in parmesan, 4 tbsp. butter, salt to taste, and vinegar.