Ya know, there’s something to be said for all those people who say cooking is their therapy—I, on the other hand, need therapy because of my cooking.
Early one morning, as I reflected over my decision to cook the night before and seriously considered eating leftovers for breakfast, I came to the unsurprising but still somehow sobering realization that I have a serious addiction to cooking. Just that morning I had said I was going to go home and dutifully eat my chicken stew leftovers before allowing myself to cook something new. Well…I didn’t. I did however, stop at the Asian market on my way home—because, ya know, it made more sense to pick things up ahead of time than getting home late and starting to cook. That’s the kind of lie addicts tell themselves.
I got home at 7 (which is quite late for someone who goes to bed at 9), still giddy with the thrill of the hunt at the Asian food store. As I laid out my purchases—fresh scallions, gorgeous little baby bok choy, and a perfect sprig of Thai basil—I put aside all thoughts of leftovers. There was no question about it. Tonight I had to dive in and make Alexa Weible’s recipe for gingery fried rice.
The thing is, I can’t help myself. In any practical sense, cooking that night was totally unnecessary. My fridge was stocked with enough leftovers for several meals, and the last thing I should be doing on any night of the week is carb-loading. But fried rice has a special power over me, and so, more significantly, does the methodical process of preparation, the rush of combining ingredients in perfect synchronicity with the heat of the stove, the alchemy of disparate elements forming a wholly new and unique material. All of this is too much for me to resist. It’s a drug, and it’s potent. And I need that fix or I start to get real antsy.
It’s not that I don’t cook when I’m stressed or talk to myself like a lunatic while I do it (because I do), and that this in some way can be conflated with therapy, because it hits a lot of the same notes. But in most cases, I cook for the sheer joy of it. I cook when I’m not even hungry or planning on eating, just for the pleasure of making something, and the comfort of knowing it’s there for later, or that it’s there for someone else, or simply that it succeeded. A successful recipe gives me a better buzz than a runner’s high or an accolade for a job well done.
Practical reasons against it notwithstanding, it was worth every one of them. This rice is outstanding. It’s bright and peppery, singing with the woodsy notes of Thai basil and garlic, soft and yielding against the slightly chewy Shiitake mushrooms and the firm, almost crisp bite of the bok choy. I ate it at 8:00 with no reservations, hugely portioned in my favorite ramen bowl, with two little fried eggs on top and some sesame seeds to boot. I sang its praises as if anyone was listening. (They weren’t.) I bragged about it on Instagram. I’m treasuring the idea of eating it again. But chances are, I’ll end up cooking again before the end of the week. Just one more hit, I swear.