The Australian Women's Weekly

Nigella Ingredients, recipes & stories

Cook, eat, repeat: these words, the day-in, day-out, never-endingness of it all, no doubt sum up the Sisyphean drudgery of cooking for those who resent time spent at the stove. For those who, like me, find structure, meaning and an intense aliveness in the rhythms of the kitchen, they represent an essential liberating truth.

Cooking is not something you do, and then it’s finished with. It is a thread woven through our lives, encompassing memory, desire and sustenance, both physical and emotional. It can never be an end in itself. We return to dishes we love, not just because they mean something particular to us, but also because our hands feel comfortable preparing food that is familiar. Life is full of challenges – not a bad thing in itself, of course – and although there seems to be an ever-increasing amount of pressure to rise to the occasion of cooking something new and complex and unfamiliar (also, assuredly, not a bad thing), it becomes our food only when it eases its way into our repertoire, that list of dishes we return to and repeat, a list that grows and changes, to be sure, just as we grow and change.

If repetition sounds boring to you, rest assured I don’t mean cooking the same recipes week in week out (although under the many pressures of everyday life, it’s easy to fall into such a rut), but that the very activity of cooking relies on many repeated actions that teach us an ease in the kitchen, and help us acquire that instinct which too many perceive as being some innate gift.

It’s precisely in those many mindless repeated actions that cooking consists of, that allows it to be a means of decompression for so many of us. I’ve tried to meditate many times, and not always successfully; cooking might well be the nearest I can get to a meditative act.

The routine busyness of all the peeling and chopping and stirring can be a balm for the buzzing brain. So → many of the kitchen activities we might dread not because they’re difficult

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