By Sol Noya Carreno
When I was 11, my mum taught me my first recipe. It was simple – French toast – and her French toast is still miles better than mine. But ever since I learned to do it, cooking has been a form of extra therapy and a way to show the people around me how much I appreciate them.
Until I moved into my student house, most of my cooking was undeniably dessert-centric. I would often spend the Sundays before school baking some treats for my brothers and I to take in our lunchboxes. When my parents travelled, and I was in my last years of school, it was me who cooked lunch for myself and my brothers. Making these lunches by the weak light of early morning showed me what a gesture of love cooking for somebody else can be.
Cooking has been a form of extra therapy and a way to show the people around me how much I appreciate them
Living in Durham awards me so much independence, and one of the main areas where I play with that is when I make my own meals. I have always been fascinated by recipe books, and cooking for myself awarded me a chance to experiment and bring their pages to life. No longer am I restricted by my brothers’ distaste for curry or my dad’s sensitivity to garlic. Cooking for myself has allowed me to introduce new elements into otherwise ordinary days. This year, having had to stay at home, finding new ways to have fun and to break out of a rut can be crucial.
There’s really interesting research about the psychological benefits of cooking, and I wholeheartedly agree that cooking can be a vital form of self-care. Cooking for myself and others has helped me with a myriad of the mental health challenges of lockdown. For example, many of us have struggled with body image issues in the past year. Choosing to honour my body’s needs and wants without judging or criticising them is something I’m still working on, but cooking for myself, at the very least, forces me to pay attention to them, and what they might say about my state of mind. To nourish yourself when you need to is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself, whether what you need is vegetable soup or a slice of homemade cake.
To nourish yourself when you need to is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself
While I go on a lot about cooking for myself, 2020 also gave me far more chances to cook for others. I spent spring and summer living with incredibly kind friends who let me move in with their family, and one of the ways I’ve been able to show them how grateful I am has been through cooking. In spring, with five young adults and two parents in the house, us students tried to cook one dinner a week. Researching recipes that everyone will like and be able to eat (two members of the family had allergies) and making them felt like a small way to show my appreciation of their generosity.
2020 also gave me far more chances to cook for others
Back in my student house, one of my housemates had her birthday at the start of Michaelmas term, and we surprised her with a pancake breakfast and a homemade birthday cake. Cooking for somebody else not only helps them have more time to do other things – it’s a way to say I see you, I care about you and what you enjoy. In a year when we’ve been forced to be apart, cooking for someone else can be a form of communicating how much you wish you were together.
Photography by Sol Noya Carreno and Constance Lam ; cover image by Constance Lam