I’ve heard people say they can’t boil an egg. I like to think that mindset is hyperbole because I not only feel it’s important that everyone can boil an egg to their preferred perfection, but I also believe that anyone would benefit from having a specialty dish.
For some, cooking is a cause for anxiety, but, let me assure you, this is a process of self-care. So, start by making yourself comfortable. Perhaps, change your clothes, make a cup of tea, or pour a glass of wine. Turn off your phone if that’s an option for you.
Take a deep breath, smile, and recognize you are taking care of yourself, and possibly someone you care about too!
What’s the worst thing that could happen? It won’t turn out as you expected? It will be inedible? Give yourself permission before you begin, to laugh if that happens, have a bowl of cereal or order a pizza, and resolve to try again another day.
Before we dive in, what is a specialty dish?
A specialty dish is a meal you make when your friend, lover, or coworker is sick and needs someone to notice and to care for them. It is also the dish you make for company, to celebrate, for yourself on a cozy night, or when you are healing a broken heart. Of course, you can have different specialties for different occasions, but this is how to create your signature dish designed to care for yourself and others, even if you don’t know how to boil an egg.
- What is your favorite food? Especially what is your favorite food to eat if you need succor? Think about your feelings about that food. Who made it for you? Did you watch them make it? Was there some part of the preparation that fascinated you? I love straining the white of an egg through my fingers, to end up with the golden gem of yolk in my palm, because I watched my grandmother do this when she made angel food cake. The silkiness of the white, the color and lifeforce of the yolk, the language: Angel food, and grandmother’s love and skills combined – was alchemy. This is the type of recipe, the depth of feeling, you are seeking.
- Understand that what you want is a feeling more than food. You don’t have to take a cooking course to learn to create a feeling. Let’s say your favorite food to feel cared for is chicken soup. You can start chicken soup with a whole chicken in a pot, which is a wonderful ritual, and I wholly recommend it. But, if the enormity of that project keeps you from learning to make something you love for those you love, make it smaller. Buy a rotisserie chicken, and some chicken broth. Put some of the chicken in the freezer, and always have chicken broth, some frozen mixed vegetables, and your favorite noodle on hand. Cook the noodles in the broth first then add the chicken and vegetables. Plop in a nice knob of butter, and Ta Da! A balm of love in a bowl in less than 30 minutes.
- What if your favorite is something that requires insane skills or time? Your great aunt’s croissants, for example. Choose a ritual instead. An underlying component of skill is intent. The axiom, everyone starts somewhere is true, and all the experts started with just one thing, the intent to do something well. You can employ intent through ritual to simpler processes, like perfect scrambled eggs, or a favorite spice blend you can put on anything. Find a recipe you want to try, get out all the tools you will need to make it. Sharpen your knives, use colorful bowls to hold your ingredients, play music, put on an apron. Spice blends are wonderfully fun to make by hand in a mortar and pestle. They can make the mundane exotic. They fill your kitchen with glorious scents and create a feeling of ceremony. They’re a great launchpad for a reticent cook.
- Make it elemental: honor fire, water, earth, and air. Infusing your cooking with an elemental ritual will give you more confidence in the kitchen. Don’t believe me? Try it!
- Earth is easy, if it’s food, it’s earth. Be grateful to the earth as you prepare what’s before you.
- Water, honor any part of the process that uses water. Steam your face over your pasta; listen to the voice of water as it pours from your tap or the sizzle as you deglaze a pan; save water you cook vegetables in – drink it, give it to your pets, water your plants, notice the water cycle happening in your kitchen. Mark as an occasion, a simple glass of water served with your meal. Recognize the gift it is to have clean, life-sustaining water at your disposal.
- Fire is fundamental to the process generally, but a candle on the table can also provide illumination. Fire is the spark; honor your power to provide this act of provision.
- Air: focus on your breath as you cook. Be there while you create this special dish to give support and nourishment. Blow on your food to cool it, smile.
- A few Additional Suggestions
- Eggs are the ultimate food. They are wildly versatile; they keep well. There is an abundance of simple, elegant recipes for eggs. Mastering an egg preparation is absolutely within the beginner’s reach and is surprisingly satisfying.
- Find your fat: butter, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, lardo, smaltz. Keep it on hand. A drizzle of roasted sesame oil, a pat of butter, truffle oil, crème fraiche, the olive oil they splashed on everything when you vacationed in the wine country. Use flavorful healthy fats to make your food rich and nurturing.
- Upgrade your childhood favorite. Maybe your favorite meal was Campbell’s tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. As adults, we may not enjoy the quality of those products; perhaps, sugar, preservatives, and dye aren’t a part of our comfort menu anymore. Wholesome tomato soup is easy to make with canned roasted tomatoes, and good broth in a blender finished with a blob of butter. And there’s a wealth of fabulous cheese and bread options for a truly grand grill.
- Keep it under 30 minutes. This is a dish you put on the table, when you or someone you love is hungry, tired, sick, celebrating, or in a hurry, and still needs a good meal. If it’s too complicated or takes too long, you may choose carry-out instead. And though it’s a miracle to have food delivered to your door, it isn’t the magic you will feel when you place your own specialty dish on the table.
Do you have a specialty dish?
If so, what is it? If not, have you ever wished you had one?
I would love to hear how your efforts go if you try this plan to create your own specialty.
Hello, I’m Abby, a writer, cheesemaker, butcher, and gardener, following the road to sustainability in word and deed to the best of my ability, for the last 15 years, from central America.