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The Way To Your Own Heart Is Through Your Stomach

by Penelope Mayfield 11 days ago in humanity

Finding your way back, one dish at a time

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But the same can be true about finding your way back to your own heart. One dish at a time.

People often assume I was born a great cook. Please ask my mother. This couldn’t be further from the truth. She’ll gladly tell you the story of Pasta Gate — the time in my twenties when I couldn’t even follow the instructions on the back of a jar of Pasta Bake (there were only two steps, by the way). But with time, patience, and curiosity, I became a fairly decent cook. And food would become something that helped me continuously heal and grow.

My connection with homecooked food began as far back as I can remember. I am one of those fortunate people who grew up eating homecooked meals, often featuring ingredients that had been grown in our backyard and that of my grandmother’s. We ate out, of course, but the items I craved the most were fresh and made with tender loving care.

I became a vegetarian in high school after becoming fascinated with the effects vegetables had on our bodies. The wonderful thing about being a vegetarian at that time was there weren’t a lot of processed vegetarian foods. So, you had no choice but to learn how to cook, even if just a little.

I continued to learn about the best ways to work with vegetables, and how they could substitute meat in favorite dishes, such as eggplant in lieu of chicken. But it wouldn’t be until I was nearly 30 when my relationship with myself and food would blossom into a life-long marriage.

In my late 20s, I went ahead and had an early mid-life crisis, hit rock-bottom, got divorced, and began to scrape myself off the scorched road of my past. I had begun to reintroduce meat and dairy back into my diet after struggling to find the right balance of plant proteins to make my body happy.

Cooking became a way to not only feed myself but also a distraction from a variety of unsavory thoughts simmering in my mind. I had never had enough money to dine out often and I am thankful for that. It forced me deeper into the kitchen and further away from destructive thinking.

I scoured over old cookbooks from the local library and stacks of printed pages from a variety of cooking sites, including Alton Brown (he has taught me so much). There were many dishes that really did not come out tasting very good, but I didn’t view them as failures. They were lessons of what not to replicate.

It took me about three years to perfect roasting a chicken and making homemade buttermilk biscuits. I’ll never forget that day. It was about 155 degrees out (that may be an exaggeration) and really not the time of year you’d expect to be eating something so heavy. But there I was, hovering over a plate of carved chicken with gravy, warm, buttery biscuits, and roasted carrots with a honey lavender sauce.

I didn’t have any dining companions. It was just me in my dining room with a candle burning, soft music, and a glass of wine. One bite of the chicken and I closed my eyes. I made this! And it actually tastes good! No, great! With each bite I savored, my heart soured with a pride I never knew possible. At that time in my life, I didn’t really feel like I was winning much of anything. But my diligence in the kitchen was helping me to gain self-confidence and view myself in a more positive light.


As my skills continued to grow, so did I. Cooking taught me the importance of patience, not just with the eggs in my pan but with myself and others. I would learn how to temper heat and avoid boiling over. Botched recipes would remind me that one misstep doesn’t mean I’m a forever failure. It meant I returned to the kitchen with more knowledge and tools at my disposal. And successful dishes would remind me of how far I had come and how far I could go.

We often make excuses for why we don’t take the time to nourish ourselves. I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I don’t know how. But there is always time for the things we choose are important. For me, cooking is more than just learning how to make healthy alternatives to restaurant food. More than carving a piece of perfectly roasted chicken. It’s time for me to connect with myself. To create something that literally and figuratively fuels my existence. And even after the most stressful, busiest of days, a homecooked meal is a reminder that against all odds, I prevailed.


Penelope Mayfield

Writer. Reader. Human. Fueled by tea and cookies.


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Penelope Mayfield
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