Five books that put the comfort in comfort food

Five books that put the comfort in comfort food

Affirming the therapeutic qualities of cooking and great meals, one recipe and uplifting story at a time.

A few months ago, I went on Twitter and wrote about an idea that had been bouncing around in my head (and something I’d been wishing I had) for a while: a self-care or mental health-focused cookbook with low-effort, nutritious meals. Better yet if it were in graphic novel form, like Relish by Lucy Knisley, a memoir with recipes about the different roles food has played in the artist’s life.

The tweet was based on my own experiences; when you’re feeling off and you need to look after yourself, sometimes food can be tricky. You end up resorting to pricey food delivery or instant noodles and the microwave. The same goes, really, for anyone who’s busy with school or work, is on their own for the first time, and/or is still learning to navigate their own independence. When you’re able to get up and do it, there’s just something about cooking something real for yourself that can be freeing, like you’ve got it all figured out, even for just an hour. Coping mechanisms can be an escape, but cooking is enlightenment.


Coping mechanisms can be an escape, but cooking is enlightenment.

 

The next day, I woke up to tens of thousands of notifications about the little thought bubble I’d sent out — from artists volunteering to work with me on it, to other people sharing their own struggles, to cooks, nutritionists, and students in the health sector graciously offering their expertise. Even Lucy Knisley herself had replied. It was an incredible example that the internet can still bring people all over the world together for the common good. (Even if some of them were trying to get BuzzFeed Tasty, Chrissy Teigen, or Antoni from Queer Eye to steal the concept.)

I also received a lot of great suggestions for books that already exist, and I’ve also been able to discover titles on my own. Here are five of them, affirming the therapeutic and comforting qualities of food and cooking, one recipe and uplifting story at a time.

Eat Up by Ruby Tandoh

The Great British Bake Off alum Ruby Tandoh makes a case for an approach to food that’s not exactly hedonistic, but not quite by-the-numbers, either. With Eat Up, described as a manifesto, she finds a middle ground, writing about “cultures of eating and our relationship with food” with a relaxed, enthusiastic attitude. Tandoh covers eating disorders, obsessions with wellness and fad diets, food crazes du jour, science and gastronomy, and pop culture, with influences ranging from Roald Dahl to Nora Ephron. Throughout, she dishes sage advice on mental health, ideas for recipes, and shopping tips — because grocery shopping is a kind of therapy in and of itself.

Solo by Anita Lo

In this gorgeous, out-of-the-box cookbook, chef Anita Lo delivers self-deprecating, funny, and informative commentary on cooking for yourself when you live alone. Make some duck bolognese or chicken pho, challenge yourself with gnocchi or sushi hand rolls, then cool off with sesame ice cream. The 101 recipes in Solo are accessible, inexpensive, and don’t take up too make time, with lots of Asian flair (and other worldly flavors) and personal relevance to Lo — making them a cinch for home cooks, educational for newbies, and inspiring to each and every reader.

Small Bites by Fin Gurken

Roommates Misha, Mitch, Mary, and Minty have been living off pizza and frozen food in their first semester at university, and they’ve decided it’s time to make some changes, learn to cook, and treat themselves better. Throughout their domestic quest, they lean on each other for support and continue to find new ways to define “home.” Small Bites, which is available digitally on Gumroad, tackles smart supermarket shopping, fun and easy recipes, the versatility of basic ingredients, and snack alternatives. Advice is presented as “try to” and “try not to” instead of “do’s and don’ts,” acknowledging that self-care differs for every person and there is more than one way to do it.

Bake Sale by Sara Varon

This is a book about a baker named Cupcake (actually a cupcake) and his best friend Eggplant (actually an eggplant), who have a blast hanging out at Cupcake’s bake shop and playing in their band. But Cupcake has big dreams, and to achieve them, he starts selling his treats at different events and venues to save up money. It’s only in the process that he learns there aren’t always easy answers, but nothing’s too tough to overcome when you have good friends and a positive outlook. With surreal and adorable characters (think a fried chicken leg walking a dog and giant fruits and vegetables), heartfelt writing, and recipes for your own bake sale — or just to share with pals — Bake Sale proves to be a children’s book with grown-up wisdom.

Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger

The Toast writer Ella Risbridger once wrote on her blog about lying on the kitchen floor and wondering if she’ll ever get up again. Everything had become overwhelming, and the one thing that got her back on her feet was an uncooked chicken, hanging from a kitchen chair, and the thought of making something delicious with it. Releasing next January, Midnight Chicken is a cookbook that resulted from that night, filled with the kind of recipes you can do even when it’s late and you’re a little wine-drunk, from soup to pasta to skillet pie. It’s a testament to cooking as a source of solace, and a pretty spectacular collection of food writing, along with moments and dishes that make living worthwhile.