While walking up the stairs in my house, I saw my brother Mike’s door was propped open. I popped my head in to see how he was doing. Talking with him, we happened upon the topic of illness.
“My throat has been so sore that it hurts even to swallow. I wouldn’t mind the cough otherwise.”
Well, I had a solution for that! An all-natural, punch-you-in-the-mouth and then butter you up with some sweetness tonic. What I proposed was the following: A pinch of ground ginger, a spoonful of turmeric and a pinch of chili powder to make your mixture bioavailable, a dollop of honey, a body of apple cider vinegar (with ‘The Mother’ — a natural probiotic), the juice of two lemons and a little bit of miso paste. This tonic should be diluted into some homemade lemon and ginger tea, brewed from the left-over skins of both and include a shot of whiskey for the sore throat.
I told him, “If this doesn’t make you feel better, then I don’t know what would.”
We agreed, and I went on my way to collect the provisions. After doing so, I went back to my house, right during dinner time. Everyone was hustling and bustling around the kitchen; humans must be pack animals because it always feels so much better when a house is filled.
I started by spooning off the ginger skins. After adding those to a pot, I cut the lemons in two and juiced them straight into a jar. I also added their drained bodies to the pot. Mixing in the other ingredients, boiling the tea and grabbing a cup was done under the occasionally wandering eye. People came and went from the kitchen, asking me what I was doing, to which I proudly responded, “Curing Mike of a sore throat.”
When I brought the steaming cup of hot toddy to Mike, he looked over at me and said, “This is honestly the kindest thing anyone has done for me in a while.” I was so happy to hear those words; they let me see the ripple effect of my actions. By doing something the right way — no corners cut — I could bring joy, comfort and health to someone else.
That was just the beginning of my weekend experiences with food as medicine. What I discovered during the process is that food is always medicine. It is medicine for the lonely, bringing friends and family together around a warm meal. It is medicine for the Self, allowing the cook some time to focus on their hands. It is medicine for the body, which can tell when something has been made with time and care.
Nothing will bring people together like the promise of hot, homemade food. So, taking inspiration from the back of my einkorn flour bag, I decided to use the rest up by making something from scratch. I needed to feed six, so I decided two large pizzas ought to be enough for all to get their fill, and to have some leftovers.
I started off as if I were making bread, by mixing all of my dry ingredients together right. But, upon closer inspection of the pizza dough recipe, it looked like I had it all wrong. Here, the yeast was first to be activated with sugar, warm water and a cup of flour in a separate bowl. This liquid mixture would then rest for 15 minutes before mixing in the other four cups of flour. So, I did a quick course correct, adding a little extra yeast to the water solution and waiting skeptically. There was just no way that adding four more cups of flour to this already thick solution would make a soft, kneadable dough. I fully anticipated adding more water to incorporate the other four cups of flour. But, after adding and incorporating the flour cups with a spoon for a few minutes, I was happily surprised to discover that no extra water would be necessary. You should always give the benefit of the doubt, even if it doesn’t look like it’ll mix well at first; have a little faith and you might find yourself as pleasantly surprised as I was.
After kneading the dough for a few minutes, I greased the supple ball in olive oil and plopped it down in a bowl, which I covered and set in the oven, heated only by the pilot lights above. After about 40 minutes, I figured the dough had rested enough to be worked into a pizza crust. The first stretching of the dough was done with ease, as it was warm, soft and easy to manipulate. So easy, in fact, that I accidentally ended up tearing a great gash through the middle of it. I folded it over to cover the patch and tried reworking the dough out to its former size. Now, however, it was no easy task. The dough had tightened up on me, in no small part because of the frigidity of the metal countertop I was working on. But, with a little elbow grease and a lot of luck, I was able to stretch the dough into the continent of Australia.
I made Australia a deep red by slathering sauce all over it. Then, I crumbled a healthy amount of mozzarella on top, adding some pepperoni, caramelized onions and sautéed shitake mushrooms. After baking for roughly ten minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, I pulled out the steaming,bubbling pie from the oven. An intoxicating aroma filled the kitchen and began seeping upstairs; my family quickly started appearing at the dinner table. It was such a treat to have everyone in town gathered around one table. The catalyst? Hot food — medicine for the lonely.
I lost four pounds this weekend by eating clean food made with care. This is something that I need to make a priority. How can I possibly call something like cooking, a benefit of my mind, soul, body and community, a waste of time? I think that idea might stem from the neo-liberal conception of time as money. This philosophy would only hold true if the thing we covet above all else is money. It’s a philosophy I respect for its pragmatism, but could never fully live by.
In fact, if you think about it, good food turns into good health and a longer life. So, in reality, spending time on something as important as the food you put into your one and only body will have payoffs in the long run that far exceed any possible gains from cutting corners.
What will you choose?
Benjamin Velani is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]