36 / matters magazine / fall 2018 I want to make a case for cooking. In some ways, cooking is like exercising. We know we should muster the discipline to do it more often, and we feel guilty when we don’t. But when you have a long list of things that Need to Get Done, carving out a chunk of that precious time to spend in the kitchen tends to fall on the priority scale. Why do people cook – or not? While cooking is a life skill, preparing your own food isn’t a prerequi- site for everyday life. The question, really, is whether cooking can make one’s everyday life better. We live in a world of convenience. Seriously, when there are so many ways to find something to eat, why bother with cooking? Delegating the work of making a meal to someone else – a restaurant, a grocery store, a vending machine – is so much easier. But despite the time saved, something gets lost. In his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, anthropologist Richard Wrangham pro- poses that without cooking, human evolution would have stalled for hundreds of thousands of years. Sure, the discovery of fire meant that meat could be more safely consumed. At the same time, when humans began gathering around the fire pit to chew the fat (literally and figuratively), it sparked a cul- tural turning point. All these centuries later, as we juggle more and more responsibilities at work and at home, family mealtime remains important, because sharing a meal offers the chance to connect. That’s true, of course, no matter who does the cooking. But taking the time to make something as simple as a pot of soup gives you the opportunity to nourish others while improving your own well- being. It can help to think of the repetitive tasks of cooking as a form of self-care. (I like to think of it as the cheapest form of therapy!) Focusing on the details required to prepare a meal can be transforma- tive, giving you power to change the trajectory of your day. For many years, I worked as a personal chef. Cooking for hours at a time taught me to approach the process almost as a mindfulness exercise. It made me appreciate the transformation that happens when ordinary ingredients turn into something delicious. I think of that process as an overlooked everyday miracle, akin to alchemy. On top of it all, cooking frees your mind, be- cause when you immerse yourself in it, you’re allow- ing something other than the minutiae of the day to take over. A hearty soup like this one, made with Indian- inspired spices, coconut milk and a base of sweet potatoes, is a great place to start. It helps to treat each step as a sensual experience: Washing and slicing the vegetables, heating the pan while listening to the contents sizzle and pop, and smelling the aroma of spices as they warm. And the ultimate reward: You wind up with something good to eat. Karen Tedesco is a recipe developer, photographer and food stylist living in Maplewood. For seasonal reci- pes and more, visit her website familystylefood.com Nourish body and mind with the simple act of making soup BY KAREN TEDESCO Kitchen Therapy