Since I was a little girl, cooking has been my therapy (therapy has also been my therapy, but that's a whole other story). I was a sensitive, moody, and probably clinically depressed kid. I was smart and creative, but I had a hard time fitting in. When I was eight, my mother bought me an antique set of pots and pans to play with. I begged to use them for real cooking, so she gave me her copy of Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and let me try my hand at some simple dishes.
In the kitchen, with my little mixing bowls, frying pan, and kid-size chef's knife, I learned to dice, chop, bake, and sauté. I learned to trust my instincts with flavor combinations, putting my own stamp on recipes. I learned that if I could taste, I could cook — it was just a matter of learning a few simple techniques and being a little bit brave. The world was hard and scary, but the kitchen was a place where I could always be myself and where my hard work was rewarded with something delicious.
Growing up and moving out on my own made some things easier (I made cool, like-minded friends and finally got those boobs I had been wishing for), but it also made some things a lot harder. My twenties were full of adventure and self-exploration, but they were also loaded with self-doubt and worry: Was I smart enough? Pretty enough? Strong enough? Would I ever be?
When we fail to meet the impossible (and often contradictory) standards set for us by magazines, TV shows, movies, and insane Instagram filters, it's easy to feel like a complete and utter failure, even if your conscious brain knows that's not the case. But as I learned as a little girl, choosing to cook for myself is, in my experience, an excellent way to improve your mood when things go south. This is because cooking is about loving yourself exactly as you are: whether your apartment is spotless, your credit-card bill is paid in full, and your professional and personal lives are exactly where you want them to be — or not.
And the process of making a meal from scratch — slicing vegetables, sautéing garlic, turning a few simple ingredients into more than the sum of their parts — can help you feel in control of your world, especially when the actual world feels so out of control. My friend Miranda and I wrote Hot Mess Kitchen to make you laugh and inspire you in the kitchen but also to share our favorite way of re-grounding ourselves when things get crazy: getting into the kitchen. We hope these recipes can take you there, because even the hottest of messes deserve a nice meal.
— Gabi Moskowitz