Alison Roman Knows That Cooking Can Be Therapy

Alison Roman

A pinch of salt here, a little less anxiety there.

My whole life, I’ve struggled with anxiety and focus (or lack there of). Therapists and friends alike have suggested meditation, which I’ve never gotten around to (see: lack of focus), but I do think cooking is a good substitute. The way I see it, cutting a vegetable with a sharp knife or searing something in a hot skillet forces you to be in the present (instead of, say, scrolling through instagram looking at lamps I can’t afford or mentally running through an insurmountable to-do list). Focused on one thing at a time with my hands physically occupied, my mind doesn’t have the opportunity to spiral.

On days when things start to feel especially out of control, having a task that I know I can execute from start to finish in under an hour is a comfort. For example, some people organize a drawer when they’re stressed because it’s a manageable chore they know they can complete. Me, I make beans.

A small task accomplished, sure, but tending to a pot of slowly softening legumes gives me a sense of inner peace I simply can’t find elsewhere. Searing halved bulbs of papery onions (yes, I leave the skin on!) in more olive oil than you think is appropriate, adding the hearty herbs of your choosing (I’m a fan of oregano or thyme), and a few fat slices of juicy lemon left to caramelize in the hot oil is already like a trip to the spa (a bean-focused spa, I guess). Then, adding the dried bean of your choosing, plenty of water to cover and a good amount of salt, letting them gently simmer, magically transforming from flavorless, tiny pebbles to deeply savory, luxuriously creamy little pillows to spoon over toast or turn into stew…

I’m already impossibly calm just typing those words.

Even when it seems like nothing else is going to get done, if I’ve got a pot of beans, well, then, that’s something.

Image by Graydon Herriott. Subscribe to Roman’s fantastic newsletter here for cooking, personal tales, and everything in between.