By Sherri Holzer
My 28-year-old daughter Lauren stood at our kitchen island, chopping ten garlic cloves. Her big blue eyes smiled as she said, “This is such a great stress reliever, Mom. Chopping over and over again makes me feel like I'm meditating.” Cooking does have excellent therapeutic benefits.
I teach cooking as self-care. Let’s be honest, cooking has gotten a bit of a bad rap. It’s often positioned as a chore and therefore, people tend to think of it as complex, stressful, and time-consuming. Self-care is often presented as this “treat-your-self culture” where we justify indulgence as a form of self-care: buying and eating that thing or going to that place. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are lovely, and I think they can be forms of self-care, but I don’t think self-care needs to be a luxury. On the contrary, I think it is way simpler than that. Self-care is about showing up for yourself even when the going gets tough. Self-care is about prioritizing your needs over your wants to care for yourself on all levels, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Cooking has become my simplest and most basic form of self-care. It is how I show my body I care and give my body the energy to do the tasks I ask of it. It is one of the moments in my day when I am doing something for me. It is how I take control of my health and my favorite benefits of cooking are the memories created.
While cooking with Lauren, I realized my kitchen smelled like Shabbat at grandma's house when I was a little girl. There are just some aromas that bring you back to a particular time and place. Like the overpowering scent of hot oil that permeates into the cushions of the couch and the folds of the drapes from crispy potato latkes being fried for Hanukkah, or that heavenly chocolate wave that breezes past your nose the second you go into the kitchen and find your mom holding that old black rubber spatula she uses, moving the gooey chocolate chip cookies from the baking sheet and placing them on the chipped platter that says cookies made with love. My firstborn grabbed my hand and said, “Thank you, Mom, for introducing me to new flavors and foods and sharing the joy of cooking together in the kitchen.”
As Lauren and I continued chopping and stirring, my thoughts drifted back to my GG’s tiny San Francisco kitchen. I saw myself as a little girl standing on the avocado-colored linoleum floors, facing a giant white porcelain sink that always seemed to be filled with soapy water, ready to take on the remnants of my grandma's cooking concoctions. I can still see the box of Lipton’s onion soup mix on the brown and yellow tiled counter resting next to one of the many cans of tomato sauce that grandma always had at the ready. On Sunday mornings at Grandma Shirley's house, the two of us would read the comic strips and attempt the word search in the San Francisco Chronicle while sitting at the table in front of an open kitchen window, enjoying the crisp ocean breeze. After laughing at the silly things Snoopy had to say, GG and I would each grab our own pair of scissors, sit together, and clip coupons. It was exciting to save five cents per can or buy one box of Jello and get another free, or an all-time favorite, buy four cans of cream of mushroom soup and get one for free with a recipe included!
I laugh now, but when I was 7, this domestic routine made me feel close to my grandmother. The canned goods were stored in neat rows in the garage, in a special food cabinet next to all the other frugal items purchased with her priceless coupon collection. I was put in charge of ensuring the new cans were put in the right place. In fact, when I stood in her garage, looking up at the rows and rows of canned goods lined up alphabetically, I believed my grandma had placed all her trust in little me to keep our family in order and our traditions in place. I knew my grandma wanted me to keep the custom of placing the canned black olives in Great Grandma Frieda’s vintage crystal bowl on the Seder table or placing the Campbell's soup thanksgiving green bean casserole onto the rose trimmed platter from Great Grandma Ida’s trousseau, and to arrange Nestle’s one bowl boxed brownies, cut into squares and sprinkled with powdered sugar, atop the gold and blue fluted edge cake stand brought into America by our Lithuanian relatives in the early 1900’s.
Last Sunday, the smell in my own kitchen was that of caramelized sweet onions, slow roasting for hours over a perfectly seared brisket simmering in my simple savory sauce. As it cooked, I made Lauren and myself a cup of tea and we snuggled up together watching a silly Netflix romantic comedy. Talk about cooking as self-care. I am grateful for the inspiration and memories that GG inspired me with, but no canned cream of mushroom soup or premade starter mixes in my kitchen!
Simply Sherri Brisket Recipe
3-4 lb brisket
4 tbsp salted grass-fed butter
4 sweet yellow onions sliced
Salt and pepper
1 cup pureed organic tomato
8 chopped garlic cloves
½ cup organic Worcestershire
Meat should be out of the fridge for at least 15 minutes. I used a Le Creuset braiser with a lid. On medium heat, sauté onions in butter until translucent, about 12 min. Remove from the pan. Salt and pepper brisket on each side. Add to the pan. Cook 8-10 minutes per side until a nice brown crust forms. Add broth and garlic, heat for about 3 minutes to soften garlic, and add, Worcestershire, tomato puree, and all the onions. Place the lid on top and put it into the oven for around 3.5 hours. Remove meat and let it rest for 15 minutes. Using an electric knife, slice meat thinly and add right back into the gorgeous sauce and serve.
Cauliflower parsnip mash (email me for recipe)
Roasted broccolini and heirloom carrots (boil carrots, then roast with broccolini, olive oil, and everything but bagel seasoning)