Food. It fuels, nourishes and nurtures us. It’s a medium for connection and for making memories. Unfortunately, it’s also a source of angst. When I ask people to describe their relationship with food, I often hear answers like, “It’s a pleasure and a source of stress,” “I love it and fear it,” or “I wish I didn’t think about it all the time.” These conflicted feelings can carry over to the actual practice and process of cooking.
If you relate to this at all, cookbook author Leanne Brown feels your pain. As she relates in the introduction of her new book, “Good Enough: A Cookbook: Embracing the Joys of Imperfection & Practicing Self-Care in the Kitchen,” she went through a period of burnout and exhaustion after publishing her first cookbook, “Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day.” She was living her dream — and was miserable. Then she went through a difficult pregnancy and postpartum depression. She found herself eating cold pizza for breakfast in her small Brooklyn apartment and feeling like a fraud. “Good Enough” came out of these experiences.
Brown said that in every room she was in while promoting “Good and Cheap,” someone would come up to her, praise her work, then lament that they were a hopeless cook who couldn’t be helped. “There are so many people who are drawn to the healing nature of cooking and feeding ourselves. They’re wanting this but they’re feeling like something’s wrong with them,” she said. And Brown understood — not because she doubted her cooking skills, but because she knew the shame of feeling that she doesn’t have worth outside of what she does. So she decided to write about the feelings that come up around cooking, about the internal blocks that keep us from eating well. And she decided to get personal. “Every writer who has touched me has shared their stories without ego and without shame,” she said. “Our individual stories are important, we’re humans that are supposed to connect to others.”
Brown called the book’s timing “divine.” First, she turned in the manuscript in January 2020 — just before COVID-19 entered our lexicon. Then, the book’s release was delayed from 2021 to 2022, giving her more time to heal and be ready to share her life experience. “If you can see yourself in this, there’s a path. It may not be the same path, but it’s available to you,” she said. “In one way or another we’ve all struggled with these issues … if we can bring awareness to these things and note them and soothe them and let them go, it opens up so much space.”
Most cookbooks are arranged by meal types. “Good Enough” has some of that (good enough mornings, midday and weeknights), but also has chapters titled “Good Enough When You’re Struggling,” “Good Enough For You” and “Good Enough For Others.” Throughout, Brown weaves in essays on topics such as sadness, overwhelm, perfectionism, self-care, self-parenting, self-worth, rest, pleasure and shame. They’re like wonderful gifts, and reading them, you feel heard. “To me, that’s honestly the meat of the book,” she said. “The recipes are the fun, bubbly part.”
I asked Brown why cooking often doesn’t feel like self-care. She said because we tend to feel like if we don’t meet the mark, we’ve failed. “It’s so important to just learn to be with what it’s like when we cook, what it’s like to be in our bodies, what are our thoughts, what are the sights and sounds … there’s so much that is pleasurable. That’s enough to bring you back even if the result isn’t quite what you want.”
That said, Brown said there’s nothing wrong with not finding cooking particularly pleasurable. “There are so many avenues to pleasure, and when we allow ourselves as many as possible, it’s not an assault that dinner wasn’t amazing, because it was nourishing and it was good enough. Maybe there was only one bowl to clean up, maybe you enjoyed chopping up that tomato.”
Days and Days Salad
Serves six to eight
TL;DR: Make dressing. Chop veggies. Mix veggies and dressing.
This salad makes a huge batch. If you make it just for yourself, you will have lunch all week — for days and days.
- 1/4 cup peanut butter (see note)
- Juice of 1 lime, plus extra as needed
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon sriracha or sambal oelek
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus extra as needed
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon water, or as needed
Note: I use a very lightly sweetened peanut butter, but any kind will work well. If yours has a lot of sugar, taste the dressing before you add the honey to gauge how much extra sweetness it needs.
- 1 can (15 1/2 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 small red cabbage, shredded
- 1 English cucumber, chopped
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint
- 4 to 6 dates, pitted and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup salted nuts, roughly chopped
- Make the dressing: Place the peanut butter, lime juice, honey, sriracha or sambal oelek, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the mixture, whisking as you drizzle. Add enough water to thin it to your preferred consistency; a tablespoon is usually all I need. Once the dressing is smooth and well mixed, taste it. Add more lime juice or salt according to your preference. (Alternatively, huck everything into a little jar and shake until smooth.)
- Add the chickpeas, cabbage, cucumber, cilantro or mint, dates and nuts to the bowl with the dressing. Toss the salad together and enjoy.
Note: If you want to eat this salad throughout the week, save the dressing in a separate container and assemble the salad ingredients in a separate bowl. The undressed salad should keep in a container in the refrigerator for up to a week, and even when it’s dressed, it will keep until the next day.
Excerpted from “Good Enough: A Cookbook: Embracing the Joys of Imperfection and Practicing Self-Care in the Kitchen” by Leanne Brown, illustrations by Allison Gore. Workman Publishing Copyright 2022.