I am fully convinced that the first time I had an out-of-body experience was when I was gifted a copy of Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess. Thirteen, with not much else going on, I inhaled the book and all its offerings in one sitting. After which, I was spent. A good read can have that effect. I decided then that this is what I wanted to do — the giveaway was in the title itself.
The urge to become a domestic goddess was later overpowered by the monumental pile of dirty dishes and I almost gave up the calling for a while — till I happened to catch the TV show. If we can all agree, it is that one cannot turn away from a Nigella Lawson TV show.
She is the new age lovechild of rebel and restraint, tossing out tedious traditions, offering feasible solutions with charm and ease instead. At the same time, there are recipes steeped in convention, they are fitted with anecdotes and dedications. There is a reason why her go-to chicken dish is her mother’s praised chicken. Parts of her books are coated thick with family dedications. In fact, you can mark the evolution of her family and self through her books.
I am studying to become a pastry chef. Baking is scientific. Everything is aligned and it is the world of order and symmetry. But, to me, my greatest teacher has been Lawson. I want to emulate her ease in the kitchen. She is brazen, completely unfazed by rules and symmetry. That is not to say that her food is not presentable. It glows with skill that is perfectly applicable to everyday life celebrations. After a particularly rough night, Lawson’s recipe of deep-fried Mozzarella sandwiches are exactly what the doctor orders. She eats them on TV, not waiting for them to cool (patience, she claims, is not her strong suit), talking through the string stretch that good mozzarella offers. It makes you squirm, but then you do exactly the same thing replicating her recipe half an hour later so you learn not to judge.
I have cooked through most of her books. I have them all and rarely fail to mention this, with the beaming pride of a collector. There is something indescribably comforting about the personal dialogue in her books. It is philosophy. It’s a soothing voiceover in the experiential kitchen realm. Often I find that people either approach cooking as an everyday task, skilled at ways with eggs and toast and the occasional instant Ramen, or they approach it with singular, daunting fear. Nigella Lawson finds a place for cooks, the awkward and the accomplished.
Her recipes are sensible and celebratory — solitary meals, teenage feasts. Heck, there is even a chapter on funeral feasts. Through her books, Lawson’s philosophy comes alive. Her belief in eating as primary pleasure, even if it includes an extra glug of cream is brazen, almost.
Slater writes, ‘You didn’t teach me how to cook, you taught me how to eat.’ Her food, cooking and writing is home. We can only eat so much of carefully plated food with a trickle of sauce. Ultimately, you want to come back home to something that is easily assembled, clumsy fingers notwithstanding. To me, that is what most of her cooking is. It is nostalgia, reminiscent of my days as a fumbling, bumbling cook, making my way through the kitchen. The trajectory has been long.
What it most relatable, however, is how frightfully honest her show and books are. We are moving through life at breakneck speed and yet, go days without celebrating. Intermittently, every meal must be celebrated. Her books reflect that philosophy. Whatever the question, I promise you the cure is in her books. It has cured me of a life of no purpose.