My maternal grandmother, Jean Zaccagnini Damasiewicz, making homemade pasta.

Years ago, I read an article about mental health recovery whose advice continues to support and help me. She said to do one thing each day that you're good at - even if it's something as (seemingly) simple as making a grilled cheese sandwich. And she said to set a small goal each day and to do it.

That advice has helped me through many days of anxiety and depression - particularly those days when I feel overwhelmed by helplessness, hopelessness, and despair. When I have a hard day, cooking helps me. Being able to take raw ingredients and turn them into hot, delicious food gives me a sense of power and possibility - a feeling that I CAN, that I can effect positive change in my life.

Cooking fulfills both of her suggestions. And cooking my family's food brings me out of isolation and into relationship - where I feel my belonging and my sense of home once more.


When despair overwhelms me
I make pasta sauce. I chop onions
and garlic and brown meat in olive oil.
I pour in ripe red tomatoes and season
them with salt. I walk barefoot outside
to cut ribbons of oregano. The red gold
simmers for hours. During this time
my life doesn't change. But the house
now smells of goodness and the basil
tastes like hope. Each bite brings
me strength but it's more than olive oil
that feeds me. It's the memory
of sitting at my grandmother's table
and the particular smell of her kitchen.
It's a pot of sauce cooking on my mother's
stove and the taste of being young and being
cooked for, the meal I know that awaits me
each night and the love I can take for
granted, again and again, until I feel
the strength to rise once more.

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