Foodie: The healing power of cooking

Foodie: The healing power of cooking
The early stages of homemade chicken soup. Photo/Rory Callaghan

By Rory Callaghan

Life can be stressful. We need to eat, and cooking can relieve stress, but it can also be frustrating. Like any habit, it becomes easier over time. Attempting to learn something new is the best way to keep your mind active, so give it a go. Before long, you’ll insist upon treating yourself as your own guest and settle for nothing less than quality meals.

Selfishness gets a bad rap because it’s commonly associated with being inconsiderate to others. This assumes that being selfish precludes caring about others. That is not true. In fact, we become more loving toward others when we address our own needs and meet them.

Preparing a meal can be a meditative exercise that feeds us in multiple and complex ways. I’m especially speaking to singles and couples whose first reaction at the thought of taking the time to prepare a meal just for themselves is that it’s a monumental waste of time. I can’t think of a better way to spend time than to lovingly create something beautiful, tasty and nutritious. I also love feeding others. There is a subliminal, mysterious something that rings deep in our DNA when others make and serve food to us. The acts of giving and receiving gifts, particularly food, warm the heart – and the belly.

This article is all about the food. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and as long as you keep a few crystallized rose petals on hand, you’re ready for anything. Just kidding! Simple food is the best food. Every dish pictured here was cooked with love, by me, Rory Callaghan. I hope to inspire you to feed your family with lovingly cooked foods.

Plating food so it is appealing to the eye is important. Restaurants know this. Learn to make your plate pretty. It’s a wonderful way to begin your meal. Just use whatever you have on hand that looks pretty to you, provided you think the flavors are compatible. Color adds flavor and nutrition, so color it up.

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Spice up frozen Kung Pao chicken with some fresh veggies, herbs and butter.

Add fresh veggies and herbs to frozen prepared foods to make them prettier and tastier. For example, augmenting frozen Kung Pao chicken with fresh veggies, herbs and better quality peanuts than what came in the bag is a simple way to enhance what is otherwise a pretty run of the mill microwave dinner.

Short on time for lunch? You can still treat yourself special with a personal charcuterie. I eat this at my desk over the course of an hour or so. It is way tastier and better for you than a fast food sandwich. With some crackers, sliced cheese, dried nuts and cured meats, you can put this all together in no time at all.

For true, stick-to-the-ribs comfort food, stew still rules. It almost doesn’t matter what’s in it – just make it colorful and cook it slowly at barely a simmer. And while the humble burger is a staple of fast food restaurants and pubs, it becomes sublime when it is custom made by you, for you.

We associate tacos with ground beef, but I make tacos with anything. Just as an example of one of my home cooking adventures, I burnt the bacon that was meant for my tacos, but it worked anyway and became a burnt bacon taco. For something a bit fancier, try a stuffed pork tenderloin taco.

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Serve pineapple salsa inside a hollowed out pineapple for some fun flair at a party.

For parties, try pineapple salsa served in a pineapple. Keep the lid so it looks like you’re serving a whole uncut fruit, and when you reveal the contents, you’ll hear a collective “Oh!” from your guests. Doctor it with jarred salsa for a more authentic flavor, but remember that the fresh ingredients are the real stars.

Get creative. You’ll make mistakes and learn from them, and don’t be bashful about asking questions. Food feeds the body. Beauty feeds the soul.

The writer is kitchen planning director at M&M Appliance and Cabinets on South Washington Street. For questions about kitchens, cooking or anything existential, contact him at or at 301-537-3515.