Ah, remember the hope and optimism that ushered in 2020? Yet here we are today, at the mercy of an unpredictable pandemic that continues to wreak havoc on our daily lives. But rather than staying mired in worry and uncertainty, I’ve been staying focused on the things that are within my control. These mini ‘silver linings’ as I like to call them have helped distract me from these challenging times and inspired me to share some helpful strategies for finding joy in your own kitchen that have gotten me through some pretty hard times. And if you’re passionate about food and wine as well and are looking for ways to spark a little more joy to your life please keep reading.
But as the pandemic saga unfolded and my events were all cancelled, my very first order of business was to tackle the redesign of my website. An outdated template was allowing hackers to pepper my home page with ‘male enhancement’ product ads daily which is NOT exactly what I was hoping to share with people! Thankfully, that will NEVER happen again here on Squarespace and while migrating and reformatting the 300+ posts I’ve written since 2011 was no small feat, it became a welcome distraction and labor of love, and I’m positively thrilled to be sharing the brand new incarnation of The Glamorous Gourmet with you now - this moment really makes me feel like THIS!
Strangely enough, this is the original title I chose back in February before my website even launched. In light of recent events, however, the concept of discovering joy in our own kitchens has sure taken on a new significance. More than I EVER could have imagined!
And now with families quarantining together under one roof and people seeking respite from omnipresent, home-schooled children and clingy pets, not to mention that sneaking sense of hopelessness and career uncertainty, the kitchen seems as likely a place as any to these days to find joy.
But you might ask what makes me uniquely qualified to give you advice on finding joy in your kitchen?
In five words: my kitchen saved my life.
And it’s not because it’s a perfect, Ina Garten-esque showroom. No, it’s because my kitchen is the place I learned to find joy despite a painful, chronic orthopedic condition that turned my life upside down and threatened to take everything that I loved and enjoyed in life away from me.
I’ve been dealing with this condition since an ATV accident (remember those 3-wheeled motorcycle things that were banned the 1980’s?) I suffered my freshman year of high school. While hard to imagine today, my boyfriend and I were careening, helmet-less down a dirt road around the corner from my house one Spring day. White dust billowed up behind us as the wind whipped through our hair and the sun shone warmly on our faces. What could possibly go wrong on a beautiful day like this? As it turns out…a LOT!
What seemed like mere seconds later, I woke up in the middle of the road and couldn’t stand up. The new purple moccasins (don’t judge, it was the ‘80’s!) I had gotten for my birthday just days before were scattered in the road in front of me and my shirt was covered in blood. My boyfriend had been thrown from the ATV and was fine, but I had unfortunately rolled with the bike multiple times and was left with a broken hip, collarbone, concussion and the skin on my right arm was also conspicuously absent. My injuries required emergency surgery, two weeks in the hospital and months and months of healing and grueling physical therapy.
Thankfully, the majority of my injuries healed over the next year but the broken hip soon raised its ugly head as something I’d have to deal with the rest of my life. And it was only after decades of learning to survive despite all the subsequent hip fractures, surgeries and resulting pain, that I truly learned the key to coping and living my best life.
But it all started with a hunch and, over time, a hypothesis gradually began to take shape that was also partly based on something I learned as a Speech-Language Pathologist
As an SLP I specialized in the research and treatment of neurological voice disorders (I’m even published!). In my research, I learned about the intimate connection between our five senses and our emotions. Each “sense” is hard wired to a very primitive, yet extremely important, area of the brain that takes in the information we perceive and governs our physiological and emotional responses. Studies have shown that by stimulating our senses in specific ways we can have a direct effect on our emotions through what we smell, hear, taste, feel and see.
And as I transitioned from my career as an SLP to a Sommelier I was testing my theory constantly. I found renewed purpose and confidence in my work and began mastering new recipes and cooking techniques. I also continued to hone my wine tasting skills while studying for and passing some pretty difficult wine credential exams. Tuning into my senses helped me to feel truly empowered in my new career and it wasn’t long before I concluded that by literally “feeding” my five senses I could deliberately alter my neurochemistry and elevate my mood.
So the joy I got from the glorious frisson of bubbles that tickles my nose from a glass of Champagne, the heavenly smell of roast chicken cooking in the oven, and the decadent creaminess of crème brûlée custard contrasted with the crisp, burnt sugar crust on your tongue - all of these experiences released major endorphins in my brain!
After years of battling chronic pain, this was a BIG moment for me! If I had to sum it up in a movie scene, it would definitely be this one. Except instead of fabulous, bullet-deflecting bracelets, I have hot pink crutches. But much like Diana, I couldn’t wait to use what I had learned to help others.
So whether you’re experiencing physical pain, anxiety and stress due to the pandemic, or are simply looking to boost your mood and create a delicious meal for your family, escape to your kitchen and experiment with these five ways to feel joyful by “feeding your senses.” I’ve broken it down by each individual sense and I promise, the more you get to know your own palate, the more empowered you’ll feel and the easier finding joy in your kitchen will become. And the best part of it all? You don’t even have to leave your house!
Color’s effect on mood is well documented and, from personal experience, I can say it is quite powerful! But since feelings about color can be deeply personal, take note of which specific colors make YOU feel most joyful and let that be your guide in the future. Do you prefer the rosy pink hues of a beautifully curated charcuterie tray or the vibrant, primary colors of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables?
Pinterest is a veritable gold mine of visually pleasing, food and wine related content! You can even create themed boards that feature your favorite images based on a common theme, for instance, here are my boards for Cocktail Couture, Flowers and The Glamorous Gourmet. Simply take in all the beautiful imagery for an instant mood boost! Or to get more hands on, prepare a beautiful recipe whose look is guaranteed to get those endorphins flowing - a few of my favorites include: (1) Grilled Swordfish with Rosé Aioli, Fennel, Olive + Spinach Salad, (2) Canelés de Bordeaux and (3) Heirloom Tomato, Peach + Corn Salad with Burrata + Crispy Prosciutto.
The oldest of all the five senses, olfaction plays a very important role in emotional memory and conjuring positive, olfactory memories can elicit a significant and immediate improvement in your mood. Aromatherapy is also based on the concept of using specific aromas to calm, soothe or invigorate. But rather than spending oodles of money on expensive essential oils, simply check your spice cabinet for one of your favorites. The vanillin compound in that little brown bottle of fragrant vanilla extract is known for its antidepressant properties as well as its ability to induce a sense of calm.
Wine lovers, swirl your favorite wine around in a glass and then stick your nose in as far as you can (if it touches the wine, you’ve gone too far!). Close your eyes and take at least 3-4 nice, deep breaths, resisting the urge to take a sip, and simply linger on the nose, focusing on its wonderful aromas of fruit, earth and spice. Food lovers, invest in a kitchen candle in your favorite culinary scent (I can’t get enough of this delightful Rosé candle!) and/or prepare a recipe featuring your favorite ingredients. This recipe for Rosemary Roasted Chicken with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions is guaranteed to perfume your home with the most amazing chicken-y deliciousness!
While intrinsically linked to smell, flavor can be truly mood-changing as well. When we’re feeling depressed we tend to crave fatty, sugary, comfort foods but there’s certain comfort foods that feature fresh, seasonal ingredients that are equally as enjoyable. However, as a passionate advocate of the “All Things in Moderation” Diet, it’s ok to indulge…just don’t go TOO overboard! Savor the flavor of that heavenly red velvet cupcake or decadent lobster mac and cheese, a small amount of these rich, delicious foods can be very satiating.
Try one of these 5 Essential Comfort Food Recipes that feature fresh, delicious ingredients and come complete with wine pairing recommendations. During these challenging times, they are guaranteed to nourish your body and soul. And if you’re craving something sweeter, I highly recommend this Royally Delicious Lemon Elderflower Cake.
I find the handling, chopping and prepping of ingredients for a recipe to be extremely meditative. It’s like culinary yoga that instantly lowers my blood pressure, unlike those culinary competition shows where they present terrified contestants with a rubber band, a triscuit and some sugar packets and expect them to prepare a gourmet meal. Touch can also apply to the mouthfeel or texture of food like the briny, slipperiness of a chilled oyster, a creamy, soft-ripened Brie juxaposed next to a hard, aged Mimolette, or the luxurious feel of a hearty, tannic red wine on a chilly day.
Experience a variety of delightful textures at once with a heavenly and easy to recreate cheese board. Follow these “Secrets de Fromage” that feature delicious wine and cheese pairings (as well as helpful pairing principles to help you create pairings tailored to your own palate) for a truly blissful, transcendent experience!
From the sizzle of chicken thighs hitting a hot pan (see video above!) to the pop of a Champagne cork happily bursting forth from its bottle, there are so many delightful sounds to be found in the kitchen! But in addition to food and wine sounds, music can also play a significant role in boosting your mood. Since this is also a highly subjective area, start to take note of which sounds or songs make you happy and make a playlist on the music streaming service of your choice. And if you happen to be a Francophile like me check out my recommendations below!
My YouTube Channel is full of fun videos featuring the sound of a sabrage demonstration, testing my “Press for Champagne” button, the resident riddlers at Champagne Krug, and/or Winemaker Keith Hock disgorging a bottle of sparkling wine during Camp Schramsberg. Alternately, you can also create a playlist of music to enjoy when you’re in the kitchen, some of my faves include Stacey Kent’s “Raconte Moi…”, the soundtrack to “Midnight in Paris” and “Something’s Gotta Give.”
While some of my advice may sound simple at first, I promise that when practiced with passion and intention the results can be truly profound! Try to set a daily or weekly goal of embracing each "sense” and make note of its effects on your overall level of joy. And if you’d like to receive my weekly newsletters that are chock full of more food and wine inspiration, simply click here.