How two Bay Area food writers channeled pandemic stress in their new cookbook, “Steamed”

In “Steamed: A Catharsis Cookbook for Getting Dinner and Your Feelings on the Table” (Running Press; $ 20) authors Rachel Levin and Tara Duggan examine all the ways the act of cooking can be therapeutic. Everyone needs to eat, but there are other reasons to turn to the kitchen: you can unleash aggression by pounding meat for the Pummeled Pork Tonkatsu; cry well while slicing onions for Feeling Sad Onion Soup; or sneak into downtime with a handy recipe like Peace Out Pot o ‘Pintos while the beans simmer on the stovetop.

Levin, a Chronicle collaborator, displays the same wit and humor as exhibited in her previous cookbook, “Eat Something: A Wise Brothers Cookbook for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews” . Columnist Duggan, former associate editor of the Food + Wine section which now covers the climate, brings in the chops of recipes demonstrated in her other cookbooks, including “Root to Stalk Cooking: The Art of Use the Whole Vegetable” (Ten Speed ​​Press).

Organized into three sections – Anger Management, It’s Good to Cry and Chilling the F Out – the book interweaves psychological research into why these techniques are cathartic with recipes for main courses, sides and desserts. . Tweets, pop culture quotes, and playful illustrations in place of stylized food photographs heighten the irreverent tone.

We sat down with the authors to find out more about what led to the creation of this extremely current book. (This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.)

Q: Can you tell me a bit about how and when you got this idea?

Levine: It was actually before the pandemic, before we were sequestered in our kitchens, before the world collapsed, we got the idea. The world was in a terrible state because of… systemic racism, climate change, forest fires. … We realized that cooking has always been considered a kind of therapy. But a cookbook had really rarely looked into why is it therapeutic? And in what ways?

We handed in our first draft, then COVID hit, and it felt a bit prescient to us. It couldn’t be more relevant at the time.

Q: And you have categories: pounding meat, cutting up ingredients that will make you cry, etc. Did you start with these categories, or did you rather think of dishes that seem therapeutic to prepare and understand why?

Levine: For me, it was chicken pounding and Chicken Parm, because I do it every year for my husband’s birthday. Then Tara kind of took things from there.

Duggan: I want to thank you for the idea of ​​crying because we are always trying to fight against crying. We have a sidebar on Dumb Ways People Try to Avoid Crying, (but) it feels good sometimes.

Q: Where do these dishes come from? Are these all things you could cook quite often?

Duggan: Some of them are things I cook a lot like green sauces, chermoula, or pesto that you make with a mortar and pestle. I don’t always do them like that. I often did this in a food processor – puree them. But doing it in a mortar and pestle is super satisfying because you crush, and … you get better flavor because you don’t just chop the herbs and garlic, you crush them and it releases more volatile compounds. . So it’s fun to reinvent a few things that I already cook a lot. And then some of them were things that I hadn’t really done before like biang biang noodles, hand drawn noodles. … There are some theories that they are named after the sounds you make with the noodles on the counter.

Q: So what do you do about catharsis if you are stressed out while working on a catharsis cookbook?

Duggan: Cannabis cookies.

Levine: That is true. This recipe makes a lot of cookies. … It was the COVID peak. It’s been a while since I last saw anyone at my house, and Tara comes… with homemade cookies. It was the sweetest thing. I’m like, Oh my god, this is what I need. It was just a fun co-author / cookbook moment.

The most stressful part, I think, was shopping for groceries (to test the recipes), as it was in a time that was itself stressful, and then trying to get things that you didn’t. may not have them in your pantry and go find them in a special place.

Duggan: I was doing the book in addition to my work at The Chronicle. And it was difficult during the pandemic to have extra work. I think we were all so devastated. But, for me, doing a cookbook project where I develop recipes, the planning part stresses me out – like, how am I going to get through all of this on schedule? But the good thing is you get dinner out of the deal. And I have always had the help of my children.

Levine: It’s a bit of a side thing, but I feel like the last thing we want to do right now is cook when we can eat out again. But at the same time, the kitchen will always have been there and will always be a refuge and a place where we need to retreat, cook dinner, cry and feel better.

Layla Schlack is Associate Print Editor at Wine Enthusiast. Email your comments to [email protected]

Mortar basil pesto with Trofie pasta

For 4 people

It’s added to everything these days, from TJ’s frozen pizza to “gourmet” grilled cheese. But the ubiquity of pesto obscures its humble origins, back in the days when someone decided to just crush basil leaves in a mortar with garlic and pine nuts and call it a sauce. Purists always swear by the mortar method, and so do we, although you need a bigger mortar to remove this one. Not only does it turn the basil leaves into a silky mash, releasing all of their anise and tangy aroma and flavor molecules like no food processor can, it’s also the most stress-relieving way to do it. pesto experience. Especially on a particularly tough day, when you have basil growing in your garden, or on your windowsill, anyway. Of course, the pre-made type can be tasty too – but once you’ve broken up, you’ll never be able to go back. From “Steamed: A Catharsis Cookbook for Getting Dinner and Your Feelings on the Table” (Running Press; $ 20) by Rachel Levin and Tara Duggan.

¼ teaspoon of salt, and more for water and seasoning to taste

½ cup of extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled

¼ cup of pine nuts or walnuts

4 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves (about 4 ounces on the stem), thick stems removed

½ cup of grated Parmesan plus more for serving

12 ounces of trofie or spaghetti

Boil a pot of water for the pasta and salt generously. Pour the olive oil into a measuring cup with a pouring spout.

Place ¼ teaspoon of salt and the garlic clove in a large mortar and pound with a pestle until smooth. Add the pine nuts and continue pounding until they are reduced to a pulp. This next part is where things get serious, requiring a few minutes of constant pounding, so have a friend or family member available to step in when your triceps get sore. Start adding the basil leaves, a handful at a time, and mash vigorously, adding more as you go. Continue hammering and mashing, giving reinforcements if necessary, until all the stringy stems have turned into small particles and you have a smooth, light green paste.

Add a tablespoon or two of oil to the dough and mix. Add the cheese, mash to combine, then slowly drizzle with the remaining oil while continuing to mash and mix the sauce. Taste and add more salt if you like.

Cook pasta according to package directions. When draining, reserve ½ cup of water. Return the pasta to the pot and stir in the pesto with a drizzle or two of pasta water, if necessary, to help coat the noodles thinly with the sauce. Season with salt to taste and serve immediately with the additional Parmesan on the side.

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