Ultimate Summer Squash Gratin + Triggers (when shit burns)
Happy Friday, friends! Today’s recipe is a summer squash gratin, and while it’s a bit of a project, it’s worth it (it’s a real stunner but is easier to make than it looks). With caramelized onions, tender ribbons of zucchini and summer squash, grape tomatoes, and a generous smattering of parmesan breadcrumbs, the gratin can take center stage as a main course or play a supporting role as a side dish (either way it will steal the show). Before we jump in, let’s talk about triggers. Have you ever gotten frustrated in the kitchen? Or cried? Or yelled at a roast chicken? I have.
The kitchen is a wild land
The kitchen is an unpredictable place. Things fail. Soufflés flop. Short ribs turn out tough. The nuts burn (again). When these things happen perhaps we place the blame elsewhere (this terrible recipe! my faulty oven! those distracting kids!). Or we see those mistakes or failures as reflections on ourselves (I’m a terrible cook! I’m a failure! I’m never making short ribs again! ).
When shit goes wrong, how do you respond?
We recently had a contractor working on the exterior of our house, fixing window frames and painting. The job was supposed to happen in early June, then he pushed it to early July, and as I’m writing this in early August it’s still not done. I have a string of podcast recordings and a client video shoot coming up, and one morning when the contractor didn’t show up—yet again—I got so angry. I felt consumed by anger and frustration. I tried calling him and when he didn’t answer I had a million conversations with him in my head. It took me a good forty minutes to chill out. It was exhausting! Some of this anger was healthy and warranted. However, the long wave of stress it caused wasn’t. Rationally I knew that there was nothing I could do—that I just needed to surrender to the situation—but emotionally something else was going on. There was something deeper being triggered.
There are times when I bake a cake and it slumps and I heave a sigh then move on with my day. And then there are times when the cake slumps and I feel a deep well of frustration or dejection or sadness. Of course, we’re talking about real food, and real money, and real time, and it feels horrible to throw all that into the trash. As I discussed last week, all emotions are valid and welcome in my kitchen. However, I’ve started to pay attention to those times when my emotions seem larger than the situation at hand. When I react in a way that feels extreme, or when I get stuck in a loop of anger or jealousy or shame or whatever the emotion might be.
Triggers are gifts (you usually don’t want to receive)
I’ve come to realize that those larger emotional responses are usually not about the situation at hand, or at least not entirely. They’re usually coming from somewhere deeper—a subterranean wound that’s been pricked.
As Natalie Deeb always reminds me, triggers are gifts (as terrible as they might feel!). They’re invitations to heal a wound that hasn’t mended, maybe from decades past. The situation with the contractor? After some internal investigating I realized that I was feeling like a sixteen-year-old again, a time when I felt unheard and unvalued. My reaction was coming from that tender place. So I pulled out a picture of myself from that age and talked to her. I invited her back in. It took some time, but I held her and affirmed her worth. I allowed my heart to open and release what was stuck.
Sometimes shit burns and we will get angry and then it will pass and we’ll move on. But for those times when you find yourself simmering in a stew of emotion that feels way bigger than the experience at hand, perhaps it’s not about the food at all. Maybe you’re feeling like you’re not good enough, or that you’re not valued, or that you need to be perfect to be loved. Go into that tender place. It’s okay. I promise that you are loved. You are worthy. And the food you make is never a reflection of who you really are.
Related essays and podcasts:
Ultimate Summer Gratin
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial