My Daily Prayer to the Domestic Goddess


Cooking is a great way to distract yourself. (Courtesy of Emma Paolini for The Fordham Ram)

Emma Paolini, Contributing Writer

A few years ago, I read an article on Eater about the idea of the “domestic goddess.” 

The writer, Emily Gould, talked about the allure of this idea — the woman who had a healthy, organic, Instagrammable dinner on her table every evening in 30 minutes or less. She investigates the cookbooks of two bona fide modern domestic goddesses, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chrissy Teigen, by cooking a few dishes from them to see if they follow up on their promises to make their fans into domestic goddesses themselves. 

They did not. 

However, Gould admitted that they prove a fun distraction and break up the monotony of cooking the same dinner every evening. At the time I first read this article, I did not find anything to which I could really relate. At school, I cook dinner for myself almost every evening, and I have a rotating store of recipes that I can prepare in under 30 minutes with nonperishable or frozen ingredients as well as a few of the hardier vegetables that keep longer. I never needed to break up the monotony of making chicken fried rice, a roasted vegetable rice bowl or pasta and turkey meatballs every evening. Cooking was something that had replaced, in the Fordham world, standing in line at the Grill for half an hour — not particularly fun, but it didn’t need to be. I would pop in my earphones and listen to a podcast to pass the time.

And then everything happened. 

You know this next part or some version of it. I was unceremoniously yanked from my study abroad program in London and deposited in South Jersey for a mandatory two-week self-isolation period that became a four-week quarantine that became a stay-at-home order with no end in sight. Passing the time became a national hobby.

With my parents entrenched in the world of tax returns and my siblings catching up on more schoolwork than usual, I found myself tasked with making dinner. I was used to it, after all, and the first few days, I shared my staple recipes.

A routine began to emerge. Around 5 p.m., I would put on some music and start chopping vegetables or dicing chicken. I’d hum along as I sauteed, fried, boiled and baked, fresh air streaming in through the open window on nice days. My family would trickle into the kitchen, following the smell of food cooking, and I would fret about them ruining their appetites or the food getting cold.

For one blessed hour a day, I didn’t think about viruses or ventilators or personal protective equipment. I didn’t think about timelines, about what this meant for my ability to get a job or enjoy my senior year. For one beautiful hour, it was just me, the sweet voice of Hozier, a recipe blog up on my laptop and the endless possibilities of spices and seasonings in my parents’ kitchen.

Lately, I’ve struggled with finding activities that make me feel centered and present. I find myself checking my phone during workouts and, even though I love to write, I have trouble producing anything I’m proud of. I consider myself a Christian but haven’t properly prayed in over a month. I find myself in the middle of endless conversations about projections and the potential for a second wave. During the early weeks of quarantine, I spent hours panic-scrolling and refreshing Twitter stories for more information about the virus. And while it’s important to stay informed, the dread of a world pandemic with no end in sight was eating me from the inside out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I badly needed a daily break, a time to clear my mind and do something that made me happy. I didn’t realize it would come before I even knew I needed it.

Cooking isn’t easy, not by a long shot. It challenges me to focus and approach things with care — the cuts on my fingers from chopping onions tell the story of the times I didn’t. It requires multitasking and delegation, and the stakes are as high as the moment you watch someone take a bite of meat and fear it could be undercooked. But I firmly believe, in the words of the groundbreaking culinary film “Ratatouille,” that anyone can cook. And I would go so far as to say that everyone should cook. 

Having a series of manageable but challenging tasks to work toward every day gives me a sense of purpose that is difficult for me to find in a time when days blend together and I have a hard time seeing the point of changing out of my pajamas. Maybe I can’t predict when I’ll be allowed to go into a Wawa again, but I can predict when my potatoes will be boiled thoroughly enough for mashing, and that once that happens, I can give my family one of their favorite foods.

So I understand the draw of a glossy, aesthetically appealing cookbook and the magic it promises to make. I don’t think you need one to create a good meal, but I believe that there is a little more to cooking than getting food to taste decent in under half an hour. And clicking through recipe blog after recipe blog, scrolling past the tales of summers picking blueberries and Decembers decorating Christmas cookies, I think of the memories I’m creating that I could put in my own cookbook if I wanted to. The barbecue sauce we had to whip up after we ran out of Sweet Baby Ray’s based on a phone call with Grandpa Artie in Florida; the French fries that, no matter how hard I try, I always burn and yet my mom still always proclaims the deliciousness of; the food that, in the long run, doesn’t really matter except for the people that it brings together.

I want to go back to my normal life. I don’t want to stay in quarantine forever. I want people to get their health and their jobs back, and I want justice for communities hit particularly hard by this virus. I’m not saying my daily cooking routine makes it all better, but it makes it a little better. I still wouldn’t consider myself a domestic goddess, but I think there is something about cooking that feels a little bit spiritual to me, which makes me feel more in touch with myself and grateful for the gifts that I still have. I still have a well-stocked pantry and a healthy family to gather with. I still have a killer taste in music (if I do say so myself) and enough knowledge gained from Bon Appetit Test Kitchen videos to properly cook pasta to al dente. I still have a place I can go every day where things feel a little less terrible.

And to all of my friends at Fordham, whom I miss and love with all my heart: I can’t wait to cook with you.