Nigella's Cook, Eat, Repeat: A Balm for Troubled Times
This article begins and ends with a desire for comfort. I don’t think we need another tired explanation of how difficult this year has been, or why such comfort is so sorely missed, so I will allow readers to set the scene for themselves. All you need to know is that after ten months of lockdowns, bereavement, joblessness, and stagnation, Nigella Lawson graced our screens with her newest series - and not a minute too late. Cook, Eat, Repeat is a collection of recipes that the Domestic Goddess herself returns to in times of need, to conjure up a semblance of serenity, or at the very least, a taste of something better.
After having long relied on her #RecipeOfTheDay Instagram posts for a jolt of serotonin, the thought of hours of new Nigella was thrilling. But, as both a die-hard fan-girl and a seasoned cynic I was ashamedly apprehensive at the idea of the book and its assorted TV-show being born out of quarantine. Indeed, no sooner had I learnt what an R number was, than I began to dread the rise of ~quarantine content~. Of course, this has been a time of learning, of growing, of turning your hand to bloody anything to distract from the bleakness… but the last thing we need is an onslaught of poorly written bottle episodes. But, I should never have doubted Nigella. In amongst the indomitable maxims of Get Fit, Learn Language, Be Productive, the simple adage Cook, Eat, Repeat brings welcome respite.
The recipes are simple and indulgent, their descriptions are laden with outlandishly gorgeous adjectives, and their on-screen adaptations are adorned with camp kitchenware (if my boyfriend doesn’t get me a leopard print knife or hot pink kitchen aid for Christmas then I might just have to give him back) and prepared with gentle glee. This is Nigella in a nutshell. Make no mistake, there is a rather prescient air about the whole affair, with each introduction reminding us that ‘cooking can be a balm in troubled times’. However, you will not be left with a bump on the head from being clobbered by the gloomy zeitgeist. Instead, Cook, Eat, Repeat swaps context trips to the ogling butcher for crisp winter walks in the park and dinner-party spreads with cookies for one: a considerate reminder of the times we live in, without the yearning-for-what-once was that we are so often subjected to. Nigella has managed to light up the darkest of times with her trademark cheekiness and beloved exuberance. It seems the perfect balance between sincerity and pragmatism can be achieved quite effortlessly by someone who strikes it with heart.
I am not the only person so taken by Nigella’s newest offering. The very first episode forged unity between children of the South Asian diaspora, leftists, and frozen fish fanatics alike, when her recipe for fish finger bhorta - a loving riff on Ash Sarkar’s mother’s recipe - set twitter alight. The next week Nigella taught us how to butter bread: twice. Outrage and adoration ensued. In Episode Three, we were cleverly invited to delight in her multi-tiered liquorice treasure box, Nigella knowing full well that the ingredient it contained would spark controversy, and that it did. Episode Four’s dedication to the humble anchovy saw Nigella become the founding member of the Association of Anchovy Appreciators, a community going strong to this day. The Fifth Episode brought us the microwavé… and so on. Each episode sparks a reaction, whether it be delight, trepidation, obstinance, or, as is usually the case, hunger. After throwing Twitter a juicy bone with each succulent episode, the ringleader herself keeps this momentum going by interacting with a great deal of her internet interlocutors, retweeting memes and replying to recipe queries with the same wit as she displays on television. This is no doubt excellent marketing, but beyond that, it provides a platform for silly, impassioned debate, graciously devoid of harsh realities. A jovial thread about Nigella’s shower-cap proving hack provides unexpected shelter from the deluge of depressing statistics, and each deliciously clumsy replication of her chocolate peanut butter cake softens the blow of empty political promises. With Cook, Eat, Repeat, we are fed sighs of relief by the spoonful. We are reminded of what it is like to truly enjoy something.
Of course, a house filled with treasured novelty cookware, dressed to hit that mark between luxurious and quirky, is not a lockdown setting that most of us will recognize. Cooking shows are never documentaries, despite food being one of the most tangible artefacts of reality. On television, cooking represents a lifestyle. For better or for worse, Nigella’s recipes are not simply instructions to make food, but to make a life; one that is sexy, splendid and at times slap-dash. Yet although she has become known for her deft use of double entendres and come-hither glances, this is less the result of some innate sexuality, and moreso a cunning lean-in to the pigeonholing that befalls the unapologetically beautiful woman. Her life has in fact been more difficult than most know, and it seems she has been glamorised to the point where this can conveniently be forgotten. Cook, Eat, Repeat has all the charm of Nigella’s previous shows, but this time there is less emphasis on provocation. We all know that Nigella is gorgeous, and frankly, for a fact completely out of her control, it has garnered her as much admonition as adoration. This time, innuendos are less a crass reminder of her sexuality - and don’t get me wrong, I love a good ‘stiff peak’ joke - and more a reminder to laugh in the face of adversity. It seems that this is what Nigella has been teaching us all along, but now, as we’re all in a time of heightened hardship, it becomes clearer.
As I sit writing this, my Old Fashioned Sandwich Loaf is proving, and although I don’t know how it will turn out - I have never successfully baked a loaf of bread despite considering myself an accomplished home cook - I don’t mind if when I pull it out of the oven it is more doughy clag than springy comfort. Cook, Eat, Repeat is not about accomplishing great things in the midst of uncertainty. It is about nourishing yourself with the pleasure of trying.
Neena Porter is Blister's Social Media queen. She can best be described as an internet gremlin. She loves to dig deeper into the everyday, and the content we consume unknowingly. Although a meme is worth a thousand words, she will do her best to analyse it with the right ones. She spends her spare time grappling with feminist existentialism, and trying to keep up with the rapidly changing ways in which we communicate.