Mental health experts credit cooking with helping relieve all kinds of disorders, from anxiety to depression; indeed, it was the soothing, meditative process of roasting a chicken that helped writer Ella Risbridger through a particularly difficult time. Here she shares her story and tells us about her inspiring new book, Midnight Chicken
Could you tell us how you came to write Midnight Chicken?
I came to write this book because I’ve always written about everything that’s happened to me – in diaries, blogs, journals generally – and what happened to me was cooking. Cooking, and a mental health crisis. So I started writing about in on my blog, and that blog became a book.
What about the process of cooking do you think we find so soothing?
I don’t know what other people get out of it, but for me, it’s the perfect cross section of creative inspiration and practical, hands-on getting-stuff-sorted. Also, if you cook someone what they most want to eat, it’s like giving them a present! Just on a regular day! When they aren’t expecting it! And how nice is that?
Have you always found comfort in food?
Nope! I was probably twenty before I ever really thought of cooking: before that I mainly only liked mainly spaghetti bolognese and toast. I wasn’t a cook
What are your favourite food memories from childhood?
My mum used to make milk bread in the AGA (a version of which is in my book!) and my sister Bee used to make these amazing Smarties cookies – I remember them being bigger than my face! Most Fridays we’d get home from school (my sisters, our friends and me) and my mum would have made pizza dough. We’d all sit round the table making pizza together. I loved those Fridays.
Any recent meals that are really memorable?
All my meals are memorable: I love remembering delicious things I’ve eaten or made. In very early January I was in France with three dear friends and we ate saucisson, cheese, really brilliant French butter and lots of bread for multiple meals. It was incredible. I’ve also just got really into making fancy pies: I’ve got some Scrabble tile pastry cutters and I’m obsessed with making every pie into a Scrabble game. We served chicken pie for twenty-one at New Year, and before that we had a dinner party with an incredible game pie with our guests’ names on top.
Are you an experimental cook or do you like to follow recipes?
I am really terrible at following recipes. If I want to cook something, I read all the recipes for the thing I want to make, take lots of notes and then abandon all my notes and have a go. This is sometimes a disaster, and sometimes amazing.
What you would cook for a friend who needed cheering up?
I’m very much into spaghetti bolognese, as I say, and a pie with your name on it is always dreamy. There are also these little raspberry pistachio cakes I make, kind of like friands, which are very cheering; and there is a roast tomato-and-garlic soup in my book which is just pure comfort. What I want if I’m down – for the record – is a big mug of tea and a cheesy crumpet.