Sheet pan kielbasa and cabbage, and feeding yourself when you're depressed.
Adapted from: the traditional Polish comfort foods.
Part of me is reluctant to admit this to you and in doing so making it real, but my nervous system is shot. I have drained my reservoirs of pleasure and I don’t know how to refill them. After a year and a half, I have tapped out on novelty and exhausted the familiar, too. Where does that leave me? Us? I say us because I have heard this story from so many of you over the last few months, some used to the cadence of depression and others bewildered by it. No one is cooking anymore. No one cares. As for me, the amplitude of my emotions has flatlined, along with it my curiosity and will to pursue the question, or any question. Trying new dishes? Maybe next year. For someone who has lived to eat for as long as I can remember, I am now eating to live.
Enter the sheet pan dinner.
Eater tells me that the “sheet pan dinner” as we know it—the popularized, Instagrammed, flat-lay food stylist branded thing—is a relatively recent phenomenon, introduced in 2014 by Melissa Clark before really taking off in 2017. New York Times says Martha Stewart has something to do with it, having introduced the sheet pan as a utilitarian workhorse on her show in the 1990s, even if she didn’t directly showcase its convenience as a vessel for endless adaptable dinners. Now, every food publication has their own how-to guide to perfecting the sheet pan dinner (from Bon Appetit’s 10 tips to NYT Cooking’s choose-your-own-adventure scenario). The irony amuses me. As a culture, we can’t let unfussy things remain unfussy. We have tinker. Document. Optimize.
I, for one, am not optimizing. I am throwing things on the pan and letting them cook for longer than the recipe called for because I forgot to set the timer. Because above all, I seek out a sheet pan dinner for its forgiving nature, like a friend who encourages the cancelling of plans because she knows you don’t want to be the first one to do it.
What is positioned as the ultimate convenience hack for families on the go—perfect for weeknight dinners and easy clean-up—is, to me, a depression strategy. I have all the time in the world to clean a few pots, but dealing with one sheet pan is all I have in me. I could chop up all of the ingredients neatly and fuss over their presentation, but I don’t want to. The sheet pan meal allows me to toss a few things together messily and throw them in the oven. If I can’t bring myself to flip things halfway, so be it. It’ll live! Browned edges and caramelized bits are part of the charm, even if entirely the result of negligence.
And when you plate the thing, it feels like you’ve done something to care for yourself, even if you’ve done the bare minimum at best. It’s a small, understanding pat on the back meal. A “save your energy for something else because this is fine” meal. A “it’s okay, you’re surviving” meal. And, for a tiny moment, it is the kindness you were looking for.
Sheet-Pan Kielbasa With Cabbage and Beans, Ali Slagle for New York Times Cooking.
I made this recipe pretty much as is, although it is fairly flexible. Added a little maple syrup to the vinaigrette because it was tart. The result was impressive, far more rewarding than you’d expect from the amount of effort the recipe takes.
Simplifying these flavours even more, we return to the classic Kielbasa and Cabbage (Eating European).
Making it autumnal with a few additions, we have the Polish Hunter’s Stew (Simply Recipes), which I have yet to make but anticipate I will one day this fall, once motivation re-emerges.
I’m going on vacation this week for a little while, which means we’re skipping a newsletter, but maybe it will be the jolt of rapture I need to return to myself again. Let us hope.
Until next time,