Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reflections on cooking

I really like to cook.

One on hand, I already knew this. But I am also developing a new appreciation for what that statement means to me.

For the past nine years, I have had the luxury of teaching part-time and spending two weekdays at home with my family. In the early years of this arrangement, that translated to changing diapers, doing laundry, and changing more diapers. However in the past couple years, we bid a farewell to diapers. One child was in school full time and the other spent large parts of the day playing with her dolls and asking relatively little of me.

So days home, while still about laundry and other household realities, became opportunities for cooking projects: cheese-making, the baking of homemade bread products, mixing of batches of granola, and the creation of dinners slightly more elaborate than what it's possible to throw together at 5PM when everyone's crabby at the end of long days at school and daycare.

I knew these kitchen projects would take a hit with my return to working full time. Now granola gets made on the weekends as does bread. There hasn't been a batch of cheese since summer and I gave up on homemade english muffins in early September.

Nevertheless, healthy dinners are still important. We accomplish this through a variety of methods. We double stew recipes and freeze half, defrosting them in the middle of the week when we otherwise would only be able to muster energy for grilled cheese. We make quick healthy meals and use our bounty of vegetables from our CSA share for salads and side dishes to accompany the inevitable grilled cheese.

While eating healthy is a priority, I also had several moments this week where I realized that my efforts in the kitchen efforts had another motivation as well.

Tuesday I came home to dinner plans of defrosted sweet potato and black bean chili. A couple of days earlier my husband had commented on the large quantities of cornmeal in the freezer. (It is from a local source, and we keep it there to prevent spoilage.) Tired as I was, I whipped off a batch of corn bread to go with the chili. And I didn't even mind. I wanted to.

Wednesday we had a Thai peanut noodle recipe. It's a relatively quick dish to put together, but you feel like you're really cooking in a way you don't when making, say, grilled cheese. This was after spending the morning up to my elbows in gumbo at school. [Note: The post about gumbo is coming soon...] Again. I didn't mind making dinner. The process was even soothing, a pleasant task that took me away from the hecticness of a day spent with energetic preadolescents.

And the gumbo itself! If I could spend all day cooking with my students, I don't think I'd mind. It's a different interaction than we have when we're in a reading group or working on math problems. More natural, more focused on a real-life task.

Handling food, turning it from one form into's not the same as yoga, but the process of cooking centers me. When I cook I am taking a group of disparate ingredients, processing them, turning them into something altogether new and different. I never thought of it this way before, but there is a synergy to a well-prepared dish. Something bigger than a bagful of ingredients emerges out of the time spent chopping, mixing, sauteing.

And that synergy -- that making something more out of what you have in front of you -- it all starts with the cook.

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