Wednesday, 27 August 2008
I very often hear people complain that they don't have the time or skills to cook. But everyone with an opposable thumb, passable hand-eye coordination and a few basic implements can cook. So I thought I'd take the time to write why I actually enjoy cooking, why I think it's worth the time, and what I do to make it something to look forward to rather than a chore.
First off, when I cooks, I cooks. I don't do a million other things at the same time. I may listen to music or a podcast, but I don't email, read, do work that I've taken home, fix the sink and change my bike tires while I cook dinner. I usually give cooking my full attention when I'm doing it. I don't rush (which means if i only have time to make pasta and chopped tomatoes, that's what I make, rather than trying to fit a dish with a 45 minute prep time into 10 minutes). Studies show that the more you take notice of an activity, the more you enjoy it. Cooking has lovely textures and smells and colours and tastes, and at the end of it, you have food! How satisfying is that? Cooking and eating are incredibly sensual things that offer so much pleasure if you just take a little time to actually notice them. You get to be creative, and with a little practice, you get to make things exactly the way you like them. Besides, what are you going to do with the half hour you would "save" by not cooking for yourself? Watch tv? Text message? Surf the internets?
Second, I have a realistic expectation of what I'm going to eat on a day to day basis. If you eat out all the time, every meal is Christmas-fancy. If you cook, much of the time food is plainer, in that I rarely make more than a single dish at once. Add salad, and you have a dinner. There is a reason things like lasagna, pilaf and biyriani tend to be featured on special-occasion menus in the backs of cookbooks. They take more time (and sometimes more money) than can be invested on most Wednesday nights. In this post, the soup is a weekday dinner. The pilaf (which was followed by cake and homemade sorbet) was a mini-dinner party that I spent about 2 hours cooking for, including making the seitan the night before). Many of the things in this blog are tagged "quickie". Those are simple things, as in they involve little time (though I do have a very well stocked spice cabinet).
Also, I accept and enjoy that there is a learning curve. When I'm just figuring out how to make a particular kind of dish, or working with spices that are new to me, I don't expect perfection right away. Remember when you were a kid and it was fun to see yourself improve? Well, cooking new stuff is like that. I ate a lot of misshapen and oddly-spiced potato roti while I was working out how to make them. Not that they were *bad*. They were fine, though one memorable batch required vast amounts of mango chutney.... and another batch simply got magically transformed into pizza crusts. But now they're better. When I was learning to make truffles, I botched a few batches and ended up with very very very expensive brownies. Some people (like me) are very adventurous cooks who don't really use recipes and don't mind the occasional disaster. Some cooks stick to a few basic techniques that they know well and follow recipes carefully when they deviate from it. Find a style that works for you. But if you want to know how to cook for everyday life, you have to learn to eat for everyday life. I don't know how people have the expectation that every day should be fancy food. Especially if you are just beginning to cook, start simple. Get good ingredients and appreciate everyday food.
Third, cooking lets you eat real food, not processed crap. What could possibly be more important than taking care of your basic health? Is taking half an hour a day to take care of yourself too inconvenient? Hmmmm.... last time I checked, being in bad health and having no energy was also inconvenient. (Plus, need I remind you that more energy and well-being equals better sex?) My health and sanity are non-negotiable. I will not give them up to crappy "food" and a lifestyle that makes exercise and downtime impossible.
Last, we have to eat. And life is short. If you can't take joy in everyday things, than what the hell is the point of life anyway? If there's something that gets done every day, several times a day (eating, moving from place to place, working), I *make* it enjoyable (cooking, riding my bike, having a job I love even though it pays less and is less stable than many other jobs I could have). I absolutely refuse to spend most of my life doing things I dislike, or even things that I'm indifferent to. That would just be a stupid waste. Those of us that are lucky enough to have the means (financial and mental) to be happy should. I have zero sympathy for those who live in self-imposed misery.
Okay, now the food. All I had left in the veg box was parsnips, spuds and a really sad looking carrot. I picked up some spinach on the way home and made this soup, which isn't terribly photogenic, but it was oh-so yummy. I didn't really know what I was going to do with the parsnips, except roast them, because I looooove roasted parsnips and am ambivalent at best about non-roasted parsnips. Soup: parsnips, sad carrot, onions and garlic, all coated with ras-el-hanout and roasted in the oven. Then I dumped the veggies into a pot, deglazed the roasting dish with some water and added that too, blended the whole thing, added some lemon juice and chopped spinach and topped it with pomegranite molasses. Yum. I ate it with potato roti, because I apparently can't get enough potato roti these days.
Also, apple pilaf from a bike-y dyke-y dinner this weekend: wheatberries and spuds boiled with cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves. Apples (6), caramelized onions(2), toasted and ground cumin and coriander, mexican oregano, zuchinni (1 small), carrot (1 small, happy), maplesmokey seitan crumbles (homemade), toasted walnuts (generous handful). Served with salad.