Archive for September, 2007

Oh, the joy (of cooking, that is)

I came around to the joy of cooking a little late. Here is the much-abridged sum of my mother’s early tutelage: ground beef browning, “fried” chicken baking, cups of flour leveling, brown sugar packing. But devoted as I was to Cheetos and to sneaking the sugary goodness from the Jell-O packets in the very back of the very high cupboard, food preparation and all it entailed (the recipe hunting, the shopping, the cleaning afterward) seemed absolutely fruitless. It would have been somewhere in the 80’s that I declared — if only to myself — my disdain for all things domestic, cooking included. Unless it got me and fellow slumber party attendees late-night cookie dough with M&M’s and someone’s training bra ended up in the freezer, the kitchen was no place for me.

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But a few married years into regular dinners coming from a box, from powdered something-or-other out of a foil-lined, direction-laden pouch, I decided to attempt the use of ingredients that could perish in four days, rather than in so many years. Early results were varied. My rotini with fontina, Parmesan and peas was a creamy, buttery hit. The peanut butter-laced noodle and carrot bowl from my impulse-buy vegetarian cookbook, however, was a spit-it-out grimace inducer.

I had to learn to cook. From standpoints both economic and body-conscious, I could no longer duck out to a restaurant last minute every time I wanted something other than toast, something decently representative of more than a single lonely food group and the odd condiment. Plus, I was growing more dissatisfied with the typical restaurant offerings. I’d had a kid, and with that somehow came a desire to know the very details of what my plate contained. I couldn’t shirk knowing exactly what was going into my baby daughter’s ever-hungry mouth, either, a more or less vital part of the maternal responsibility.

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And so, I started simply, having subscribed to a couple of cooking magazines, having cracked the few cookbooks I received as wedding gifts. There was some clumsy chopping, some overly enthusiastic simmering, some under-salting and over-peppering, along with some grossly errant substituting. But the realization that I could actually take a list of edible items and put them together to yield combinations of flavors and textures was dawning.

There was happiness in this, what I had perceived to be among the most mundane of activities. There was not just the satisfaction at the point of fork-to-mouth, not just the contented end to tummy rumblings. There was joy to be had in transformations: in steaming broccoli to shiny green; in the crunch of an onion while chopping, then sautéing it to translucent tenderness; in swirling together the previously independent entities of oil and vinegar, mustard and honey.

I was on my way.

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Keen relish; hearty enjoyment; gusto

This is it, friends, the very beginning of something I’ve been meaning to do for a long while. I have studied up, read much, and realize I am merely another cook adding my particular brand of seasoning to an already savory broth.

But like any writer worth her salt, I have something to say. And it’s just not something that gets said during normal business hours, when I am asking (what I hope are) the intelligent questions, writing about the answers for other people, chipping away at word counts. This, then, is my space, created expressly for the jottings that no one has specifically contracted me to put down.

Turns out I’m not just a writer; I’m a writer who thinks about cooking while writing, and a cook who thinks about writing while cooking. Making food, I’ve discovered, provides me with the same pleasures — and sometimes the same frustrations — that writing does. I’d like to explore that in the obvious way, then: through writing about it.

But before we move on, you should know that the word “zest” is from the French; that it is not only the thin, outer peel of a citrus fruit (esp. lemon) used for flavoring, but that it is anything added to enhance one’s appreciation, and to impart piquancy, interest or charm. And let’s not forget a most delightful insight, that “zest” is also code for keen relish, hearty enjoyment, gusto.

These are the things that will see us through.

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