Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Do You Cook?

My summer was a crazy time of upheaval: moving out of one apartment in Virginia, setting up an apartment in Nebraska, and then coming back to Virginia to set up a room in Harrisonburg while I finish up my job teaching. 
Through all the upheaval, I didn’t do much cooking for myself.  Lots of people cooked for me and I stole some kitchen time here and there.  For the most part, though, I did more eating out, relying on premade meals, or whipping small things together. 
Once I got settled in my Harrisonburg place, I was still having problems motivating myself to get back in the kitchen.  Even by early September, the most I’d done is sauté some shrimp to go with a jar of soup a friend made for me.  
But, one day, I went grocery shopping with a friend who was preparing for lots of cooking over the next week.  Watching her look at recipes and walking through the aisles of food filled with familiar tastes and new flavors, ingredients yet to be tried and foods tried too often, I felt for the first time in a long time like cooking. 
Not just cooking, though, creating.  While walking around the grocery store, thinking about a desire dormant and a desire rekindled, I asked myself, why do I cook?  Why do any of us foodies cook? 
Sometimes, cooking really isn’t about the food.  After a long day, I cook to forget about the day.  I get lost in methodical chopping, sizzling pots, and fresh aromas.  The murkiness of the day melts away like butter in a pan.  In those days, I cook to relax and the action is less about the destination and more about the journey.     
Then, there is the debate about whether do you cook for you or do you cook for others.  Although in January I’ll officially settle in Nebraska with my boyfriend and so start cooking as a twosome; currently and for the past 7+ years or so, I’ve just cooked for me.  At times, cooking for one can feel a little sad.  If it is great, now one can praise you.  Yet, it also has moments when the act is about me, like taking a bath to relax, buying flowers to decorate the kitchen, or take an evening stroll.  I do it to enjoy a great meal, made just for me. 
Mostly, I cook to create.  I get a big kick out of experimenting with ingredients.  A strang time for exciting cooking was when I was moving out of my Staunton apartment and had to finish out my cupboard.  I really couldn’t buy that many new ingredients because then, if I didn’t finish them, I would have to move all those things.  Plus, with all the expenses of moving, there wasn’t a lot of grocery money.  So, for a month, I got to figure out dinner based on odds and ends.   I could subsidize and fill-in here and there, but I had fun just playing with my food.  My best success was a tomato-based sauce that used out the rest of my red lentils.   I’d never known that could work unless faced with trying to pull dinner out of a hat. 
Why do you cook?  I’d like to know.  Is it for the ingredients, the creation, the “oohs” and “aahs,” the thrill of a success, or the validation of turning something bad into a something good?  What, dear reader, is the joy of cooking for you? 

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