Wed 3 Mar 2010
Last month, Michael Ruhlman challenged food bloggers to join him in thinking about why we cook. His post has received over 200 comments and has inspired many blog posts in response. Here is mine.
Why I Cook
I cook because I love to eat. At the heart of all my reasons, my cooking is primarily an extension of my deep love of food. Eating involves my senses - the sight of the food, its aroma, its heft in my hand and texture in my mouth, the sounds it made as it was prepared - all of this before it even reaches the deep ocean of the experience of taste. Cooking literally feeds my joyful affection for food.
I cook because I like to work with my hands. I relish relating to the world kinesthetically; when I cook, I manipulate ingredients with my hands until they become something else, something wonderful. Everything I create a work is cerebral, words on a page. Cooking lets me make something I can touch and feel and experience more fully.
I cook because I need a creative outlet. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t created things. Drawing, painting, dancing, sewing, knitting, acting, writing, building, quilting, beading, sculpting…it has always been something. As I have noted here many times, I often work long hours. This leaves me with little time for hobbies, especially during the week. Since we have to eat, I have always felt like cooking dinner each night kills two birds with one stone. I get to spend time doing something I love, and it happens to fill our bellies at the end. Win-win.
I cook because there are endless lessons to learn and skills to master. In some ways, the world of cooking presents an impossibly steep mountain that reaches into the heavens. But I set out for a climb anyway, knowing I won’t ever reach the summit. I teach myself new techniques and concepts along the way, and every success pays dividends.
I cook as a way to relate to people. Food is a way to show love, affection, friendship, kindness. I feel like I can express my support for those close to me so much more eloquently through a well-timed chocolate babka than I can with words. When I cook for others, the food speaks for me. It tells them that they are worth my time, worth the effort.
I cook because it fascinates me. Cooking is the perfect storm of science, art, and magic. There is so much to know about the physical and chemical properties of my ingredients; the more I learn, the more enthralled I become. This was what first attracted me to baking (well, that and the wonder of frosting). Combine a whole lot of nothing - flour, water, yeast, salt - and end up with a crusty loaf of bread, one very special something. Add the hearty beauty of roasted garlic and fresh herbs, and that simple bread becomes something unforgettable, craveable. Cube it, toss with tomatoes and cheese, douse with oil and vinegar and a beautiful panzanella jumps out. There are endless combinations and variations on limitless themes, each more delicious than the last. When I step into my kitchen and begin to cook, I feel as though I’m trying to throw my arms around a glorious expanse of wonder and discovery. With each new dish, my enthusiasm grows. I use cooking to feed both my belly and my soul.
What about you? Why do you cook?
Challenge 2 - Protein
I think there is a certain degree of mental muscle memory that underscores any successful effort to consistently cook for yourself when time is limited. I often find myself gravitating toward a smaller and smaller collection of time-worn, easy favorites when my work schedule becomes increasingly hectic (see, e.g., now). It’s easy to rely on the meals I’ve made dozens of times before; minimal thinking and minimal planning always seem particularly enticing when time is scarce. Saturday, I say to myself, Saturday is for digging in to a new cookbook for something new and different.
It’s a common trap.
This month, we’ll be fighting back against the narrowing rabbit hole of dinner tedium by forcing a little diversity into our protein repertoire. The challenge is to work with at least four different proteins during the month of March. Push yourself to try something you haven’t worked with before. Break free from the tyranny of the boneless, skinless chicken breast and step out there a bit. Shellfish. Offal. Tofu. Game hens. Legumes.
For an extra challenge, prepare each of your four proteins twice and select a different preparation the second time. Braise your beef one night, roast it the next. Poach your fish in white wine and broth, then cook it en papillote with fennel and orange slices. If you’re working with a new technique, start simple. Contrast, compare, learn, and let us know what you discover.