The kitchen and I have never gotten along particularly well. I stumble around, move my fingers awkwardly, drop things. I’m a fish out of water. I focus too much on the recipe yet still forget details. Forget timers. Forget ingredients. For instance, last week I tried to make brownies from a mix and when I removed the final product from the oven, I realized I had a perfectly measured cup of oil still sitting on the table.
Growing up I’d eat what was put in front of me without much thought or fuss. I was hungry. I ate. I moved on. When it came to feeding myself by myself, I happily resorted to canned soup, meal bars, take-out or pasta. In fact, in the 6 months that I lived in Italy – the mecca of food appreciation – I cooked a real meal twice. Otherwise I ate yogurt in the morning, a meal bar in the afternoon, canned soup in the evening, and random fruit or snacks from a shop if I got hungry during the day. I’m ashamed of this fact. But I think it aptly exemplifies the realization that smacked me across the face this weekend while Jason and I were in the middle of a professional cooking lesson (thanks to a sweet wedding gift). I’ve never found any joy in food.
Food was fuel. A means to an end. A solution to hunger. An expense. Something to moderate.
Now, don’t get me wrong. In a basic way I appreciate a good meal. I notice when food is good or fundamentally bad. I love going out to great restaurants. But at the end of the day, unless I overpaid for a crummy meal or wound up with food poisoning, it doesn’t particularly matter to me.
However, our cooking lesson whipped up some life lessons that made me finally want to care.
As our teacher casually fried a fish, diced and sautéed beats, folded chocolate into heavy cream, chopped tomatoes, separated eggs and squeezed lemon juice (all at the same time), she also shared her philosophy about food and cooking – which was really her philosophy about love and life. Hosted in our tiny kitchen, I had a little bit of a therapy session.
Food, she explained, is the foundation of a home. It is where happiness starts from. Sitting around a table and enjoying a meal is fundamental to a healthy, full family and life. Food is not fuel. Food should be sexual. Food is an experience to be enjoyed, shared, savored.
Not that it was the best movie ever created, but it made me think of Spanglish with Adam Sandler (chef husband, John), Tea Leoni (over-exercising, joyless wife, Deborah), and Paz Vega (their housekeeper and first generation Mexican immigrant, Flor). Deborah’s life (meant to represent the life of many a well-to-do white American housewife) was built on restriction and controlling human emotions/sexuality while Flor’s was built on love and embracing human emotions/sexuality – tasting and savoring life. Sitting at our kitchen table this weekend, I felt like Deborah. A prude, Puritan, American white girl.
People eat at least three times a day. Potentially share a home-cooked meal seven nights a week. How much joy have I missed out on by just dumping condensed tomato soup into a pot and stirring occasionally for 5 minutes? How much more joy could I bring to my world, myself, my husband, our future family if I could cook?
In America’s micro-apartments without a fireplace, the TV has become the hearth. But the kitchen needs to regain control of life’s focal point. Some of my favorite memories are sitting around the island in the kitchen at Jason’s family’s house while food is prepared and corks are popped. Someday Jason and I will be the conductors of the family’s food symphony (too much? yes). We’ll be the ones cobbling together a meal from today’s groceries and extraneous left-overs. We’ll be the ones who need to smile while we do it.
And so, my new life goal is to find the joy in cooking which I hope will open me up further to the joy of food – a wonderful symbiotic relationship. The fact that my culinary skills should land me on the short bus is an easy barrier to entry. But I think if I can work on shifting my larger philosophy about food, the actual cooking ability will come. Eventually. With practice. And a healthy glass of wine.