Sunday, October 30, 2011

On cooking and comfort

It has been a stressful few months,to say the least. I feel no particular need to belabor this point.  It is enough to say it has been all I can do most days to drag myself out of bed, make it to work, put out whatever fires the day may bring, and limp home. Making dinner most nights seems a monolithic task, and more than I can manage.

But here's the thing: I love to cook. I love everything about being in the kitchen. I love the rhythm of chopping onions and garlic. I love that the damn onions make me cry every time! I love the sound of oil heating in a pan, and that hiss when the onions hit the oil for the first time. I love the aroma that permeates the house as everything begins to come together.  I love to take  recipes and play with them to make them my own.  I love the idea of creating something that will bring joy, comfort, and nourishment to the people around me.

I watch Food Network the way my sweetheart watches sports.  I can watch it all day, and never realize that time has passed.  I actually had to take a sick day a couple of weeks ago, and I spent the entire day in bed with Food Network on the television.  I slept off and on throughout the day, but just having those shows on in the background soothed me.  They inspired me, too.

The chefs made me want to feel better so I could get out of bed and try new things in the kitchen.  They made me feel like eating again, but not just any food.  Good food.  Healthy, homemade food that was filled with energy, effort, and love.  They made me want to head to the grocery store for Belgian Endive to stuff with Swiss cheese and wrap in ham before covering in a silky, cheesy sauce and baking it in the oven.  They tempted me, for the first time, to try lamb, in the form of "lollipop" chops, as I prepared a Greek inspired meal.  My head was overflowing with ideas of new ingredients I could throw together in the kitchen, and I started to feel better.

When I cook, I always feel better.  Always.  So why do I dread it some days?  Is it perhaps that I have set my expectations to high?  I have done so much experimenting, using fresh ingredients, playing with spice combinations, making things from scratch, that now it feels like cheating on a night when I just want to open a box of Kraft Mac & Cheese.  I can't leave it alone.  I have to add spices, hot sauce, more cheese.  Who doesn't want more cheese, after all?  But I think that by falling in love with cooking, I have deemed dinner daunting.  what's a Betty to do?

I spent yesterday throwing together a bunch of old favorites for a Halloween party, and was so happy to see that they were a hit last night. As I type, I have a Paula Deen inspired dish bubbling away in the crock pot.  My house smells amazing.  The anticipation is building, and I can't wait to see if what I have done with her recipe has worked.  I had so much fun just putting it together that it really doesn't matter.  I realized that just the act of creating the dish soothed me and brought me comfort, so that is enough.

But it sure will be a bummer if it turns out to taste like dirt!