Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stewing Thoughts

I just made a soup that was a flop. Potato carrot soup, with evaporated milk and bay leaf. No good, right? Yeah, definitely no good.

It was for reasons such as this that used to have me swearing off cooking for life. I felt, what's the point of working so hard to find that something is bland or, even worse, nasty? I even had someone ask me once, with concern, "Are you going to cook for your children?" She wasn't so much asking about gender roles (and let's not get into that right now--speaking of nasty--that's a nasty debate when you get me going). She just wondered if, left alone with my children, say my husband is at work or the grocery store or the craft store (because it will be okay if he goes to the craft store...oh look at me, getting back into gender roles again...), would I let them starve because I was that unwilling to cook for them? I honestly don't remember who asked me this, all I remember is that I was pretty offended. I believe my answer was something along the lines of, "Of course I will not let them starve, I'm just saying their only options will be scrambled eggs or mac 'n cheese, so I hope that Daddy's willing to make something a little more special."

I must be recovering from this conversation somewhat--or, subconsciously accepting and responding to it--because for the first time in my life I am occasionally cooking. It makes me feel productive, which in turn makes me feel good. Another reason I shied away from cooking for so long was that I thought it was so precise. I've come to learn that baking is pretty precise because of the strict rules of science, but cooking is actually quite artistic. I still don't know enough about sauteeing versus broiling versus grilling, etc., to bend the rules when it comes to how long to cook something or temperature adjustments, but in terms of ingredient substitution, amounts of things, you can do whatever you want! There is a liberating freedom, independence in this sport. Even the particular way you choose to slice an onion--go for it, Babe! Diagonal, traditionally, with safety scissors...that last option would take you a minute, but who's stopping you?!

Tonight I realized, as I spooned the last few bits of my soup that I could tolerate into my mouth, the calm that resides within me now (not all the time, mind you, but in this culinary realm of life). I bet you, a year ago, if I had to throw away a whole pot of soup, I would be extremely annoyed. If I had a blog back then, you'd probably be reading about it. The neighbors would have heard about it; whichever brother answered his phone first would get an earful about my predicament in the kitchen. But a botched pot of stew is the same as anything else in life. You cook. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes you ravenously lick the final remnants out of the bowl. You make friends, sometimes they let you down, sometimes they remain for life.

I'm not always so forgiving, far from it, and I hate in particular when a friend lets me down, or family members for that matter. But we are all so imperfect, you have to forgive and move on to the next stew. Or switch gears and bake cookies for a while; switch to something sweeter, simpler in its childlike way while you heal and recover from your last dining disaster. Sometimes you have to move on from relationships completely, that's another thing I've learned in this past year. Sometimes the stew can be saved--add some salt, more tomato juice; other times it's gotta go, for the good of you and the stew. I don't mean to sound like a hypocrite, or fickle--sometimes you dump, sometimes you keep--I guess I'm just saying that the kitchen can be a mirror, or sometimes a reflective diary, for lessons in life. None of it is perfect; there are some hard and fast rules, but mostly you just have to learn and maneuver as you go.

I took a course in college called "Interpretation of the Social Sciences," and I remember our professor would stop every once in a while and, while not making eye contact with anyone in particular, lost in meditative wonder, say, "all because we have to eat..." He was just commenting that all of the violence in our present and past, all the hatred, the ridiculous ridiculousness, was because of our selfish nature and the fact that when we're hungry, we'll attack those around us. I've been attacked, and I've attacked. I'm not proud of it, it has left scars. But God designed us to eat, and He gave us awe-worthy foods to cook and brains to creatively learn how to do so. As far as I know He's not planning on removing our stomachs or their cravings, so I'm trying to do my best and jump on the human bandwagon--the wagon that cooks. Learning when to add salt, when to stir and when to let stand and thicken, when to dump and when to give soup a chance.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot..." --Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2

1 comment:

  1. lovely. like the sweet taste of my haagen-dazs truffle chocolate ice cream.