I love cooking (sometimes): A confession from the kitchenPosted on November 24, 2014
On Friday I ate one of the worst dinners in recent history, a dinner made terrible not by an incompetent restaurant or a disastrous recipe, but by the lack of food in my fridge and sheer laziness. I ate yogurt – plain yogurt, the thin, watery kind that’s utterly unsatisfying at the best of times – and then, twenty minutes later, feeling ravenous all over again, I polished off a tiny bag of raw and therefore unpleasantly woody-tasting almonds originally destined for a cake and a small bowl of slightly stale breakfast cereal that I had shoved to the back of the cupboard weeks ago.
I then sat on the couch, feeling hungry and sorry for myself and angry that I was too lazy to pull on some shoes and walk the hundred metres to the grocery store, and then angry at Alessandro (unjustifiably so, but my ability to be rational slips away quickly when I’m feeling hungry) for choosing tonight to have dinner with a friend – tonight, when I had been planning on coercing him into going out for dinner, knowing full well that the fridge was empty and that, more importantly, I simply didn’t want to cook. This was the low point.
This happens sometimes. I love to cook, but there’s a catch to this statement: I only love to cook when I want to cook.
Most of the time, I do want to cook. Four days out of five, I enjoy the process of flipping through cookbooks, going to the market, and spending a portion of each evening in the kitchen putting together something that’s both interesting and at least moderately nutritious for us to eat. But then there are those days when the kitchen is the last place I want to be, or when it’s raining so hard that venturing outside to get groceries is the single least enjoyable activity I can possibly imagine, or even when I just cannot think of even one remotely appealing recipe to prepare, regardless of how many food blogs I scroll through or how many cookbooks I pull down from the shelf. On these days, cooking doesn’t feel like the passion or hobby that I claim it is. It feels mundane. It becomes a chore. Meal times start to feel like they’re arriving on a treadmill – clean up lunch and dinner rolls around, clean up dinner and there’s the evening sliding away underneath you.
The result of these brief dips into a state of general animosity towards the kitchen is that one day I’ll be cheerfully preparing something relatively elaborate or at least significantly time-consuming – pasta made from scratch with a sauce that cooks for hours beforehand, or homemade ketchup to go with those homemade burger patties on homemade buns – and then the next day I’ll find myself procrastinating my way out of going to the market, grumbling that no, I can’t just throw together a soup, because that actually involves prep work and chopping and vegetable peels clinging frustratingly to everything, which is exactly what I was wanting to avoid, and generally wishing that a complete dinner could materialize in front of me and then magically clean itself up later. Days like this often end with an egg, because an egg requires so little effort, or with a pasta, because then I can send Alessandro into the kitchen and know that a predictably delicious carbonara or amatriciana will emerge half an hour later, even if there will be sauce splattered on the walls. But days like this also end with guilt, with me thinking: I should have cooked something healthier. There is nothing green anywhere to be found on this plate. This is not the kind of dinner that someone who truly loves cooking would have prepared.
And then – it always works this way – all that enthusiasm for cooking comes rushing back again, predictably, a day or two later. The fridge explodes with dark leafy greens and five different varieties of apple. There are things simmering on the stove hours before dinner time, filling the apartment with the smells of rich meaty sauces and general culinary competence. There are a few disasters, yes, but they are adventurous disasters, disasters that come from new recipes and untested combinations. I know that in a few days I’ll have another cooking low point, another sad empty-fridge dinner or a guilt-laced egg on toast, but maybe it’s okay that way – maybe that’s exactly what makes all those other dinners taste as good as they do.