Why not cook? That is my question. If you have read any of my early blog posts then you know I have been cooking most of my life. I was raised in a household where both parents cooked and both grandmothers cooked. However, it never really dawned on me that my children really didn't learn to cook simply by being the presence of a mom who cooked every day. My son did do a little experimenting in the kitchen as a teenager and would plow through the spice cupboard, tossing in this and that. At this time in his life, I don't believe he cooks often, but when he does, it is usually adventurous and multicultural. My daughter used to help me in the kitchen, especially when we were preparing for a large family gathering. But these tasks were usually specific and it wasn’t until she moved away to go to college that it became clear that I didn't pass on enough information. She called me one day and said “Mom! You never taught me how to cook!”. Well she made her way very well on her own and occasionally I give phone consultations. I consider her to be a pretty accomplished cook now and she has that special challenge of feeding very young children. I guess the point is, that simply growing up in a cooking household apparently isn’t what triggers the interest for an individual. Considering we all need to eat, it stands to reason that cooking is a fairly essential life skill.
Don't get me wrong- I am well aware that if a person lives in a somewhat urban setting and/or happens to live in a household where someone else can handle the cooking duties, it is possible to get through life with never cooking anything more complicated than a hot dog in the microwave. These days, people can acquire food easily. So what would be some reasons to consider learning a skill that may seem extraneous to some folks? I can think of a few:
Take your food back (at least once in awhile).
We outsource many parts of our life, with good reason. I possess no mechanic skills so it's a very good idea that I don't try to fix my own vehicle. I do know how to do the very basic maintenance so at least my car has a chance at having a normal “life” span. Same thing with us. If you only eat food prepared in a factory, ready to re-heat at home, or prepared in a restaurant, you probably don't know much of what ingredients you are eating. Preparing your own meals gives you a lot of control over what you eat. Have you ever read the ingredient list on a box of make at home (fill in the blank)? It is simply stunning to count the number of additives in the box of “One Pot Wonder” that is “helping” you cook dinner for your family. The reality is that if you made the same dish out of your own pantry and fridge, it would probably contain half a dozen or less ingredients. You know, the basics; veg, meat, dairy, spice, herbs, fats. Whole ingredients rather than a facsimile of an ingredient. Even if some of your dish was helped along by a prepared sauce or canned veg, when you buy organic it is free of all the additives. So much of what is added to the pre-packaged food is there to preserve and “enhance”. I get the preserve part and if you are stocking up your tornado shelter or something, I can see that you might have to keep something that has been altered to have a long shelf life. But I really am suspicious of all the flavor enhancers. Have our palates become so ruined that we need tons of salt, sugar and enhancers to taste anything, or have we just been herded along by the food industry? Or could it be that sub-par ingredients are so stripped of natural flavor, due to unatural growing conditions, that flavor has to be added just to make them palatable? I don't know the answer but I wish I did. I just know that I really appreciate knowing exactly what I put in any given meal and use my own head to decide how much or little is a good idea.
Now I can hear some of you right now, gnashing your teeth, thinking that I don't get the pressures of getting dinner on the table between soccer practice and homework, while everyone is STARVING and grumbling. No, I get it, I really do. And that is why I am going to say that, if this is your experience, then don't sweat it. Do what you can do, when you can do it. Take the pressure off yourself so that, on the days you do decide to cook, you can relax and really enjoy it. Plan it out. Peruse cookbooks until something just jumps off the page and you just know you HAVE to make that one thing. Make an adventure out of scouting out your ingredients. Go exotic and use some foreign ingredient you never dreamed of using. Treat yourself to some kitchen gadget that you had never thought of getting, but now you are the proud owner of a (xyz). Don't worry if it doesn't come out perfect! Review what happened and take mental notes for next time. It's just dinner! Just don't try something new the night you are having a dinner party. Ask me how I know this......;-) If you are a methodical person and you don't enjoy taking on too much at one time, practice one dish at a time. Go ahead and buy that rotisserie chicken and you whip up the super awesome, truffled mashed celery root or try some fancy new salad with home made dressing. It's your kitchen, your food, your experience. I think a fun thing to do would be a “Julie&Julia” and work your way, recipe by recipe through the cookbook that makes your heart go flutter. The biggest thing is, do it for yourself. Who cares how perfect it is or how it stacks up against your sister's, or the neighbors, or even Mom’s! It's a learning process which means a lot of trial and error. I promise you, everyone of those awesome chefs and cooks on the cooking shows have had complete and utter disasters...more than once. Plus, it is absolutely exhilarating when you conquer something that looked so hard and you thought you would never be able to do it. Strut your stuff and say, “that's right, I made sushi!”.
Building bonds with family and friends
Anyone can cook and eat mindlessly - just another daily function to get through, with very little enjoyment. How fun is that? Humans by nature bond over food. Many children show far more interest in trying new foods if they participate in the preparation. How many family or friend gatherings have you been to, where everybody ends up congregating in the kitchen. Some friendships begin simply because of the common interest in food or cooking. There are no end of social media special interest groups revolving around food. Notice how many work place conversations are all about food and food related experiences, outside of work. Having cooking conversations is one of the best ways to expand your personal repertoire as you get ideas and tips from others.
Cost – Saving money by cooking at home has one big variable....you. It can be easy to get really carried away at the grocery store or the farmer's market, when your head is swimming with all the possible meals in your near future. But if you are careful about how well you stock up, it really is cheaper to cook your own meals at home. First of all, you are not paying for the labor of someone else to cook. You are also saving on all the packaging of pre-packaged and take away meals. With a little care and consideration, a meal for 4 can truly be about the same cost of a take out meal for one or two (depending on the meal of course). At home you have the option of stretching out meat dishes with extra vegetables. When you make your dish at home, you can package up half before you even serve it and freeze it for another night rather than have neglected left-overs in the fridge.
Whether you are a home “Iron Chef” or a home cook novice, I hope you will be inspired to “go for it”. While much of cooking is based in science, it really is an art. I know that if I live as long as my grandma, then I only have another four decades to try everything I want to cook. The learning and discovery never stops. I'm gettin”busy”(in the culinary kind of way) in the kitchen. How about you?