Friday, January 18, 2008
Cooking For Pleasure
I get asked quite often why I cook and how I became interested in cooking. I could say that for us cooking is a necessity- there's no way we could afford to eat out all the time or get convenience food. I could also say that I simply enjoy cooking, it's a hobby, and I enjoy doing it. But ultimately to me, cooking is all about the pleasure it brings to other people. Seeing others be nourished by what I have prepared is the ultimate reason for me to cook, whether that be family, or a guest in our home.
Food and eating is a vital part of life. We must eat, or we literally will shrivel up and die. Yet we are not cattle. We do not belly up to the trough and eat with no thought to what goes in our mouths. We eat because we enjoy eating, eating is full sensual experience. We see, touch, smell, taste, and sometimes hear what we eat as well. There are few things in life more satisfying than putting something truly delicious into our mouths. Yet because food is vital, so often we find ourselves eating just because we need to. We call meat and eggs by it's food group- protein. Doesn't that sound tasty? Here, have a plate of protein for lunch. We lose something when we view food as an energy source and fuel. Instead, I choose to view food as a pleasure.
I cook to bring pleasure to those around me. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing my family at the dinner table enjoying what I've prepared for them. Sometimes it's a simple bowl of soup or stew, sometimes it's an elaborate creation, but it's always something I think they'll enjoy. And I extend this. Anytime I cook, anytime someone is coming to my house to eat, or I take a dish somewhere else, I cook for those people as if I were cooking for myself. Nothing makes me happier than having company and feeding them well while they are with us. I try very hard to keep in mind people's dislikes and likes when they eat with us. We have a group of friends that we get together with regularly, and I do my best every time we get together to adjust for their tastes. Someone doesn't like broccoli? I seldom cook with it when they're here, and if I do, I make an alternative that doesn't have the broccoli. Someone has troubles eating mango? That's okay, I can use something else instead. If someone is following a diet, I do my best, although everything may not be a wise choice for them, I do put some effort into meeting the needs of the dieter.
Recently, I encountered a new one for me with food allergies. I've had people over who are picky eaters or exclaim their dislike for this or that, but the food allergies was a new one for me. It was a scary thought- that one bite of food with this item in it could literally kill this person. This wasn't an intolerance, or something that could cause discomfort- this was something absolutely vital. I took on this challenge with relish! I found it very easy to cook without the offending ingredients. I had to take the extra effort to read all the labels of everything I used, and I made sure that I used fresh cutting boards that hadn't had the offensive ingredients on them recently. And let me tell you, I never enjoyed cooking more. It really and truly gave me great pleasure to know that the bread I was kneading with my hands would be enjoyed by everyone- including the allergy sufferer.
Let's think for a minute on the opposite. Imagine a new friend coming to your home for dinner. You work very hard at making a nice dinner- let's say a multi layered lasagna, a spinach salad with homemade croutons and some gorgeous crusty bread on the side. You've chosen a few wines to accompany, and made a decadent chocolate layer cake for dessert. Then your guest arrives, and upon seeing your feast laid before them, they become apologetic and explain that they have an allergy to wheat. They can't eat a thing on the table. First, they're embarrassed, because they can't eat the wonderful food you've prepared. Secondly, you're horribly embarrassed, because there isn't a thing they can eat, and the evening ends with mortification on both sides.
When we invite someone into our home for a meal, I am going to make certain that the meal I make is number one, something the guest can eat. And two, something they enjoy eating. If someone coming to my home eats a vegan diet, I am going to try my hardest to make sure that the food I'm preparing meets their needs, while being something that everyone can enjoy. There's no hard and fast rule that we need to have meat and dairy at every meal. If a guest in our home doesn't eat them, I can make the main course something they can eat, and perhaps I'll roast a chicken on the side for the meat eaters. Nothing will bring me greater pleasure than seeing a guest in our home truly enjoying what I have made for them. To me this tells our guest that they are welcome in our home, and it also tells them that we care. And often times, there will be the wonderful side effect of finding something new that we enjoy as well!
I guess my point is that to me, there is no point in cooking if it's not going to be enjoyed by whomever I'm cooking for. Think about a football player. When they are getting ready for the big game, they bring their best game to the field. There's no point in them showing up if they aren't going to play their best. When I cook, I always bring my best game to the kitchen. As I cook, I imagine the pleasure my family is going to get from what I'm making, and that can really complete the whole experience. Say I'm browning some beef for a stew, as it's sizzling away noisily and giving off this incredible aroma, I can think of those who will eat it and take the experience of cooking to a whole new level. Cooking is for pleasure. And yes, anyone can do it, but it takes time and practice to take it to that next level. It's definitely worth reaching for.
Posted by Erika W.