“For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?”
I write a food blog, so I love cooking. Right?
Sometimes, it’s a weeknight and I’m dreaming of roasted chicken with a lemony herb sauce or a gorgeous, hearty stew that can’t be rushed. But Wednesdays are always rushed, and that stew is not going to happen. So I whip up something similar, maybe chicken breasts or a quick curry that promises I’ll have dinner on the table in 20 minutes. Thirty minutes later I’m sweating, I’ve lost my appetite, and the kitchen is a mess. Do I love cooking?
Honestly, not always. I know that cooking is my only creative outlet (I won’t go near a paintbrush), and I almost always love the finished product. I love the way my mind goes blank, for the first time all day, and my only focus is my knife and cutting board. As I cook more and more, I have learned what I love about the kitchen, and how to avoid the things I don’t. I know that cooking has improved and enriched my life (and definitely made me healthier), and it’s worth the time, the sweat, and the mess. Here’s how you can cook with a little more ease, a bit less stress, and plenty of joy.
Clean as you go
Sorry, but this is rule #1. In our house, I’m not in charge of dishes after dinner (thanks Mom and Dad!) so I try to lighten their load as much as possible by cleaning anything I use in the prep process. That way, I only leave Dad with the dinner plates, forks, knives, serving bowls, etc. (I know, only). Throw away any scraps as they accumulate (garlic skins, carrot tops), wash up messes as they happen (dribbles of olive oil, dustings of flour), and keep a dish towel nearby to easily wipe your hands if they get dirty.
Find out what you hate to do in the kitchen, whether it’s chopping onions or washing dishes, and find someone in your house who hates it less than you do. I happen to love chopping onions (so meditative!) but for some reason I cannot stand washing anything-fruits, vegetables, dishes, etc. When Mom rinses the produce for me and puts it in a little towel to dry, it feels like Christmas morning. Track down one of the eaters in your house, hand them your least-favorite task (maybe talk it up a little bit first), and focus on what you love about the kitchen.
To your health
Cooking will take care of your health. If you’re making dinner most nights per week, you don’t have to count calories, you don’t have to measure macros or read nutrition labels. You know what you’re eating. You would never put as much salt, sugar, or fat into your food as a corporation (or even a restaurant) would. You would never make french fries every day, or dessert each night. If you cook real food most of the time (combining cereal and milk doesn’t count), your health is pretty much set.
Cooking means a lot
I’m not an outdoorsy person. I don’t want to go on that hike, I’m not too keen on swimming in the ocean (I’ll stay on sand with a beer and a book, thanks), and please do not invite me camping. Cooking is my only connection to nature- and this realization has made the process of cooking and eating much more meaningful to me.
When we eat, we are taking pieces of the natural world into our bodies. One meal is made up of dozens of farmers (often from across the world), plants, and animals. When we cook, we are forced to remember that these things came from the ground, these things gave up their lives for us. It’s not just food- there are people, animals, and stories behind every meal.
Zen and the art of cooking
As someone who hates sitting still, I prefer productive forms of meditation (why yes, I did just make up that up). Running, writing, and reading are great ways to ease your mind by focusing on one task (also, Netflix). Cooking is my favorite “productive” meditation. In the kitchen you can reclaim the present. If you really pay attention to what you’re doing, really absorb yourself in chopping those onions, the rest of the world slips away. It’s a great feeling.
Love is at the heart of it
Cooking is an expression of love. Think of all the times when you were little and your mom or dad didn’t know what else to do about your upset stomach except make you a piece of cinnamon toast. Or that time you cooked for your best friend and added extra hot sauce, just the way she likes it. Any act of cooking is a gift; it can be a gift that you give to others or to yourself. And even if it’s a little burnt, or a little overdone, it’s always well-received.
Cooking isn’t easy. We don’t have little glass bowls of prepped ingredients waiting for us when we get home, we don’t have production crews or assistants or interns helping us make that “20-minute meal,” but we have the instincts and the creativity to get us to some kind of delicious result. Cooking connects us to nature, to other people, and to our own health and wellness. Next time you’re in the kitchen, take a deep breath, pour yourself a glass of wine, and embrace the mess, the meaning, and the magic of every meal.