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December 2009
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In which I revise my thoughts about cooking

Every time the kids turn on Ratatouille, Howard wanders into the kitchen and cooks something. All of the cooking scenes in the film remind him how much he loves to combine ingredients. I watched this with puzzlement. The movie didn’t inspire me to cook. It didn’t even make me hungry. In fact contemplating cooking takes up the same piece of my brain that I use to contemplate chores. Cooking is a necessary step in the “feed the children” task which comes up with annoying regularity. Julie and Julia, which I watched last week, is another movie focused around cooking. I really enjoyed the movie, but (as I smugly told Kiki and Howard) it didn’t make me want to cook. I just wanted to eat what the folks in the movie cooked. I was to be proven wrong.

The first shift in my thinking arrived at the Women’s Relief Society (church organization) dinner. It was a marvelous meal featuring two kinds of shredded meat and an array of sauces. The Bearnaise sauce was to die for. I snarfled up a plate full and went back for seconds. I was certain that the sauce had been catered by a local restaurant. It hadn’t. It was made by my friend’s husband. That marvelous sauce had been made in a home kitchen. Not only that, but the recipe was set out for anyone to take. I looked at it and realized that the primary ingredient was “Bearnaise sauce packet.” In theory I could cook this sauce in my very own kitchen and eat a lot more of it.

Next I was browsing in a grocery store and I noticed that they were once again stocking rosemary bread. I love rosemary bread. It is for savoring. I love the way the aroma mingles with food while I’m eating. I brought the bread home and toasted it. The flavor reminded me of the plan I had several months ago. It was a plan for healthy eating which involved eating small amounts of things that I truly desire to eat, rather than discovering I am hungry and filling up on whatever is handy. It was a good plan, but somehow I’d lost track of it.

Then Kiki needed at treat for school and she wanted fudge. So I found myself standing over a stove on Sunday afternoon, stirring. As I stirred, I explained how the heat helps the sugar crystallize and how all cooking is really chemistry. It was a good little speech. By the time I was done, I’d convinced both Kiki and myself that cooking is a fascinating scientific process.

So there I was stirring, spoon swooshing through sugar bubbles, and I realized I was enjoying myself. I thought about Julie from the movie and how her cooking challenge (524 recipes in 365 days) saved her from a dark time in her life. Scenes from the film played back in my mind’s eye and I saw the joy of creation. It helps that Julie is also a writer and so the movie is as much about writing and living as it is about cooking.

The fudge was done and poured into a pan and I stood back satisfied. It struck me that I wanted to do more cooking. Somehow I’d gone from thinking about the film, to picturing myself stirring sauces. I wanted to have a piece of the amazing experience that Julie had in the film. I wanted to understand cooking better, to find ways to enjoy it, to make some dinners that do not start with a can of cream of mushroom soup. I found that I wanted it despite the fact that I know some of the things I attempt will go disastrously wrong. I even wanted the associated emotional melt downs, because at least it would mean that I tried something new instead of staying where I am comfortable.

The last thing I need in my life is another big project. I have no space for a big project. This means I can not undertake so grand an effort as Julie did. I can not add stress to our family in pursuit of cooking. But there are times when my brain is tired of writing and I loathe the thought of being in my basement office. There are times when I have time and space to think about a short term creative project like cooking a single meal. So I am going to try this. I am going to attempt to educate myself about foods and how to prepare them. In between preparing new foods I will be feeding us all the ordinary stuff. I like the idea of introducing new foods, but not at the expense of the family budget.

First up: Bearnaise sauce. We shall see how this goes.

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