The Absurd and Amazing Adventures of Cafe Girl: Why I Cook

February 22, 2010

Why I Cook

Michael Ruhlman, chef, writer, and food blogger, posed this question to his blog readers - why do you cook? Ruhlman challenged bloggers to write about why they cooked because, "Writing it down forces you to know what you think."

The challenge is apropos to this season I now find myself in - thirty-something Singleton living in a city that hungers for connection. These last six months, I've found myself cooking more than I have in the last two years since moving out to Los Angeles. I've been cooking with a ferocity and joy that is new for me. And I have been pondering, "Why do I cook?"

I cook because I don't like what I eat to be limited. If I'm craving lasagna, I can make it. If I want cake, I pull out the flour, eggs, butter, and sugar and get the Kitchen Aid mixer going. I no longer have to scour the supermarkets for what I crave and be disappointed when I can't find it. I can make what I want, when I want it.

Cooking relaxes me. After a stressful day, I find all that chopping and simmering to be very soothing. Cooking particularly relaxes me after I've had an emotionally hard or disappointing day. I think mostly because...

Cooking is both science and art. Food works together in a very specific and very predictable ways. In the words of Julie Powell in the movie Julie/Julia, "I love that after a day where nothing is sure ... you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It's such a comfort."

Yet there is a clear artistry in cooking. Coming home, feeling defeated and belittled, I often turn to the creativity of cooking to express who I really know myself to be. With a few simple turns, tried and true recipes from cookbooks become my own.

I cook because food unites. These past few months, I've had people who would otherwise never have met come into my home to enjoy a meal that I've made. There's something about sharing a meal that creates a bond, even if it's only for a moment. It gives even the most disparate individuals a point of connection.

I cook to create a sense of family. As a singleton who's been single longer than she's been dating, I sometimes wonder if I'll ever have a family of my own. When my friends and I sit down at a table for a meal I've cooked, it reminds me that family can come in all sorts of forms and structures and isn't limited to those who are married or live close to their parents.

Cooking is my stance against the stereotypes of singleness. Say the word "Singleton" and up comes that picture of a freezer full of microwaveable convenience foods and cupboards filled with only diet soda and popcorn. Along with that comes the sense that Singletons are still children, unchallenged to take care of themselves and others. I may be single, but I am certainly not a child. I cook good healthy foods because I do want to take care of myself. And, contrary to popular belief, single people do have others they take care of - friends, co-workers, subordinates. Singleness could possibly breed self-centeredness, but it doesn't have to.

I cook because my mother never taught me to. My mother ruled her kitchen and I was rarely allowed into it. The one time in my teenage years I tried to cook for her, I ruined a recipe. She sniffed at the food and didn't say a word kind or unkind. The silence hurt me more than my teenage brain could articulate. I learned to cook in my twenties using Betty Crocker's Everything You Need To Know To Cook Today. The cuisine I do best is Western, not Asian. Now that I live so far away, there are recipes from my heritage I'll never learn from my mother, even though she's now mellowed and would love to teach me to cook. I think that's a real loss. If I'm ever blessed with children, I would love to teach them to cook. Partly for the bonding, but also for the simple life lesson that sometimes you do fail, and you do ruin things. Sometimes these things can be fixed, sometimes not so much. But a silent sniff is never the solution to anything.

And, apparently, cooking is a man magnet. This one was a pleasant, if somewhat disconcerting surprise. In the last two months, I've had two different men ask me these questions in the following order, "Do you cook?" and when I answer, "Yes, quite often, actually." It is followed by the question, "Are you single?" That succession of questions always makes me laugh, then slightly creeps me out. I'd hate to think that someone would date me for my Chicken Parmesan and Double Chocolate Chip cookies. It's almost as creepy as thinking someone would date me for my big boobs.

The more I cook these days, the more I wonder if I cook in response to the emotional hunger of this city, which consequently I absorb by living here. We are hungry. Hungry to be known, to connect deeply with those around us. We long for just one taste of grace, one taste of acceptance, one taste of assurance.

I am hungry. I am hungry in my desires for a spouse, for children, for roots, for family. I am hungry for more of God, His touch, His voice. I am hungry to connect the lonely, feed the poor in spirit, raise the emotionally dead. But so often, in this city, the sustenance is poor and I feel weak. I cannot raise the emotionally dead, because some days, I am emotionally on a deathbed of my own.

Seeing the chasm between what I long for and what is, I pull out my frying pans, my baking sheets, my slow cooker, my dutch oven. I fill pots with chili, ovens with chicken, cookies, lasagna. I stir-fry, saute, caramelize, and broil. For when food for the soul seems so elusive, the least I can do is make food for the body.


David said...

Oh man how I love your cooking.

Rafia Shujaat said...

A very beautiful blog post on why you cook.

Rafia Shujaat said...

A very beautiful blog post about why you love to cook. absolutely amazing seed and interesting text.