Thursday, June 10, 2010

Let them eat cake.

The other night I was thinking about that offhand comment, made by a friend on Twitter, taken out of context, about how anyone can cook. Out of context, it sounded a little like "let them eat cake!" I know there is more to the story, but leaving that behind, I kept thinking more and more about why I cook. How I learned to cook. How I push myself, as R. put it, to "raise my game." I thought about standing on a chair, age 3, carefully washing a bowl of mushrooms, rubbing away every speck of dirt until each mushroom was a gleaming white. I thought about that miserable year, after college, when I felt lost, jobless, living at home and making dinner for my parents and I every night. How I kept up the cooking even after I started working, making quick stops at QFC on the way home or calling my dad and asking if he wouldn't mind picking up a few things.

I have always cooked. Tunnel-of-fudge cakes from a mix. A horrifying late-60's casserole involving chicken thighs, canned mushroom soup, Lipton's Onion Soup mix, and orange juice over rice. Lasagne. I moved away from special-occasion dishes that took hours and dirtied every surface of the kitchen - I was and still am an extremely messy cook - and into simple, everyday dishes like teriyaki chicken wings, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, and fried rice. While I am still terrible at things involving beaten egg whites and my cheesecakes rise and fall and crack like Krakatoa during a volcano eruption, cooking is something I do all the time. If not every night, then almost every other night. For the most part.

The hard part, as R. commented a few nights ago on an earlier post, is waste. As a single girl, I am always halving or quartering recipes so I don't wind up with more than three or four meals' worth of any one dish. More than wasting food, I hate boredom. I hate eating the same thing over and over again. This is especially hard with soups and stews, rich things like curries and borscht that I crave for days and then can no longer bear the thought of by the time I struggle my way through the last spoonfuls. A few weeks back I made myself an Indian-spiced curry with two medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes and half an onion, and it lasted just long enough (three servings) to leave me wanting more, which is the ideal.

I have the luxury of time. I get off work early enough to head to the farmer's market on weekdays for vegetables and meats and a frothy, creamy cup of horchata from the taco stand that appeared all the markets this year. I can have an early dinner and spend the evening baking cheesecake for my coworker's birthday. I can walk to the new butcher down the hill for a slab of pork belly and buy tiny white turnips at the flower shop nearby to braise with said pork belly and everything will be ready by 6:30. And I love that I have all of this.

Another day I'll dig deeper into the archives . I don't quite remember what I ate when I had a different schedule and came home at 6 or 7. Maybe I ate later, stayed up later, woke up later. I still ate the same things I do now, I think. My life is different now. Food, as it has always been, is the only constant.

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