Monday, February 22, 2010

Why I cook

It wasn't a difficult question. So, why did it give me so much pause?

Michael Ruhlman, cookbook author and blogger extraordinaire, recently posted a challenge to bloggers to write about the reasons we cook -- because "Writing it down forces you to know what you think."

Maybe it's that I didn't really know the answer to the question.  Or maybe it's that the answer was woven so deeply into the core of my being that I had trouble finding the language to describe it.  Cooking, after all, is tied up in the very soul of who I am.

I don't cook because it's "easier".
Or because I feel obligated.
Cooking isn't something that I do just because I was told I should.
And I definitely don't cook just because I want to eat (although that's motivation enough, some days).

Cooking = creation.  And for me, that creative process is everything. It empowers me. It forces me to engage with chemical processes and living organisms -- leavening, fermentation, yeast, baking soda. Ultimately, cooking allows me to glimpse yet another facet of who I am as a person. A woman. A friend. A wife.  Cooking gives me the opportunity to bring something new into the world. To create wonderful new things. And to share them with others.

For me, cooking is relaxation. It's about repetition. The cracking of one egg after another on the countertop. It's about the meditation of chopping vegetables after a long day at work. And the hum of the water coming to a boil on the stovetop. It's about satiating that deep ache with something that fills me up and reminds me that life is good.

I cook because it gives me power over the food that goes into my body. Let's face it, in today's world the quality of the food we eat is often in question.  Cooking gives me the opportunity to take the reigns and create new options.  Cooking allows me to say "no."  No GMO's. No fast food. No high fructose corn syrup. No unhappy cows or chickens or pigs. No fake food.  Cooking allows me to say "yes."  Yes to frosting made with real butter. Yes to locally grown organic produce.  Yes to real ingredients that I can actually pronounce. Yes to nourishing traditions that make a difference for myself and my family.

I cook to regain a connection to my food and the human beings who produce it. When I visit the farmer's market on a Saturday morning, I feel like a forager in search of wonderful, hidden treasures.  The ingredients I find often predict the meals I'll cook for the next week. And the friends I make along the way are priceless. They're farmers, artisans, business owners.  They're people who care just as much about where their products come from as I do. And they're the human beings that I've chosen to support with my food dollars. 

Cooking gives me the opportunity to share what I know, the places where I've been, and the experiences I've had.  When I pull that jar of dried harissa from the cupboard and mix it with water, olive oil, garlic, and salt, it takes me back to another time and place.  My flavor memory transports me to the dusty streets of Tunis, the markets of Hammamet, the ruins of Carthage.  But, that harissa also allows me to share a piece of that memory with people who weren't there with me -- my husband, my best friend, my sister, my grandmother. It offers me a segue to share those stories, to relive those moments, and to create new memories with the people I love most.

I cook because I'm grateful. The ability to cook is a gift. And it's something I can give back to others.  I can share it with my family. My friends. I can use it to not only entertain them -- but nourish them. Cooking gives me the opportunity to care for others around me. To create an experience they're remember -- something that will weave itself into the memories they carry with them, which make them who they are.

I cook because cooking leads to eating. And eating is one of the most intimate acts in which we can engage as human beings.

Why do YOU cook?

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  1. I see cooking as an art, and this is another creative outlet for me that also pleases a different kind of palate! Your reasons are is about the sharing that also makes it so special.

  2. BEAUTIFUL post, Lo. You put it so wonderfully into words.

    For me, it's more about the challenge. I want to try new things and master them. When I see a recipe or an idea that sounds good, I want to make it my own and conquer it. It's not really about the end product for me (this is unfortunate for my husband, who has put up with his share of botched dinners). Even if something doesn't turn out quite right, I still feel a sense of accomplishment. I think maybe that's why I cook. To accomplish something, big or small, every time I light the stove.

  3. Great post. I am right on the same path as you are in terms of cooking. There is real satisfaction, comfort, and creativity when cooking for my family. At the end of the day, I am happy that I was able to provide, create, and use my imagination, bringing real comfort for my family and friends.

  4. What a great post! It really gets you thinking - not that I could ever put it into words the way you have, but now if someone ever asks at least I've thought about it a bit and might have a clue as to what I might say too. ~Mary

  5. Lo, amen, sister! BTW, I'm in your neck of the woods - Madison - for the moment, but moving to the West coast in April. I'm loving the Wisconsin dairy and the local farmers' market in Madison. We've been here since October when we moved from Japan, and anytime someone mentions Milwaukee, I think of you and Peep cookin' up a storm. :)

  6. HMM, this might be hard to admit but I cook sometimes, because I refuse to feel alone or bored so I cook and create. And I am able to feel better about the things that have happened or have something comforting to eat! :)

    Great question!

  7. Well put!

    Cooking for me is my art. I can't draw or paint, and cannot play an instrument at all. It's my way to express myself and to make others feel good by providing something for them as well! I love the feeling of entertaining!

  8. I feel as if I've known you forever, and that we've just had this discussion sitting over coffee. Your ability to put this into words is wonderful!

    You can tell the ones who cook because it is genuinely part of their human experience, the ones who grew up in families where food was the centerpiece of their culture. It seems sometimes we non-chef Americans are chided for our lack of inventiveness in the food world, but yet I'm continually amazed at the cultural and regional foods we produce, brought down by our immigrant ancestry.

    Just looking back over your backlog recipes assures me that though international travel isn't a possibilty for me right now, travelling through food certainly is!

    And that Ruhlman! One of the most aptly able linguists and writers - he throws out quite a challenge doesn't he? I could probably do my own post on the topic, and maybe I will, but I know I'd echo a whole lot of what you have already noted.

  9. I cook out of necessity... I need to eat! But I think I enjoy cooking, because it brings out my creative side; that I did not know I had. It also is a way of sharing, by bring friends & family together to enjoy each others company.

    Cooking is therapy, it's a way to relax and experiment. It's a way to broaden my palette and understand other cultures.

  10. I was thinking I should write a blog of my own on the topic, but you said everything I was going to say. Creation! Control over what you eat! Sharing with others!

    Great post.

  11. I like your yes's and no's, and that's a big part of why I cook. You have a lot of great reasons!

  12. That's a challenging question all right. And do you know what? The answer changes as you change. My mother and grandmother were great cooks so all my happy memories are in the kitchen with them...not only helping, but eating. And then came my husband and children. Cooking became a necessity and oftentimes with speed. Thank heaven for slow cookers and all those wonderful make in now bake it later cookbooks! But I did it not so much out of pleasure but need. Now that my kids are grown, they are more appreciative of food, what I'm cooking, what they want to eat and I have a daughter who loves cooking as much as I do. So now I do it out of sheer pleasure. It gives me pleasure to cook. A new recipe is as inviting as a new book! Did I answer the question? What WAS the question??

  13. Cooking calms and relaxes me too.

  14. I read Michael Ruhlman's post and quite a few others. The stories are, well, quite phenomenal! Your response to the challenge is lovely, quite heartfelt. Eating... the universal share!

  15. What an eloquent response! Thanks for linking to Ruhlman's post... there are some pretty awesome responses there too.

    As for me, it's really quite simple... I love food. I love reading about it, I love making it, and I love eating it. Seemed natural that eventually I should start writing about it, too. :)

  16. Really wonderful post, Lo. I feel ya.

  17. I admire your motivation to cook and your desire to connect closer to your food. I agree that it is a relaxing habit!

  18. such a lovely post!

  19. Wow, you said it so well I'm hesitant to even chime in! I cook for all the same reasons you do. The food is a gift, cooking it is a gift, sharing it with others is a gift. Plus, I like to eat well!

    Great post!

  20. This is such a great topic to bring up. We all cook for our own personal reasons, but being able to share our food with others is probably one of the common answers. It's something everyone can appreciate.

  21. Thank you for beautifully articulating the honor and joy of cooking and eating real food.

  22. Why do I cook (& bake)? I'm wondering that now myself. I'm not certain I can explain myself so eloquently or if I even have a good reason. I guess I have something to think about.

  23. That's a very difficult question. Yikes! Not even sure I have an answer - it's a bit like being asked why I breathe. If I don't breathe, I will die physically. I guess, if I don't cook, my soul will die. I can't even imagine not cooking.

  24. Sometimes we forget why. I have the gift of hospitality and I love to make people smile when I cook. Hopefully that's the outcome!

  25. What a great post! I really enjoyed reading all your reasons!


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