Is it just another daily routine that we have to put up with, that makes us feel like slaves in the kitchen, spending what feels like loathing distances of eternity throwing spices and grilling meat just so that other people can greedily thrust it all down their throats in 10 minutes?
Or is it an opportunity you are given to express yourself in every way--in every spice you dash in the pot, in every splash of dry wine you allow to sink into the chicken as you hear sparkling crackles of the cooking doing its work--and to envelope yourself in the comfort of man's most prized possession, which is food of course, and appreciating that every taste that then enters your mouth (as you sit down to eat with your family and friends) will enter with substance and spontaneity to please the belly and the heart.
I have always been fond of food and cooking, but only a few weeks ago I started taking action on that fondness. I began looking through recipes of a cookbook I've held on to for years but never used, and it's got one of those "make it in 30 minutes!" titles...That title is what I probably see at least 100 times each time I look in the cooking section of a library or bookstore.
But anyways, I've been cooking actual meals (instead of just making brownies, pancakes and cakes, which used to be the only food-creating action I ever did in the kitchen) every few days for my family, and all the meals were for the purpose of eating at dinner time.
On my first night of cooking, I made mushroom brown rice coup with a shortcut nicoise salad and, for dessert, a ginormous strawberry souflee. I spent about two and a half hours trying to prepare this meal, the first hour of it I had spent chopping mushrooms, onions and other vegetables. After carefully (and almost being painfully obsessively cautious) pouring the soup into a snow-white bowl and tossing the french salad (it was slightly spicy because the dressing contained dijon mustard and white vinegar, plus a toss of chopped shallot), I felt like I had just finished running a 5-mile marathon. I was completely exhausted yet totally satisfied that I had made it through my first session of for-real meal cooking, and my family was surprised and excited about what I had accomplished. They did also sprinkle a few pieces of advice about what to do next time I make this meal, like how I should add more salt, more mushrooms, and more dressing to the salad.
Plus, when I donated a half hour after dinner to make the soufflee, it turned out delicious but it also made me realize that I don't like the way soufflees taste, so I decided to never make a soufflee again.
I guess that's where the wonder of learning comes in, where you sometimes just have to make a mistake in discovering an unknown territory in order to realize how you feel about it, and whether or not you are willing to set your foot in that territory again. I, as a beginner cook, made the mistake (I guess that's the work I would use to describe it, but not my family because I guess they enjoyed the dessert) of making the soufflee, and therefore I realized that I do not like soufflees. (And if you are reading this blog, please excuse me if I've spelled the last gajillion mentions of the word "soufflee" because I did see the red underlining that comes up when you've spelled a word wrong, but for some reason I can not use the right-click button to correct it.)
On the second night, I re-tossed up the nicoise salad that went along with a dish named (in the cookbook) Chicken with Pears and Marsala. I was ecstatic to make this, but the problem was that I didn't have time to buy the specific type of pears (Bosc or Anjou pears), and that I didn't have marsala wine. But my parents suggested that I pick some of our backyard-grown japanese pears from the tree we have, and that I pour out the wine from a random bottle we had stored in a cupboard above our refrigerator. At first I was frustrated by these ideas because I wanted to make the meal based solely on every little detail that the recipe conveyed, but by the time I had finished washing and chopping the japanese (not Bosc/Anjou!...I sometimes still burst out in frustration at that) pears I decided to try and embrace the new and unexpected. Also, that perhaps I may run into something even better than what I thought the recipe would hold in store for me.
When I once again sat down to eat the dinner with my family, my parents were again (as always) encouraging and appreciative of the finishing product. I felt that the cooked pears were a little crunchier than I wanted, but then I was surprised by how nicely that complimented with the soft juiciness of the chicken that was almost smothered in the wine (and I was also surprised to discover how much tastier the chicken had turned out when I added the wine, regardless of what kind of wine it was :) ).
From that night on, I decided to let go of the notion that I always have to follow a recipe that I would turn to, and that I can use my inventiveness and creativity sometimes to make my own spin of that recipe.
That's why, last night, I cooked (not the slaving-in-the-chamber-we-call-"kitchen" type of cooking, but undeniably the Oh-I-can't-wait-to-watch-my-family-eat-what-I-am-making type of cooking!) something I made up slightly based on the "chicken with pears and marsala"--It was chicken and wine with a stir-fry of chopped nectarines, apples, red bell peppers, and onions, along with walnuts, cinnamon and curry powder.
I ended up enjoying this meal almost as much as the other two meals I had made, probably because it was much sweeter with the addition of fruit that I had thought of.
But even more than that, it must have been the great feeling of accomplishment I got and haven't yet let go of, by my discovery that I have the potential to take anything beyond the pages of a recipe.