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Monday, August 05, 2013

Inhabiting Your World: Home Cooking

During our recent life's journey, I became the chief cook for our household. We had a change of chore responsibilities during my wife's illness that suited us both. I was working at home, so I no longer had commute time to deal with, I liked cooking, she was tired of it and too sick, so I took up the kitchen chores.

Let me say off the bat that my wife is a brilliant cook. My grandmother and hers were brilliant cooks and she learned from them both and went on to surpass them. I burn rice. I burn beans, I burn potatoes. Anything that can be burned, I have found a way to burn it. On the other hand, I don't mind experimenting and I'm comfortable making a meal out of whatever's in the cupboard and can make something out of nothing. Missing ingredients do not bother me.

When I took up the cooking chores, I took it up in typical man-fashion. I bought kitchen tools. I bought cookbooks. My son Micah had told me which cooking shows to watch, so I checked them out. I learned to cook the way a student learns chemistry. Sheila was my coach and chief critic. In the early days I was a one star cook - maybe less.

But as I got better at it, I learned three great lessons about cooking.

1.  Find your style and learn to cook accordingly.  If you're a by the book cook, then by all means measure and set the time and temperature accurately. If you're more of an artistic temperament, then learn to cook with dashes and dabs. However you do it, you'll soon understand how things work together to produce a delicious dish and you'll soon be making up dishes of your own creation. Don't try to cook like your wife or your cooking teacher. If you need to use every dish in the place, do it. If you hate to use more than a bowl and a spoon, then figure out how to do it that way. To your own style be true. Instead of fighting with the kitchen organize it so the layout matches the natural flow of your own peculiar brand of food preparation.

2.  Cook to make yourself happy.  Cooking to impress the critics is the reason so many great chefs become madmen. Cook to please yourself first and soon you will find that others are pleased with your cooking too. The great truth of life is that only you can make yourself happy. This is true in the culinary arts. Cook what you want to cook the way you want to cook it.

3. Be not afraid. This is the first thing an angel always says when he appears to a mere mortal.  It is the first thing an angel would say to a beginner cook I imagine. The tragic death of a souffle' is not the end of the world. It may just be that you aren't ready to do a souffle'. Me? It's highly unlikely I will ever even attempt a souffle', but I've taken on bread-baking, scratch-cakes and pies and homemade pizza. With my Mom's Betty Crocker Cookbook, I can take on anything. Besides, cooking is wonderfully forgiving once you get the bones of cookery learned.

Cooking for ourselves is what separates us from the beasts. The gradual loss of our ability to cook is, I believe, what is causing the collapse of civilization.  There is virtually no difference in temperament between a pride of lions loose amongst the wildebeests and a gang of teens descending on an unsuspecting Pizza Hut. They are consumers of food, not participants.

Until you work a ball of bread dough with your hands, flatten a pie crust or lay down a lasagna layer by layer, you have not fully participated in the holy act of feeding yourself.  Unless you have prepared a meal from scratch, with your own hands and your own brain fully engaged, you have not fully savored one of the finest things in life. Without learning the intricate interplay of flavors, textures and colors that go into good cooking, you miss an essential part of life.

You can choose to be a critic or an artist. The critic knows nothing. He nibbles at food. He often criticizes what he does not understand or appreciate. He looks around to see what the snobs say before he makes up his mind. That's why foods and cooks and restaurants that make me smile are often blasted by food critics. The critic is a sad little king on his sad little hill, looking down on a life they will never fully appreciate nor never fully savor. 

New York Style Pizza Recipe
So go out and find a recipe and make it. You might want to try this New York Style Pizza recipe.  You can find it at this link.

Start easy. It's fun to do stuff like this and, if you're a guy, the women-folk in your life will be mightily impressed.  AND the great thing about it is, you don't ever have to eat food you don't like again if you're the cook.

© 2013 by Tom King


Sue said...

Tom, you are SO funny!

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