Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Joy of Cooking

This post could be about Julia Childs, but Julie got there first and did it better, so it's just going to be about cooking.

Cooking and I have had an on-again, off-again relationship.

There was the first brief flirtation around the age of eleven when I took over my mother's kitchen causing her to mutter things like "flour all over the floor" and "cleaning up is part of cooking". The fliratation faded, as so many do, and wasn't rekindled until two things happened.

The first momentous event was my daughter was born. The second momentous event was I was on maternity leave and home all freakin' day long. The advice is to sleep when the baby sleeps but my baby didn't like to sleep unless she was strapped into her Baby Bjorn. So I bundled her into it and while she slept I walked.

Eventually all the walking led me to grocery stores, which in turn made me think that maybe, after all, I could do this cooking thing. The first thing I made was tomato soup, from scratch. And couscous with parsely. These were major undertakings, made with Child #1 watching me from her bouncy seat on the kitchen counter (and yes I know that's against bouncy seat rules but somehow she survived and we moved on).

I would cook, do dishes, feed Child #1, change diapers and go for long walks. That pretty much summarizes the first six months of Child #1's existence. On one of those long walks I discovered a used copy of Julia Child's Mastering The Art of French Cooking at a street book fair around the corner from our apartment building.

It was $2.00. Kind of a no-brainer purchase. I took it home and realized that Ms. Childs was going to take me far beyond tomato soup and couscous.

Her recipes had steps. Many, many steps. And butter. Lots and lots of butter.

Slowly I began to understand the lexicon of cooking. The difference between a small dice and a chop. I began to scope out fresh produce and artisan cheese shops with a zeal formerly reserved for sample sales.

My cooking got better. A lot better. Before I knew it I was able to whip up a formal dinner for twelve without breaking a sweat and was the proud owner of every kitchen tool known to man.

Then something happened. My kids started eating food.

Overnight I went from experimenting with things like Caneton Braise Aux Marrons to burritos in the microwave. And slowly the joy of hunting for perfect ingredients and experimenting with new foods dried up.

It's hard to get excited about spaghetti and meatballs. Matzoh ball soup and PB&J became staples in our house. They were good solid foods but not fun or sexy or joyful.

My resolve to feed my children exactly what I ate was broken by Child #1's hair trigger gag reflex. There's only so many times you can be vomited on before you decide that grilled cheese is a preferable choice to crab souffle.

And so it went. I cooked things that the little people would eat. Boring, well-balanced meals (not too spicy) and not too joyful until one day I realized two things: (1) we were no longer in the phase of life where going without dinner meant a sleepless night and (2) like all joy, sometimes you are responsible for reclaiming it yourself.

I'll talk about how Johanna got her cooking Joy back on Friday. Hope to see you all then.

38 comments:

Joshua said...

WHY IS EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT FOOD TODAY?!?! I haven't eaten much in two days because of being sick, and now there's food talk everywhere. I love to cook, and I think I'm pretty darn good at it. I've had requests to make food and desserts for parties that I haven't been invited to, so I hope that speaks about the quality of the food and not about me as a person...now I'm self conscious...uh oh...

lizy b said...

Can't wait to read about what you've been cooking up!

Rick Daley said...

I worked in restaurants for close to a decade. While I labored in the kitchen feeding things like Sole Oscar and Chicken Cordon Bleu to strangers, I worked late and ate Taco Bell or McDonald's after work.

Once I left restaurants and got married I started cooking for my wife, then for my kids, and I rediscovered the joy. Plus I get to eat the food I prepare now.

My kids are both pretty good eaters. Sometimes I'll fix them something different, but most of the time they eat what my wife and I eat...but I don't get too crazy or fancy. I'll still make Chicken Cordon Bleu, but other staples include pulled pork, pot roast, or fried chicken. Not health food, but good comfort food.

Misha Gericke said...

I'd love to really learn how to cook. But at this stage I'm glad to say I can now feed myself.

Last year I couldn't. ;-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

LMAO! I recognize this journey.

I love to cook, though, and experimenting with different styles of cooking and spices. Honestly, most of my meals are simple and easy. Son, is one who loves very plebeian foods, darn it. I tend to make something in there he'll eat, but I still do fun stuff for me and hubs.

With Celiac, I have to be careful with wheat gluten and while I still do a lot of baking, I don't eat all of it.

Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't think I could live on hot dogs and cheese sandwiches for that long.

Sarah Ahiers said...

Yay! Cooking!
We're all big cooks in my fam. I live with my bro and sis and we rotate diner duty throughout the week and 9 times out of 10 it's homemade something other (mmm. Beef wellington...)
Yay for getting your cooking joy back!

Angela Cothran said...

I want my cooking joy back. Cooking is something I'm good at but don't really enjoy. Sigh!

Anne Gallagher said...

I was just thinking about this the other day. I was a professional chef for almost 20 years and I haven't made anything worth eating in the last 10. My daughter eats mac and cheese (out of the box for shame) and chicken nuggets. She refuses to eat "real" food. I'd love to give a huge party and invite a bunch of people just so I could cook, but I don't know anyone.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I used to be more creative with my cooking. I still make nice dishes, but they are really simple. If it's over six ingredients, forget it. And knowing me, at least one if not two of those will require a substitute.

alexia said...

I'm a kind of fly by the seat of your pants cook. I don't do it very often, but I do love gourmet food. I tend to not follow recipes. I'll kind of get a wild hair, maybe look at a recipe, then sort of do my own thing. I have fun when I do it, but I'm no skilled cook! Sometimes it's great, and sometimes not.

Johanna Garth said...

Josh, it must be something in the air. Glad to hear you're on the mend.

Lizy, nothing nearly as beautiful as your cookies.

Rick, I bet you have some amazing chef stories to tell.

Misha, sounds like you're going in the right direction :)

Sia, glad I'm not the only one ;)

Alex, I don't think I could either.

Sarah, such a cool family cooking plan!

Angela, glad you could identify.

Anne, a virtual party? Hmm, but still wouldn't put your cooking skills to use.

Diane, sometimes I think all my creativity goes to writing these days.

Alexia, the more I cook the more comfortable I am straying from the recipe.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Thank heavens my daughters are getting old enough to eat food that appeals to grown ups. Kraft M&C with chicken nuggets was getting old.

Still, I don't take much joy in cooking during the school year, when meals are rushed and I'm dying to get on the computer and write after a day of teaching. Once summer vacation gets here -- then I might be more interested in the art of cooking for joy and fun.

Botanist said...

I think we managed to keep a varied diet even with two kids. Not necessarily gourmet, but tasty.

We keep up the interest (we both cook) by reserving a couple of adult-only times a week when we feed the kids something simple, and do ourselves something they wouldn't eat.

Sylvia van Bruggen said...

I am not a mom, but after the first years of our marriage my husband and I fell into a slump too.

Now I am vegan the cooking got so exciting again and I love to be in the kitchen to cook up a storm.

The thing I discovered that made me so joyful is the fact that I now create recipes in that. I don't like to follow recipes much, so almost every meal I cook is creativity :)

Really look forward to the next installment of your story!

Mark Koopmans said...

Wow... very cool post... I love Julia Childs and all she did.. but OMGosh her recipes are like 1940's blog posts....

You are brave... can't wait to hear the Joy :)

Nicki Elson said...

Excellent ending line about reclaiming joy for yourself. Yes, the picky kid eaters do rather suck the enjoyment out of preparing a creative meal, don't they? Not that I've ever been much of a cook - I'm still tremendously impressed by your tomato soup from scratch!

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