I have five children, three of them boys who seem always to be hungry. The youngest one has been known to ask when the next meal will be, even as he is about to put the last bite of the current meal in his mouth. My husband, still recovering from my lack of meal concern during five rounds of morning sickness, worries about dinner. "Will it be there today?", he can't help wondering. In my defense, it is next-to-almost-always there; in his defense, those first trimester dinners were absent often enough to qualify for trauma.
My usual approach to life is this: If you have to do something all the time (think laundry, training children, weeding the garden, and, yes, cooking) you might as well enjoy it. I can talk about hanging wash on the line as if it were fine art, but I have not managed to do that with cooking. I have allowed the routine of it all to slide into drudgery. Oatmeal, burritos, chicken-a-la-whatever, and on and on it goes. One meal just marching on to the next.
In the last year, though, enthusiasm has been on the move. I have been searching online for uses for basil and limes. I have roasted parsnips. I have tried different recipes for pizza dough and perfected one I like best. I have cooked hunks of meat with success, and I have planned and executed multi-course meals. Even more amazing is the fact that I have loved it.
The answer to not enjoying cooking, it turns out, is to do more of it.
It also helps to have so many eloquent food writers around. (Here, here, and here are some of my favorites from this year.)
And so we come to Christmas, a day when I have always stayed out of the kitchen. If it is drudgery, why be there? But now I want to cook. In lieu of simplicity, we are well on our way to a feast, a meal worthy of the celebration of this most special day. There is a roast in the refrigerator covered with rosemary and garlic and salt and pepper; it smells divine. Yorkshire pudding will get made with the roast drippings. There is a bottle of Lava Cap Syrah poised to uncork. I have made rolls with rye flour, molasses, raisins and buttermilk. Greens and tomatoes and purple onion will find themselves in a glass bowl, topped with an orange/sesame dressing we love. Apple pie and chocolate cream pie are filling the house with delectable smells.
As I stirred and stirred (and stirred some more) the chocolate custard for the pie, I read these words from Robert Farrar Capon:
"Berate me not therefore for carrying on about slicing onions in a world under the sentence of nuclear overkill. The heaviest weight on the shoulders of the earth is still the age-old idolatry by which man has cheated himself of both Creator and creation. And this age is no exception. If you prefer to address yourself to graver matters, well and good: Idolatry needs all the enemies it can get. But if I choose to break images in the kitchen, I cannot be faulted. We are both good men, in a day when good men are hard to find. Let us join hands and get on with our iconoclasm."
Capon has been an effective cure for thoughts of drudgery.
Some things won't be changing. I will still ask my youngest to wait at least an hour after one meal before he asks me about the next; even a food enthusiast benefits from other pursuits. We will still be able to sink a ship with the number of bean and cheese burritos we consume in a year. And oatmeal has been and ever shall be our breakfast staple. The change is in the attitude, and I am sure I am not the only one who welcomes it.
Merry Christmas and Bon Appetit, friends.