I’ve been wondering about this idea for a while. How do we define ‘cooking?’ Is it an individual thing or is there a global definition that lays our criteria that must be met?
Wikipedia defines it as follows:
Cooking is the process of preparing food by applying heat, selecting, measuring and combining of ingredients in an ordered procedure for producing safe and edible food. The process encompasses a vast range of methods, tools and combinations of ingredients to alter the flavor, appearance, texture, or digestibility of food. Factors affecting the final outcome include the variability of ingredients, ambient conditions, tools, and the skill of the individual doing the actual cooking.
This is pretty good. Pretty comprehensive. Of course, this would then include baking right? I think Alton Brown’s wonderful book I’m Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking says it right in the title. So baking is just a form of cooking. Raw food enthusiasts would argue that cooking is just Food x Mixing (using Mr. Brown’s formula). I remember a routine of the comedienne Paula Poundstone where she defined cooking as any food preparation that required 3 steps or more (by this definition ‘Pop Tarts’ qualified).
For me, “cooking” means putting together a meal. I like to think about who is going to eat the meal (even if it’s just me) and the actual food that is being used in the meal. Where did it come from? Did an animal give it’s life for it? (Yes, I eat meat sometimes…but I do try to honor the animals that contribute to my diet – it’s not much but it’s something). What is the quality of the food? It’s sensory presence. It’s flavor. How will it work with other things: herbs, spices and other ingredients? For many years I mostly did what I refer to as “assembly.”
I had cooked for my family (husband and three kids) for many years. Particularly, when I was home with my young children, I did LOTS of cooking. I’d spend the entire day playing in the kitchen. I would bake bread most days, make my own tofu once or twice a week, even make cheese! I learned a lot about cooking experientally. Trying different recipes and seeing what happened. There was the occassional catastrophe but mostly things worked out quite well. But my children didn’t really appreciate these elaborate preparations. Often I was greeted with dismayed faces (if not downright horrified) expressions. “What’s this?!!” they’d shriek shrinking back from the plate before them as though I was asking them to eat live insects. Bear in mind, this would be in response to something like Boeuf en Croute (with from-scratch puff pastry). “I want macaroni and cheese,” they’d pitifully cry.
My then-husband was a very hearty eater. He’s eat pretty much anything. He’d happily tuck into whatever was placed before him but there was no discernible difference in his response to anything placed before him other than the occassional full-mouthed, “‘S this? ‘S good.” High praise indeed.
As my children grew a bit older my interests turned to other things. I decided to return to school. Eventually school became a full-time thing and then a full-time job ensued upon completion of my education. By then I had a lovely new husband but I also still had my kids and full-time job. I tried, for a while, to “cook” but would end up making some where between 2-4 meals per dinner because I liked to eat more healthy/vegetarian type stuff, the kids wanted no part of that and my husband wanted neither. The advent of excellent prepared foods in supermarkets like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods were heaven-sent for me!
Thus began the dark years of “assemblage.” I would stock the panty and frig with all sorts of things: roasted chicken, pizza, salads, deli meats, rolls and muffins). From this store it was easy to rush home, swoop into the kitchen and have a meal on the table in minutes. When asked if I cooked I would say, “No, I assembled.” They were not inspired meals but they filled us up and everyone could more-or-less have what they wanted. Even better as the children got a bit older they could just pull out what they wanted, when they wanted it and, well, leave me out of altogether.
Increasingly though as my life has quieted from that period of frantic pacing, my interest and love of cooking has resurfaced. Kindled by stumbling across many like-spirited people on the web I have re-found that quiet place of enjoying the act of making food. I find again the meditative, happy act of thinking about food’s essence and trying to bring that out in a meal. What has struck me most is how much I enjoy sharing the experience. I am fortunate that my now-husband is very appreciative of my cooking. Not only does he enjoy it but he’s very vocal in his appreciation. That’s REALLY nice. It has made me realize how much sharing one’s interests and passions is essential to their enjoyment.
We recently watched the movie Into the Wild (I had read the book by Jon Krakauer many years ago). A poignant story of a young man in search of himself and his place in the world. His search leads him to a lonely spot in the wilds of Denali. I won’t spoil the story but at one point he writes in his journal, “Happiness is only real when it is shared.” It really resonated with me. And so, I am so happy to have this venue, this blog, to share my experiences (cooking and non-cooking) with you.
Tomorrow I will post my Round #2 match-up with Bagels! And queueing up is my experience with Brioche. I love the BBA Challenge (thank you Nicole at Pinch My Salt…it’s so motivating!