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Keeping Calm in the Kitchen

What makes cooking easier and more joyful for you? That’s the question Shauna, at Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, asked us to answer this month. More particularly, she posed her inquiry in the form of a fill-in-the-blank statement: Cooking grew easier and more enjoyable when I learned [your answer here].

Honestly, I almost sat this one out. I thought, that’s a question for real cooks. People who’ve learned the secret to being comfortable in the kitchen. My secret is that, unless it’s fruit and I’m going to put it in a jar, I’m still pretty scared to cook.

But I can tell you what calms my fears.

Cooking is easier and more joyful for me when I remember that food is beautiful. Yep, it’s the beauty thing again. I’m going to crawl an extra inch out on this limb and say that food is not just beautiful, but that food is beauty itself. And by that I don’t mean that eating spinach is going to make you look better than eating Ding Dongs — though that’s probably true. When I think of beauty, I’m considering all the elements in our world that wake us up and make us feel in some way reverent — be they our close-to-the-heart relationships, the song on the radio that seems to be written just for you, or the small, perfect river stone you pick up and tuck into your pocket.

It’s easiest for me to feel the beauty thing with fruit, because that’s my natural passion. I’ll stop on a dime for any bush, vine, or tree bearing something luscious and sweet. But when I remember that all the food I prepare is a manifestation of the same profound miracle that gives me summer berries, I am much more likely to slow down in the kitchen, take care with ingredients, waste less, and make something that tastes good, too. Even if it turns out gross, if I’ve really taken the time to appreciate the food and the tools I’m working with, I’m more likely to laugh about my interesting experiment than to berate myself for failing.

The hard part about beauty is remembering to make a place for it. That dear old Simon and Garfunkel song about slowing down? My mom and dad used to sing it to me all the time when I was little. It seems like some of us just come into the world with our pants on fire. But when beauty and speed collide, beauty rarely survives the encounter. I don’t know why it’s so much easier to go fast than it is to pay attention. I do know that if we don’t pay attention, beauty will be gone before we even catch a glimpse of her.

When I find myself in a place where I’m not preparing my own food — say I’m eating out a lot, or grabbing whatever’s closest without regard for nourishment, or buying food and letting it go to rot before I do something with it — I know I’m moving too fast and forgetting about beauty, even if I’m all the while turning out lovely preserves. The same is true if I notice that Stewart is doing all the cooking. I’m so grateful that he likes to spend time in the kitchen, but I always feel best when we both take part in making our meals.

So thank you, Shauna, for this opportunity to remember what brings more ease in the kitchen. This week I’m going to slow down and let the beauty that is food step forward. I may even cook a vegetable or two.

You can find other bloggers’ takes on this topic here. But first, why not let Simon and Garfunkel give you a little grin . . .

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2 Comments

  • Reply tigress July 6, 2010 at 3:08 am

    love this! beauty is why i grow food and cook it. i am in awe every time i walk out to my garden…

  • Reply Denise | Chez Danisse July 7, 2010 at 12:28 am

    Food is beautiful. I am a believer. And I know the definition of beauty is very subjective. I am smitten with two scraggly bulbs of garlic I purchased at the Fort Mason Farmers Market on Sunday. I know everyone would not see these gems as I do, but that's okay with me.

    Cooking grew easier and more enjoyable when I learned to look at recipes as inspiration versus serious step-by-step instructions.

    Yes, I'm always happier when I slow down in the kitchen. My parents liked Simon and Garfunkel too. Whenever I listen to Kodachrome I think of my dad (and summer). I think I'll play it right now, after your Feeling Groovy…

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