Cooking is high on the list of things that make me happy. Cooking means loving people well by giving them something that they both need and will give them pleasure. Cooking means creativity and challenge. Cooking means taking odds and ends and, by combination, making something surprising and delightful. Cooking, at its best, is an act not only of nurture and comfort, but of redemption.
Cooking also means dirty dishes, but I try not think about that until after dinner, and occasionally not until after breakfast.
I have my older sister, who is closer to culinary sainthood than I shall ever be, and who by her own telling at least partially ensnared her husband with a piece of blueberry pie, for first making me think about food in a way that is similar to how I think about words. A subject requiring precision, perseverance, and a sense of humor. In the end, an offering to those I love.
There is also in cooking that note of obscurity that I always find attractive. To be honest, one of my favorite things about baking bread from scratch is that I'm expected to buy it in a store. That, and I like to do things the hard way; it makes the end results much more fun. I'm not-so-secretly delighted if my Ethiopian recipe has me picking through unmarked bags of spices in a dimly lit shop in DC's Little Addis Ababa neighborhood.
My little apartment kitchen sometimes makes me sad. It's more like a galley than a kitchen. The dishwasher has never worked, and a single dish out of place qualifies as a huge mess for simple want of space. Sometimes I think with envy of the grand designer kitchens in the houses where both my mom and dad have worked, kitchens that would make Julia Child weep for joy, and that yet always gleamed with the telltale cleanliness of disuse.
But my own plastic countertops and jam-packed cupboards have not stopped me from squeezing my own orange juice, nor does the fact that my dining room table seats four keep me from inviting a dozen. When people come to eat, I pull out every thing that can possibly be sat upon, and some people go into the living room, balancing glasses on their knees and trying not to spill ragu sauce on the couch, as though that poor old three-legged Craigslist couch could possibly be spoiled. Conversation stops. People who were hungry are satisfied and cared for. This is why I love to cook: the silence of satiety that falls upon such gatherings. And though cooking by itself is fun, this is the part the makes me happy. I wouldn't trade a minute of it, not for a butcher block countertop or my own fleet of Kitchenaid mixers, not unless the same faces were around my table.
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