Wednesday, August 8, 2012

362) Confessions of an Underdog Cook

The Literary Life 8/8/2012

I dream of being an excellent cook.
            Not just an excellent cook, but a phenomenal cook.  The kind of cook who follows her own whims and intuitions.  The kind whose pantry is full of spices from the most generic to the most elusive.  The kind whose kitchen belongs among the glossy pages of Architectural Digest.
            I dream of making big meals, meals that enlighten and entertain, meals that are talked about much later than the meal itself.  Dishes that are savored, remembered, and coveted.  That serenade as they satisfy.
            But that is not who I’ve come to be.
            I mean, I can cook a decent meal, but I’ve been too inhibited to fully express myself through cooking because I believe I could never really be good at it.  And if I begin doing it, I believe I will feel inclined to invite people over to sample my cooking, and I fear putting myself out there like that.  It’s much simpler to invite people to join me at my favorite Mexican restaurant down the street, so I can show off my excellent ordering instincts.
            I feel like a tourist in the kitchen, though I’ve had my share of cooking victories.  I’ve pulled a batch of chocolate chip cookies out of the oven that tasted startlingly good.  Cookies that make me wonder, was it the more expensive butter?  Was it my calm state of mind walking into the kitchen?  Did the gods intervene?
            Yet more often than not, I have memories of pouring anxiously over my recipe books with flour in my hair, cursing my clumsy self.  I remember all the burnt curries and undercooked potatoes I’ve labored over, the frozen meals from Trader Joe’s that I’ve managed to bung up because the 4 minute cooking time recommended on the package didn’t take into account that I own a high powered microwave.
            More often than not, the food I prepare is passable but pragmatic, a temporary fix to the calls of appetite. 
            But I would love to prepare meals that bite back.
             The Buddhists say that whatever we pay attention to grows.  The truth is, I’d probably be a better cook if I spent more time perfecting the skill.  But my desire to cook well and cook strong are more metaphorical.  I make meals routinely but not frequently.  And while I’ve dreamt about hosting parties where people gasp at the chicken kebabs I have spiced and plated to perfection, I have never made chicken kebabs.
            Modern life is busy, and I often find myself catching a meal on the go rather than slowing down to make something of value in the kitchen.  “Yes, I’ll have fries with that,” is a phrase I frequently utter.  And when I feel like cooking, I watch the cooking channel.
            In order to be a real amateur cook, I would have to brave the kitchen, my recipe books, and my insecurities.  I would have to make room for it.  I would have to want it less and do it more. 
            So my goal this week is to begin cooking twice a week:  something salty and something sweet. 
And then, when I’ve gotten more comfortable, I’d like to host a dinner party.
Yikes.  Fuck.  Take a breath.
            I will call this my coming out as a chef party. 
            What I’m not sure about is how to go about doing this cooking twice a week business.  I mean, how to decide what I’m going to fix in the kitchen every week.  I could choose the recipes that strike my fancy, or I could begin with recipes from Pakistan, my home country, or I could stick to the recipes in Real Simple magazine because they’re fast. 
I could select a particular spice, like cumin, and only cook meals where this spice is an ingredient. 
I could cook different types of pastas for a month.
I could consult my psychic on what type of dishes I’m likely to cook best.
But first I think it might help to do some thinking and investigating.  Why do I want to cook well and cook frequently?  What’s my driving force?
Here’s what comes to mind:

1)   Cooking is fun! 
2)   Cooking is creative.
3)   Cooking is empowering.
4)   Cooking is a comforting, therapeutic, and life-affirming ritual.
5)   Cooking involves the heart, body, and soul.
6)   Cooking is a healthy vice.
7)   Cooking is a way for me to inhabit Pakistan in America.  Or to inhabit other countries.
8)   Cooking inspires me to write.
9)   Cooking reminds me to slow down and savor life.
10)          Cooking is a skill to master, for it helps you win friends and influence people.

So my reasons to cook are no more original than a Valentine’s love poem, but the fact is they’re all true.  Somehow I feel that if I commit to cooking, I will not only hone a valuable skill, but I will improve my overall happiness.  It would be empowering…because having the confidence to cook for others is not only a form of giving but a form of self-acceptance.   
            I think this is my plan to start:  the salty dish I cook every week must represent a different country.  The sweet dish I cook, I’ll select on a whim. 
            I’d like to do this for two months and keep a record of it.  Just see where it takes me.
            And then, come October, I would like to host a coming out dinner party. 
            My plan is to ace it!  ;) 

1 comment:

  1. I know where you can get cherry extract.
    AND I would LOVE to read the descriptions of the food you cook over the next two months.