Friday, January 25, 2008

The "It" Dish

I've been thinking lately about exactly why I like to cook. I mean, a large part of it, obviously, is that I love to eat. I love food. I love making food and consuming large quantities of it. It's good stuff.

But, when I'm completely honest with myself, I realize that cooking sometimes is a chore. Baking, for instance, can take a long time. Sometimes I think that I shouldn't spend yet another Saturday afternoon in the kitchen, but something compels me to do it. It's like I have to make something. But as I'm making it, I can sometimes get cranky. I have a tiny kitchen, and when I'm standing in front of a stove and an oven that are both turned on, I get very hot. And when I have several things going at once and I suddenly can’t find the paprika in the avalanche-waiting-to-happen that is my spice shelf, I get pissy. And when, God forbid, something does not come out as I had planned, I can become a tad irate. Those who have been near me at such times can attest to this. One day, I will tell you about the time the bottom layer of my brownies adhered itself to my allegedly nonstick baking dish, or the time an oozing puddle of raw batter hid itself beneath an ostensibly finished layer of corn pudding. One day, I'll tell you how I reacted. But not just now--we don't know each other well enough yet.

But I've realized that those tantrums are key, because the explanation behind my cooking obsession lies within them. For me, cooking is all about the possibilities. It is about the great thing that could be. It is about the feeling I get when I stick a dish in the oven and imagine how it will be when I take it out. Will it be everything I hoped it would be? Will that first bite make me close my eyes and smile and think, yes, this is it? And, of course, if half my dish is either uncooked or glued to the bottom of the pan, all such possibilities are obliterated.

This also explains my rather obsessive habit of collecting recipes. A good recipe is loaded with possibilities. I collect recipes more than I actually cook. I have lists and piles of them, boxes stuffed with them, all in the hopes that one of them will be it--the one that is worth keeping, the one I'll want to make over and over again.

One of the things I enjoy most is planning my grocery shopping. I decide in advance what I'll be cooking and what recipes I'll need to shop for, and, when my list for that week is complete, I'll go back to it over and over again, staring at it, imagining myself making each thing, weighing in my mind how likely it is that each dish will be an "it" dish. And when I think I've got one, I will count down to the day that I make it, and that entire day will revolve around the making and eating of said dish, all the time hoping, hoping….

The danger with this, of course, is that only the rarest recipe stands a chance of living up to such elevated expectations.

And so I try again, continually, determinedly. It sounds a bit demented, actually. But it is what I do. And when I finally get it, and I take that first bite of a delicious something, and I am completely unable to keep the corners of my mouth from turning upward as I taste it, and I know that I'll have to keep eating this long after I'm full, because it's that good, that's when I'm rewarded for my efforts, and then--only then--am I satisfied.

And then I begin searching for the next one.


beth said...

woah... you just described me.

kamylyon said...

Right there with you Beth, in search of the recipe...

VF you have, in a few paragraphs, described my existence...

sorina said...

You have a very nice blog, good post...keep up the good job