As we venture out into the post-pandemic world, we are all still cooking. We are, right? I know so many of us are so eager to get back to eating out, but please, my loves, let's not leave the kitchen behind, ok?
I know it's "easy for me to say," since I have cooking baked into my DNA but the kitchen is still where it's at if we are to be metabolically strong enough to fight infection...now and in the future.
It's time to, once again, get out of our own way.
We are smack dab in the middle of the greatest season for fresh ingredients. From greens to tomatoes; fruit to root vegetables, cabbage to salad greens. We have just lived through a terrifying pandemic, so let's continue to care for ourselves with the freshest foods at a local farm market or CSA, ok?
It’s the time of year to rekindle our kitchen creativity. With all the abundance around us, it's now or never, baby. And I know it's hot, but is there anything sexier than that little trickle of sweat running down your back as you cook in a warm kitchen?
So how do we reboot? How do we self-inspire? I can tell you what I did...and do.
My dad was a butcher. He was an artist as well, but to support his family, he worked as a butcher. My dad was good with his hands as was my Nonno, my Italian mother’s father, who for me, was The Man. To this day, I think of him when I have a tough decision to face. I think of them both as I work and bless them both for the strong work ethic they instilled in me.
They both held on to a simple philosophy; that good work is meaningful because it is genuinely useful. They both taught me to celebrate responsibility and personal accountability.
I have lived by that philosophy for all of my life, taught to me by these two humble heroes. I think it’s right. Especially when it comes to cooking. The work we do in the kitchen (if you can call it work at all) is meaningful on every level, from the manual skill that it takes to make, say, the perfect bread dough to precise julienne cuts to exact dice. All of these skills are a salute to the meaningful joy of feeding those we love (and ourselves). There’s no debate, no question that this is good and useful work that makes a difference.
And is there any stronger personal accountability than what you choose to cook and eat? Than serving those we love the best food we can?
Just thinking of these two glorious and humble men took me back to the feasts at our table. My Nonna was one of 17 children (yup, 17) so dinners at my house were never simple affairs. It was like cooking a holiday feast daily, from fresh breads and sweets and multi-course meals to keep everyone well-nourished. With little money, my relatives found creative ways to make a little go a long way. And while I am sure they were tired and un-inspired some days, that was never evident in the kitchen, where they sang, talked and laughed as they cooked, teaching me the joy of cooking from a very young age. I loved everything about the kitchen and its resulting feasts.
I never need to look no further than the salt water taffy box that holds my mother’s and grandmother’s recipes (such as they are…no real measurements) to find the inspiration I need to keep going when the going gets tough .
As a lifelong cook, I continually go back to the cutting board with renewed enthusiasm and find my way back to the joy of cooking and feeding those I love best.
So my advice as we find our way through this strange time of new normalcy (whatever that means)? Practice your basic skills you need to master to feel at home in the kitchen so that cooking becomes another way to find happiness and peace, instead of white knuckling it through yet another meal preparation. Remember that mastering cooking skills will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
If you are already a great “from scratch” cook, then open your mind and heart and try some new things, even if those dishes are with the same ingredients you always have on hand.
Life during this pandemic offered little in the way of pleasure, but now you can search out the freshest ingredients; you can open your cookbooks (or salt water taffy boxes) and cook something traditional and healthy. You can bask in the warm glow of nourishing those you love in the best way you know.
Make a special dessert, even though it’s just another day like all the others. Cook on the grill if you can to create a festive picnic air to your meals. Play music and dance off the calories after dinner; take a walk in the warm evening air.
Let's keep cooking as though our lives depend on it, because they do. And that is one of life’s greatest joys.