Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why I Cook

Michael Ruhlman wrote a nice post yesterday, pondering the question of why he cooks and encouraging others to ponder and post about the same thing. It's an interesting thing to consider. Cooking is the primary leisure activity I use to unwind, to cheer myself up, and to feel more like myself when I'm in a funk... but why do I cook?

I remember eating pretty crappy food in college. I was broke, and my cooking philosophy revolved around finding the cheapest possible protein at the Star Market down the street (hello, 3-for-$1 canned tuna!) and trying to make the consumption of it as enjoyable as possible for as little money as possible. College was also when I started to experiment with creating a few recipes that I still love today. I would have something that I loved at a restaurant and then decide that I needed to make it at home for assorted reasons ranging from distance (like the pineapple-ginger chicken from Sweetwater's Jam House in Portland) to cost (like a pasta dish with mushrooms, cream, prosciutto, and peas from a place in Central Square that didn't quite fall in my broke college student budget) to lack of access (like when Bertucci's discontinued my favorite pizza, the Nolio, which featured prosciutto and caramelized onions with a lemon-pepper cream sauce).

When I moved to Santa Barbara for grad school, I moved up the ladder from broke to poor. I had easy access to a kick-ass Farmers' Market for the first time in my life and also found myself living with the totally awesome Steph, who turned out to be a kindred spirit when it came to exploring food. I think a lot of the first "fancy" food I ever cooked was after Steph and I joined a wine club together and started trying to come up with awesome meals to pair with the wines we received. This is how we stumbled upon some of our all-time favorites, and how we started to realize that we could do things at home that were as good as or better than what we could find in local restaurants, and for a much lower price tag.

Somewhere in there, cooking moved from something I did for sustenance and for economic reasons to something I did for fun. I can't imagine life without cooking at this point. Now that I'm a gainfully employed grown-up, I can afford some pretty awesome ingredients, and I actually find it harder and harder to eat out. The list of dishes that I can't order in restaurants anymore because I know there's a 93% chance I'll end up disappointed and cranky keeps getting longer and longer as I learn how to make my perfect version of many dishes at home. I know my brother would tell you that it's worth going to a restaurant to be treated to a nice meal with great service, and to not have to spend 6 hours in the kitchen beforehand... but for me those 6 hours are almost the whole point. My Ruhlman-style list:

- I cook because I love food.

- I cook because it makes my world a happier place.

- I cook because I become inordinately cranky if I have to eat something just for sustenance rather than for pleasure.

- I cook because sometimes I don't know how not to.

Anyone out there want to comment on why you cook? Or why you don't?

*That picture at the top is just a simple, spicy turkey and black bean soup with spinach that I made for lunch today... Nothing fancy, but damned if it didn't make me really, really happy...


Max Power said...

Part of the reason I like to cook is because I love projects. I like to plan and execute things.

I also like to see why certain ingredients work together, or if they do at all. I love to eat, and to try new foods, so it's enjoyable for me to experiment. I guess this also relates to my first point.

emmo said...

I sort of love that part, too. I think that's what draws me to things like sausage-making... Well, that and experiencing amazing hand-made sausage for the first time...

I always really like hearing about your cooking. Some sexist part of my brain forgets sometimes that dudes have fun in the kitchen, too. =) (My brother's aversion to cooking may have contributed to that perception...)

Perhaps you and Midge should move to Boston so we can enjoy each other's cooking from time to time? I don't know about you, but I think it's a brilliant idea... =)

Max Power said...

You find me a job, and we'll consider moving!

Stanley said...

I don't cook because I do not like to shop. I sort of like cooking, as long as it's with friends and wine, but I dislike spending all the time driving around and getting the stuff.

Of course nowadays my reasons for not cooking are a little different...but if I could cook, I still probably wouldn't.