“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”
― Julia Child
One of my favorite pastimes is finding time to step into the kitchen and attempt a new recipe that I have discovered in a magazine, watched on Food Network or torn from my Sunday newspaper. However, just as much as I love to courageously trying something new, I also love the comfort of creating something without having to glance at a recipe because it is ingrained in my memory. Either way, cooking is something I love to do, and the more I learn, the more I love tinkering in the kitchen, smashing a clove of garlic or making a savoring meal of risotto while sipping a crisp glass of viognier or sauvignon blanc with records of jazz resonating throughout the house.
Perhaps it’s because I am single and only have to cook for one, perhaps it is because I grew up in a home where my mother put such love in her cooking every night of the week or perhaps it’s because I’ve come to realize that knowing how to cook and taking the time to enjoy meals at home is simply a healthy, therapeutic habit that is a integral part in living well.
I know many of my readers also love to cook, but in our modern world up until recently with the popularization of food networks and increase in farmers’ markets nationwide, convenience and processed food have taken command of the stage regarding eating habits and preferences. I can’t think of a better analogy to teach the lesson that easier isn’t always better. Based on the obesity epidemic and the fact that so much of what is available to ingest quickly isn’t even actual food, not only is it a good life decision to learn how to cook for one’s good health, it is actually something that can bring a tremendous amount of satisfaction and fulfillment into your life as well.
Let me share with you what I’ve discovered by knowing how to cook and continuing to learn the tricks of the trade:
1. Helps me stick to my budget. When I first began living in northwest Portland more than nine years ago, I would have loved to dine at all of the splendid restaurants on 23rd Avenue, but on my teacher’s salary I was lucky to enjoy a sweet dessert at Papa Haydn’s once or twice a month with my close girlfriends. As an alternative, I tried to make the many dishes I would have loved to have enjoyed in my apartment. While buying grocery store brands of certain items to save money and allowing myself to purchase quality items that would be sure to make the dish extraordinary – fresh herbs, artisan breads, fresh seafood, cheese – whenever they would go on sale, I was able to not only enjoy quality meals, but stick to my budget as well.
2. Allows me to exercise my independence. I feel fortunate to have grown up with a mother who loves to look. While I only learned a small arsenal of the skills I now have growing up as a child, I was confident living in my first apartment that I could cook myself something even if it was just heating up a can of green beans or making lasagna. And as I grew older and continued to understand how to make sauces (thank you Julia Child!), the perfect steak, as well as many other techniques, I not only felt assured I could cook adequately, I also began to love cooking for others as well.
3. I know what I’m eating. From a health perspective, learning how to cook is crucial to controlling your eating habits. When you become the cook, you become the captain of your diet. No longer are you in the dark about how much sugar, butter or salt goes into your favorite snack, and more importantly, you begin to realize that flavor doesn’t have to mean fattening. Learning to use shallots, lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs and spices are all simple ways to add layers of flavor without unnecessary calories.
4. Helped to trim my waistline. On a similar note, when you can cook for yourself, you aren’t dependent on eating food wherever you can find it. In other words, you can plan healthy meals, take command of your kitchen and eat when it works best for you, not when you can get to the nearest restaurant and be held captive by their menu choices.
5. No deprivation, only moderation. Having had the opportunity to travel to France and observe the riches of their cuisine and witness first-hand that eating well doesn’t have to turn you into a walking roley-poley, and conversely having learned the hard way that restrictive diet do not work, I an attest that you can eat fat, butter and cheese and still stay slim. The key is to eat in moderation. Make the conscious decision to taste and savor your food rather than drowning yourself in your favorite sweet treat. Always aim for balance of vegetables, fruit and protein, and don’t feel bad about treating yourself to a slice of your favorite camembert.
6. Another worthwhile excuse to go book shopping. While having too many books will never be my problem, as I can’t ever seem to have enough piled on my bedstand, another reason to purchase these gems is a wonderful thing. The top selling genre of books on average tend to be cookbooks, and it’s understandable as to why when you think about it. Visually the images are tantalizing, everyone needs to eat and you don’t have to read the entire book all once to put it to good use. At the end of the post you’ll find a list of cookbooks that sit on my counter and are regularly used.
7. Brings those I love together. When you can cook, you can have a dinner party. When you can took, you can invite friends over for a wine and appetizer gathering. When you can cook, you can entertain. One of the best gifts to give those you love is to bring them together for a wonderful time, and food is a natural magnet.
8. Feeds my insatiable curiosity. I continue to want to be a student of life. For example, when I first began learning about wine more than six years ago, I was thrilled and beyond curious to understand more about all of the different types of wine and regions, and the same is true for cooking. There is always a new recipe to try, a new ingredient to use, a new skill to learn or a new tool to give a whirl. The kitchen really is a classroom, and attempting to master it will always be intriguing to me.
9. An outlet for artistry. If you’ve ever watched Top Chef, the artistry that each talent puts into their presentation and meals exceeds impressive. Often the food looks so much like a piece of art, I’d almost be tempted not to taste it (but then my taste buds would become far too curious and win out). While you might not reach the echelons of Top Chef, there is a reason recipes can’t be copyrighted, because each cook brings to the ingredients their own ideas creating an original meal every time. See cooking as your art studio and begin honing your skills and expressing what most captures your taste buds depending upon the day, event or guests invited to join you.
10. I can communicate without saying a word. My aunt is a caterer. And whenever I have the opportunity to see her (which is not nearly enough), I always know my palette will be all a flutter tasting her talents in the kitchen. One of the instructions she gives her cooking staff that she shared with me some time ago was that if they were in a bad mood to stop cooking and go home (whether she meant this literally or figuratively, I’m not sure). More importantly, she genuinely believes that the negative energy brought to the process of cooking will dim the flavor of the food, and on the flipside, when you cook with love, it is amazing what one can create. Cooking is a wonderful way of expressing how you feel and sharing it with others. Think of the meals you create whether they are for yourself or to share with others as a greeting card. What do you want it to say?
“Cooking is at once child's play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.” ― Craig Claiborne
Whether you are well versed in the kitchen and can easily discern between a jelly roll sheet and a cookie sheet, a sauce pan and a skillet, or are just thrilled to know how to boil water, take some time to hone your skills even further in the kitchen. Not only will your waistline and budget thank you, but your confidence will gradually begin to soar and who knows what kind of artist resides within you. Don’t be afraid to find out.
If you’re looking for a list of supplies and utensils that you may want to add to your kitchen, have a look at these two lists:
In need of a recipe to try (breakfast, lunch, sides, pastas, dinners, desserts)? Have a look at my list of recipes tried and recommended by moi.
Cookbooks that I use regularly in my own kitchen:
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