Some people shop. Some drink. Some indulge in comfort food. Others swear by yoga or working out. For me, when being an adult and all that it entails (work, stress, talking about politics, NOT talking about politics, finances, deadlines, family) are too much, well, I chop. I take the biggest knife in the kitchen, a cutting board and I cut vegetables, heads of cabbages and lettuces until I find tranquility, or at least can find the humor in the day. Sometimes, I have enough vegetables prepped for a week…to feed an army. Never the less, it’s productive, reduces prep time on a busy night in my future and let’s face it, chopping is therapeutic.
My uncle in France owned a bakery. He once teased me and said that if more Americans made their own bread, pounding the dough and kneading it with their fists several times before baking it, they wouldn’t need to pay for therapists. There might be something to that idea. I have often thought about that conversation. Recently, I started to extrapolate.
I have been seeing pictures of cooked food on my friends’ social media pages. Lots of people are trying the new, delivered fresh cooking kits. The kits are comprised of groceries that are already pre-measured and prepped, complete with recipes to cook on a week night. I’ve been reading a lot about these kits. It seems to me like a lot of money for what arrives each week. I mean really, the average person can’t look up a recipe and buy the ingredients? Is there so little time left at the end of the day that we cannot wash and cut a few tomatoes? How are these companies becoming so successful?
After talking in depth with one such fresh meal making customer, I have come to a conclusion. The media, with its pretty boxed advertising and coupon based merchandising for processed food (ever seen a coupon for raw carrots?) have convinced us that we are all too busy and too nutritionally uneducated to cook a real meal without copious amounts of help. Furthermore, marketing would suggest that cooking at home is unhealthy unless we have a step by step guide that will list each serving, caloric intake and clean eating scale ratio.
I call Shenanigans! Furthermore, let me introduce you to one more epiphany. All good cooks got where they are today by making mistakes and experimenting. Nearly all of the cooks I know, both home cooks and professionals, were at some point in their lives nearly broke. Hence, these same people went to the store, bought what was on sale that day and came home to figure out the tastiest way to cook it. From that experience, many of them, as well as myself, found a calming and unwinding effect while cooking after a long day at work.
I dare say, I learned to cook with wine because I happened to be having a glass while preparing dinner. If it was good enough for my glass, it was good enough to add a splash to my stir fry, the vinaigrette in the salad, or the strawberries I planned for dessert. The same could be said when drinking tea. By accident, I learned that tea made an excellent marinade for meat and was a fat free way to add moisture and density to my recipe for banana bread. I would never have learned any of these flavor options without experimenting in the kitchen.
Learning to relax and just cook will never happen by merely opening a box. Cooking is rather like life; messy and slightly dangerous, if you do it right. Opening a box hasn’t been dangerous since Pandora and it isn’t going to get any more exciting thanks to a pre-packaged fresh meal delivery.
So, take a deep breath. Pull out four items from your fridge or pantry: a vegetable, a protein, a starch and a condiment and imagine what they might taste like if you mixed two or all of them together. (Fried rice is always a good way to start.) There is no getting this wrong if you like how it tastes when you’re done. Next, go to the store and buy some sale items. Look up a recipe online (there are plenty listed here) and make it on a Sunday. Chop your own vegetables. Substitute whatever protein you like that was on sale. Break some rules. Add chilis. Throw in a splash of wine. For heave’s sake, relax! Who knows? Cooking might just become something you look forward to.