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…why I cook…

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This is, although it may never wind up in it, the preface to my little cookbook project. It’s the chapter I’ve never ever wanted to write, but for some reason tonight, I can think of nothing else…

I’ve danced around the subject, tried to come up with fair reasonings behind the sudden and urgent desires to procure and roast whole pigs for strangers and friends, curing bacon, hanging cured legs of pork or lamb or duck breasts to dry, scavenging fruit to make wild yeast bread and beer starters, but I’ve never actually bared my soul about why I really cook.

What led me to cooking is simple. I know, there is only one reason why it has spiraled so completely out of control, gone so far beyond what few people ever imagine or need to do in their own homes to feed themselves or their families; I cook for comfort.

For the same reason that so many people bury themselves in eating food, I bury myself in cooking and making food. I am, on some level, no different than the person who compulsively eats themselves into a state of morbid obesity, to the point where mobility is impaired, resigned to living life in a chair, or a bed, swaddled in sheets, shitting themselves while being fed by another.

I am different in that, though, because no one feeds me; I cook for comfort because for some reason, the comfort I need has been so completely lacking in my life from the people and places I’ve needed it from most…

I’ll jump aside here for a minute and talk about a dream, a vision I’ve had, what I hope to create, all I really want in life. Maybe it’s a romantic version of something that doesn’t really exist; the sort of scene you see from time to time in the pages of some foodie magazine or show – some sicilian family sitting down to a table of grilled sardines, home cured meats, handmade pastas, homegrown tomatoes, different bits of breads, cheeses, wines, people sitting all day long on some sunny patio getting drunk on conversation, laughter and the company of each other. No one there is in a hurry to leave that table…

I want that. The table that no one ever wants to push away from – the spread of simple riches that come from the loving labor of the ones who are serving and eating it. A house filled with laughter and music, a place where nothing outside the walls of the house comes to the table – no work, no politics, no religion, no ‘meaningful’ discussions of American Idol…

I’m a firm believer in rituals, of which there are two main types; ones that come as result of how you live – expressive ones – then there are the ones you adopt, that by virtue of repetition begin to shape you into something else. Cooking is exactly the latter for me. Sometimes, I think it borders on the compulsive end of the spectrum and honestly, at times, it feels as if maybe, I’m creating my own cargo cult. Maybe it’s a misguided attempt at using cooking, hoping to use it to transform the world and people around me into that vision, that simple dream – hoping that someday, somehow, by virtue of stopping and looking at it all, they’ll finally have that ‘aha’ moment. It hasn’t happened yet. But I cook because it’s the necessary ritual to creating that vision…

It’s the simple reason why I feel compelled to expand into things like roasting pigs for the neighborhood; I want to live in a place where things like that happen. And now I do. Since no one else stepped up to do it, or envisioned it, I did. I’m just that sort of person. I lead by example.

Maybe it’s borne from the need to pick up the pieces where life ended being that for me sometime early on. We used to have family barbecues, sunday dinners, aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and neighbors all gathered together on weekends, and suddenly it just disappeared. Life became feral, and every year, the rituals dwindled away into something less than the year before. As life goes on and too much of the day to day is only about survival, you soon realize how important it is to have the sacred. You realize how important is to keep certain things holy, to strive to make them as magnificent as possible each time, how important it is to keep the things that elevate you, that border on a different realm of being, completely apart from the fray of merely surviving…

I come across things; people mainly, like Marcella Hazan, or Lidia Bastianich and think how lovely it would have been to have had a grandmother or aunt like her, to learn cooking that way as a family tradition. To have that simply be a part of growing up, to not fumble and grope around trying to make it up for myself. I wonder if I’d appreciate it if it had come to me that way. Maybe it’s trying to relearn and recreate some tradition I never really had or was privy to, but realize I need in order to feel grounded and complete. There is no better path to becoming a complete human than knowing how to cook for yourself, your family, how to entertain guests or show gratitude for the things that come into your kitchen by knowing how to use them elegantly and completely. Similarly, there’s no better path to cultivating a meaningful relationship with others than having a mutual understanding about what is sacred. There is no other path to love than sharing mutual bliss. Sharing a common idea of what is good, great, elevating, is the only way any society or culture thrives or has any aspect of genuine character.

I cook, because it’s a dedication to something much greater than the meal on the table. I cook because every day is worth celebrating in some way. I cook mostly though, because somehow I believe, it makes the world a better place to be in…

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “…why I cook…

  1. WOW!!!! Powerful… to say the least! Had a rough day… but what a nice note to end on…Thanks for the inspiration!!

    Posted by Jennifer Campbell Lamance | August 2, 2011, 9:52 am
  2. Bravo! It is not an easy thing to do to finally express and to pen the things we do, why we do it and to express the feelings that go along with that! I think that sometimes we don’t always really know why, that we just do it because it feels like the right thing to do… Which, for me is reason enough! I agree with you that many things have gone by the wayside – rituals, family gatherings, expressing how we feel to those we love and care about! Thank you again Tom for very introspective thoughts and feelings, and for being so brave to write and speak it!

    Posted by seabreezelouise | August 2, 2011, 1:48 pm

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