In order to eat, one must first gather food and begin “an activity that separated humans from the rest of the living world — cooking.” (Levi-Strauss, 1964)
During the act of cooking, we become focused on something outside of ourselves. We watch our hands and fingers as we touch, chop, slice and stir. We listen for the sounds of water boiling or something sizzling in a skillet. The aromas of food and spices rise into the air. We taste the food along the way to satisfy our preferences. It is a sustained engagement of every sensory perception we have, and it has a meditative effect.
Wait, isn’t meditation sitting still, closing our eyes, and focusing our attention on our breath? Yes. But, like meditation, the act of cooking is done over a prolonged period of time requiring us to shut out a certain amount of external stimuli. We slow down and focus.
We are also creating a gift for others to enjoy. The act of giving elevates our sense of inner-satisfaction. We’re performing an altruistic act with the added components of anticipated socialization, and the mental reward for everyone is a big dose of endorphins throughout the evening. It’s like mainlining happiness.
This has not escaped the attention of the mental health world. “Now, some health-care clinics and counselors are using cooking or baking as therapy tools for people suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental-health problems.” (Jeanne Whalen, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 8, 2014, A Road to Mental Health Through the Kitchen)
Having a brief career as a life coach, I can’t help but make correlations between cooking and life lessons. We learn planning skills through the acts of deciding what we are going to cook, gathering the ingredients, and delivering the meal at a certain time. We learn in-the-moment decision-making skills. If something doesn’t taste right to us while we’re cooking, we adjust the seasonings or the cooking time. We learn to accept our failures and move on, because when we bomb the entire dinner, we scrape it into the trash and start over or call out for delivery.
I have bombed many times. Once I put a leg of lamb in the wrong side of a double oven, and it was still raw at serving time. Another time I miscalculated the amount of food I needed, ended up with an empty plate for myself, tried to pretend I became a vegan for the night, and then everyone at the table took pity and gave up a shrimp so I had something to eat. I’ve burned things, over peppered, over salted, ruined sauce pans, and spectacularly dropped and broken completed dishes.
Every single cook and professional chef I know has had an epic fail in the kitchen. Friends have had their recipe fly into the gas burner mid-way through the prep and burn up. Other friends chopped and cooked what they thought were shallots but turned out to be tulip bulbs, necessitating a call to the CDC to be sure they hadn’t poisoned their guests. Failing can be funny. These are the stories we remember and laugh about not the dinners that went off without a hitch. No one ribs you about those for the next ten years.
So, beginners, relax, you are going to have fun failing!
With that encouraging news, let’s take the next step to your dinner party. You should have your guest list by now. Set a date for sometime after my last blog in this series which will be the week of September 17. I like Saturdays as it gives me extra time to shop, clean, and do last minute preparations. That’s it. Set the date in your calendar and mark off the day.
Any beginners brave enough to take me up on this challenge? Contact me, and we’ll work together, or strike out on your own. I would love to read your comments here or on the Facebook Group page (link below).
Until next time when we make it real and invite your guests, cheers!
Thyme with Friends Cookbook
Benefits the North Texas Food Bank
Where to order: www.thymewithfriends.org
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