I’ve always been big on baking, but it wasn’t until I stopped baking with my childhood friend, S.R., that I got any good at it (flour spilled all over the kitchen; hair caught in the mixer; fires; burns; that time we tried to dye our cookies Carolina blue, but they turned out puke green… name a baking fiasco, S.R. and I have had it). And it wasn’t until I got to college and my mother stopped making my dinners that I discovered the joys of cooking (actual joys, not the book). The other day, while kneading, I found myself pondering the reasons why and when I cook and bake. There are many, varied, but oddly specific circumstances when I cook for reasons beyond providing myself basic sustenance.
- Because I want a challenge – Like that time I unwittingly/accidentally bought several whole fish and had to scale and gut them myself
- Because I want to be creative – Recipes are more like guidelines than steps; take their basic ideas and make it your own
- Because I want to be methodical – Unless you’re baking; then you need to follow the prescribed ratio of ingredients. Having some omniscient being, in the form of a recipe, helps me calm my nerves
- When I’m stressed – I’m a late-night, stress-baker; the mixing and measuring acts like a sedative
- When I’m lonely – Being the new kid in a new city has let to a lot of lonesome cooking in recent weeks
- When I’m feeling social – Potlucks: I love them
- When I want to show off, without being the center of attention (which I rarely want to be) – See potlucks above
- When I want to show my love – birthday cakes; surprise baked goods when friends are feeling low; making Thanksgiving dinner for 25 friends who all found themselves far from home for the holidays
- When the seasons change – And bring with them a whole new set of ingredients (I’m looking at you, Fall – pumpkins, apples, squash, cinnamon, pomegranates, stews…)
What I create also tends to reflect my mental state, or, more accurately, the mental state I’m seeking. Hearty dishes and baking are for when I want to feel cozy loved/ing. Light, healthy dishes are for warmer weather and when I cook for people I don’t know as well. If I’m feeling disengaged from my life/environment/friends, my cooking usually suffers as well. I cook my best things when they’re for someone else, or things just taste better when they’re meant to be shared (re: potlucks, again).
After a recent spate of unsuccessful and unappetizing dishes I’ve found myself back on a roll again (rim shot). The last few dishes I’ve created have been filling and delicious (butternut squash galette, simit, spinach and quinoa salad, Brunswick stew) and I’ve been reinspired after a bit of a dry spell (bought a bunch of apples this weekend; it should prove fruitful).
All puns aside, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, which has been reflected in a few sad meals. Though, I’ve found my life and my mental state often follow my meals, so I’m hoping that this recent uptick in my cooking extends to the rest of my life as well.