Relearning the Joy of Cooking

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I enjoy cooking but not so much for myself. You would never believe it to look at me, but I don’t really care that much about food. I would be quite content eating the same things over and over again. My staple would be one of those big fat roasted chickens from Costco that would last for a week once I surrounded it with simply steamed vegetables and fresh salads. When I cook it is mainly for my husband who enjoys food and trying new recipes as much as I like writing, reading, traveling. So I have a number of cookbooks and I search magazines and the Internet for new ideas include in my cooking repertoire. 

I don’t think that I have ever actually purchased more than a handful of cookbooks for myself and yet my shelf is filled with a great variety of culinary guidance. I enjoy searching the pages for ideas when guests are coming to my home but I’m not that enthusiastic when it comes to preparing my daily offerings. I’d rather spend my time puttering in my garden or walking around my neighborhood. Much like my father-in-law I mostly eat to stay alive and if left alone I sometimes forget to feed myself altogether. 

I find preparation for special occasions to be delightful in spite of my lack of normal lack of interest. I flip through the pages of my various volumes to find a main dish around which I then build a bounty of side dishes. I cook up a storm using all of my pots and pans and kitchen gear. I turn on music that fits the theme of my menu and I fairly dance while ingredients bubble and boil on my stove and inside my oven. I create a kind of bacchanal of delights from soup to dessert. Then I watch with great joy as my guests devour my creations. 

Of late it has become more and more difficult to prepare food for such occasions. There are so many different dietary trends now that I struggle to create fare that will make everyone happy. Invariably I see someone eating more salad than anything, a sign that his/her diet is more restrictive than what I have prepared. These days I have to plan for the vegetarians, those going full on Keto, the Weight Watchers and the low carb sugar free crowd. Then there are the older folks who no longer want salt in their food. 

At the same time there are the folks who still enjoy a roasted beast of some variety and search for my macaroni and cheese as though it is the holy grail of dining. If I remove desserts from the menu I see my guests searching for something to satisfy the sweet tooth. If I over estimate how many final courses I need I am stuck with them for weeks after the event. The balancing act of satisfying everyone is becoming more and more like walking a tightrope two hundred feet in the air with no safety net below. I am never quite sure how much or how little of any item to prepare. My roasted Brussel sprouts may go begging one time and be the object of a fight the next. Finding the universal sweet spot is not as easy as it once was. 

I certainly have enough cookbooks to satisfy the demands of many different appetites. I have heart healthy and diabetics texts along with the culinary secrets of famous dishes from Brennan’s of New Orleans. The cookbook that I inherited from my mother was printed during World War II when there was a shortage of many common ingredients so it includes recipes that eschew things like sugar and eggs. Perhaps my biggest challenge these days is finding something substantial for the vegetarians. While I myself would be quite content eating nothing but plant based food for the remainder of my life I am not really familiar with things like “burgers” made without meat. I have tried tofu and its consistency makes me queasy so I really do not wish to include it in my cooking but I want to provide a nice source of protein from my anti-animal feasting friends and family members. I suppose my next purchases must be a really good vegetarian cookbook.

One of my brothers has solved the mysteries of dieting. At one time he was morbidly obese and we worried that he might keel over at any minute. He decided to take charge of his situation and began with surgery designed to curb his appetite. His was a model experience and soon he began shedding the pounds. He lost his desires to eat twenty four seven and followed a food journey of moderation without eliminating any particular kinds of ingredients. When he coupled his efforts with daily high intensity exercise he hit an ideal weight and every aspect of his health and appearance improved. He manages this while still using salt and sugar and eating whatever he wants in small quantities. Like me food is no longer the focus of his thoughts and desires but he is still able to enjoy a few luxurious feasts now and again without guilt. 

The United States is a nation of food plenty and cooking shows that have also made our citizens some the heaviest country in the world. At the same time much of our population has an obsession with being healthy that drives them to a point of thinking about little else. Somehow we often miss the mark when it comes to moderation in all things and yet we tend to understand that if we are to be fit for a lifetime the middle road is most probably the best way to go. 

I once watched an interview with Julia Child who was notorious for her use of rich ingredients in her cooking. She did not hold back from better and cream and fat but she insisted that for most people such dishes were not harmful if consumed in reasonable amounts. Portion size is the key and too often our glutinous tendencies lead us to placing heaping mounds. When something is truly delicious we tend to go back for seconds or eat until we almost feel sick like the Romans of old who gorged on feasts until they were vomiting. 

My brother has successfully found the right ways of eating and exercising. It took him decades of yo yo dieting and on again off again binging followed by deprivation to realize that he had to get a grip on his habits. Food addiction is real but with the proper help it can be curbed without giving up every treat that we have ever savored. More and more we are learning that it is about getting in touch with the reasons why we eat the way we do and adjusting our habits to a level of moderation. It’s not easy but there are wonderful cookbooks that help with the process. I should know. I have dozens that are filled with delights depending on an individual’s needs. I suppose that cooking in the name of health is enough of a worthy project to inspire my altruistic instincts. It’s time to relearn the joy of cooking for health and see how it goes.