I Cook Because It Teaches Me How to Be Alive

I Cook Because It Teaches Me How to Be Alive

When you cook a meal, it is the perfect representation of how will and action produce results.

As I cook and try out new recipes, I’m learning what it’s like to be alive. I force myself out of disassociation by salting a broth and tasting how it makes the dish become brilliant with new dimensions. I’m on a mission to create the perfect macaroni and cheese, and I try out different alterations and make little tweaks, learning how all the ingredients interact with one another.

 

Cooking is an act of will. It requires thought, preparation, and action. I buy groceries, read directions, measure out the ingredients, compare tastes, set timers. The result is a meal that can be smelled and tasted, consumed to fuel me, my boyfriend, my dogs. It’s magic. Alchemical. Transmutation that comes from mathematical formulas. I called it “creative math,” or “sloppy math,” because I usually only follow the directions completely the first time. I guide myself to mix ingredients by intuition and experience – my subconscious seems to know the correct ratios, how tastes work together – even if I myself don’t. Sometimes I get it wrong, I’ll undercook a potato or overcook a steak, but not often.

A few years ago I rarely cooked. I mostly ate my meals out. In Seattle I’d spend most of my money on fancy brunches, expensive Americanos, $10 cocktails, and dinners out at whatever gourmet joint was popular at the time. When I wrote freelance SEO articles I knew how to make sandwiches and I’d cook eggs, but most of what I made was bland and I didn’t enjoy it.

I started learning to cook better meals in Austin when I was working at Zynga. I don’t remember anyone teaching me. It just clicked somehow that I needed to add flavor, that I could create something delicious with the interaction between different kinds of ingredients. I didn’t have much time to make my own meals then – Zynga catered breakfast, lunch, and dinner so they could keep us late, so it was often only on the weekends I had the time. Still, I learned how to make sauces from scratch. I learned how to make margaritas and other mixed drinks. Experimentation always frightened me before. I felt as if someone was always leaning behind my shoulder, waiting for me to mess up. But that isn’t the case anymore. I can reassemble and move around the pieces of my life and if it doesn’t work, I can oftentimes move them back. Nothing terrible is going to happen because I burnt a piece of bacon or because I decided to make a chicken pot pie and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted.

When I cooked – my repertoire at the time was either chicken tacos or spaghetti – there was a comfort and satisfaction that a meal on top of the space needle couldn’t replicate. I cooked this thing, it was a part of me, I was actively working to fuel myself.

Every time I cook a meal, I am making myself a better person.

I am training myself to understand that I can take care of myself, that with the right amount of effort results will be yielded.

When I started wanting to be healthier and lose about ten pounds of vanity weight, I started cooking all of my meals at home. At first it was exhausting, but soon it became routine. I had to have forethought to cook my meals. I needed to plan, and get the groceries in place, and time it. I needed to use ingredients before they went bad, and freeze certain meats, and make sure everything was tasty and satisfying.

When I’m feeling low, oftentimes all I want to do is drink wine and eat nothing at all, or order takeout, or snack on Cheez-its as a meal replacement. I can feel parts of myself drifting away. I sink down into inaction. Depression is oftentimes interrelated with stasis. It’s a feeling of powerlessness, or the desire to be powerless and let the tides of whatever body of circumstance you get caught in carry you away to some kind of conclusion independent of your own will.

Last Friday I made shrimp fettucine alfredo from scratch, and served it with chardonnay for dinner, not just because alfredo is delicious (It’s mostly heavy cream and a stick of butter, which I imagine would make many things delicious) but because I want to celebrate the physics that is a part of this universe that means the right action can create results.

I specified the -right- action because it’s possible to mess up. I could burn the meat, or try to eat limp boiled asparagus, or add too much salt or not enough. I could use a cheese that doesn’t pair well with the meat, or ingredients that seem to counteract each other. You can’t just dive into anything in life and not do it correctly and expect results. Even in my imprecision – I still need to be incredibly precise. Right actions produce right results. It teaches me that I need to adhere to the rules of this world to yield what I want. That I can’t simply want something to exist. I need to prepare, and research, and put all the pieces into place to get what I want. Only when I obey the laws of the physical world do I get what I want. Not by wishing for it, not by wanting it badly enough, but by working within its parameters.

I still have a lot of recipes I want to try out. Foods that I want to experiment with to expand my repertoire and bring new life back into this blood that for so long has felt like it’s been pumped with sludge. I want to try to make sushi, make hummus from scratch, and maybe even bake a cake. We recently moved to a place with a hydroponic garden in the backyard, and we’re going to learn how to cook vegetables – potatoes, onions, cucumbers.

I used to think that I had better things to do with my time. After all, I wasn’t a bored house wife or a bland optimist. I was a writer, and I wanted to do other things. Like write my next twisted dystopian horror novel.

Then my life fell apart, because I hadn’t really made a life to support myself longterm. I had a suicide persona, and when the pressure came, everything crumbled. Oops.

I will probably say this a thousand times more: Everything we do is important. Even the ways we choose to feed ourselves. And as I continue to learn how to be happy, to try to grow into this new raw and shivering skin, learning how to cook feeds back into learning how to be a better writer. I take the lessons I learned in patience and rhythm and precision and it goes back into how I string words together.

It doesn’t have to be cooking to teach you that. It could be building model trains, or raking leaves. But we were creatures put on this earth to live and assemble ourselves with the world around us. We write to explore the human condition, but in order to do that we first have to be a part of it.

So I cook, and every day it feels like less of a burden to feed myself.

Related posts
Wine, the universe, everything
Learning about wine feels like entering a deeper universe. I keep thinking about infinity, how it's...
Easy and Delicious Meals for your Existential Depression
There are days when the existential (or life-event) depression becomes crushing, like a visceral weight...
Happiness: Not Just for Idiots
Someone told me a few days ago that they thought happiness was a form of self-delusion, or at least was...
Of Dog Beaches and Peaches (Whiskey)
"Do not look around thee to discover other men's ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *