Tilting Toward the Dark

Ingredients for a Spanish-style stew

Ingredients for a Spanish-style stew

Yesterday, I was in full-blown have-to-cook mode. I get like that in the fall, when the weather cools, darkness comes earlier, and I spend more time indoors. I’m not quite sure when I turned into someone who must cook, who feels compelled to blend spices and sauté chicken and chop onions, peppers, garlic. Someone who then feeds whatever dish comes together to whomever happens to be at home.

Maybe it was when I was little, watching my mother try to cook as little as possible. This was a big way I could differentiate from her. She saw cooking as duty, as drudgery, as some sort of preordained task that was not a choice. I don’t think she thought it was fair. There were things she cooked that I loved, like her mild version of chili, or noodles Romanoff, which was simply some kind of boxed noodles mixed with hamburger. There were things I imagined she took out her dislike of cooking on, like steak which was always, to me, overdone, or frozen pizza, which she left in the oven a little too long. And there were Christmas cookies, which seemed magical and maybe she enjoyed. Whatever her issues around cooking, she did it and shooed me out of the kitchen most of the time because she didn’t want to clean up more than she had to.

Or maybe this desire to cook erupted when I was a young adult going through a divorce while parenting a young child. There had to be something that would comfort, soothe and sustain me and my son during those days, especially since I was trying to finish college and hang on to my clerical job. Cooking in the student housing apartment where we lived made everything feel normal; I could provide something other families provided to their kids. I could cook. I could create a warm and nourishing place for my son regardless of the chaos that swirled around us.

Or maybe it was even later when this cooking thing fully formed, after my daughter came along and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and her father and I had to rethink everything we fed her. Cooking is a skill that opens up to accommodate all kinds of diets, all kinds of likes and dislikes. Of course it could open up to embrace what we were learning about diabetes, about blood sugar and carbohydrates and metabolism. Of course it could provide comfort again.

Spanish wine

What the cook drank while working

Or maybe this has simply been a life-long process. It could just be a love of the creativity that can be part of finding and offering sustenance. It could be the way turning on the stove provides warmth in these unstable days when the world feels cold, mean, and ready to implode.

Whatever the reasons, as the year tilts toward its dark end, I am ready to chop, stew, braise, and sauté my way forward.

Recipe for Chicken, Shrimp, and Sausage Stew that I found on Epicurious.com. It turned out very tasty.

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8 comments

  1. My attitude toward cooking leans toward that of duty although it’s morphing toward something more enjoyable. While raising three children, I felt the limits of time to spend in the kitchen. Now I have more time.

    Like your mom, mine held minimal creative cooking skills, although she always cooked basic from-scratch foods raised or grown on our farm. Her generation of farm women fed hardy meals to large families. I can only imagine the weariness my mom felt at the end of each day without modern conveniences, with so much work to accomplish. I understand now that I’m an adult looking back. I didn’t while growing up.

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    • I’ve often wondered what it was my mom would have preferred doing – she did have hobbies of leather working and taking pictures. If she had been born later, she would have had some kind of career, I’m sure of it. Cooking would have been replaced with take-out!

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  2. I love stews in the Fall…one pot dish, easy to plate, easy to clean up, and there are leftovers….always better the next few days.

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  3. My mom and grandmas were wonderful cooks. And they encouraged me to help. And gave me things to do on my own for the meal, so I’d be able to tell everyone “I made that!” It’s still hard for me to cook for less than 6 people. I think cooking is an offshoot of creativity and love. Everybody can do something creative, whether it’s painting or cooking a good stew. Just takes practice. Which you seem to do with some frequency. Brava. 🙂

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  4. Kathleen, I often feel the same way: I MUST cook! And yesterday I made a version of “stew”, too. It was pretty tasty for what we call “first day soup” as we know it will be even better today. This morning I read your post, and now I have a new recipe in my file to try. Thanks so much for your words and your recipe. Cheers and happy Fall. xoA

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