I’ve been thinking a lot about cooking lately. Not in the offhand “What are we going to have for dinner tonight?” kind of way. More in the “What does cooking mean to me? What do I want home cooking to mean to my little family?”
It will come as no surprise to anyone that I love to cook. It’s my creative outlet. Some people paint. Some people write poetry. I cook. I feel lucky to have a creative outlet that also (usually!) yields delicious results. I can spend hours dreaming up new flavour combinations or new ways to cook and present a dish that’s an old favourite. I stretch my imagination to create, what is for me, edible art.
Cooking is also, in my experience, an almost meditative practice. The kitchen is a space where I don’t have to worry about work issues or how I look or what we’re doing this weekend or whether I contribute enough to my retirement fund (I don’t.) Instead, I’m able to focus exclusively on the ingredients in front of me. Indeed, I must focus on the task at hand. A wandering mind in the kitchen can lead to injuries, cuts and burns brought about by focusing briefly on that report that’s due on Thursday rather than the slippery chicken thighs in front of you. Some people achieve that single minded focus during yoga or mediation. I achieve it whilst making dinner.
And, finally, perhaps the greatest reason that I cook is that I use food to show people how much I love them. Food is how I show affection. If I speak to Andy at lunch time and he tells me that he’s having a tough day, you can guarantee that I’ll spend half the afternoon trying to think of something to cook him for dinner to brighten his day and show him how wonderful I think he is. When friends are stressed or sick or just having a bad day, my first instinct is to bake for them. I believe in the healing power of a well-cooked meal and I think that a belly full of food made with love is almost as good as a hug.
So what does all this mean for me now?? And why have I been thinking about these things so much for the past few weeks? Partly, it’s because I haven’t been cooking as much as I usually do. I’m kind of huge now (35 weeks and 4 days) and I get a bit achey and pain-y if I’m on my feet for ages. I’ve been cooking big meals once or twice a week and eating the leftovers on the other nights. It’s still good, homemade food. But it’s not my daily routine of an hour or two in the kitchen each night, and I miss that.
But maybe that’s ok? Once our little Button is born I won’t always have time for a creative, meditative hour in the kitchen each evening. I’ll have to get better about making meals that are quick and don’t require too much clean up (I’m certain I’ll still be cleaning up A LOT, just in other rooms!) But, despite the time constraints that come with being a new parent, I’m still completely committed to feeding my family food that’s thoughtful and cooked with care. Food that’s nutritious as well as creative. Food that doesn’t just fill a gap but also makes the diner feel like they’ve had a hug from the cook.
And I want my baby to know the importance of home cooking. I want Button to know the joys of the kitchen… the incredible smell of onions slowly caramelising in butter, the satisfying thunk of a heavy knife cracking open a watermelon, the mouth-watering beauty of a dish of macaroni and cheese that’s gone bubbly and golden brown on top, the rewards of patiently waiting all afternoon for a beef stew to slowly simmer into an unctuous, thick cuddle of a dinner. I don’t want Button to think that food comes in a cardboard box or from the man at the corner shop (although, he does make great pizza and sometimes that’s what we’re having for dinner.)
Aside from the fact that I’ve been missing my daily cooking routine, these topics have been on my mind because I’ve recently attended two events that really reminded me of importance of cooking for our friends and loved ones at home.
The first event was a talk with one of my culinary heros, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Hugh is an English cook and gardener and his enthusiasm for fresh food that’s been grown and cooked with care and thought is infectious. He’s a TV presenter and every time I watch one of his shows I want to run down to my local council and sign up for a public garden spot. Hugh is also a fantastic food-writer and his cookbooks are amongst the most used in my library. The joy with which he writes about food and how to prepare family meals with fresh ingredients always inspires me. Seeing him live and hearing about his continued commitment to seasonal food that’s been grown and produced by people who really care about where food comes from just made me want to try that much harder to share good meals with good people.
The second event was the finale of the Best Home Chef competition, which was held in Sydney this week. Best Home Chef is a website and online food community that was launched last year with the intention of getting Australians back into the kitchen. The site collects recipes from home chefs around Australia. I love the idea of sharing recipes with friends and knowing that recipes work because people have actually used them in their own kitchens. I’ve submitted several recipes to this website, which must explain why I was invited to this very glamorous and beautifully run event, which was held in a gleaming showroom full of glittering media and PR people… and one very large pregnant lady wearing the only dress that still fits and stalking the canapés as they came out of the kitchen!
The Best Home Chef event featured 5 home cooks who had been chosen to compete in the finale to be named AU’s Best Home Chef. These cooks worked alongside celebrity chefs to create their dishes and they served them to a panel of VIP judges in front of a beautiful crowd of people sipping champagne. At first glance, it could have been a fashion event. But, what I loved about this event was that at the heart of it all were these 5 people. These 5 home cooks who were each presenting dishes that meant something to them, that represented who they were, where they came from and what they cook for their friends and loved ones at home. The dishes they presented weren’t fancy-pants at all. These dishes, despite being displayed amongst the bright and beautiful lights of the event, were dishes that you might see on many dinner tables across Australia on any given Tuesday night. The winner was a charming bloke called Stuart who made a dessert that looked delicious… and achievable. I left the event feeling proud to be a home cook… as well as like the largest person for 10 city blocks!
And this is where I am now. We have one more Mi Casa-Su Casa dinner scheduled before Button’s due date… a 4th of July party! I can’t wait. In the meantime, I’m cooking when I can and finding inspiration all around me. As I type this I’ve got a pot of chicken stock simmering and the apartment smells wintery and homey. We just ate an Asian salad with grilled chicken for dinner and Andy manned the BBQ while I sorted out the salad. It’s nights like this, when we’re home and we’re together and the food is good that I hope our baby remembers. This is why I cook. Hurrah for home cooking!