That's Maxwell and Franklin above staring at me while I cook my dinner. By the look in their eyes you'd think that I never feed them...but they just finished eating their dinner. So what do they have to do with cooking for One's Self? Well, not much on the one hand, but on the other, a lot. I can have a super stressful day or evening at work and they are always there to greet me with a snort and wag when I arrive home. It's been a known fact for quite some time that caring for a dog makes a person happier, but in the same way cooking can be a form of therapy, too (cooking can even be a spiritual practice...if you let it). Food, of course, nourishes far more than just the physical body. But, as usual, I'm jumping ahead.
Many of you know by now that I cook for a living. And cooking at work is way different than cooking for myself at home. Work cooking is often stressful for so many reasons; cooking at home is not. When I cook at work it is in large amounts while I am also managing a staff, food costs, etc, etc. But at home it is peaceful. With my son off at college it is just me and the pugs. I'll often drink wine and listen to NPR. This to me is pure luxury.
I am fully convinced everyone should cook for themselves (and really for themselves). If not everyday, then at least now and again. This is especially true for those in the food-service industry. I can't tell you how many times I hear a colleague state that after cooking all day or all evening the night prior the last thing they want to do is cook at home. I can't help but think of what this person is missing out on when they don't cook just for themselves now and again. A person that serves others on a daily basis (whether it's food service or any other form of service, such as health care or ministry) really needs to take care of themselves, too. And cooking for myself is a way of tending to myself...physically, of course, but also--at times--emotionally and spiritually as well.
It's interesting in that while I'm at work and there is so much going on all at the same time cooking is sometimes automatic...I don't even think about it. I just do it. Sometimes I don't even smell the air thick with aroma because I am so accustomed to it after all these years. But at home it's different. I'm aware of everything. I of course cook with all five senses at work (one has to), but at home it's as if it's amplified. At work the food I cook is dictated by what the customer (club member) orders. But at home the food that I cook are things that I enjoy. And nine times out of ten this is either a pasta dish, rice dish, or other one-pot meal. I really love Mediterranean and Near Eastern foods, so this is usually what I make myself. And while I am not a vegetarian I rarely cook meat at home unless my son is here.
The sense of smell and taste are said to be the two strongest memory senses...the aroma or taste of something can quite literally transport you to a different time and place. Tonight, for example, I made a brown rice dish with chickpeas and spinach, and seasoned it with sofrito and Lebanese seven-spice blend. The sweet smell of Lebanese spices always brings me back to my youth, of going to my grandmother's house. It was the first smell that tickled your nose when you walked through the front door.
And when I rolled out whole wheat flatbread I used my grandmother's rolling pin, which I inherited and is said to have been brought from the "old country" nearly a century ago. I made the bread while the rice cooked and topped it with an herb pesto, which was made from herbs that grew just outside my front door this past summer.
Before the rice was finished I washed and sliced a locally grown apple. After taking a sip of wine and then biting the apple it was alarmingly tart, but in a good way. When I finally sat down to my meal in front of the radio the national news was on. And as usual there was a lot of bad stuff to report. So before I dug in I sat in silence for a minute and looked at all I had in front of me...the beautiful plate of rice, bread with pesto, wine, fruit, and a small plate of spicy fermented cabbage made from cabbage that grew in my garden as well. And I felt almost overwhelmed with gratefulness...that I had so much--too much at times--while some have so little. So I sat for a minute. Then I thanked God (or Spirit, or Universe, or whatever term you identify with) for not only all that I have, but also all that I have been given in the desire and ability to cook such a good meal. Then I ate while my dogs looked on, knowing that tomorrow's meal would be just as good...leftovers!
For a brown rice and beans recipe, click here.
To learn how to make sofrito, click here.
For my version of Lebanese Seven Spice blend, click here.
For a really basic whole wheat bread dough for flatbread, use this recipe.
For a recipe on how to make any herb into pesto, click here.
To learn about fermented foods in general, including spicy cabbage, click here.