Play with your food!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

mean an epicure, a person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment. I lack the money, time, and energy to take on that world, but I was a line cook for years and still enjoy messing around with food when I have a chance. We must eat or die, as the old saying goes, and it just makes sense to have as good a time with that as possible.

I remember going to my mom, who is a wonderful cook in the Southern tradition, at a time when I'd just started reading food writers -- M.F.K. Fisher, John Thorne, Anthony Bourdain -- all excited over the possibilities in the art of the kitchen.

"Don't you just love cooking?" I asked. Mom, who had been faithfully slaving over a hot stove for my dad, my sister and me for decades, rolled her eyes. "Heck no," she said. "I wouldn't cook another lick if I didn't have to!"

Later on, I understood that, while cooking could be a great source of meditative contemplation and prepping onions or mashing garlic or whisking eggs could take you away into a deep, special place, having to cook could be an enormous drag.

After I'd worked as a line cook for three or four years, tickets lined up to the horizon, customers lined up out the restaurant door, I came to fully understand the misery of the grill, slamming orders out till it was all one big, blurry procession of endless Reuben sandwiches or Caesar salads.

But playing with food is great.

The problem is that for many years we have been being trained out of cooking at home except for special occasions, and so it is not a part of our "regular" life. (Think McD's). Though I was initially annoyed by pictures of people's breakfast posted on their Facebook pages, I have come to see that taking pride in what you have made for yourself with your own hands to nourish your body might merit a little braggadocio, after all.

My question to you is this: How do you make time for real food in your life, if you do? Do you cook or try to cook? How important is bringing that sort of thinking into your life? With food prices skyrocketing daily, it may actually be cheaper to eat a $1 cheeseburger and leave worrying about its results for your health for a later date. But surely there is more to cooking and food than dollar cost vs. health cost.

Years ago I went through a phase of wanting to paint. Not being able to draw, I was reduced to huge, violent, colorful faux-Jackson-Pollock-splatter paintings. Despite their lack of real merit, I discovered when I was painting that I was using parts of my brain I didn't ordinarily use -- for writing, let's say.

I have had a similar experience of working with food. Being a prep cook is the best job in a restaurant because you zone out and do your work, and the results are evident and tangible.

In other words, there can be psychological or artistic angles to working with food you cannot otherwise experience in any other way. It's worth the extra time and effort to find out what you're missing.

One final question before I go, and you can send answers, commentary, recipes, or anything else related to

Chicken and dumplings: flat dumplings or puffy? I'm taking a poll.