Monday, February 22, 2010

Why I Cook

I'm at home today because there's a team of plumbers in the basement installing a back-flow valve. This will, hopefully, prevent sewage from coming up our basement drain in the event of another (and let's face it, inevitable) flood like the one we had in July .

ANYway, given that their jackhammers are making either writing my oyster piece OR napping impossible, I was just rootling through Twitter and someone was talking about their new blog post on Why I Cook, which was inspired by Michael Ruhlman's post on the same subject. It's kind of an interesting question -- in the same way that, apparently, some historians don't take food history seriously as a subject because food just is, and therefore isn't interesting enough to research/write about*, cooking just is. It's universal. Well, except for the raw food people, of course, but for most of us, cooking is just a fact of life and not one that you particularly question. It's like asking why you wear shoes or something, you just do.

So, why do I cook? Well, it's a three part answer, but it all comes down to the same thing: Pleasure.

I Cook For Me
Not to get all Nigella on you, but for me cooking is pure pleasure. And I don't just mean weekend cooking when you get to spend time at the market and lovingly pick every ingredient, or even just ransack your pantry and then spend hedonistic hours in the kitchen while a cassoulet simmers fragrantly in your oven. I'm talking about every time I set foot in the kitchen. From making a sandwich to frying an egg, cooking fills me with every positive emotion you care to name. So much so, that I find it hard to stay out of the kitchen at parties (only with the host's permission, of course, since God knows I don't like people in my kitchen) or out of the way at cooking schools. I have to get in on the action.

And, truly, is there anything more lovely than a few minutes at the stove, contemplatively cooking an omelette? Or chopping vegetables? Or searing the perfect steak? Or whisking a salad dressing exactly to your taste? And what about all those little kitchen miracles -- watching butter and egg become hollandaise, or the way a simple mixture of yeast, flour and water will rise into the perfect pizza dough, or thickening a sauce with roux. How can anyone not find pleasure in making this stuff happen? It's magic.

I Cook For You
The pleasure of cooking is increased many times over when you've got an appreciative audience. My mother has noticed over the years that the people she meets who don't cook are generally the ones who don't have an audience. If the person you're feeding doesn't notice what they're eating, then your pleasure in cooking is bound to be diminished. I am grateful to be surrounded by people who are interested in and appreciative of their food. There is nothing better than watching someone react to something I've made for them. If they love it unconditionally, then it's like Christmas, and if they suggest that the dish is missing something or could use a little less this/that, then it means they're really paying attention and tasting and dinner becomes more than just a meal, it becomes a conversation.

Now that I think about it, actually, I think there IS something better than simply cooking for others -- when your friends and family e-mails to ask for your recipe, or calls to ask for tips on how you made something. A few years ago, Kate asked me how I make my ribs. So I wrote out the three-day process that I use (probably the first time I ever had to write a recipe out for something I just make without thinking!) and e-mailed it off to her. The ever-practical mother of four promptly simplified the recipe ("do I REALLY have to brine for 24 hours? Really, Kara?") to her tastes and has been making it for family parties ever since. Then last night, my friend S. called to ask how I prepare the fish for Baja Fish Tacos, which I'd made for her and her husband last month. I know that S. will take this dish and make it her own, make it part of her repertoire, and share it with others who will then tweak the recipe to suit their own tastes. What an enormous compliment to have people want to replicate/tweak foods that you've introduced them to.

I Cook To Eat
The pleasure of cooking is only matched by the pleasure of eating. And I love to eat. Oh, goodness, but I love to eat. Which is why it's funny to remember that I was such a godawful picky eater as a kid. Looking back, I really feel sorry for my mother, who is an excellent cook, for having to deal with my limited diet. Only the plainest foods were allowed on my plate, nothing could touch each other, no visible fat was allowed on my meat and I'm pretty sure the only cooked vegetable I ate from birth to my mid-20s was corn niblets. I'm not kidding. I didn't try olives or pickles or raw tomatoes or ANY of the foods I now consider basics until I was in university. Pathetic! However, I've been making up for lost time for years now and, with the exception of insects and some organ meats, will pretty much eat anything**.

Especially if I've had the pleasure of cooking it.


*Don't even get me STARTED on how wrong this point of view is. At least 27 different kinds of wrong.
** And beets. If I wanted to taste basement, I'd go lick the cellar floor.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The New "Just Say NO!"

The other day I had one of those moments that stopped me in my tracks. My son asked me why I am so mad all the time.


The answer I gave him, was that I am not mad, I am frustrated. There was a lot of babbling about being busy and asking the kids to help out, and there was a lot of apologizing and making sure he knew that I was not mad at him or his sisters.

The truth is I am mad.

I am mad because I am totally out of time. I know this is the mantra of modern living, but it's true. I usually function on about 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Either because I didn't actually make it to my bed before 1 or 2 AM or I got into bed early and then laid awake thinking of everything I was supposed to do and didn't get done, and what won't get done tomorrow so I can finish up today's stuff.

I am a stay at home mom. My job is running the house and keeping the family going. My husband owns his own business and works long hours. At the moment we ( my husband and I and our 4 kids) are living in a house that is going through a renovation. So I have all the cooking. cleaning, laundry basics to deal with in a house that is caked with drywall dust and covered in plastic sheeting. Then of course you have all the extra-curricular the kids are involved in.

Get ready this is where I start to lose my mind.

My mother was fond of saying that a busy kid is a happy kid. I have found this to be true. What is driving me nuts is having a busy kid means that I have to be a totally overscheduled parent. It isn't all the taxi-ing around that I find annoying it's the endless requests to volunteer. It all seems so simple when your child comes home and asks to play soccer or hockey or whatever. Hang-on, because you will barely be finished filling out the registration form when someone will start to tell you how they need parents to help coach the team or be referees or sit on the executive. They all have the same pitch. The only way they can keep costs down and offer this fabulous program to all of these kids is with the help of parent volunteers. It is only one or two hours a week. You are going to be at the field/arena anyway.

This year things have spiraled out of control around here with volunteering. Between hockey, dance, the school's parent council we average about 36 volunteer hours a month. That is above and beyond attending the games or shuttling kids to and from lessons. Right now we are lucky to have one meal a week together as a family. This week the kids will have Valentine's parties at school. They have all asked me to bake either cookies or cupcakes for their classes, so now I need to find a couple of hours beyond the time already spoken for.

My husband usually works from 8 AM-6:30 PM. Two of my kids are in school full time, a third is in JK half days, and the baby is still home. My oldest daughter dances 3 days a week, my son has hockey 2-3 days a week, and has cub scouts once a week, and my 4 year old dances once a week. Now try and schedule in the birthday parties and play dates that every kid gets invited too. Of course there is a lot of overlap which means one parent is home with kids who aren't in an activity at that time, or those kids are home with a baby-sitter who is getting $10 an hour.

I helped out at Cub Camp last month and then last week my son's cub scout leader asked if I would be interested in becoming a leader. "it doesn't take much time, just the meetings and maybe an hour in planning time." That would bring us to 46 hours a month. The hockey people are already making a pitch to have my husband more involved next year. The organizations we are involved with love us. People who know us through our kids activities are always telling us what great parents we are. But my son thinks I'm mad at him all the time.

Here is the plan, I am going to say no to cubs, and hockey is just going to have to find another superhero. There are dozens of kids in these activities, and yet I keep seeing the same few faces during all of our volunteer time. I am stepping down, or at least back. There will be less of my cookies on the bake sale table, and there will be a new face on the bench at hockey games next year. Either some other parent is going to step up and help share the load or the activity will fold due lack of interest ( highly unlikely by the way) and if that happens it means I'm the only one who cared so who was I killing myself for anyway?

Then I can spend more time at home relaxed and happy with my favorite people in the whole world.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Baby NoBounce

Speaking to my mother briefly last night about that last blog post ("I think you're too late for this Olympics") reminded me of something from childhood that explains ALL when it comes to my lack of running ability.

When I was little, I couldn't jump.

Not kidding. I couldn't. I had no bounce. I used to stand on the edge of the rug in this sort of skiiers crouch, bent at the knees, swaying back and forth, down and up, swinging my arms, tensed to spring my little body right off that rug and into the stratosphere. And, inevitably, all that effort would end in one thudding step forward. I had no jump.

Running? HA! I've never stood a chance.


PS Maybe THIS is why I fell in love with basketball (as a spectator, not a participant) so easily? Those boys can fly!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

If anyone on Hamilton Mountain felt a tremor yesterday, the epicentre was my ass

Every Monday morning, I get up early and workout with a trainer. It seems ridiculous on a number of levels, but I've come to really love this part of the week. Not only does it fill me with that smug Rockyesque Feelin' Strong Now sense of well-being that greatly improves my mood in the workplace even if most Mondays I can't lift my arms above my head for the pain, BUT it's also the one day a week I'm guaranteed to get my fat ass to the gym. Not just because I'm paying trainer-dude for his time, but also because he'd be disappointed if I didn't show up and if there's one thing I can't bear, it's knowing I've disappointed someone.

(Aside: have I told you about the time in my last year of high school when I had to write a paper on that bloody Pynchon story, Entropy, and I Just. Didn't. Get. It. and when I got the paper back the teacher had written that he was disappointed with my efforts and I ended up prostrate with grief? Yeah, that's how much I hate "disappointment".)

ANYway, in the time I've been doing the trainer thing, I've mostly stopped attending the "Lean&Fit" classes at my gym. Partially due to scheduling difficulties but more because the trainer's spoiled my appetite for the high-intensity circuit-classes. Why? Because trainer-dude is a very quiet, intense kind of guy so our half-hour sessions are very intense and very q-u-i-e-t, a quality I've come to greatly appreciate but which makes the "Lean&Fit" classes unbearable in their volume and pace. "Lean&Fit" instructors never shut up, never get off the microphone, never stop yelling at you. It makes me want to kick them in the yoga pants all the while mewling shutupshutupshutupshutupwhywontyoujustshutup?!! So, I've stopped going and instead try to go and break a sweat on the treadmill 2-3 times a week, which I quite enjoy.

Which led me to begin thinking seriously of taking up running. It's attractive for a number of reasons. It requires very little equipment. It's an excuse to listen to music. It's something you can do alone or in a group, depending on your mood. Every woman I know who's taken up running speaks of it in this reverent tone. One woman I know lost a whopping 60 lbs just from running. It's a religion I want to join. I've got powerful legs, I've been thinking, powerful legs that could probably run pretty darn well. That's it! I'm gonna start running!

Yeah, maybe not. Yesterday, trainer-dude made me run around one of the training rooms. Up one side, shuffle side-to-side across, backwards down the other side of the room, shuffle side-to-side across, and repeat. And it nearly killed me. I do, it turns out, have very powerful legs. I start like a shot, like an absolute shot -- I'm not kidding, for a nano second there, I swear I'd beat a cheetah in a foot race -- but about four steps later the seismic kachunkachunk of my very large badonkadonk catches up with me and all but stops me in my tracks. I think I must be very susceptible to gravity or something because it's like I can barely lift my feet, I'm so earthbound and, well, lumbering. Of course, it didn't help that I was doing this in front of a large mirrored wall and became horribly aware of just how much of me was rolling and heaving as I thundered up and down and back and forth across the matts. Not to mention how much I need a new sports bra and possibly some sort of high-tensile exercise pants to contain/tame these gigantic thighs and all the junk I've got in my trunk. And my arms! What do runners do with their arms? How does it not kill them to hold their arms bent at the elbow like that? Jeeze!

So, maybe running's not my thing. However, with all that power in my legs for steering and my love of winter, not to mention my willingness to appear in public in entirely unflattering high-tensile exercise wear, I'm now seriously thinking that the luge might be just the sport for me.