Why I Cook (and photograph)(and write)

My foundational reason for cooking is simple. Way back when, Grandma did the cooking in the house, I occasionally made hamburgers or chili. I didn’t like to grill all that much, even.

Back then in our lives as relatively young(!) parents, we were both working full-time jobs, our kids were going to school and pretending to tolerate us, and she finally said to me one night, “You come home, tired, and sit down. I come home, tired, and cook. Then we eat, and you sit while I clean. Is that fair?”

Dangit. She knows that as a kid, my role model was Spock. Adopt logic. Eschew emotion-driven decisions. And then she plays dirty and hits me with inescapable logic. No. It was not fair. She was right.

So I started cooking, and doggone if it didn’t become a creative and mastery challenge. The kids were all picky in their own individual ways – no onion here, no mushrooms here, I hate spinach, you get the idea – and it took some invention to start using the spices, using the ingredients, and get a plate of stuff in front of them that was healthy, tasty, and if it contained something they didn’t like, it was chopped up so small they couldn’t tell.

And like any creative endeavor, it grew on itself. You start getting a grasp of what spices will taste good with what food. What ingredients go well together. You start thinking of different things so it doesn’t get boring, so you end up with Mexican lasagna or an Italian tostada. Throw in peanut butter and soy and make it taste like Thai.

So that begat my cooking career. It became a part of the creative spectrum for me of cooking, photography, and writing. I like to cook. I like to take pictures. I like to write (obviously).

Within that spectrum, they occupy three different personalities points, and I have a different relationship with each one.

Picture-taking comforts the soul. When you have the eye casting about for The Shot, and you get all the settings right, and things line up, it’s just a lovely feeling of accomplishment. Not only that, but it teaches you to appreciate the beauty around you more even when there’s no camera in your hand. And still, when people see the picture, and you hear, “Oooo, that’s nice,” it’s a great thing. Grandma likes my shots enough that she’s got them scattered over the walls.

Photography is an old friend. We like the same kinds of things, we hang out together when we can, and in quiet times, that friend is usually on my mind.

Cooking, on the other hand, is Life. Think of our hierarchy of needs, whether delineated by Maslow or Captain Obvious.  In order to live individually and as a species, we have to do certain basic things: ingest, excrete, respirate, and procreate. Really basic things. And cooking addresses the first one of those. And of course, we can eat to survive and grab proteins and carbs and vitamins in tasteless bulk. But if we eat to live, we learn to savor, to appeal to our senses.

So cooking is my lifemate, my artistic wife, my long-term relationship. We know each other, we play with each other, we rely on each other, and we will grow old together comfortably.

Writing, on the other hand, is the heartbeat, the heartache, and the heartbreak. Writing is the passionate, tempestuous temptress who can slap me or seduce me, will show both great tenderness and ugly temper, will fill my dreams with wild imaginings, and then leave me alone without a word until she decides to show up again.

I think this is a long-term relationship, but I don’t know. I hope so, because when it feels good, it’s indescribable. But the wicked twit has a habit now and then of kicking me in the yarbles and stomping out without saying when she’ll be back. And in its own contrarian way, that’s part of the charm.

Now, in life, you can’t have this type of multiple relationship. A long-term relationship isn’t going to comfort you when you’re in a fetal position after a tussle with the mistress. Fortunately, creative pursuits aren’t real life. I’m fine with all three, and they tolerate each other reasonably well, in their own time.

Three creative pursuits. Not to say I’m wonderful at them. But when we’re in synch, we can harmonize pretty well, and they help bring a certain level of meaning to life. Not like Family does, but they play their part.

— Grandpa

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