Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thanks, Prometheus - and Julia, you too!

I did not enjoy cooking until I was well into my thirties. What was all that about? One of the great gifts of my marriage was learning to cook. My husband was a great cook; he encouraged me to give it a go so often I finally did - and discovered how much fun it is.

I love chopping, stirring, bringing to a boil, then simmering. Equally satisfying is mincing garlic, listening to the white wine sizzle when I pour it all of a sudden into the pan, sniffing the delicious aroma of the fennel, leeks and celery as they soften in olive oil with bay leaves, star anise and other spices. It's a rush watching the soup turn brick red from the tomatoes and saffron. Oh yeah. This is why I love to cook. I fancy myself some kind of mad scientist (of sorts) anytime I indulge in the alchemy of nutrition. Later on, people will sit around the table, partake of the results of my efforts. That's always the best part.

Today I'm brewing a big ole batch of Mississippi Goddamn** Bouillabaise for the Literary Feast dinner we are hosting tonight at the house on Tennessee Avenue. It's for a good cause, though I don't quite remember what that cause is.

I'm thinking about the discovery of fire which necessarily preceeded the discovery of cooking. According to the people who create the stories we call history, roasting was discovered by accident when animals fell into roaring firepits. The people around the pit were hungry, so when the flames died down, they ate. Can you imagine the scene and how quickly the word spread afterwards? Boiling, by comparison, was a much more sophisticated discovery involving fireproof cauldrons and the inspiration to add water to whatever was being cooked. When did baking begin? I don't know the answer but it's interesting to think about.

By now we in my society are very precious about cooking, well, at least I am. It's a precise art, it is. Too much salt wrecks any dish, though not enough produces bland, boring food. Onions must be sauteed before adding them to soups, to keep them from tasting bitter. I have a lot rules around all of this, of course and may I say I'm not the only one!

I've made the rouille and the stock for the soup. Pretty soon I will add the seafood, finish with a few tablespoons of Pernod. Et voila! Dinner.

May all your hungers be satisfied! May you be well fed! So may it be. Shalom.

The theme of our dinner is Nina Simone's autobiography, "I Put a Spell on You."


Meri said...

G'day Reya -- I'm going to repost this on if that's okay with you. I love the vivid details!

ellen abbott said...

although I rarely cook nowadays, I did enjoy cooking when I did. Except for those nights when the kids had a ton of homework, we had a ton of work in the shop and dinner was a rushed affair to just get something to eat. I love the sauteing part, the smells of garlic and spices. Usually, by the time dinner was cooked I was no longer hungry. sometimes from tasting as I cooked, others just from being satisfied by the smells.

Gary said...

I am with you Reya - the things you describe about cooking are the same things that make me love the experience. I cannot truly say I cook now but I "cook". My mindset has changed so that now, in my 40s, I can see how it is an enjoyable experience, if I have the time. My life moves at a very fast pace and cooking is a good way to slow down. I mean, you can only chop garlic so fast without losing a finger (or a bit of one).


Cyndy said...

This post made me HUNGRY! But then I forgot my hunger thanks to the great Nina Simone clip. You've almost made me want to go cook something now.

Reya Mellicker said...

YES, Gary, cooking is an exercise in mindfulness.

The dinner was a big success, a blast, too.

Ellen by the time dinner is ready I'm usually kind of over whatever it is I have cooked, maybe from overexposure. I rarely eat a lot of what I've made, but I sure love seeing others eat and enjoy.

Meri you are such a doll! Thanks!

Cyndy - Nina was a force of nature. Such a powerful voice. And she was a great piano player.

Steve Reed said...

A Nina Simone dinner! That sounds fascinating! Tell us how it turns out. I love her music, though I have the impression she could be a difficult person.

I've never been much interested in cooking, but I can do the basics and keep myself from starving. All the kitchen artistry in my household comes from Dave!

steven said...

reya i'm the planner of menus, the buyer of foods and the preparer of foods. no one else in my home likes any of those roles. happily i grew up in a family with a dad who cooked - and loved to play with cooking. we ate food that we talked about as we ate. there was a bit of a game around guessing the ingredients he had included in the meal. anything could, and did make its way into what could have been fairly ordinary food but in his hands never was! the gift that food is for those you serve it to is never lost on me and is a huge motivation for me to prepare food, but also the sensuality you so lovingly describe above is a big piece for me. steven