I am sick, sick as a dog. I do not mean “sick” in current usage, meaning “good,” I mean “sick” in the traditional usage meaning, well, sick. I can neither breathe through my nose nor inhale deeply without unleashing a most unattractive series of rumbles reminiscent of Linda Blair giving voice to the devil in “The Exorcist.” It is New Year’s Eve, my family has gone to a party without me, and I am watching the snow fall and thinking about food. I don’t want to eat any because I can’t really taste it just now; I just like thinking about it.
I have had many passions in my life. I have been a writer, always (I was typing out novels on my dad’s old Royal when I was 9), a musician for many years, and an avid reader of anything set in my path. I have also had hobbies that came and went: crafting, making jewelry, scrapbooking, all of the usual suspects. This fascination with food and cooking, though has been transformative in my life. It was no coup de foudre; in order to live to see 45 it was necessary for me to eat on a regular basis, and once I became Wife and Mom I accepted it as part of my regular work assignment to cook for the family. The difference between those utilitarian eatings and cookings and my present state of tingling anticipation is enormous. I don’t even really know how it happened, except that, as in most things, when I tried a little harder and made something a little better, the critics raved. I wanted that feeling again, so I stepped it up even more the next time. As I experimented, I picked up skills and a whole body of information that is now informs all cook-think from sizing up a recipe to what kind of salt to add to the finished dish.
I do not believe that cooking is an “art” for most people, even talented chefs. I believe it to be a craft that can be studied, improved, and possibly perfected. If you make a competent plate of pasta and your family eats, you have cooked, and you may even have cooked very well, but if you are fascinated by the possible variations in sauce, noodle, spice and protein, and striving to create something better than the last time, something that will make your eating audience swoon just a little in addition to getting full, you are practicing a craft. Whether you are a practitioner of molecular gastronomy, a dedicated follower of foodie fashions or just a good home cook, there are at least three opportunities a day to improve your craft, and to raise the bar just a bit.
I am going to make myself some scrambled eggs with a hit of curry and a little chutney, drink a Nyquil chaser and quite possible see in the New Year curled up on the couch while”The Food Network” flashes, unobserved, on the screen across from me. There will be a pile of cook books and food magazines somewhere near me; I move them around the house with me like security blankets for reasons best known to the psychiatric community. (Better than carrying my knives, I suppose).
When I wake up and its 2008, I will blow my nose, cough heartily, wish my family a Happy New Year, and start thinking about what’s for breakfast. I wish all of you a safe and festive start to the new year; I hope that you all find yourselves with people that you love, and who love you. I also hope that if you haven’t already, you find in this new year at least one thing that makes you feel the excitement, energy and satisfaction that I feel when I stand in my kitchen, knife in hand, music cranked, facing a pile of onions and endless possibilities.