This afternoon I was in the basement looking for canning supplies and jars when my self-diagnosed A.D.D. got the best of me, which happens quite often. I rarely start a task without being distracted by something else….in fact, I think that’s the reason I could never clean my room in less than 2 days when I was a kid!
I was walking around the basement looking at boxes that should have been unpacked by now – seeing as we moved into this house over three years ago – and a box with “Jan College” written on the side caught my eye. Inside I found something that perhaps I should have considered foreshadowing many years ago….a writing assignment from my English Comp 101 class, the subject of which was cooking!
If you will indulge me, I’ll share this writing entitled ‘A Treat for All the Senses’ from February 20, 1999:
“Cooking is not simply a hobby for me, it is a passion. I do not just use cookbooks, I pore over them like the lover of literature reads the finest novels. I have often thought about becoming a professional chef – in fact, the idea of attending the Culinary Institute of America thrills me each Saturday when I watch cooking shows on PBS; but I wonder, if I had to cook, is it likely that I would not want to cook? I believe the reason I enjoy cooking so much is that this is a relaxing activity that affects all my senses.
The repetition of chopping and stirring helps to relax me. They are activities that allow me to focus on what I am doing and forget about the problems of the day. As I write this, I can easily recall the feeling of my arm going methodically in circles or figure-eights around a pan in which onions are sizzling in butter. Some days the sounds of the kitchen are more melodious to me than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Pachelbel’s Canon in D. As I stir the onions, which I know will become the color of sweet caramel, their wonderful aroma wafts up through the air into my expectant nostrils as surely as the scent of the lilacs in spring. However, this is just the beginning.
As much as I enjoy the actual preparation of the food, the presentation of the meal I have labored over is also important to me. I do not merely put the food onto the plate; I arrange it as carefully as the artist places paints on canvas. I pay close attention to the contrast of colors and textures, the arrangements of shapes, the height of the finished product and the placement of the final touch – the garnish. I know that seeing a well-presented plate delights the eye and gets the mouth watering. Good presentation is as important as good taste.
In my opinion, cooking does not stop when the food is on the plate. It also includes the ambiance of the dining room, the music played during dinner, the wine served and the company in which the meal is eaten. Each of these things, if well planned, can add to the culinary experience. Generally, when I cook for guests, I use my finest china and linen napkins. I take great care when setting the table. I usually use candles and something from nature – whether it be flowers in spring and summer, pine boughs in winter or leaves in autumn – to set the mood. I play music that is soothing and turn the lights so that people can see their plates, but do not feel as though they are in an interrogation room. When everything is ready, I serve the dishes I created.
Many people think that taste is the only thing to take into consideration when cooking. I, on the other hand, believe that cooking affects the senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – not only of those people who eat the food, but also of those who have prepared it. Cooking is more than a task to me, it is a delightful experience that allows me to relax and fills up my senses.”
Reading the comments of my long ago professor gives me hope that I can use this blog and my love of food to communicate with people and, in some cases, bring back memories for the reader. The professor wrote, “You’ve described fine dining. I miss that a lot from my mother…a lot of good food, a tablecloth, candles. You are so right. Your guests are very fortunate.”
As I read over my words, I realize that a few things have changed. It’s not so important to use my finest china any more – I have aged a bit and understand that sometimes the bumps and dents of everyday life add character that the finest china cannot. The lights are a little brighter during a meal because Jeff and I don’t see as well as we used to in dim lighting. And ever since my mom set her napkin on fire during Easter dinner, I am more careful with the candles.
I also realize that some things have not changed….my passion for cooking, eating and entertaining, the joy I get from friends and family around the table, and the way I use food to express love to and serve others.