Cooking by Instinct

When I lived in the suburbs, I had such a long commute that by the end of the day, I was too tired to cook. That was when I bought a microwave, for the first time in my life. It was so easy, at the end of a tiring day, to put something in the microwave — something that someone else had prepared.

Here in the city, my commute is about ten minutes, so I’m trying to cook again. And you know what? I’ve forgotten how. Cooking is easy — when you know how to do a few basic things, like make a cream soup, you can vary them endlessly. But you have to develop a sort of instinct — it’s the instinct that tells you when the onions are done or a soup is thickened enough. That’s the instinct I seem to have lost. I think it will come back fairly quickly — it’s just a matter of practice.

Yesterday, I made Burnt Cauliflower Soup. It wasn’t actually supposed to be burnt: that happened by accident. I ate it anyway, because I hate throwing away food. But today I made a perfectly lovely cream of zucchini soup for dinner. It looked like this:

The next step is to start baking again, but that will have to wait until the dial on the oven is fixed: the oven is rather old, and the dial on which the temperatures are marked turns around by itself — and wouldn’t be much help anyway since many of the numbers have faded off. As soon as the new one comes, I can start making brownies and cookies and clafouti.

All of these things may sound small and silly, but I’ve come to miss food that has a certain flavor — it’s the flavor of anything made by hand rather than commercially. And it can be very simple — freshly baked bread with butter and sliced ham, along with a mug of tea. But there’s a freshness to it, a flavorfulness that commercial food doesn’t have.

When you can do it by instinct, it becomes a sort of dance, and that’s when it’s best and most fulfilling. Perhaps that’s true of anything: I do my best writing when it’s like a mental dance. I can feel it too, the sensation — as though the words were dancing, or I were dancing with them, and we can both hear the music, and the way the story is supposed to go. We follow the steps of the dance, together — it’s a partnership in which my partner is language itself. That’s when it’s best — and when the story comes out right.

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2 Responses to Cooking by Instinct

  1. emily says:

    I know what you’re talking about: the flavor of authenticity as you described in your last(?) post. That’s why this year, I’ve decided to learn how to cook. And even though my cooking frankly sucks, it tastes much better knowing I made it myself and there’s not some random carbonmonochlorium in it. (I made up that word.)

    Also, I just noticed my oven dial numbers are also mostly faded out. I can make out just a 300, and 350 . . . Haha, I guess I’ll just guesstimate the rest!

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