Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The art of domesticity

Cooking has never been an art for me; rather, it has been much more of a functional activity. I have cooked my own food for fifteen years, but I have never either had to or chosen to explore much beyond the more functional food preparation I have learned and applied. In our house, my wife has usually been the more experimental of the two of us in any culinary escapades, while I have always taken care of most of the mundane routine tasks: doing the dishes; sweeping; vacuuming; laundry; garbage and recyclables; putting things away; dusting; and cooking functional meals (usually grilling some kind of meat with rice and a side vegetable). Cooking has mostly been a matter of function rather than fashion for me, and my goal has usually been to produce the most flavour with the least amount of work. But something has begun to shift over the past two months, and I have started to become much more domestically inclined.

Yesterday is a perfect example: after working on preparing carrots for a couple of hours, there was one point shortly before lunch at which I had three recipes going - Spiced Carrot Stew in the slow cooker, Moroccan Carrot Soup on the stove, and Carrot Nut Bread in the stand mixer - as well as dishes in the sink and laundry in the washer and dryer. In that moment, I realized that even a few weeks ago that I could not have imagined that level of productivity and multitasking in my domestic exploits, nor could I have imagined enjoying it as much as I have.

It's not that I never did anything of this sort before this recent foray into the domestic realm, as I would occasionally learn a new recipe or bake banana bread or brownies. For the most part, however, I have not worked at learning anything new in the kitchen, mostly because I find it much more difficult to do when I have other things on the go or when there is some pressure to do so, whether that is time or my wife getting "hangry". On the occasions when I was able to take some time and energy and learn something new, I really enjoyed it, but never so much so that I would begin to consider it a hobby. But perhaps something started to spark in me on Easter 2014, when my wife injured her ankle on Good Friday and I had to prepare the ham and scalloped potatoes for our Easter dinner; I have rarely felt so proud of something I had made as when an octogenarian friend said that they were the best scalloped potatoes he had ever eaten, and I started to realize that there might be more to this cooking thing than I had initially thought.

In late August, my wife started a (more than) full-time job, and I decided to take some time for myself with the proviso that I would take up most of the domestic activities in the meantime while I was not working. In addition to my regular routine, that has involved three activities that require significantly more creativity and effort: gardening; baking; and cooking - the latter two of which have been directly connected to the production of the former. These three have become quite significant both in terms of time and effort over those two months, and I would estimate that I have spent at least ten and as much as twenty to twenty-five hours per week learning these new skills and applying them in my pursuit of making delicious food.

As such, I have been responsible for harvesting most of the vegetables in our garden, including over ten pounds of zucchini, thirty pounds of carrots, fifty pounds of tomatoes, twenty pounds of onions, corn, hot peppers, cucumbers, beans, and more. I have baked several batches of zucchini bread, banana bread, carrot nut bread, and morning glory muffins. I have roasted over thirty pounds of tomatoes to use in tomato soup during the winter. I have tried new recipes such as Moroccan carrot soup, carrot soup with ginger and lemon, spiced chicken stew with carrots (sensing a trend here?), and coconut peanut curry chicken (the latter of which I saw on Facebook and went out and purchased a specialized ingredient to make). I have started to familiarize myself with our cookbooks, especially America's Test Kitchen, and make recipes such as: stir-fries; spaghetti with shrimp, lemon, and garlic; and sauteed chicken breasts with cherry tomatoes and olives. I made the turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving. I even cooked and canned a double batch of ketchup.



It hasn't seemed like much from day-to-day, but when I list it all together it sure seems like a lot, and I have begun to realize just how much energy and effort it takes to engage in these exploits. I have had to learn and apply a new set of skills that have required a new set of linguistic understandings. I have had to learn to do several tasks at once and work on timing so that processes (that are sometimes very divergent) can end at the same time. I have learned how tiring and time-consuming this work can be, and how much energy it takes just to come up with new ideas (although, to be fair, my wife did find several of the carrot recipes listed earlier), and I have begun to have much more respect for people who have developed this skill set with a lot of hard work.

I have begun to see some results, even after this short period of time. I have noticed, now that I have baked loaves or muffins once (or more) per week, just how much I have improved in something even as simple as gathering basic ingredients. I am finding it much easier to understand what new recipes are asking me to do and to time things appropriately. I am much more able to prepare ingredients with ease, and I am much more confident in my ability to find and apply new recipes. I am now able to enjoy the process of cooking and baking much more, and I would say that it is moving from a mere function to something I am starting to enjoy maybe as a hobby, in part because of the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction it provides, but also because of the delicious food I have now begun to eat as a result. I am excited to see how I can continue to learn and grow in my exploration in the kitchen, and I am looking forward to continuing to share some of these benefits with others as I continue to learn more of the domestic arts.

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