Some of you are probably reading this just to see how really crazy I am. I get it. Your initial thought when hearing the word cook may be more along the lines of: time consuming drudgery, additional work, pots & pans to wash, a disaster waiting to happen, or too much trouble…blah! I’m with you. Those phrases don’t sound fun. So where is the fun to be found in cooking? Let’s explore the possibilities!
In addition to providing sustenance, cooking can lead to compliments, camaraderie, spoon licking, new creations, toys, play, shopping, new friends, and chances to learn about other cultures. Much more appealing terms to be sure, and really…is there anything better than licking the spoon?
My fun often begins before I ever reach the kitchen. I’ll grab a reusable shopping bag and walk to the local farmers’ market. If, like me, you enjoy fresh air, sunshine, walking, and the smell of seasonal flowers blooming, you’ll be having fun as soon as you hit the door.
Most farmers’ markets are filled with an assortment of brightly colored fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are mouthwateringly appealing. Some also offer grass-fed meats. Others have live bands performing and sell handmade baskets, jewelry, soaps, and clothing. A morning of shopping and people watching often gives me enough funny stories to last all week. At the very least, I know I’m supporting the local economy and going home with beautiful, healthy ingredients.
Shopping at an outdoor market can add fun when you travel as well. I once drove through the North Island of New Zealand in an RV. Along the route were incredible outdoor markets full of kiwifruit, silverbeet, asparagus, and oranges. Not only were these items fresh, flavorful, and inexpensive, they provided a unique chance to meet people. On the edge of every town was an RV park with a community kitchen. The kitchens were stocked with pots and pans larger and more numerous than the RV kitchen could carry. They also sported industrial size sinks and running hot water for doing dishes.
These $15 per night RV parks also offered electrical hookups and large community bathrooms with showers. They were affordable and popular. That usually meant sharing the kitchen with several locals. There’s no better way to find out where the trout are biting, what kind of flies to use to catch them, and where you can buy the best flies. Even though I’m not a big one to chat with strangers, the common denominator of food made it easier to strike up a conversation.
Shopping and cooking in a foreign country can leave you with a rich cultural experience that you will never forget. One of my favorite things to do when I travel outside the US is to visit indigenous grocery stores. I notice the similarities to, and differences from, what I experience at home. Some European package design is totally charming making me want to buy products on which I can’t even read the labels.
In the same vein, I find it fun to visit the ethnic markets in my town. I recently tried Milk Cake upon the recommendation of the checkout girl at the Asian market. A combination of buffalo milk and sugar, this cake is moist and dense. While it didn’t turn out to be my favorite dessert ever, it provided a good deal of entertainment at a neighborhood dinner party when I took it in the original packaging.
Some of us could shop ’til we drop, but then we’d never get any food on the table. Perhaps it’s time to move on to the fun found IN the kitchen. For those of you who love gadgets, the kitchen can offer an endless supply of specialized toys. There are blenders, mixers, openers, graters, grinders, peelers, processors, choppers, skewers, colanders, sifters, tenderizers, muddlers, ballers, mortars and pestles, mandolins, juicers, whisks, knives, rolling pins, tongs, herb mills, thermometers, corkscrews, molds, cutters, stones, smokers, and special grapefruit knives. Available in electric and unplugged versions, many of these can be purchased in bright colors for an additional element of fun. If you love toys, you’ll love playing with them too. I’m ready to chop, puree, macerate, pound, slice, cream, cut-in, muddle, grind, juice, measure, smoke, mix and match. Whew! Recess was fun. Is it nap time yet?
Coming up with new flavor combinations or preparing familiar foods in an unfamiliar way offers entertainment for both your mind and your palette. My grandmother used to grow radishes in the garden. She would cut the sides part of the way through to form the petals of a radish rose. These roses formed a garnish on many of her salads. I don’t like the bitter-hot, biting taste of radishes, and I’ve never voluntarily used one in the kitchen…until last month.
Ben has been building greenhouses for an organic garden. One day he showed up with some arugula and some tender young radishes. Feeling appreciative of the gift, I wanted to eat the radishes rather than give them away. Since I knew I wasn’t fond of them raw, I decided to try a sauté. The result was a delicious change of pace. I quickly consumed two servings and thought of several variations I wanted to try. I requested more radishes from the garden.
The next bunch arrived with the most beautiful green tops. I decided to see if the greens are consumable. They are! Now I had another challenge – what to do with the greens. I don’t know about you, but I love learning and I love puzzles. I needed to learn more about the greens, and I had a chance to put together the pieces of a taste puzzle. I was excited to see what the resulting dish would be. Creating something new in the kitchen is supremely fun for me!
The only thing that makes creating something new in the kitchen more fun is to compete with my boys in a cooking challenge. The informal rules are that we will all cook the same main ingredient in any way we chose as long as we make the recipe up as we go. We gather in the kitchen and the chaos begins. We can all be quite competitive and we’re used to combining lively conversation with meal preparation. The atmosphere in the kitchen is light-hearted and electric.
Last Thanksgiving, James and I had a pie cook-off. Maybe it was supposed to be a piecrust cook-off, but it turned into a full-fledged competition. Luckily, James wanted to make whipped cream for his sweet potato pie. I say luckily because he makes the lightest, fluffiest whipped cream ever. He always puts the bowl and whisk in the freezer before he starts, and he always lets me taste test when he adds the sugar. Both of us won in the compliment department, but James’ pecan pie beat my parsnip pie as the favorite. That’s okay. Next time I’ll challenge with my lemon meringue pie. And who won was not as important as the camaraderie in kitchen. I think it’s safe to pronounce that all family fun should be topped with whipped cream!
Relaxed family time can provide many moments of fun in the kitchen. When the kids get excited because they get to ice the cupcakes and then lick the knife, when they jump up and down because you let them add the chocolate chips to the cookies, when your daughter’s friends want to eat at your house because you make macaroni and cheese from scratch, how can you not feel good about cooking?
I know that sometimes you’re too tired to cook. Don’t force yourself. Eat gluten-free cereal and milk or yogurt and fruit, or tuna straight from the package and a banana. Giving yourself a break when you really need it will leave you free to remember the fun of cooking. Forcing yourself to perform in the kitchen when your heart isn’t in it will leave you resentful and less likely to get back in there and have fun another day!
Just be careful not to fool yourself into thinking that you “can’t” cook, or it’s ALWAYS drudgery, or it HAS TO take way too much time. Sometimes it’s easier to say these things than to face our real feelings about food or to recognize that we miss the love we felt in our grandmother’s kitchen when we raided the cookie jar. Sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge that we feel pressured to DO so many things, we don’t relax enough to find the fun in the routine activities that fill our days. Please recognize that every time you stop yourself before you start, you may be missing out on a chance for a rewarding connection with yourself and with your family and where’s the fun in that?
Cooking engages all our senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. It can feed our intellectual curiosity, our desire to collect or create, our desire to make order from chaos, or our desire to get our hands dirty. Best of all, it offers many paths of connection to the earth, our communities, our friends, and our families. When it comes to cooking, the possibilities for fun that satisfies the body, mind, and soul are truly boundless.
Next up The Benefits of Cooking Part 3: The Fixin’ in which we’ll explore the skill sets we master when we cook. Don’t worry if you’re too busy having fun in the kitchen to read it immediately, you can always go to the archives and read it later.