Sunday, January 24, 2010

Self-medicating with home cooking

Eating out is something of a vice for me.  It's not cost-effective for most kinds of food that I like to eat, and it frequently comes with more salt, cholesterol, additives, and so on than I generally like to put into my body.  But really, what's more luxurious than eating a meal you didn't have to cook yourself?  And, for the kinds of things I simply have no idea how to make or am unwilling to spend the time preparing -- Thai dishes, slow-cooked stews, just about anything involving couscous, mussels, etc. -- it's an awful lot easier to go out for dinner than fiddle with a cookbook.  (And that's not even taking into account my tiny kitchen!)  It's not that I enjoy parting with money; I'm pretty careful with it, as a rule.  But every now and then, it's wonderful to sit down and survey the menu, rather than root through my refrigerator for usable bits.

The problem, of course, is that I have to be very tight with money, unless circumstances change drastically.  An additional problem is that "every now and then" has a way of turning into "fucking constantly" when I'm in a bad mood and frustrated with work (or the lack thereof).  Vices always present the threat of turning into addictions, you know?

So I'm trying to kill two or three birds with one stone by increasing the home cooking I do.  A corollary to this effort is to expand my repertoire, since it's all too easy to dismiss the recipes I've already mastered as played out and boring.  My mouth and stomach are so much more frustratingly finicky than my mind!  (Would that I were ruled more by my brain, which knows very well that complete proteins and other essentials of a healthy diet are easily and cheapily obtained.)  My biggest resource for new and appetizing recipes, as I've mentioned, is Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern cookbook.  The drawback to this is that many of the enticing recipes require buying either things that I don't ordinarily need that then sit in my pantry, or relatively expensive things like cuts of meat.  There's always the internet, of course, but I don't always trust to the medium that spawned Wikipedia to give me good ideas.

Those are my two main founts of culinary knowledge nowadays, but I also have a few tried and true warhorses to learn for myself: recipes that I acquired from my grandmother.  For the foreseeable future, I have to leave the pastry recipes for a time when my cooking space supports such an endeavor.  But the soups and entree recipes are relatively easy to prepare in my little apartment, and they're so comforting!  I have been known to self-medicate with alcohol on various occasions, but as we have all discovered the hard way at some point, you can't really do most kinds of academic labor when you're trashed.  (Perhaps mileage varies for creative writers, but this is certainly my experience.)  How much better is it to self-medicate with a big pot of chicken soup?  Or, as I currently have simmering on the stove, mushroom barley soup?  Assuming this stuff turns out like I remember, I can enjoy a bowl or two, then freeze the rest of it for whenever I don't really feel like cooking.  Dropping a big frozen cube of homemade soup into a saucepan to heat up is almost as luxurious as going out.  More so, really, if it turns out as good as my grandmother's soup.  (Unfortunately, I have yet to find a luxurious solution to washing up.)

(Just to give you an idea of what I'm working with, some of these recipes are things that my grandmother jotted down for me, because she never needed to write them down for her own purposes.  I had to call her this afternoon to find out cooking times for the soup, since she specifies neither how long to cook the barley before adding the veggies, nor how long to cook the soup ingredients together.  She just knows.)

As ways to kill an overabundance of time go, I'm hard-pressed to think of a better one than cooking good food from scratch.  I find tremendous comfort and emotional support in mastering such a recipe myself.  And, with comfort and emotional support in such short supply nowadays, I'll take all I can get.

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