I am just finishing up Christopher Kimball’s account of an extremely ambitious dinner party where he serves his guests a 12-course meal in high Victorian style, using mostly techniques (and a giant wood-burning stove) of that time period. Where I am not particularly taken with Kimball’s writing, this book tells a great story, conjures some laugh-out-loud funny mental pictures, and, ultimately, achieves much more than just an account of making a crazy dinner. I think Kimball does his best writing when he goes indulgent about cooking, as in this passage.
“There is no tomorrow. Time cannot be saved and spent. There is only today and how we choose to live it. The future is unknowable and unpredictable; it offers no clear path to happiness. Science will not save us. Each of us, then, needs to cobble together a daily routine filled with basic human pleasures, wedded, to be sure, to the best that modernity has to offer. It is a life of compromise rather than extremes. It it s a touch of the old and a taste of the new. And cooking, it seems to me, offers the most direct way back into the very heart of good life. It is useful, it is necessary, it is social, and it offers immediate pleasure and satisfaction. It connects with the past and ensures the future. Standing in front of a hot oven, we remind ourselves of who we are, of what we are capable of and how we might stumble back to the center of happiness. Effort and pleasure go hand in hand.” — Christopher Kimball, Fannie’s Last Supper.
I know that cooking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are times when I come home from work or the gym and all I want to do is eat, not cook. But there are other times when I have no excuse for not cooking, and frankly, I love that. Sitting down and thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner is, admittedly, something I do often, and with pleasure. And I like the aspect of it being social, even when it is just a friend and myself. Dinner preparation is the time when we might talk about our days, our frustrations, or even just work in silence to collaborate on something delicious. I think about what brings the people I love together and, more than anything, it is food – the preparation, sharing, and consumption thereof. Even when you live alone, I think that act of making food for yourself is a treat, and one you don’t have to feel guilty about (provided you are making something even reasonably healthy).
As Kimball states (and implies), the everyday act of cooking goes well beyond the act itself; it is an everyday act through which we might find ourselves a little more at ease with the world, maybe because it is an everyday act that the world shares together.