Imagine two cooks deep in the kitchen, working so closely it’s like they’re cooking hand-in-hand. Now shut yours eyes for a second and think about all the moments that come to mind.
For me, it’s a lot of time in front of the TV. Food Network is a favorite of my family’s, and we often spend our time watching shows like Chopped and Food Network Star together–and we’d probably cook together, if our kitchen could hold us. At the moment, it can’t.
Think deeper. Think back to the moments growing up when the kitchen was alive with the heartbeat of working hands and the warmth of the oven overflowing. What do you see? What aromas fill your lungs?
I close my eyes and smell cardamom. Until you’ve smelled it yourself, there’s no comparison–and still, I cannot place the scent into words, but at once when I smell it, my eyes flutter shut and I find myself in another place, another day. My ex and I used to cook a lot last summer, chopping herbs and steaming chicken and making many other concoctions as we twisted around his small kitchen in search of new ingredients or that mixing bowl just out of reach.
Then one day he mixed cardamom in black tea, and that alone might have been enough to make me fall in love. The richness of the assam leaves opening, filled with the full-bodied taste of the cardamom pods, the entire steeping brew filling the room with its smooth aromas…. If you ever get the chance to try it, don’t hesitate.
When I was younger, the scent of frying oil got me going–especially around Chanukah when my parents would create towers of latkes to feast on. Oily foods are a special treat during the Festival of Lights, when we commemorate the miracle of one small jar of oil lasting eight whole days. From morning until night, the kitchen would be full of hands peeling and cutting potatoes, allowing them to rest while all the excess water drained off, and then being mixed together with some eggs and whatnot before slipping into the oil for a golden-brown bath.
My mouth is watering as I remember.
Who can forget the years my mom was kitchen manager at our synagogue? I rarely helped in the kitchen then (I had homework and vast amounts of imagining to do), but to witness the crowds of cooks who’d come together–from families to caterers to any combination in between–was always amazing, and the things that they made? Everything was delicious, baked with love, shaped by tradition.
Lately cooking has been a solitary habit. The few nights at school I decided to cook instead of venturing to the dining hall, I cooked for myself. I’ve cooked cookies and brownies and pumpkin bars for bake sales and pot lucks, but in the kitchen, I was still by myself.
One night, before Hillel, we got together to make spaghetti, and it felt like home again. Cooking is creating food, and creating food is creating life. As we watched the water boil and listened to the girls preparing salad in the living room, we were doing what communities are meant to do–we were creating and preserving life itself.
I don’t just cook at school. Last year I made my birthday cake: a gluten-free red velvet ice box cake, and trust me, I haven’t tasted anything so good in the year since. Earlier this week I also made cornbread for the first time, pulling together elements of three different recipes. It turned out…pleasant, in places, but I’ve picked up a lot of insight to bring to the table, so to speak, the next time I make it.
The best part about “cooking” is that you don’t have to make everything from scratch to create something delectable and delicious: A few nights ago I made this devastatingly delightful masterpiece.
If it looks simple, that’s because it is: I opened up three Oreos, placed a slice of strawberry atop the cream filling, and finished with a dollop of whipped cream for each of them. Then I garnished with a pool of extra whipped cream and the strawberry and cookie bits I hadn’t already gobbled up. I got a few strange looks from my family as I walked into the living room, but as I ate every bite, the sweetness of the cookies, the lightness of the cream, and the tartness of the strawberries blended together into an unforgettable treat.
Cooking is amazing, and it can bring us satisfaction in communities and in solitude, and we don’t even need a fridge full of gourmet ingredients to do it. Just be creative and let your taste buds guide you.