The Ennui Of Cooking And Of Having Cooked

I find cooking very enjoyable. It is relaxing, it is stress relieving, it exercises my mind and my ability to solve problems. I love thinking about cooking, and planning how I am going to cook things. It’s the act of getting off my backside and in to the kitchen I find daunting. That’s why I often start cooking with a running start, before I have had the chance to sit down in the first place. It really does help.

If I sit down, the thought of cooking becomes that of a chore: something which is best put off for a while; something which is to be avoided at all costs. It’s why I occasionally start cooking too late, and my timings are occasionally out. The thing is, when I am in the process, even after an inauspicious start, I get happily lost in the mechanics of the thing, and remember how much I love to cook food.

Cooking is a natural skill, which I feel everyone has an inherent aptitude for. Interest, motivation and will are different things altogether; how many of us really have the will to do anything other than lie on the sofa and eat cheesecakes, delivered to us by a loveable monkey butler? Some things just have to be done, or the world starts falling apart around us. And that is why we have food delivery apps.

Some people hate cooking: they see it as a chore, and so they actively enjoy it when other people do the cooking for them. I am not one of those people. In fact, I pretty much detest the notion of being cooked for by anyone who isn’t a professional. No, scratch that. I detest the notion of being cooked for by anyone who sees cooking as a chore. They tend to produce very dull food, as a generalisation.

I can understand that spending several decades running around after a family, having to think every day what to put on the table, with relatively little input from anyone else is a disheartening and, probably, soul-crushing feeling. But there is no earthly reason to keep banging on about it. And do stop trying to think of what you’re going to have to eat five minutes before you start cooking. It is hard enough to think of which foods exist without having to do in on the spot, probably panicking.

If in doubt, sausages, by the way: Always keep a pack in the freezer just in case. I mean, I don’t, but you definitely should. The usual caveats apply: if you’re a vegetarian, then vegetarian sausages; if you prefer fish fingers, have fish fingers. Personally I have meatballs. Emergency meatballs are good.

Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to eat what I have just spent so long cooking. Whether it is the fact that I have tasted quite a bit of it already – it’s how you can tell whether what you are cooking is going in the direction you want it to; try it – or the fact that I am usually very tired after I have been in the kitchen, I don’t know. I just know that when I sit down with a plate of food that I have cooked I often have no appetite to actually eat it. But I make myself eat it, because I am a brave little soldier.

I am also aware that I am my biggest critic when it comes to my cooking. There have been a number of family dinners where people have found the food perfectly enjoyable, and I have been rather underwhelmed by what I am eating. I just can’t seem to get excited by my own cookery sometimes.

I should stick to cooking quick things which excite me, but you can’t have emergency meatballs with chips and cream gravy for every meal. Nor can Angel Delight be counted as a nutritious breakfast. The meals of my own cooking which I have enjoyed the most have been quickly prepared; I should learn a lesson from that. Then again, there is a lingering memory of a perfect bowl of chicken.

Chicken and rice, actually. Chicken thighs cooked in a white wine sauce, with loads of tarragon. The sauce was thick and clung to the beautifully bronzed chicken cubes. There were lovely translucent onions mingling through the whole thing, and I had cooked the rice – a mixture of wild and brown – well for a change. My partner found it fine, but I thought it was one of the best things I had ever cooked. Every time I have tried replicating it since I have been monumentally underwhelmed by it.

Likewise, I once cooked a dish of spelt and pancetta which I could quite happily have sat on the cold stone floor and eaten with a spoon, directly from the pan, there and then. It was absolutely glorious: fatty and salty, with just the right amount of bite. I now have to stop myself from cooking it again.

I suppose expectations are key. If I expect a thing to taste great, and it only tastes good, then I am going to be mildly annoyed. If I am expecting a thing to taste great, because it did last time I cooked it, then I am going to start doubting my ability as a cook. What did I do wrong? How can I change this to taste the way I intended it to taste? It sometimes feels like it has ruined my whole day. Honestly.

I know that I shouldn’t get so hung up on food, and that it is clearly an indication of some very deep-seated problems which will surely bite me on the behind at some point in my life. The problem is that food is a very enjoyable thing, and we need it to survive. If it’s not fun it’s sad. Food should not be sad. No, it can’t always be fun, but it should not be sad. There are too many things in the world about which we can legitimately be sad. Eating great food should not feature on that list at all.

I know that I should devote less of my thinking time to food, and its inexorable pursuit, but what would I fill my head with if I did that? Worthy thoughts of helping other people? I very much doubt it – that’s not like me at all. I’d probably just read or write more. And only ever eat bowls of ramen.

There are very few things in the world more satisfying than a bowl of hot, tasty broth. That is very much my perspective on the matter, and it is not universal. Then again, there are no universal truths, beyond the facts that we all die. The problem is that just because there are very few good things, it doesn’t mean that they don’t all just get a little bit boring from time to time. Hand me my phone.