To understand what prompted me to start this blog, it would probably help if you knew a little something about me. I am not SuperWoman with all the time in the world to cook great meals. I am not a professional chef; I don’t work in food service. I work for the IT department in a tiny nonprofit among a lot of driven, workaholic people who need their computer fixed or their database built right now, by god, because they are saving women’s and children’s lives.
And I am broken. The work never, never stops, or even slows down. The funding is never enough to hire the resources to do what we’re trying to do and pay them adequately. Everyone is asked to do the jobs of two or three or four people. There is never enough time. Everything must be done to perfection. People get irritated. Sometimes they say things that are hurtful. And you are so tired, so worn out, that you don’t just let it roll down your back anymore. You shut your office door and cry.
Maybe some of this is my own distorted viewpoint. I have been under constant stress for so long now that I don’t know what is reasonable anymore. Today, I finally decided to do something about it. I decided to take a leave of absence. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone from work, but thanks to the excellent benefits package, I have something now that I didn’t have before: time. I have time to cook. And I have time to write. I have time to obsessively update this blog. And if I’m not obsessed with something, then I’m not happy.
Cooking, for me, is a truly meditative activity. When you are cooking well, you are focused only on the task at hand, and everything else retreats far into the background. The jabbering worries and anxieties cease for a little while because you need to dice the onion right now or brown the chicken or turn flour, milk and butter into a creamy sauce. Cooking doesn’t require the concentration of, say, assembling nuclear missles, but it does take you out of yourself. When Buddhists talk about being in the moment, this is what they mean. You don’t have to sit on a cushion to achieve that. Cooking can be another route to meditation.
Cooking has certain rules and procedures you need to follow, but within those you have complete freedom. You get the best of both worlds. It is not so wide open that you become paralyzed by the blank page, so to speak. But you can play. If you don’t like olives, use sun-dried tomatoes instead. Try throwing apples and cheese into the salad, see what it tastes like. If it doesn’t work out, big deal. There’s another meal coming up soon.
And cooking is (nearly) instant gratification. Within a few minutes or hours, sometimes a day or two, you get to taste your creation. You get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Sometimes it will taste really, really delicious and you will feel like you’ve accomplished something. When you’re running full tilt at some job all day and come home feeling exhausted and like a failure, being able to accomplish even a small thing, like dinner–well, that’s everything.