I spend a great deal of time on this blog contemplating the nature of femininity, generally, the varied expressions of our erotic nature, and what it takes for us to transform ourselves into works of art. I spend a great deal less time talking about things I just…like. Because I do have some enjoyable hobbies outside of what takes place here. Fitness is one. Traveling is another. Lately, I’ve also been able to add outdoor activities, like hiking, to the list. (It’s that time of year.) I love being active. It makes me feel more alive.
And while each of those activities satisfies me in different ways, none of them is able to fuse the creative and the sensual, or the carnal, aspects of my nature in the same, immensely pleasurable way as cooking. It is also true that no creative endeavor–not even writing–possesses the ability to put me in a “flow” state like cooking does. When I am in the kitchen, I quickly lose all sense of time, of my surroundings, and my mind simply quiets. I am focused. I am the epitome of concentration. I am also vibrant, in motion, and fully sensually alive. Indeed, I mentioned in a previous post that cooking represents, for me, a kind of ritual that is vital to sensual living. It helps me connect with my inner domestic goddess in a wonderful way.
Here are some thoughts on enhancing the quality of your time in the kitchen and transforming routine, everyday meal preparation into a more lavish, more artistic, innately gratifying experience.
Set the mood.
I find it impossible to cook well without music (Either jazz or something lounge-y, like soft house. Rhythms I can feel myself sinking into.). A glass of wine is also preferable. I never set the lights too bright. And I always, always, always clean the kitchen before I start cooking. That means putting clean dishes away, clearing out the sink, and tidying up the counters. There is nothing enjoyable or calming about cooking in a messy kitchen, especially if you’re making a multi-course meal. Which means you are about to create a sizable mess of your own.
With that in mind, keep cleaning as you go. Don’t wait until the very end to do all of the dishes. If you wash dishes and utensils as you use them (or put them in the dishwasher as soon as you’re done with them), the kitchen will stay neat, and your workspace will remain pleasantly clean. It’s all about ambience. Treat yourself to an aesthetically pleasing space. The more frequently you practice alternating between cleaning and doing food prep, the more seamlessly you will move back and forth between activities. It will all flow together, and the cleaning portion won’t feel like a chore. Create a nice environment, and work to maintain it. That’s part of the ritual.
Get your hands dirty.
I know some people get grossed out at the thought of handling raw meat. Or of working with animal proteins they’ve never used before (say, octopus or live lobster). My advice? Suck it up, buttercup.
Really working with your hands is a fundamental part of turning rote meal preparation into an art. It also makes the food taste better. Don’t use a salt shaker. Sprinkle salt onto your food with your fingers. (This also helps you season more precisely.) Rub seasonings into raw meat, and trim it yourself. Don’t use pre-cut vegetables (most of the time). Cut them yourself. Mince your own garlic. Wash and chop your own herbs. Always season with your hands. The process of manually working with food is quite gratifying. (I dare say it’s “earthy.”) Shortcuts may be expedient, but they take away from the art of the moment. If you have the time, make the most of it.
Rarely do I look at a recipe and think, “Wow, I’d really like to make that!” More often, I ask, “Ooh, what can I do with that?” And I begin imagining the possibilities for putting my own spin on what’s been given to me. Indeed, if you’re looking to have a more creative experience in the kitchen, then allowing yourself the space to “play” is key.
Make substitutions. Experiment with different ingredients. Make the dish yours. Use a recipe as a rough template for what you should–or could–do. (The more experienced you are in the kitchen, the easier it will be for you to know how to experiment successfully.)
To be sure, some of my favorite dishes to create come from recipes that were passed down to me from my grandmother. Tomato sauce, meatballs, and various other pasta dishes that I learned to cook only by sight and in a language of pinches, dashes, and handfuls. (Because old Italian grandmas never write down their recipes.) When I cook that way, I genuinely feel I am creating. I let myself go and do what comes naturally. That is also when my food is the best. When it’s prepared with abandon.