I’m gonna come right out and say something pretty crazy right now. Please don’t think less of me, OK? Ready? Here we go:
I really don’t like coming home to a dinner that’s already made. Or one that just needs to be reheated in the oven at 350°F for 20 minutes. Or ladled out of a crockpot.
Right about now the vinyl should be screeching. What the…? Hey, aren’t you supposed to be the one preaching efficiency? The one who tells us to start dinner in the morning, to assemble a big batch of grains or freezer meatballs on the weekend, to whisk a vinaigrette on a Sunday…all in the name of throwing together something quickly when it’s 6:30 on a weeknight, aka Go Time?
Yes, and well, no. Obviously, it’s how we are forced to cook most of the time. But I’m convinced that those kinds of dinners are not the ones that will convert dinner infidels into believers. This is what I hear from readers all the time: It’s so frustrating to spend all that time making a meal, getting all those dishes dirty, only to have my kids reject their food in five seconds flat. I hear you. I totally, 100% do. The reason why our spring garden is a tangle of overgrown weeds and why I don’t own one of those cute hand shovels (my friend Bonnie, upon hearing that, informed me “Jenny, that’s like not owning a spatula”) is because I have yet to embrace the weeding and planting and tending involved in gardening. And I never pay attention to which plants need mostly shade or mostly sun. And because I hate that feeling when my hands get all dry and cakey. But THE POINT IS….like dinner, gardening is about the process. The reason why Bonnie and all you green thumbs out there love to garden is because you love to be outside, digging in the dirt, every day investing in something that will pay back in beautiful dividends. And you lunatics probably even love that dry caked-dirt feeling on your hands, too.
In other words, dinner is something of a love story for me because it’s always been so much bigger than the 15 minutes sitting at the table. What I’m way more addicted to is the pre-game show. I need to be sipping a nice Sangiovese. I need one kid tackling decimals at the kitchen table, or sitting Indian-style on the counter snacking on chips and salsa, or in the adjoining room plowing her way through Musette from English Suite (“by Wolfgang Amadeus Bach, Mommy”) on the cello. I need the aromas of sauteed onions and browning steaks swirling about the house the way smells do in cartoons, pulling family members into the kitchen in a state of weakened hypnosis. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I need the narrative arc of dinner. I crave the build-up.
How do you learn to love the process of cooking? That’s a tough one. I imagine it helps to devote yourself it on a long weekend like this one when you have a little more time. And I imagine, like gardening, the answer has something to do with focusing on those beautiful dividends. I’m not just talking about the beef stew.
Yes! This! This is exactly how I feel about dinner. When I phone it in sometimes with grilled cheese and soup or something from the freezer, it’s just not as enjoyable. I love the actual act of cooking. I’m the weirdo who does enjoy chopping vegetables and trimming meat and spending an hour putting together something that will only spend a few minutes on the plate. You’re totally not alone.
I think a great reminder of how/why to love the process is making a great stew. My husband and I made a rabbit stew together for the first time while we were dating, and it has become a winter tradition. It seemed daunting, but it was oh-so-worth it. Stews and soups are so aromatic. On a smaller scale, I feel the same way while making potato soup. I think that when you make something from simple, rustic ingredients, and what really makes it wonderful is the time and love that goes into it, you can appreciate the process more.
I really appreciate the crazy process of making a delicious meal, whether it quick or not, when I have everything ready and lots of time left in between prep time and meal time. I’m kinda like “Now what? I have nothing left to prepare and it’s not dinner time yet. I’m ….. (gasp) bored!” And I dread the day my 8 and 10 year olds are off living their own lives and I don’t have the chaos around me! Double bored! Cooking is something I love to give to them and when I have time to think about it, I don’t mind the rush of it all.
I find that cooking dinner is one of the most therapeutic things that I can do when I get home. I hear ya.
Yep, I totally get what you’re saying. Before my son was born, I made a few meals to stash in the freezer because everyone kept telling me to, and that I’d have no time for cooking once baby was here. Well, the no time thing was sort of correct (so far, he’s pretty easy going!), but honestly, I never even reached for those freezer meals. They are still there, and I’m sure we’ll eat them one day, but the idea of just thawing something and baking it just seems…boring. I need the pre-game of dinner to excite me!
I don’t have children yet, but I spend all day imagining the dinner we’re going to have. By the time I get home, I can’t wait to start cooking. Other people might unwind by spacing out in front of the TV… I do it in front of the stove (with Pinot in hand, of course.)
I agree…there’s something calming, relaxing and wonderful about the process of cooking. It makes me happy, it makes me smile when I start to smell garlic roasting. There’s an incredible amount of enjoyment in that. So you’re definitely right…microwave or crock pot takes away the enjoyment for me. I like to experience my food from start to finish!
Amen! Making dinner is the way I de-stress and wind down from my day. Heating up something I made the weekend before just doesn’t provide the same shake-it-off-and-relax as chopping and sweating onions does. With wine, of course. Always with wine. Thank you for confirming that I’m not weirdly food obsessed. (Or, at least, ensuring I’ll have friends when they lock us up!)
What makes the cooking worthwhile for me is knowing my boys (1 hubby, 1 son) are eating quality ingredients, purchased by me, not loaded with preservatives and other unnatural junk. I’ll take that satisfaction any day. I really enjoyed reading this post.
What feels good about making supper when I have all the ingredients is the feeling that I’m creating something. How can you feel bad when you are in the creation mode ?Thanks for the post.
Thanks for this post–just what I needed. I love cooking too (and gardening, not so much!), but I am still capable of feeling resentment when all that cooking translates to very little eating. So the next time I’m feeling that bit of discontent that creeps in when they act like I’m trying to poison them, I’m going to remember this post and remember that I am actually happier for having cooked than I would be otherwise. Thanks again!
I couldn’t agree more! I love the process. And I don’t really care too much if they don’t like it. As long as my husband and I are enjoying ourselves (and our wine) they can whine all they want. The wine makes the whining so much easier to tolerate.
Amen to that! I agree that the only way to enjoy cooking is by enjoying the actual process as much as the result. It isn’t the same for me when it is all utilitarian.
I still remember that feeling as a child of being pulled into the kitchen right before dinner was ready – the delicious smell was so telling!
Oh, wow. Yes to all of this. In my eyes, it doesn’t matter if I’m exhausted from work. I need to immerse myself in the process of cooking. There’s just no way around it for me. The food just tastes and feels so much better. By the way, that pic at the top is me all the time. Seriously, I walk around sniffing the air and drooling. Especially when baking bread is involved. 🙂
I’m with you on the process. Yes, we definitely have those nights where the meatballs in the freezer are a Godsend, but the actual act of cooking dinner is how I prefer to transition our family’s day from public (work, school, sports, etc.) to private (family dinner, bath/showers, reading, bed).
The journey or the destination…a favorite topic of mine.
For me, whether innately or by some means of learning – slowing down and consciously embracing the process has helped me change the perspective on things that seemed like a chore. But, for the record, cooking is a passion so preparing a meal has not generally been a chore, ever!
I hear you. Although I’m always grateful on our crazy M-Th nights to have crockpot/made-ahead/quick dinners, Friday nights are a treat. I telecommute Fridays and can do a bit of prep while on conference calls, then take my time with a glass of wine in hand to cook the full meal. A great way, for me, to de-stress and move into the weekend.
Before kids, I used cooking after work to decompress. I even moved my work schedule so that I would be home half an hour before my husband, so I could get a start on dinner by myself. Now at home with two little ones, I miss the introvert-recharge and detail-oriented-gratification of aspects of cooking (it is always hectic now), but I am a more confident cook (thanks in part to you), and I am more consistent at cooking foods that I think are yummy, so it is more gratifying in that way. The girls would happily accept cheese, frozen peas (cooked or not), and fruit for dinner (which I have fallen back on more than once), and I only cook every other day (leftovers on the other days), but I love the cooking days, when we sit down and there is freshly-made-something.
I find the process kind of soothing. It’s a time to reflect on the day, let the kids steal raw veggies as you prep. I like having those meatballs ready for long days and tiring times, but I enjoy making our family dinner.btw Jamie Oliver 15 Min Meals pg 112, fabulous!
I love the process, too. Once I start chopping and stirring or pounding and dredging, I instantly relax. A little music in the background and a glass of wine sets the stage. I feel so lucky to spend time with my husband and kids around the dinner table; I enjoy the time leading up to it, too.
I totally agree.
I see what you’re saying – but I love a balance of the two! Smelling something bubbling away in the crock pot all day is just as enticing to me as chopping up veggies and slowly sautéing them while I sip on my wine at 5:30. I think a balance of the two throughout the week is perfect – ninja class night is almost always a crock pot or make ahead meal. Early day Wednesdays? You can often find L and I chopping away together. I love both options!
As an organizer I can really get behind entering my house at 5pm with the crock pot bubbling. But as a girl who likes to punctuate the end of her day with a glass (or 2) of wine, I love the cooking process and all its accoutrements.
Love this post and this is one of the reasons I cant do too many cook ahead meals. The whole messy process of preparing dinner is what I look forward to at the end of each day. It signifies that the workday is done (even if I may be checking my work email during the process) and for once, I’m in control of my day.
I love this post. I too find the whole cooking dinner process to be very therapeutic, and it is my favorite time of day. If we have a busy week where I don’t get to cook dinner as much, I find myself a bit lost. I don’t have children, just me and my SO. He just took a job where he’s traveling on weekdays, and some friends were telling me “Oh that’s great, you won’t have to cook dinner every night, you can just have sandwiches!” like it was something good. I’m still cooking dinner almost every night, albeit it’s a bit different kind of cooking than when he is here. But I will never give it up.
I suddenly realized, as I read your take on dinner, that I love the process with some time before the sit-down. So, actually, I do love doing the process the night before, or the morning or putting meals in the freezer – that’s when I listen to music and putter and enjoy the cooking. But it feels like magic to me to have a meal on the table with only a few more minutes of work. I love that magic feeling, so yes, I often use my crockpot or timed bake. I especially love using timed bake to wake up to hot breakfast.
You speak my language! Thanks for that great post. It is so true. I refer to that prep time as my meditation time, it is just restorative to be able to pour some love into a meal.
My feelings exactly. When I have been asked why I don’t “craft” my response has been, “I cook.” Cooking dinner is like an art project that you can see from beginning to end in just a few hours. My personality doesn’t suit well with long drawn out projects…sewing, scrap booking, gardening, etc. But I love the creation, build up and the eventual enjoyment of the fruits of my labor when it’s finally time to sit down and eat.
Beautiful writing and I absolutely agree, its about the enjoying the preparation of the meal, not the ease and convenience. All of that hard work pays off in a wonderfully delicious meal that you are proud to present and eat!
Completely agree! That being said, I never refuse a little short-cut but still want to retain that homemade feeling. I utilize a lot of the Lipton soup mixes, and have recently discovered some French sauces that are available online at http://www.morethangourmet.com/pantry-stock-sauces-gourmet-soups. My family loves the recipes I have tried, and I’ve enjoyed the preparation. Just a happy customer and thought I would share. 🙂
Absolutely. Dinner is a process, a ritual. It’s something you come back to when you had an absolute crap day. And THAT is why dinner-in-pill-form will never work…
Stumbled upon your blog from Bon Appetit. “Stumbled” being a pretty loose term meaning “they put the link right there for me to click on.” Love what I see so far and can’t wait to read more. I’m not married nor do I have kids yet, but this is PRECISELY what I hope for some day. Thank you for saying you need the glass of Sangiovese too- so important to the dinner ritual! 🙂
THANK YOU! This is one of the most powerful articles I have read in a long time. This article really has me thinking, and not just about making dinner, or gardening, though those are definitely processes I don’t enjoy. But I think this is the key to so many areas of life: work, exercise, healthy eating, parenting, etc.
I’m fortunate that I have a job where I do really enjoy the process. I like the day to day work of figuring out how to design a great building and put together the drawings to communicate what is needed. It has its frustrations (OH so many, some days) but overall I really do enjoy it. I had kind of forgotten how much.
But I need to figure out a way to get better at valuing the process in other areas. It is so easy to get bogged down in the frustrations or the monotony. But if I can figure out a way to see the journey as the goal, instead of just trying to slap something together to make do, I think the difference would be pretty extraordinary.
Of course, more sleep might help too…