There are many things I love about cooking. One of them is that I'm in control (usually, there was that time I put my lovely oven mits on a warm plate – it was off I'll have you know – and started smoking them). I'm seldom the sous chef, mostly in charge. I like to feel like I'm in control at least, and in the kitchen with the ingredients and the recipe and the ritual and the method, I can control my kingdom. And one of the satisfying things I love about cooking, is using the (sometimes nondescript) ingredients in the fridge to make something wonderful.
I went shopping on Sunday and bought what I thought were promising, practical ingredients for the week. Dependable basics that could be whipped up and adapted – stir fry ingredients or a salad, depending the mood and need. I made sure there were no risky, could-go-at-any-minute expiry dates, but everything was fresh and I knew I'd have to use them sometime this week. But it's been one of those weeks. Between deadline at work, the football and having foreign friends in town, Big Bird (The Boyfriend) and I haven't been home, let alone had time to make something from scratch, or even have a meal together. (My dinner last night consisted of biltong and Pringles, scoffed while getting ready in 20 minutes, and promptly followed by far too much alcohol.)
This evening, I got home from work at around 10pm, feeling tired and distracted, already thinking about all I have to do tomorrow. And the next day. I'd eaten at work and The Boyfriend was at dinner with friends, so the house was quiet and dark, except for our beloved Maine Coon, Leo, who was happy to love and be loved despite being abandoned all day. I opened the fridge and like Leo, I was greeted with forlorn looks from the jilted ingredients. So after watching the surprise discovery of an episode of "Sex & the City" (a lucky find, as I don't think I would have gotten away with it if remote-hogging The Boyfriend had been home!) I decided to whip up the ingredients into something we could take to work (oh, did I mention we have a birthday party tomorrow night, so we won't be home then either). I turned off the TV and put on some big band background music and began to chop. Incidentally, that's another reason why I love cooking – all the chopping and organised prepping. Must be something to do with control, again.
The result is a French shallot and leek soup with chunky, smoky bacon and garlic, of course. But – the kernel of the story – (I do tend to go off on a tangent) I feel relaxed. The ritual, the vigorous chopping (some might have said aggressive chopping) and the crying over the onions have all distracted and settled me. I could have read, but I do that all day for my job. I could have vegetated on the couch, but I fear I would never have been able to get up again. I could have packed away our washing, but, let's face it, that wouldn't have relaxed me. The smell of cooking has made everything familiar again. The house is still empty, but it feels warmer and fuller.