Well, at least my cooking mojo. It’s so bizarre. I’ve always loved to cook. For as long as I can remember, every month I’d drool my way through the latest issues of Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Fine Cooking magazines. I couldn’t pass a cookbook store without stopping, looking and buying. I was addicted to the Food Network on TV.
Which isn’t surprising when you consider I grew up in a family who loved to think about, shop for, prepare, cook and eat food. And share it with countless friends, colleagues and family members. My mother was a fabulous cook — as were my grandmothers and aunts and cousins on both sides.
I loved to have dinner parties and enjoyed thinking about what I’d make as much as the eventual sitting at the table. Truth be told, I may have enjoyed the planning even more. Thumbing through recipes, consulting with my mother and yes, even my father, who was the ultimate shopper of fine foods. The best
gift you could ever have given him was a grocery list.
Even if I was just cooking for myself, I took joy in the entire process.
And then, one day, it all just came to a grinding halt. I totally lost my cooking mojo. And I have no idea why.
Food magazines no longer interested me. Neither did cookbooks. Or the cooking shows on TV. Even the sight of mounds of beautiful produce, fresh and bountiful, all artfully stacked in a gorgeous real life still life, didn’t move me.
Hard to believe.
Me! The woman who would stand, transfixed, watching one of my favourite grocers (a diminutive, rotund, balding Italian who had a perpetual smile on his face) while he lovingly polished apple after apple, pear after pear, gently placing it back in its spot on the shelf. No words were ever spoken, but we’d exchange a smile and a glance, two food lovers, sharing a moment. Until, recognizing a kindred spirit, he’d always grab something — a plum, a peach, a few grapes or cherries, a big, beautiful, ripe strawberry — wipe it gently on his apron and offer it to me, as a small gift, because he knew we were ‘simpatico’.
Me! The woman who’d stand in front of the counter at my fish monger’s and become instantly inspired. One look and suddenly dozens of recipes would consume my thoughts, leaving me with visions of big bowls of steaming fish and seafood-laden bouillabaisse … pasta topped with piles of fresh clams bathed in garlicky butter and white wine sauce … platters of oysters just waiting to be plucked from their shells as soon as they received a squirt of fresh lemon and a few drops of Tabasco … whole snapper, bathed in lemon, rubbed with jerk seasoning and stuffed with green onions and chopped tomatoes, topped with a dollop of butter, treated to a several spoonfuls of white wine and cooked long enough for the skin to become golden brown, while the flesh, inside, was still moist.
Me. Yes. That me.
Until I lost my taste for it.
At which point, for the most part, Lean Cuisine and I became best friends. Horror of horrors, I know. And when, eventually, I got tired of Chicken Teriyaki, Mediterranean Chicken, Chicken a l’Orange, Glazed Chicken and the like, I turned to take-out, from my local grocery store.
For shame, for shame.
It got so bad I started eating right out of the containers. Well at that point, what’s the point of dirtying dishes? I stopped short at plastic forks and knives, though. I did use proper cutlery. Amazing where we draw lines, isn’t it?
My stove was pristine. Never turned on. At one point I thought maybe I could put it to better use as a home for some of my sweaters. I had become a freezer, fridge and microwave kind of gal. Obviously my dishwasher sat idle as well.
Luckily I’m single because this would never have worked if I’d been married or had kids. Imagine.
Hate to tell you how long this lasted. Let’s just say it wasn’t weeks or months.
Gradually, however, it’s been creeping up on me. A malaise, of sorts. I’ve not been enjoying my food. The take-out varieties weren’t changing often enough. Although it all looked delicious from behind the counter, for the most part, it all tasted bland. I was left bereft. Unsatisfied. Wanting. Hungry for something with some ‘taste’. Some zing. Some zap. Something that would wake up my now dormant tastebuds.
B o r i n g!
But still I continued to choose take-out over cooking myself.
Then the weather turned. The chill in the air was gone. The sun was shining. And I woke up one day, about 6 weeks ago, and decided I wanted to go to the market. Totally out of the blue. I was surprised. Make that shocked. But off I went anyway.
What an experience! It was like I’d suddenly been awakened from a very deep sleep. I was in heaven, running from stall to stall like a maniac. Buying herbs and spices and freshly-made pasta. Trying to decide which rice I should get — from about 20 varieties. Choosing fish and seafood and vegetables and fruits of every description.
Staggering out of there with more bags than I’ve carried in a long, long time (which is why I have now purchased a wheelie). All the while thinking to myself, “You’re nuts. You’re never gonna cook all this. It’s all going to go to waste, you bad, bad girl!”
Guess what. I did cook it. Every last bit of it. By the time I got home I had dozens of recipes concocted and could barely wait to get started. And I’m still going strong. I now have a standing date with myself. Every Thursday morning I head off to the market at about 9:30 in the morning. I love it there, at that hour. It’s quiet and peaceful and virtually empty.
Just me, a few other early birds and all the vendors. They’re not yet stressed by the crowds, so they have the time and patience to talk to you. In fact they want to chat, to talk about their farms and offerings. The selections are great — everything’s out there in abundance and nothing’s been sniffed or poked or prodded or squeezed yet. The displays are pristine and everything looks beautiful. There’s lots and lots and lots to choose from. And by about 10:45 I’m on my way back home.
Why this transformation? I have no idea. Just like I have no idea why I lost my cooking mojo in the first place. All I know is, I’m loving it. I am eating the freshest, healthiest, local food. I’m preparing it very simply. Sauteing, grilling on my George Foreman Grill (a favourite lunch or dinner has become a salad made with fresh spinach, arugula, sliced almonds, strawberries, goat cheese and slices of chicken or shrimps with honey dijon dressing), or stir frying — my current obsession. I am stir frying everything I can get my hands on.
Last Sunday night was my most ambitious attempt so far. Carrots, onions, red bell peppers, bok choy, snow peas, broccoli, shitake and oyster mushrooms, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and cashew nuts, stir fried with fresh garlic, fresh ginger and chicken. In hoisin sauce. Topped with chopped green onions and served over jasmine rice.
Yum. Although I need to up the ante on the garlic next time.