I remember, the first time I watched Julie & Julia, marvelling at how Julie Powell could come home after a long 8 hours at the office and, every day, get to cooking (what looked like) elaborate and complex meals in her tiny Queens kitchen. What’s more, with her challenge to cook all of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, she was cooking two elaborate and complex meals pretty much every other day!
How did she not drop dead from exhaustion? How was she not utterly miserable?
It took only a couple of years for me to answer those questions for myself.
Nowadays, I’m the one who comes home after a draining 8 hours at the office and, every day, drops down her shopping bag, ties up her apron, and gets to cooking dinner from scratch in her tiny, under-equipped kitchen (spare a rolling-pin, anyone?). And it’s my favourite time of day, which I look forward to breathlessly.
Cooking, I’ve come to realise, is a form of meditation: it quiets the mind. You can’t think about anything else while you’re cooking, or you’ll chop your fingers off, things will burn, and your dinner will be a sad mess. You must keep your mind concentrated constantly on the what and when and how much and how long – and that’s liberating, just to focus.
Then there’s the thrill of making something entirely new from a recipe you’ve never used before. Excitement and suspense waft in the air. And, once you’ve got all the ingredients bubbling happily together, and you poke your nose into the pot, and you sip a taste off the spoon – and it’s oh-so-good! better than you could ever have expected! – you feel an enormous sense of achievement and pride.
Of course, you’ll get your biggest kick out of cooking for someone: someone you love, someone who enjoys food as much as you do, someone who shows their appreciation with spasmodic lifts of the shoulders, tightly shut eyes and delighted wild grunts, and then showers you with compliments.
I daresay, now I think that Julie Powell, cooking up a storm in her tiny kitchen in Queens, must have been the happiest soul on the planet.