The secret of good cooking is to cook with love—or so my mother taught me when I was a little girl. We should love the creative act of cooking. We should love and respect the ingredients we use. And we should love those for whom we cook.
Most of the time all this love comes naturally to me. If I didn’t find the act of cooking fulfilling, I wouldn’t be a food writer. I enjoy watching different foods ebb and flow in farm stands and grocery stores as the seasons shift. And I get great satisfaction from cooking for, and eating with, my family and friends. Food is part of our communal life.
Last week, however, was NOT my most loving time in the kitchen. We’ve all had so-called bad hair days. I had a bad food week.
It took me a while to realize what the problem was. All I knew was that just about everything I made (including recipes I was testing for publication) turned out somewhere between barely adequate and (shudder!) pretty awful. Usually, the range is from tasty to fabulous.
Friday afternoon I suddenly observed that the joy had gone out of my kitchen. I was viewing cooking as a task instead of a pleasure.
The problem wasn’t with cooking, of course. It was with me. I think my frazzled state might have been induced in part by the time of year. We have more sunshine now than we did in February—and the air is definitely warmer. Nevertheless, spring hasn’t quite hit the ground running yet. And summer seems a long way off.
To tackle the problem I turned off the stove and the computer and made myself a list. (I love lists!) The list was a bit of a hodgepodge because it had a dual purpose: to make me feel better in general and to help me return to work and cooking with a more cheerful and loving heart.
Here is my list. Obviously, this list won’t work for everyone. It might inspire others, however.
1. Take the dog (or the child or the cat or the ferret or whatever you have) for a long walk. Even on rainy days at this time of year one can smell spring in the air! And it’s good to get the body exercising as well as the brain.
2. Do something to cheer up someone else. When I got back from the walk I took my mother for a drive (she’s not in shape yet to go walking with Truffle and me). Making her happy made me happier.
3. Listen to–or better yet make!–some music. It’s the food of love, so it’s bound to help restore the love of food.
4. Buy hair dye. (I told you the list was idiosyncratic.) When I was 26 I suddenly noticed a gray patch in my bangs, a patch that has only gotten larger and more obvious with the passage of time. The woman who cuts my hair may say it’s distinguished to have a highlight in the front of my hairdo as much as she likes. We all know “distinguished” is a code word for “old.”
5. Simplify tasks. I knew I had to return to the kitchen. So I vowed that my next few recipes would be easy ones that took advantage of ingredients I already had in the house or could get very easily. Making cooking easy was the first step toward making it a joyful and loving experience again.
I may not be ready to make a soufflé or a cassoulet at this point, but I’m back to cooking with enthusiasm and making meals that I and others can enjoy. Here is one of the simple recipes that helped me get there.
It’s perfect for this time of year since we’re still in maple month…… Remember, spring is a time of renewal!
This three-ingredient appetizer recipe comes from a delightful cookbook titled Fry Bacon. Add Onions: The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook. A new edition of this book by Kathleen Valentine of Gloucester has just been published by the Parlez-Moi Press.
I enjoy the way Kathleen weaves reminiscences, photos of family and friends, and recipes into an attractive volume that shares her family’s life and many of its loves. She comes of Pennsylvania Dutch stock so the book features many of my favorite sweet-and-sour combinations.
Tammy Hicks of Charlemont, Massachusetts, gave me a similar recipe last year using grape jelly and barbecue sauce. Sweet and saucy, both recipes make excellent finger food (toothpick food, actually) for large parties.
Kathleen’s original recipe calls for 3 to 4 pounds of sausage, 1 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup maple syrup. I was serving fewer people so I reduced her proportions.
I know there are those of you out there who will find this overly sweet—but kids and old folks love it! Serve it with a little sauerkraut to offset the sugar. (Kathleen’s book offers a number of recipes from which you can choose.)
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup brown sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/3 cup brown sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
Brown the sausage pieces lightly in a frying pan. Transfer them to a 1-1/2 quart saucepan, and stir in the brown sugar and maple syrup. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly; then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour, stirring from time to time. Serves 8 as an appetizer.
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