As I sit down to write, marinara is burbling on the stove and moussaka is cooling on the table. The earthy aroma of oregano, marjoram and roasted eggplant mingles with the tangy perfume of caramelized onions and sweet tomatoes. The air is thick with the scent of comfort and love, of industry and purpose.
Once upon a different lifetime, I prepared a meal every evening. I would plan my weekly menu carefully, seeking balance between vegetarian and meat-based mains, using leftovers to create meals later in the week, focusing on seasonal produce,
trying new recipes from the shelves of cookbooks in my library, and perfecting the tried and true in my roster. For several years I belonged to an on-line community of foodies, through whose guidance, encouragement and humor I discovered a passion for cooking, gained confidence in the kitchen, and found an intellectual and emotional outlet creating beautiful food that gave me great joy when shared with others.
Life runs in a different rhythm now. We don't work traditional hours, or have more than two or three evenings during the week to enjoy a meal together. Many nights I return home almost too late to eat dinner before bed, certainly too late to prepare a meal.
These days my cooking has a far more utilitarian approach: I cook in two- to three- hour sessions on a Saturday, preparing several dishes at a time. Hearty casseroles of quinoa and roasted vegetables, creamy soups of yam or lentils, long-lived salads of farro and black beans, only that which can be spooned into a container as part of a brown bag lunch or reheated in the microwave, mindlessly and wearily consumed for dinner at the end of a long day. I fall back on a familiar roster of favorites that I know will last several days, the leftovers folded into Thursday night's kitchen sink frittata. On the occasional weekend when I can't make it into the kitchen for an intensive cooking session, (or during the months of July and August, when summer's heat shuts down my kitchen for the brief Northwest summer) it means a week of egg white omelets, stir fry, tuna fish sandwiches, or, if I've managed to plan ahead, something defrosted and resurrected in the oven.
But the muse hasn't left the kitchen. Her spirit waits patiently in my cupboard, offering gentle inspiration when she knows I have the time to focus, when I need the peace of puttering, kneading, mincing, braising; she knows when it is time to open my doors to friends and loved ones, to offer the friendship and love I don't always express in words, but that arises in wafts of cinnamon and cardamom, in waves of red wine reduction, in spoonfuls of chocolate and crème anglaise.
I trust that life will make its periodic adjustments and I will find myself again in the kitchen on a regular basis, cooking for pleasure, not just for nourishment or simple necessity. In the meantime, I have afternoons such as today's: no place to be but my kitchen, no excuse but to cook what tickles my fancy and fires my imagination.
And thank goodness for the public record that is the internet. A quick search of that online cooking community in which I participated brought up years' worth of menus. Just think of all that planning that's already been done for me, BY me. And what a perfect excuse to repurchase some of those cookbooks I gave away.
A look back...
Weekly Menu, May 2-9, 2003
Friday Eggplant Parmesan, Italian Vegetables Saturday Marinated Salmon w/Roasted Corn and Black-Eyed Pea Salsa Baked Garlic-Cheese Grits, Garlicky Green Beans Sunday Cate's Springtime Risotto Soup, Dried Pear and Cardamom Scones Monday Almond-Crusted Chicken w/Scallion Rice Braised Butternut Squash; Leftover Garlicky Green Beans Tuesday Chickpea, Red Pepper and Basil Saute, Mixed vegetables Wednesday Thyme-Scented Salmon w/Tuscan White Beans, Fennel Salad w/Green Olive Vinaigrette Thursday Grilled Onion, Beef, and Sweet Potato Salad Friday Linguine w/Pine Nuts, Roasted garlic and Capers, spinach/vegetable salad