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Why Cooking Is More Fun Than You Think

I’ve really enjoyed Megan McArdle [1], Mollie Hemingway [2], and Rod Dreher’s [3] comments on the “tyranny of the home-cooked meal” article [4] that Amanda Marcotte wrote for Slate. All three had some great thoughts about cooking, its benefits and simplicities, and they got me thinking: why do I love home cooking so much? Why does it not feel like a “tyranny” to me?

There are a variety of reasons I love it, and several shortcuts I’ve picked up with time. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned—cooking is a lot like writing. There’s the KISS principle: “Keep it simple, stupid.” If I don’t have a lot of time, I can’t plan anything fancy. And oftentimes, simple taste better, anyway. So I’ve practiced a few simple meals that we rotate through the week. I’m learning when to be “artistic,” and when to just get it done: just as I shouldn’t launch into a huge philosophical blog post 30 minutes before my deadline, I shouldn’t start a big batch of croissants when I need to have dinner ready in an hour. You have to pay attention to your “deadline,” and plan accordingly. Some of our favorite simple meals:

Sometimes, I try to get too fancy, or to experiment with too many different cuisines. I’ll attempt a time-intensive dish with too many steps, or get halfway through a recipe only to realize I don’t have all the ingredients. So here are some thoughts.

These are just things I’m learning, things that make home cooking enjoyable and interesting from day to day. It’s a creative challenge, something that takes both artistry and practicality. Cooking doesn’t make me feel abused or annoyed or frustrated, as a woman—it’s one of the greatest joys of my weekly life. After a long day of writing and staring at a computer screen, there’s something cathartic about chopping vegetables. It gives me the opportunity to experiment with tastes, textures, and flavors. I can make things that remind me of home, of my heritage—things like peach pie, baked beans, chicken and noodles. It gives me the opportunity to learn the traditions of the people around me, to learn how to make dishes that are important to them. People who discount cooking because it takes time forget the joy that can come from doing something creative and communal with our days: something that requires energy and service and love.

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Why Cooking Is More Fun Than You Think"

#1 Comment By Rod Dreher On September 13, 2014 @ 9:53 am

Good advice, Gracy. Last night I decided to try a new recipe I found earlier this week — a simple French chicken dish involving garlic and lemon. I invited our neighbors over. But I had misread the recipe earlier in the week, and thought it would take less time than it actually did. (The ingredient list was short, but I had not noticed on first reading that it was a time-intensive recipe.) So, the dish in the end was okay, but not as good as it could have been. Still, it was fun making it, and we all enjoyed being together and drinking wine and talking about our week. The point I want to make here is that cooking doesn’t have to be fraught with anxiety. It’s not rocket science. Sometimes it’s not going to work out like you want it to, but the experimentation is part of the fun.

#2 Comment By Kurt Gayle On September 13, 2014 @ 10:33 am

“Why Cooking Is More Fun Than You Think”

It has to be.

#3 Comment By Jones On September 13, 2014 @ 10:44 am

Cooking is fun; but the truth is a lot of people don’t know how to have fun anymore. I mean in the upper middle class, mainly. They won’t attempt anything unless there’s some sort of achievement involved. Hence the cookbooks and equipment and one-upmanship. That’s not what cooking is about. But when you’ve lost the entire organic conception of family life, hence of the pleasures it affords, how could you understand cooking?

#4 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 13, 2014 @ 11:10 am

Cooking certainly can be a creative and fun thing.

I think Marcotte’s point though, which got lost in the ensuing, er, food fight, is that cooking for multiple people, when you “have to” (as part of the underlying “deal” of a marriage or living together arrangement) is a lot of work. Gardening can be fun too, but that hardly means that being a farm laborer is not a burdensome job. Indeed, almost any activity can be conceived of as either work or leisure, depending on the context. And, in the context of “having to” cook, every day, and please multiple people with differing tastes, it can be quite a burden.

Leaving aside Marcotte’s feminist bias, it is still a fact that cooking in such circumstances is work, not a hobby. And it is no answer to say that people should not be “picky.” For one thing, it is not right to force children to eat food that they don’t like, and that can lead to eating disorders. For another, it is easy enough to say that children “should” be open minded and at least try new things etc, but who wants to fight that battle every night? Also, when it comes to husbands and BFs (or wives and GFs), an adult is not going to take kindly to be bullied into eating foods that they would rather skip.

The whole “picky” thing is overrated. Some people just have simple palates, and don’t like a lot of spices. Force feeding them is not going to work. Moreover, many people think of food in a different way…they are gourmands, not gourmets. Folks who work all day, and more or less just “grab something” until they come home, want, for their big meal of the day, one of their tried and true foods, and a lot of it. They don’t want something that they may turn out to not like, and thus not want a lot of. Even in restaurants, such folks stick to favorites, not because they necessarily are afraid to try a new food, but for fear that if they don’t like it they will have “blown” their dinner choice, and be left hungry, when they could have had something they know they like. That’s why folks will be more likely to try “a bite” of something new off your plate than order it for dinner themselves.

Then too, and here is where the feminism is more valid, some people, mostly women, feel like they have been dragooned into doing the cooking, especially when it is for a whole family. If you don’t like a task, and resent being “made” to do it, then it will never seem like fun, and you will look for shortcuts. And the shortcuts (pre made foods, fast food, dining out frequently) were the very thing being criticized. Moreover, the use of any shortcut at all was being derided as a crime against your family’s health, the environment, and probably humanity as well. And, the main guy went so far as to say if you spent ANY time or money on a fun thing (movies, magazines, whatever), well then you, since you are not a hardship case, are obligated to cook his time consuming, from scratch way. (And it didn’t help that it was on an organic farmer saying this….basically promoting his own product, which makes his moralizing seem like self promoting humbug!)

Another thing to consider is that some people simply are not good at cooking. Try as they might, they lack the indefinable knack that makes a good cook. Which makes dining at home kinda of a drag for everyone. The cook tries and tries. She makes new recipes, she tries to improve old ones. Husband or BF does not want to be a jerk, but the food is just not good. Even simple dishes don’t come out right. And the kids hate it.

All of these reasons contribute to the “anxiety” of home cooking. And “foodies” need to keep these realities in mind, when they tell other folks about how much fun cooking is, and how easy it is to make all different kinds of dishes.

#5 Comment By Bart W On September 13, 2014 @ 11:45 am

What even makes cooking more exciting for me is the fact that I grow a 1/2 garden and often take fresh seasonal food straight from the garden to the kitchen. It is a joy to create the dish from seed to the dinner table.

#6 Comment By lawguy On September 13, 2014 @ 12:05 pm

Enjoyed this article. Cooking is surprisingly easy, and can be lots of fun.

I think the key for making cooking easy and fun however, is a single word you mention in your question ‘why do I love home cooking so much? The word is ‘home.’ Coming to an empty flat at the end of a 16hr day, no matter how ‘easy’ something is, or how much fun (I’m not being facetious) cooking is, I’m far more likely to quickly turn to the dubious solace of a book, television series, or form to fill out than I am to whipping up a quick and delicious omelette.

#7 Comment By Sam M On September 13, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

I agree with you about the possible joys, but some people just aren’t going to see it. People who garden can talk to me until they are blue in the face; I am still not going to love gardening. Same with working on cars, fly fishing and a host of other things. That’s not to say that I don’t see why others might love it, or that I think these things are inherently worthless. I just happen to find those things tedious.

Same goes for exercise. If you are the kind of person who gets the runner’s high and who can’t make it through the day without a five-miler in the morning, man are you lucky because staying in shape is important. For others it will always be work, or something they simply choose not to do.

People who love to cook are fortunate in a similar way. You need to cook. It saves you money. Stuff you eat tastes better. Still, you are never going to convince people that it’s fun if they don’t think it is. You might convince some people to try it, and overcoming their anxieties might open them to something they might learn to enjoy. But some people are always going to view it as a chore.

#8 Comment By Andy On September 15, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

This post was way better than it’s title. Obviously some people just don’t like cooking, and some don’t like variety in food. Nobody’s tastes are universal, and if you like something that other people dislike, that doesn’t imply you have anything you need to explain to those people. Attempting to do so is just going to make them hate the thing (and you) even more.

I agree with philadelphialawyer on the idea that we shouldn’t force kids to eat foods they don’t want. My parents made me eat at least some of everything they cooked. I hated it intensely then, and I am not an open-minded eater as an adult (and likely never will be). I equate variety in eating with people forcing gross things in my mouth, and I always assume even fast food is going to taste better than someone’s home cooking.

If you want your picky kids to grow up to be picky, narrow-minded adults, go ahead and force them to eat things. It’s both dumb and cruel, but you are well within your rights to use stubborn, ineffective methods to parent your kids. Be sure to enjoy the sense of authority, because your kids aren’t going to be enjoying much of anything at the dinner table for years to come.

#9 Comment By Eva On May 8, 2018 @ 12:58 am

Cooking is fun cuz it is