"Let's cook," Frannie said energetically. "We will smell so good that they'll all come running." She picked up a bowl, filled it with apples from the barrel, and immediately began to cut them up. I put water to boil, got out cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, lard, flour, sugar, salt, saleratus, vinegar, and all the other things for apple pies. We both laughed happily. How easy it is, we thought, to make a decision, to implement a remedy, to act.”
― Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab's Wife, or The Star-Gazer
This week was the conclusion of a 6-week cooking class I took at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. I wanted to approach this with a beginner's mind so I discovered a great deal, not only about cooking but about learning and myself.
What did I learn, in my adventure into cooking and beginner's mind? A few things, all of which can be taken literally or metaphorically.
Sharp knives matter. Cutting with a dull knife takes longer, requires more effort and you're much more likely to hurt yourself. Make sure your knife is honed as well as sharpened even if you have to expend a little bit of energy to make it so.
Use the knife that fits your hand. No matter how big, flashy or expensive, if you can't use it comfortably you won't use it well.
When in doubt, add a little more butter. Okay, this may not apply to everything, but almost everything. A little bit of richness in the mouth or in our lives isn't necessarily a bad thing. Even if you have cholesterol problems.
Don't be afraid to cook with strangers. I was nervous about taking this class with a bunch of people I'd not met. What if we didn't like each other? What if they didn't like me? It turns out, we all played really well together. And that leads to
Be willing to make mistakes. Most things can be fixed or started over. I took this class so I could make mistakes and learn solutions. If you break the mayonnaise, you can probably fix it. If you burn the steak, the world will not end.
Follow the recipe on occasion. Most of my adult cooking life has not revolved around recipes, for all that I have a thing for cookbooks. This class reminded me that it's not a bad idea to follow the tried and true sometimes, learning from other's experience can be delicious and only adds to my own expertise.
My favorite place to dance is the kitchen. I've always loved to dance with my sweetie in the kitchen. And I usually have the radio on when I'm cooking, so I'm often wiggling some extraneous part of my body. But during this class, there were 14 or so people moving around the kitchen all the time. We had to dance with each other in new ways, much the way we have to dance through every day, moving and yielding, holding still, letting others know when there might be a hazard in their path.
You can cook anywhere, but professional kitchens are amazing. I've cooked over fires, hotplates, in sinks, on rocks and in many apartment kitchens with dysfunctional stoves. I've made good meals in all of those places. I have to say, cooking in a professional kitchen, with that astonishing stove and those wonderful tools, was eye opening. It's nice to do a job in a place well built for it.
Ingredients matter. We used good basic ingredients in this class. I'm certain that made our finished dishes taste better. What you start with makes a difference in the end.
Cook and eat joyfully. Really, is there anything else for me to say?