Because It’s The Best Time to Learn
If you ask me what I received for Christmas five years ago or even last year, I couldn’t tell you. If you asked me what I ate or what I cooked, I could describe every detail down to the last crumb of cobbler consumed. I don’t make wish lists for my birthday or upcoming holidays; I make recipe lists. I make lists of possible dinner menus to meet every kind of palette, lists of the best holiday treats for my annual cookie exchange, and lists of every pie I wish to consume on Turkey Day. I look forward to the holidays because it means coming together with family and friends, cooking for the people I love, and of course stuffing my face with all my favorite treats. There is no better way to bond with the important people in my life than over a glutinous plate of slow-roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cornbread, cranberry sauce….and I could keep going, but I think you get the point. Holiday season is a time to relax and enjoy the little things around you, but it is not all fun and games to me. Specifically, Thanksgiving Day is the day I make all my culinary expertise shine. Bringing out the best of the best recipes, managing time down to the last second, and fighting through the aching pains of standing all day, Thanksgiving is my Super Bowl.
Strapping on my pink floral apron (an heirloom passed down through the generations from my great-grandmother), I take the kitchen by storm starting at 8 am on the dot. Now, I am not naïve when it comes to this great American holiday. I make as many preparations as possible in the days leading up to game day. This ranges from simply peeling and cutting the vegetables before the big day to completely assembling the casseroles, so they just need a quick bake and you’re good to go. However, this year is different than the rest. Christened captain of the turkey, I am now the leader of kitchen operations. A momentous moment in my life, which I feel could only be justified by an appropriate crowning ceremony followed by neighborhood parade; I am officially one of the Bodden/Willig women.
Obviously, I realize this sounds a bit dramatic to most, but that’s only because those individuals have yet to realize the true magic of cooking. I grew up baking with grandma on the holidays, making my family dinner every Sunday, and watching hours of Food Network daily. I live through my passion to cook, bake, and eat everything delicious. Even though cooking may not get your blood pumping like it does for me, it’s a basic skill everyone should know. I believe everyone should learn to cook because it’s good for you, anyone can do it, and it’s the best way to spend time with family and friends. In honor of this upcoming holiday that was based on a great feast, bringing together people of different nations, cultures, and backgrounds and that ultimately paving way for our country, I call people of all culinary backgrounds to lend a hand in the kitchen and have fun with it. Why? Because you can.
Cooking puts you in charge of what you eat. When cooking for yourself or others you see the exact ingredients that make up the food you consume. If you buy ingredients, instead of bringing home frozen or processed food, you will pay more attention to what is in season, which means you will eat food that’s fresher, better for the environment and good for the regional economy. USA Today reported in July that most people are consuming less than half their daily-recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. On average anyone who consumes a 2,000-calorie diet is supposed to eat 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day. I know personally that cooking forces me to pay attention to food groups, keeping a balance diet, and making sure I providing the right nutrition for my body. Additionally, cooking and grocery shopping is one of the best therapies for stress and anxiety. Nothing does my mind better than strolling the aisles of central market, picking out fun new items for a recipe I’ve been wanting to try, maybe stopping to admire the ice cream section for a little, and then hitting the kitchen like there’s no tomorrow. This process helps me slow down and clear my thoughts. It may sound crazy, but you cannot judge until you’ve actually done it. In fact, New York Daily News reported that cooking is a great destresser because it serves as a creative outlet. Debbie Mandel, author of “Addicted to Stress,” states, “While stress can numb your senses, cooking activates them. The sensory experience with aroma, taste, touch, visual delight, and sizzling noises allows for instant gratification.” Another way cooking may relieve stress is knowing that meals made at home rather than a fast-food chain restaurant will not only make your body happy, but your wallet as well. WebMD reported that while 75% of us eat most dinners at home, less than 60% of us actually prepare them in our kitchens. According to New York Times columnist Mark Bittman in his book “Cooking Solves Everything,” almost a third of the calories we eat come from restaurants, almost double the percentage of 30 years ago and seven percent of Americans say they never cook. In fact, Americans spend less time cooking than any other country. America is one of the most competitive countries in the world, so this should be motivation alone.
Most people have a fear of cooking or choose simply not to do it because they think you need a culinary background in order to successful put together a meal. Well fear not because this is where recipes come into play. These step-by-step processes, tell you how much of each ingredient you need, when you need them, and most even have pictures. The next issue is people think cooking takes too long and as Mark Bittman puts it, “We don’t cook for pleasure the way we watch a movie for pleasure. We cook the way we walk: to get somewhere. To get food on the table.” First you may follow recipes and yes the fire alarm might go off and yes you might completely burn your entire dinner, but the more you do it the better you get at it. Eventually you’ll throw away the books, start shopping, open the refrigerator and cook like grandma or anyone with experience. The best example of this is Julia Child. For those of you who do not know her, Julia was an American chef, author, and television personality responsible for bringing French cuisine to the American public in the 1960’s. Julia didn’t discover cooking until age 32 and yet she was still able to achieve awards and milestones most chefs with extensive backgrounds cannot. A great motto to remember from her is, “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” Furthermore, the National Restaurant Association survey reported that a third of Americans think that take-out makes them “more productive.” Well cooking in batches or larger quantities allows you to not only make one cooking effort last three maybe even four nights, but also enables you to freeze meals for later in the month. More than half of America doesn’t cook because they think they can’t duplicate the “taste sensations” of restaurants at home. Well these “taste sensations” are excessive butter, MSG’s, salt and fat. Keeping meals simple at home not only cuts down time, but allows you to get the real taste of the food you are eating without added flavors.
There’s a quote that hangs in my kitchen at home that says, “The kitchen is where memories are made.” The kitchen for me is where birthdays are celebrated, holiday meals are prepared and eaten, countless Christmas cookies are assembled for distribution, my family gathers to share the day’s events, and basically all my best memories growing up were made. This time of the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas is my favorite because it means amazing food and coming home to quality time with family and friends. Whether society made it this way or families have always enjoyed a good meal together, holidays events are centered around food between the process of making it to the last piece of pie eaten. This year I vividly remember standing in the kitchen the entire day before Thanksgiving working alongside my mom and grandma, making sure every last crumb was perfect for dinner the next day. Even though my feet are aching by the end, it’s a tradition I am proud to take part in because it allows me to grow closer to the people I love and give back to the people I love. Things may not always go as planned though. One year I tripped carrying the pumpkin pie to the oven and spilt the entire contents across the kitchen floor and another year our black lab decided to help herself the sweet potato casserole. Good or bad, I look back now and smile. These are stories I will never forget. In addition, being a part of the kitchen growing up I learned skills I will use my entire life and pass on to my kids one day. Teaching children how to cook creates a warming atmosphere that opens the lines of communication between parents as well as friends. Cooking quickly leads to laughing and talking as you work to create something together. When you do it with the people that mean the most to you, cooking becomes a fun and gratifying thing.
In the constant chaos of papers, finals, soccer practice, and other dramas of life I find my solace in the kitchen. Cooking to me is a symbol of empowerment, family time, a healthy lifestyle, good times with friends, and so much more. It plays a strong role in all of our lives, so why not make the most of it and embrace it. You may not get butterflies in your stomach like I do when I think about cooking, but everyone can find something they love about it. Like Julia Child said, “Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”