Eat better: escape the tyranny of perfect cooking
It propels us to wellness but how do we keep on cooking when we just don’t feel like it?
When bad things happen in our lives, we stop cooking.
And that just makes the bad things worse.
We get sick and, with our appetite dwindling, we can’t be bothered to make dinner.
We’re stressed because we have too much work to do, so we just order a meatball pizza and collapse down on the couch.
Climb a cliff, take a hike, join a meditation group, run 5km, walk the dog, play some tennis
We don’t even have the energy to ask what on earth a meatball is doing on a pizza.
You may be alone in the house after a separation or a bereavement, and who can be bothered to cook for one? Most cooking, after all, is done for others: to feed people, to share, to break bread together.
So, it’s yet another plastic carton of salty soup for dinner.
Its taken for granted these days in the medical establishment that the first step to maintaining our health and wellbeing is to be engaged: climb a cliff, take a hike, join a meditation group, run 5km, walk the dog, play some tennis.
When we are low, when we are at risk, it is engagement that keeps the blood coursing through the veins. It is engagement that propels us to wellness.
But the most complex engagement we create in our lives is what we do in the kitchen. Cooking delivers health because it engages all our senses, and it delivers health because we then get to enjoy the healthy nourishment we have prepared. It’s win-win.
So, the challenge is this: how do we keep on cooking when we don’t feel like cooking?
The first step is to solve the problem of just what dinner is.
The brilliant American food writer Melissa Clark addresses this in her new book, Dinner: Changing the Game. “At home, dinner still often means a protein and two sides. A meat-and-two-veg. And this can make cooking dinner night after night a challenge because it ignores our evolution as a food culture. That’s not how most of us eat – or want to eat – on a daily basis.”
Clark wants us to find “a path out of the tyranny of a perfectly composed plate with three distinct elements in separate little piles”.
That tyranny lies in the fact that to make the mash you have first got to peel the spuds. The tyranny is being afraid of overcooking the fish. The tyranny is the fact that you feel guilty about eating frozen peas for the fourth night in a row.
When you find yourself pulling a dish of pizza chicken out of the oven, the tyranny has been vanquished
But good, healthy food at dinnertime can be as simple as you want it to be. Complexity doesn’t make for better eating.
A lot of the dishes Clark makes involve firing a bunch of ingredients into an oven tray and then bunging it into the oven. Twenty minutes later, and you’re enjoying anchovy chicken, or pork scallopini with sage and apples (a real beauty, that one), or braised chickpeas with chard.
These dishes are more about combining than cooking. Technique is minimal, and so is effort. When you find yourself pulling a dish of pizza chicken out of the oven, the tyranny has been vanquished.
You fought the fear of cooking, and you won. And you just found the secret of how to keep on cooking.
Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter)
John McKenna is editor at guides.ie