Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking

Retirement was not my dream in 2012. My role as a contract project manager suited my personality. I lead a team of bright, dedicated professionals in work that was challenging and worthwhile. The project required me to learn an unfamiliar technology, a useful brain exercise in my early sixties. Every morning I logged onto my laptop and joined the VPN with expectations of yet another productive day. The best part: I worked from home 100% of the time.

And therein lay the problem. My retired husband found my early morning conference calls with colleagues around the globe a major impediment to his nine hours of sleep. Somehow he enlisted two of my best friends to pile on and convince me that it was in his best interest for me to join him in retirement. So, with great reluctance and some resentment, I retired for the last time.

I extracted a promise from my husband. “No way am I becoming a housewife! We will always have a cleaning person and we’ll split laundry, shopping, and cooking!” He promised and our arrangement worked pretty well over the years. Our cleaning crew kept our home sparkling. I did bristle at my gradually evolving role as the laundry fairy, but hubby did his share of grocery shopping and helped with cooking. At first I enjoyed having time to cook. Cooking classes at home and abroad inspired us to try new recipes and polish old skills.

As classes and volunteer work absorbed more of my time, cooking became a how-fast-can-I-get-a-meal-on-the-table routine. Simple cooking became my forte. The elaborate gourmet recipes that required hours were banished from the kitchen. Healthy and quick…salads, omelettes, roasts. Cooking by rote, not love.

We ate out more often. Lunches, dinners, breakfast…whenever the larder was low we would head out to a local favorite eating spot. At least weekly, I repeated my mother’s refrain, “After blah-blah-blah years of cooking, I am done!”

And then came Shelter in Place…and eating out was no longer an option. Running to the grocery store for a last minute frozen dinner was not possible. Early in the isolation period we enrolled in a meal delivery services. Once weekly, a box with ingredients and recipes arrives at our door. My initial reaction was delight in both the quality of the food items and the delicious meals that resulted. Hubby was over the top happy with a home-cooked dinner every night.

By the second week all that cooking was stressing me out. Chopping, slicing, grating, browning and other tasks required to get a meal on the table overwhelmed me. It felt like managing a huge off-schedule project every night. I was beginning to dread meal prep.

Then a revelation…cooking dinner could be a journey, not a race. It was all about perception! So, taking the most complicated of the week’s recipes in hand, I planned my mise en place. Glass bowls for each ingredient covered the countertop. I took time to appreciate the quality of each ingredient; the fresh aroma of the cilantro, the deep green of the pepper, the unblemished flesh of the sweet potato, the firmness of the fish. I cut, diced, and minced with care.

Not until every ingredient was ready did I turn on the oven and heat the oil in the pan. I relaxed over the course of the prep…reminding myself to be grateful that we had such a bounty of good food in such a challenging time.

So this change in perception seems to work for food prep, but laundry? Hmmm…

Veggies ready to roast! To be topped with pan-roasted barramundi…yum.

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