Monday, February 8, 2010

0 Connecting With Your Inner Chef: How To Get In The Mood To Cook

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Depending on your own culinary background & experience, you might find that certain aspects of cooking come more easily/naturally to you than others. While it's true that some people have more of a knack for cooking & combining flavors than others, it's not an impossible activity to learn. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

It certainly helps if you pay attention to your immediate environs & open yourself up to your senses, as well as new ways of thinking about food, your kitchen & your cooking, & well heck, even yourself. I'm not recommending you go into psychoanalysis in order to gain a full comprehension of cooking, but hopefully you get my point. Cooking is an exploration of the senses on a very profound level, & that requires that you get in touch with those senses. ;-)

It also requires you to suspend any self-doubt & fears you might have about exploring those senses, & instead, to just be. And that means also being in a relaxed state of mind, & being aware, alive, & in the present moment. You've probably heard these ideas expressed many times before, albeit in a completely different context. Usually, as a disquisition on living one's life to the fullest.  However, in this context, it takes on a whole new meaning.

Also, if this sort of connection with your own senses doesn't come naturally to you, or you find that you're just out of practice, there are a few things you can do to greatly increase your chances of putting yourself in the proper headspace to cook a good meal:

For starters, I find it often helps to place yourself in pleasant visual, aural, & olfactory surroundings -- For example, a clean, nice-smelling kitchen -- perhaps with some pleasing music playing in the background -- is much more inspiring to work in than a dirty, smelly one with unpleasant noises! ;-) If that means cleaning or tidying up your kitchen, or perhaps rearranging it or removing clutter, then do what you have to do to get the intended positive effect.

In particular, I like to cook to music or watch TV shows about cooking, vegetable gardening, & fresh food.

Maybe for some of you that means putting on a recording of La Bohème, while others of you would prefer to listen to The Dark Side of The Moon, or What's the 411? It doesn't matter what your musical taste or mood is at the moment. Whatever the heck does the trick, & mentally & emotionally gets you there as an individual is what it's all about.  Do whatever works to put yourself in the proper state of mind to cook.

It also helps to visualize the experience.  Imagine yourself cooking wonderful dishes that you & your family will love.  A little creative visualization in the kitchen can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, or at least give it a nudge in the right direction. :)

Here's something else you might want to try: Enter the kitchen when you are slightly hungry -- but not famished! That usually puts your senses into overdrive & also provides the right sort of incentives/motivation to cook something delicious. :-D

All of these elements help me to "get in the mood" -- to cook!, that is. ;-)

I know it might sound bizarre to some, but never underestimate the power of "mood as atmosphere" when it comes to your "cucina." If the ideas expressed in "Like Water For Chocolate" gave you a few head-nodding moments, then you are already well aware of these ideas.

Speaking of which, it's been my experience that the same people who have a certain sensitivity to the world around them -- whether this faculty has been developed via the arts or sciences -- & also appreciate & enjoy life's pleasures, both great & small, tend to be better cooks than those individuals who does not possess these abilities or areas of knowledge. Quite bluntly put, a passion for life is one of the basic ingredients for good cooking. :)  It also helps if one adventures fearlessly into the unknown -- A little culinary exploration is good for the soul!

And, as cooking is both an art & a science, those among us who are open to understanding both, usually make the best cooks.

On that note, I believe that it's never to late to learn the art of cooking -- even for the microwaving crowd & the most cooking-challenged (!) -- nor is it ever a lost cause. It just requires a reconnection of the mind & soul to each other. Find your sources of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing. Put your head & your heart in a different space for a while to get a new perspective, recharge your mental batteries, & reinvigorate your approach to the activity itself.  Allow yourself to be truly moved by atmosphere. Take in the experience like you would sip hot soup or a mug of cocoa on a cold winter's day. The act of reconnecting with the sensory experiences of cooking will help you to find your "inner chef." ;-)

Exactly how this comes about is hard for me to put into words. I can't explain how I know that certain combinations of spices just go together -- some of it is experience, some of it is just using my senses -- but I just do. It's part intuition & part experience. Give yourself over to that, & you'll surprise yourself with what you can accomplish in the kitchen.

Of course, there's the practical side of this equation as well. It surely helps to watch people who know what they are doing in the kitchen. Learn alongside people who can not only can follow a recipe but can also conjure dishes from the top of their head. It also helps to participate actively in the process: Cook with others. Dive right in & don't hold back; it's learning by doing. Involve others around you (willingly!) in the cooking process. For most of us, it's more fun to cook with the help & input of others.

When you learn something new, share it. This will benefit all involved -- It'll help you reinforce your newly-obtained knowledge, & it'll help others to learn something new & possibly expand their recipe repertoire. Plus, the gesture of passing on your knowledge to those who are ready & receptive is a generous thing to do.

Cooking is not just about the final product. It's about the experience of it all, & if done as a joint venture, can be an enjoyable communal experience, just like the activity of gathering around the dinner table to eat. :)

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