No Fear, Julia

Tuesday was a good day.

Monday I had gone for a massive grocery shop.  After three weeks of budget shopping–often $25 to $40 below our week’s grocery budget–I swung to the opposite end of the spectrum and gathered together a trunkful of food.  And then, Tuesday, after work, I fired up my stove.

At one point I had every pot we own bubbling on the burners.  Two of the meals I made required 3-5 hours of simmering, so two burners were always taken, and I kept the other two on a rotating schedule, alternating between cooking pasta and sauteeing garlic-and-mushrooms.  I had a stack of Tupperware and Pyrex dishes on the table, which I tossed in our empty freezer as fast as I could fill them.

All in all, for two people, we now have:
–two meals’ worth of taco makings
–six meals’ worth of my Black Forest Chili
–two meals’ worth of Chicken Parmesan with shell pasta
–four meals’ worth of Pot Roast with baby carrots and mushrooms in red wine gravy
all frozen, requiring only to be heated in order to be eaten.

At the same time, I picked tomatoes and basil from our little container garden, tossed in olive oil and garlic, covered with Romano cheese, and had a salad ready for that evening.

It was a good feeling, looking at that filled freezer.  It made me feel that I had been productive, and that I could provide for my family with knowhow if not financially.  When I cook, life’s problems are narrowed down to “how hot should this pot be?” or “I don’t have cilantro, what could I substitute it with?”  I know how to cook, a combination of experience and instinct that rarely steers me wrong–I’m confident in the kitchen in a way that I rarely am in my occupation.

It was a welcome treat to be able to give a culinary performance like that.  My wife was thrilled.  She hasn’t done as much cooking as I have–and though she follows a recipe wonderfully, she doesn’t have the confidence to bushwhack when the recipe fails, or make one up when there is no recipe.  I try to help her, to give her the room to experiment and play around without pressure, but other than that I don’t know how I can share my confidence with her.  I don’t even know why I have it–or how to transport it to the other realms of my life where I lack it.

I think part of it has to do with thinking too much.  There are certain activities–bowling, for example, or golf–in which you have to be careful not to over-think your action, or you’ll mess yourself up.  You just have to shut off your conscious mind and do.  Dr. Ruth mentions the same thing about sex–she claims that the tendency to analyze during sex can kill the moment, a tendency she calls spectatoring.  And the Japanese samurai had a similar concept in regards to combat–the practice of no-thing (as Musashi called it), or (as The Last Samurai put it, as the reason Algren was getting his butt kicked,) “Too many mind… Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind the enemy, too many mind…  No mind.”

I remember one time when Alban and I were cooking together.  Alban is a meticulous cook, who measures precisely–which perhaps is the reason that he can bake and I cannot.  I remember watching him make a Southwestern Soup while I was making guacamole.  He was leveling off each measuring cup’s worth of spices before pouring it into the soup.  (When his back was turned, I flicked some extra parsley into the soup, just to mess with him.)  By contrast, I, who was supposed to add two cups of lime juice, just kept squeezing limes into my guac without measuring.  When it felt right, I stopped.  Now, both of our creations came out excellent–don’t get me wrong.  But the next day Alban tried to recreate that guacamole and it didn’t come out as good… until he doubled the lime juice.  I guess, when I cook, it’s that Zen-like “No Mind” that allows me to follow my gut (no pun intended) and mess with or adapt recipes without the fear of getting to wrong.

I would love to work that into my teaching.  I would love to be better able to adapt my lectures on the spot, or even make up a new one from scratch.  I would love to not be so afraid of being caught looking stupid in front of my students.  Sometimes I find that zone–usually in classes I’m more familiar with, classes I’ve taught six or seven times before.  But not often enough.

I would love to work that into my finances.  I would love to not be so afraid of the lack of money, love for money to have less of a grip on me.  I would love to be confident enough to just spin the metaphorical spice rack and try something new.

Perhaps, by way of practice, I just need to cook more.


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