I haven’t always enjoyed cooking. Cooking used to be a chore. A necessary part of daily life that I wouldn’t choose to do for fun. If I’d had it my way, I would eat out, pour a bowl of Cheerios, open a box of Hamburger Helper, or make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner. Deep down I knew that overall health was important, so I might toss a salad into the weekly routine, which would consist of iceburg lettuce, a few pieces of an orangey tomato, pale carrots, and a handful of chic peas. Drenched in ranch dressing and topped with glutenous croutons, of course.
It took learning of my gluten-intolerance to change my view of cooking and of food in general. But realizing that I would never again eat glutenous foods didn’t make me love cooking. It actually made the idea of cooking seem even less appealing. How would I cook without my Kraft macaroni and cheese boxes? And the boxes of pasta that I’d pour into boiling water for 6 minutes, and then simply top with a jar tomato sauce? Nothing would ever be that simple again. How would I even make sandwiches? And even my beloved cereals were no longer an option. How was I going to cook? How was I going to survive?
My idea of cooking, as well as my idea of healthy eating, needed a major overhaul.
A community of gluten-free food bloggers began discussing this topic on Twitter when Gluten-Free Girl asked us to respond to the following: “I began cooking more often, and enjoying it, when I learned…” Fill in the blank. I don’t have one simple response for this, because enjoying cooking has been a process for me. But here are some of my thoughts.
1. I began cooking more often, and enjoying it, when I learned that there was more to gluten-free living than just finding prepackaged replacements for foods that I used to love. I have always loved chocolate chip cookies. And I really mean love. One of the first things that I ever learned to bake were Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookies. So, gluten-free cookies were one of the first products I went searching for. I did find several versions of a chocolate chip cookie, but they weren’t soft and pliable, the chocolate didn’t ooze, and the smell didn’t flood my home and my mind with memories. They were too crunchy, too crumbly, too store-bought tasting, too dry, too synthetic, and they had an unpleasant aftertaste that I would endure just to satisfy my sweets craving. Today, there are a lot of really great products out there that will do in a pinch. But simply replacing the foods that I loved with a box on the shelf labeled “gluten-free” usually leaves me feeling unsatisfied. They may taste similar to the original, but something is always missing.
But this came from my oven.
2. I began cooking more often, and enjoying it, when I learned that there was an unexpected exhilaration that came from creating cookies, cakes, brownies, and then entire meals in my own kitchen. And when those creations actually tasted better than what I could have bought at a store or a restaurant, I was ecstatic! Look at what I just did! If the meal were a painting, I would have framed it. If it were a report card, I would have taped it to the refrigerator door. Man, was I proud.
3. I began cooking more often, and enjoying it, when I learned that food is more than fuel. I used to eat mindlessly, filling up at required times. But I’m learning to slow down and taste my food. To savor flavors. To discriminate tastes. To appreciate textures and colors. To be drawn in by the aroma. To enjoy the experience of eating. If food was meant be fuel alone, we would have been created with a gas tank. Instead, we’ve been given a discerning sense of smell and taste buds with which we can experience the sweetness of a summer strawberry, the tartness of a fall apple, the kick of curried chicken, and a saltiness of a cracker spread with goat cheese and olives. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8
4. But I really think that the event that made me start cooking more often, and enjoying it, was when I learned that locally grown, organic foods tasted so much better than the vegetables I had been buying at the grocery store. This year we joined a CSA with Bountiful Blessings Farm. I had no idea what we were getting into, but in our quest for healthier living, we decided to give it a try. I was sold with the first carrot I bit into. It tasted like carrots infused with carrot flavor. It was as if the carrot had been injected with the juice of ten carrots in a laboratory. Then I realized that the carrots that I was used to eating were not just depleted of flavor but of nutrients as well. They were just a shell of what carrots are meant to be. Never in my life had I been inspired to learn how to make Curried Carrot Soup until that moment. In addition, our deliveries included vegetables that I’d never heard of before. It became a challenge to learn what the vegetables were and how to cook them.
5. I began cooking more often, and enjoying it, when I learned that gluten-free food could be delicious. Without even thinking, that was my original response that I tweeted to Gluten-Free Girl. Gluten-free living is delicious!!! It’s not about “going without”, eating dry, crumbling breads, or suffering through crackers that taste like sand. Gluten-free living is delicious!
Look at this pizza!
Or do you prefer mushrooms?
As much as I love to go out to eat, I’m going to have to travel to the east or west coast to find a pizza that looks and tastes like the these that I can make at home.
It has been a process, but it’s been a process well worth the effort. We are healthier, we’re eating foods that come directly from the earth, I am loving my time in the kitchen, and we feel great. If it took a gluten-intolerance diagnosis to reach this point, I know my life is richer because of it.
I’d love to know. Do you enjoy cooking? What did it take for you to start enjoying it? If you need a little inspiration, check out the stories written by some fellow bloggers. I’d love to hear your thoughts!