Joy of eating is well worth the job of cooking


COOKING IS WORK, but it is worth it. I say this after reading several recent newspaper stories about folks happily proclaiming that they don't cook. Some of the noncooks boasted that they eat most of their evening meals in restaurants. Others gleefully said they had stopped cooking and had hired chefs to prepare meals and put them in the home freezer for reheating later.

The articles made me realize that, while different things make people happy, I gotta live in a "cooking house," an abode with an active, aromatic kitchen. I like the aromas and routines that cooking produces. I have grown accustomed to the commotion and demands that go with fixing a meal.

Cooking generates odors, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not, but they fill up a house and affect the residents. A pot of meat sauce simmering on a stove, for example, can rouse even somnolent teen-agers.

Some of the smells associated with cooking are less than uplifting. You burn the toast, for instance, and the whole family gets on your case. You singe the bacon, and your once-loving clan becomes a pack of heartless food critics. You forget about the raw ground beef in the back of the fridge, and the smell of the spoiled beef makes you feel both nauseous and guilty that you didn't see it sooner.

But for me, the off-smells are part of the equation. The burned toast makes the freshly baked bread smell all the sweeter.

I also like the fact that cooking results in the residents of a dwelling gathering at a table for social interaction. Usually it is called supper. And while the exchange among the table sitters is not always scintillating, it is, nonetheless, time that the clan spends together. There is a chance for conversation - about work, or school, or about whether the roast chicken has too much lemon peel stuck under its skin.

Eating alone is not nearly as enjoyable as eating with others. But I always view solo meals as a chance to reward myself. The meatballs left over from a spaghetti supper become the main ingredient in one of my favorite, all-by-myself sandwiches - meatballs covered with grated Parmesan. Having leftovers in the fridge and a hunk of Parmesan cheese at the ready are fringe benefits of living in a house with a working kitchen.

There is a fair amount of drudgery involved in cooking. Washing the dishes and mopping up spills is hard work. Even though it can occasion-ally be fun to swap jokes with the butcher, going grocery shopping is primarily a task, not a frolic. But for me, the reward of a good meal, cooked to my taste, is worth the work.

While doing a little library research, I found a soup of statistics on cooking trends in America. Stir the soup one way, and you see that ever since Swanson introduced TV dinners in 1954, the amount of time Americans spend cooking has been dropping.

Some people, according to American Demographics magazine, spend less time cooking than brushing their teeth. I took this to mean that there are folks who have dazzling choppers but don't know how to make the best use of them, chowing down on home-cooked meals.

When I stirred the soup of statistics another way, I found that 42 percent of the adults who cook say they really enjoy it. This, according to a Roper poll of New Yorkers, represents a 5 percent increase from a 1987 survey.

I took this as proof that cooking - and all its many smells and pleasures - can make anybody happier, even a New Yorker.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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