What do we need to live? There are few things that we genuinely need rather than want. At the risk of turning into a scientist, oxygen is probably our number one priority – without it our cells can stay alive for only around 6-10 minutes and it takes much less time to lose consciousness. Water features (pardon the pun) at number two. The human body is more than 60% water and we can only last without it for an average of 3-5 days. Number three would probably be food.
I love food. There, I’ve admitted it to the whole world (well, perhaps only to you wonderful few). I get excited by a beautiful looking plate of food teaming with fantastic colours and textures. I love letting my taste buds taking a spin through varied and exuberant flavours from a simple steak and chips (which in itself seems to come as a major challenge to many British chefs – rare doesn’t mean grey all the way through) to a gorgeous Michelin starred concoction with gloriously rich sauces on the side.
I imagine that it isn’t much of a surprise for you to learn that I also love cooking. I’ve always quite enjoyed the feeling of creating something exciting out of some very insignificant ingredients but until recently that was restricted to a fairly limited range of cooking “standards” (to borrow the use of a word from musical theatre). Only over the last couple of years have I turned to more exotic creations; some from classic recipe books and some from my own fair hands. In the winter months I have wasted hours baking bread, cakes, muffins and pies whilst testing out new ideas of other exciting meals. A new source of inspiration last year was creating curries from scratch and trying all manner of different variations of rice, meat curries, vegetarian curries, cleansing curries – you name I tried it and have a cupboard packed with spices to boot.
I fully advocate the idea of spending time doing something you really love; absorbing yourself in it so that the hours slide by and before you know it a whole day has passed. But there is a condition – whatever you do must energise you or make you feel more like YOURSELF and not take away from the amazing person that you are.
My problem with these over-excited cooking efforts was not that I didn’t enjoy myself. In fact after a long day in the office it was often very therapeutic to turn on soft kitchen lights and absorb myself in my own little world. No, the problem was that the underlying reason for all this excessive effort was not because I enjoyed the process and certainly not because I enjoyed eating the end result. Instead, on some unconscious level I was trying to prove that I could be a perfect cook. Not just a good cook but an awesome cook that would make people want to visit again and again just for a taste of her creations. And although I am a reasonably good cook, I am not amazing, not outstanding and never going to make it through a Masterchef competition.
The side problem of doing all this hard work to prepare the perfect meal night after night was that I had no time left for me. I would get in from work, take the dog for her walk and start cooking. Two hours later I would eventually stop cooking and finally sit down to eat and find some “me” time. Except by then I would be worn out and only able to slump in front of the TV for some inane company. After a few days of this constant routine I would be frazzled, fed up and irritable – none of which was doing me or my other half any good.
One day I mentioned to an acquaintance that I was so looking forward to summer when I would have time to relax in the evenings. Time to sit down, read a good book and drink tea (see earlier post for my thoughts on that subject). She, quite rightly, challenged me on this. “Why? What is different about summer?”, she asked.
I came out with all the usual reasons: lighter evenings, sunshine, warmth but eventually had to admit that the overriding difference was that I allowed myself to have “me” time. How? Simple, really. I just stopped creating exciting dishes in the summer. Our meals were simpler and easier. Perhaps a simple pre-made quiche (by me or a local supermarket) with salad or jacket potatoes with fillings, or simple pasta dishes and salad. The central theme being that none of the meals took more than 15 minutes to prepare from scratch and could be saved to eat whenever my other half made it home from work. As a result, I felt free enough to have a cup of tea as soon as I arrived home and would read for a few minutes before preparing something to eat. So little time was taken up preparing food that I could then read some more or use the evening to do something else, something that made me feel like me. I was no longer so focused on being the perfect cook but on being the perfect me – a person who wants to take time to read, to reflect, to enjoy living in the moment and not worrying about the results of meal preparations.
Our meals may not be as exotic now but they taste good and they do what we need them to do: give us the energy we need to keep on living. And I now have more time to live life in my own way – and to be the me I am meant to be.