Skip to main content

On cooking, and accomplishment

I made a cassoulet last night.

Per Mark Bittman's instructions, I started by browning a length of sausage in olive oil, then set the meat aside. Into the pan went onions and zuchinni and celery, cooked a few minutes until they softened a bit. Then tomatoes and herbs, along with the sausage again, brought to a boil. Then I added cooked white beans—Jo did the prep work there. Then a simmer for 20 minutes. I pulled the sausage out, chopped it up, threw it back in the pan with some cayenne, and let it simmer a few more minutes. It was served with a side of warm multigrain bread purchased from the farmer's market (as were most of the ingredients mentioned above). There was wine.

I forgot to throw in two bay leafs. Nonetheless, a tasty, spicy stew. I am looking forward to leftovers.

Saturday's cassoulet was the result of a cooking kick I've been on in recent weeks. Part of the inspiration has been fall—often when I get adventurous in the kitchen—and part of it Bittman's new Kindle Single advocating the practice of cooking at home.

His argument is the same one you almost always hear him make: That home cooking is usually cheaper—and often faster—than ordering from restaurants. That it's usually cheaper and almost always more healthful than the processed foods we so often rely on. And that a meal well-made creates opportunties for community and bonding.

To his credit—and my benefit—Bittman isn't a "foodie," at least not in the sense that such folks attempt to dazzle you with the complexity and fanciness of their efforts. He doesn't require you to have stainless steel kitchen appliances, or spend a day laborer's weekly pay on a bottle of truffle oil. He wants to get you into the kitchen and cooking, and he offers simple-but-tasty recipes to provide you with easy entry into the world of real food. He sets the bar so low that I can leap over it.

Heretofore, my repertoire in the kitchen has (outside of a pretty mean breakfast sandwich) been largely limited to three dishes: Chili, spaghetti, and what we call "Tex-Mex"—a meat, bean, and Rotel concoction that can be wrapped in a tortilla or dumped on top of corn chips. Tasty, I guess, but limited. So with Bittman's guidance, I'm taking what I hope are my first steps into a larger world.

There's another element to all of this for me. In may, I had an emergency colostomy. In July, I had a second surgery, to remove a chunk of diseased colon that had wrapped itself around my bladder. I have diverticulitis. Sometime soon, hopefully, I will have a third surgery to reverse the colostomy and finally end  the long season of what my son has called "poop belly." I'll be able to restart my life, which has felt mostly on hold for many months now.

Now: My surgeon has never told me that 38 years of lazy, irresponsible eating created my medical condition. It could be genetics. But it could also be my 38 years of lazy, irresponsible eating. Making a real effort to cook—aside from actually being cheaper and faster than ordering from my beloved—seems to be a real investment in my future health.

More to the current point, I am a stay-at-home dad and freelance writer. My surgical recovery has depleted my energy—and, at times, my spirits—to the point that I often feel I do neither job very well. Making a new meal, as I've done several times in recent weeks, gives me a sense of accomplishment that's pretty much been missing from my life lately. I browned the sausage. I chopped the vegetables. I stood over the stove. And I made something that wouldn't have existed without my initiative or efforts. This is, I imagine how amateur woodworkers feel, and with roughly the same odds of losing a finger to blade mishap. This is, I imagine, why my wife knits.

So much of my day, every day, is spent in front of a computer. To make something tangible and useful—not that the manufacture of words can't be useful—is a good and necessary thing. My next Bittman recipe combines just three building blocks: Noodles, butter, and parmesan cheese. It won't be difficult. But it will be something I made.


Anonymous said…
Wonderful! What a tasty looking fall dish to build! Loved the post. Yes, preparing sustenance can be very theraputic.- Shayne
brendancalling said…
great stuff.
beans and greens are your friends... but make sure your doc says OK first.

i love cooking. the most depressing part about the woman's move to NYC has been that now I have to cook for one or make enough for 3-4 days... and in both cases, I have to do the dishes.
Notorious Ph.D. said…
This is great. I usually cook a ton of stuff on weekends for me to reheat and eat all week. I'd probably do more if I didn't live alone. In fact, when I had a serious boyfriend who was over every two nights out of three, I cooked almost every night, and really enjoyed it.
JMC said…
This is wonderful! I firmly believe that "cooking is love made visible" and I attempt to keep my family firmly grounded around the dinner table. Real food doesn't have to be real fancy or real expensive - just made with real love!! Props to you! And prayers for a full recovery.

Popular posts from this blog


I've been making some life changes lately — trying to use the time I have, now that I'm back in Kansas, to improve my health and lifestyle. Among the changes: More exercise. 30 minutes a day on the treadmill. Doesn't sound like a lot, but some is more than none, and I know from experience that getting overambitious early leads to failure. So. Thirty minutes a day.

One other thing: Yoga, a couple of times a week. It's nothing huge — a 15-minute flexibility routine downloaded from an iPhone app. But I've noticed that I'm increasingly limber.

Tonight, friends, I noticed a piece of trash on the floor. I bent over at the waist and picked it up, and threw it away.

Then I wept. I literally could not remember the last time I'd tried to pick something off the floor without grunting and bracing myself. I just did it.

Small victories, people. Small victories.

Liberals: We're overthinking this. Hillary didn't lose. This is what it should mean.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times estimates that when every vote is tallied, some 63.4 million Americans will have voted for Clinton and 61.2 million for Trump. That means Clinton will have turned out more supporters than any presidential candidate in history except for Obama in 2008 and 2012. And as David Wasserman of Cook Political Report notes, the total vote count—including third party votes—has already crossed 127 million, and will “easily beat” the 129 million total from 2012. The idea that voters stayed home in 2016 because they hated Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a myth. We already know the Electoral College can produce undemocratic results, but what we don't know is why — aside from how it serves entrenched interests — it benefits the American people to have their preference for national executive overturned because of archaic rules designed, in part, to protect the institution of slavery. 

A form of choosing the national leader that — as has happened in …

I'm not cutting off my pro-Trump friends

Here and there on Facebook, I've seen a few of my friends declare they no longer wish the friendship of Trump supporters — and vowing to cut them out of their social media lives entirely.

I'm not going to do that.

To cut ourselves off from people who have made what we think was a grievous error in their vote is to give up on persuading them, to give up on understanding why they voted, to give up on understanding them in any but the most cartoonish stereotypes.

As a matter of idealism, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on democracy. As a matter of tactics, cutting off your pro-Trump friends is to give up on ever again winning in a democratic process.

And as a long-term issues, confining ourselves to echo chambers is part of our national problem.

Don't get me wrong: I expect a Trumpian presidency is a disaster, particularly for people of color. And in total honesty: My own relationships have been tested by this campaign season. There's probably some damage…