At some point this winter, my motivation to cook often and cook well decided to hibernate for an indefinite period of time. Claiming that I was too tired, too busy, or too poor, I fell deep into a rut of quesadillas, pita and hummus, and - gasp - PB&J sandwiches. In the last month I began to feel very discouraged about this. Where had my drive gone? Did it die along with Gourmet, that beautiful monthly source of inspiration delivered straight to my mailbox?
Whatever the excuses, enough is enough! I am starting to go crazy from lacking a creative outlet (a really delicious one, at that)...not to mention that once you get over the nostalgia factor, PB&J every day is just boring. Cheap, but boring.
So I gave myself several assignments. On the plane ride back from Germany, I promised myself that I would watch "Julie & Julia" in the hope that it would re-kindle my desire to know the joy of cooking. Mission totally, totally accomplished. I could almost smell the boeuf bourguignon through the screen...
Task #2: Invite a new friend over for a home-cooked dinner. If having a near-stranger come eat your food is not an incentive, I don't know what is. So tomorrow night, a girl I met recently at church is coming over, and I plan to prepare chicken with a white wine & rosemary sauce, rice (or couscous?), and sauteed spring vegetables...Perhaps a plum kuchen and whipped cream for dessert? No microwaving whatsoever.
Task #3: Come out of mourning for Gourmet enough to at least peruse other foodie mags, because apparently I depend on them. They're like my culinary training wheels...I need the inspiration and the support until I'm educated and confident enough to embark on my own independent experiments. Accordingly, this week I picked up the new issue of Cooking Light, the cover of which enticed me with promises of risotto and pizza recipes galore. I have a particular weakness for risotto...so $3 later, I stood in my kitchen preparing to coax bliss out of a cup of Arborio rice.
Risotto plays hard to get. It makes you work for the right to enjoy it - something that most foods today don't really require of us. Perhaps that is why I find it so intriguing. As the chicken stock comes to a simmer, I chop onions and carrots and stir them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for several minutes. It smells heavenly. Then I pour in the cup of Arborio. Risotto always strikes me as a "loaves and fishes" kind of meal -- I never quite believe that that little cup of rice is really going to multiply into several servings...Every time, it proves me wrong. The rice toasts for a minute, and then I add the white wine. Again, an aroma that takes my breath away. Smelling this dish as it cooks is almost more enjoyable than eating the finished product. Soon it is time to start adding the chicken broth, a ladleful at a time, and stirring constantly until each addition is absorbed by the rice. This is the long and tedious part of the job - but also rather fun. I challenge myself, daring myself not to stop stirring even though my arm is begging for a pause. The pot of chicken stock taunts me - every time I glance at it, it laughs, "Yes, five more ladles to go! Keep stirring!" But suddenly - finally - there is no more broth to add. As the last ladleful is absorbed I stir in asparagus, peas, and cheese. All these different raw components have somehow come together to form one beautiful, creamy, steaming dish of comfort. With the first bite I completely forget how tired I am.
This morning I awoke with a very sore forearm - Is it supremely lame to pull a muscle from stirring risotto? Probably. But that's ok. I'll have "sore muscles" for a while as I re-dedicate myself to cooking...but the pleasures definitely outweigh the pains!