The Ritual of Cooking

It’s my very nature …

To have days of dancing around town,
Over-committing, stretching myself thin…
To the point my life feels crazy!
The groceries have run out, the apartment’s a mess, unfolded laundry, eating out cause whose got the time to cook and on and on and on…

Until the weekend, even a long weekend has come and gone.

There finally comes a point when the curtailing of the chaos – mental and physical feels imperative to begin a new day and week.. .

It’s time to catch up on all the chores and the unheard podcasts have been cued up and ready to go – This American Life, Onbeing, Modern Love, The Moth Radio Hour…

Two things I seem to do to reset life and my cyclical self imposed chaos: I sweep my floors n rugs frequently; I mean constantly. It’s cathartic in ways I’m unable to articulate; and then there is the ritual of cleaning the fridge and the tidying up of my kitchen in preparation of a lengthy cooking session.

My time in my kitchen is similar to time people spend on their couch watching tv. It spans 2-3 hours sometimes! Today felt like one of these : I need to ground and reset my life kind of days.

So after I had cleaned my fridge and tidied up my kitchen I began the ritual of cooking. Methi parathas were a favorite growing up. Mom made making parathas seem like such an easy quick affair. She’d whip them in no time. I spent 17 years of my life away from home really craving home made parathas but never festering the courage motivation or cooking sensibility to make them. Until my return from India December 2016. I decided I would cook to stay connected with dad. He was an incredible cook, mom is an incredible cook…i suppose I’ve decided I stand a high chance of being an incredible cook thanks to my gene pool?  🙂

I’ve made methi/ spinach parathas a few times now since January 2017 and feel I’ve gotten quite good at it. But more than the final outcome of 8-10 parathas that make for a great lunch 2-3 days the week ahead, making parathas is now my new mental reset activity. It’s meditative and holds all the qualities of a ritual. Let me explain:

Firstly, once I get my favorite podcast playing I have to focus my mind off everything else to the steps involved in my simple culinary excursion. Like any successful excursion I’ve discovered it’s most often enjoyable when engaged at a certain pace. Rushing changes the temperature/ mood and having the right temperature/ mood is critical to our perceptual experience and to what we create. It’s all we have afterall!

So I begin with pulling out the bundle of fresh spinach. I’m aware of the momentary thought flashing through my mind – “cleaning this is going take forever” and an urge to rush runs through my body. But I mindfully remind myself I’ve got all evening; besides the thought of muddy spinach sounds terrifying and so does the fear of a kidney stone nightmare! And so I begin my getting lost in the podcast on Putin, on forgetting, on not knowing, on giving birth to a child in Somalia, on liberalism etc etc as I pick every spinach leaf off it’s stem, rinse and chop finely; and then to the bunch of cilantro. I take my time and enjoy the fragrances of fresh greens and herbs. The cleaning and chopping is almost half the task. There’s also the fresh green chillies and the large onion also chopped up fine.

Then comes the part that activates my  salivary glands. You know that mouth watering sensation purely triggered by the aromas of food ingredients coming together? The concoction of fresh green chillies, onions, chopped garlic and cilantro does that to me. I add salt, carom seeds, crushed dried fenugreek leaves, red chilli powder, cumin powder and cilantro powder and a pinch of turmeric powder. Mix it all with a cup of whole wheat flour and a cup of gram flour. I feel no good Punjabi recipe is complete with a spoonful of ghee!

I’m now knee deep into my excursion. The second big segment is the kneading : combining the fresh chopped goodness, the spices and the flour to that perfect consistency that you learn to recognize only after a few previous disastrous attempts. While I’ve gotten much better at it, I still undergo many proportional changes  ( add more flour, then more water, mord flour, some oil and so on and on…) until i get the perfectly kneaded dough…!!

I quickly get my nonstick pan out on the stove that’s turned to a medium high. While also quickly rolling out my first paratha…as aesthetically circular as I can achieve! This begins the third and final segment of the excursion. It’s a bit more complex : requiring multi tasking! Rolling a paratha is an art that deserves much respect. A perfectly rolled paratha involves mastering the right amount of pressure with which you roll to achieve even thickness or thinness however you choose to focus and also to achieve circular symmetry! I can only hope that by the time i’ve rolled my first paratha the pan is heated and ready to go – not too hot or too cold, just perfect! So i place that first paratha on the pan and begin rolling the second… completing it in time to flip the one on the stove over. I add a spoonful of ghee and flip it over, some ghee to coat the other side and another flip!

With enough experience and instances of doing this, i also get organized better each time. I know some where in those steps to get the roti dabba out, lined with aluminium foil ready to go. Rolling the parathas to perfect circles, on the pan, flip, oil, flip, oil, flip and into the dabba until the dough is over!

And just like that I come full circle I.e. started with tidying up the kitchen and end with a major clean up…just like a good excursion better have gotten dirt collected in my shoes.. .my messy countertops and floor is a sign of busy tasty evening!

In the end, my kitchen is clean, my lunch for the next 3 days is set, there’s a fragrance of a home cooked meal occupying my space, the sensory experiences take me back to childhood days and fond food memories; my mind is decluttered, reset and relaxed!

While I don’t think it’s in my nature to be always and fully de-cluttered and relaxed; it’s inevitable that my cycles if clutter and chaos inevitably lead to an automatic reversion of declutter and grounding…and just like that I’ve discovered the ritual of cooking and the peace that accompanies it or rather comes up as a natural consequence.

If you’ve made it all the way here, I’m curious: what kind of food do you love to cook? Does it declutter your mind and bring you a mental reset? I would love to hear your story.

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