Friday, May 13, 2016

Music in the Kitchen

In 1975, one of my favorite groups sang, "I love music, any kind of music."  Yeah, the O'Jays were speaking directly to me because I have always felt that way.  From The Beatles to Beethoven to Barry White to Backstreet Boys to Beyonce. Music is a mood-changer.  When I'm in love, I sing all day. When my heart is broken, I can't listen to it without dissolving into a large brown puddle of tears. Surely I was a musician in a past life; music moves me.  Two nights ago, as I sauteed slivered onions to throw into my chicken cacciatore, I  stopped tossing onions around just long enough to find the Spotify button on my phone.  I plugged my sound bar speaker into the wall outlet and hit the Bluetooth button. "So Much Trouble in the World," wailed Bob Marley.  I moved back over to the stove, humming and swaying to the beat, and got my wooden spoon into the pan just as my onions were threatening to stick.

Cooking held little interest for me when I was a young mother. Food was just nourishment, more or less. I tried to make it tasty, I tried to cook it well, but it was hit or miss.  Back in the stone age before Chopped, Top Chef and Food Network Star, home cooks had to wing it. You either had the knack or you didn't.  When a dish came out well, I was happily surprised and served it as often as I could.  My potato salad, modified slightly from my mom's potato salad, became the hit of the family; I was asked to bring it to nearly every family gathering.  When money was tight for a long while, I figured out that tomato sauce, cheese, Italian seasoning and pasta in any form could come together to make a dinner that would last most of the week.  My daughter, 11 at the time, couldn't wait for dinner each night. Little did she know that Ronzoni was the only thing standing between us and an empty refrigerator.  Had a few disasters along the way: I once tried to make spaghetti carbonara after having had it at a restaurant. After boiling up a gloppy mess of eggs and heavy cream that refused to transform into anything anyone would want to eat, I gave up and ordered Chinese food, fighting back tears. Back then, I never played music while cooking.

I don't remember the exact date or even the year... but somewhere in my late 50s, I suddenly wanted new cookware and kitchen appliances. See, what you have to know is that I'd never owned a full set of quality cookware as an adult. I had frying pans my mother gave me, a pot I'd bought here, and a pan I'd bought there. I had a toaster, but no blender. No coffeemaker.  A crockpot or Dutch oven?  I didn't even know what a Dutch oven was. But suddenly, I wanted to cook and I wanted to do it really well.  I finally figured out that cooking is both an art and a skill.  It can be satisfying and fun. And it can be very Zen: the chopping, dicing, slicing, stirring... it demands that you be present in the moment. Cooking can be a mood-changer. Like music. So now I always combine the two, whether I'm working a new recipe or putting together an old favorite.  I'm never happier than when my family comes over and I'm cooking for them. The bad news is that I barely have time to interact with them because I'm in the kitchen minding my pots and pans on the stove, but I don't really mind and I don't think they do either.  The music is blaring, I'm singing with Usher or Mary J. Blige or Justin Timberlake, the TV is going in the living room (baseball or football if my mother grabs the remote; HGTV if my sister gets there first. If my grandson isn't burying his nose in his handheld, any movie based on a Marvel Comics character will do nicely).  Voices are raised, not in anger, but so that people can be heard over the music and the TV and the other conversations going on in the room.  I pop in and out of the living room when I can but mostly, I'm in the kitchen.  Stirring my sauce and singing with Aretha. And I'm happy.

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