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By: Liz Williams Date: 2/28/12

Note: This blog is part of our new series called "From the Pantry" which will take a historical look at the food we eat and the culture around food.

I have absolutely no psychological training, but I love playing armchair psychologist.  I am very willing to speculate on the reasons why someone makes odd choices or acts in a nontraditional manner.  It’s fun.  I do not take myself seriously in doing this, but my pursuit of armchair psychology is supplemented by my willingness to read about psychology and watch psychiatry-related television shows and movies. 

My own proclivities in this direction makes me sympathetic to the people I call armchair cooks.  Armchair cooks are people I know who read cookbooks and watch television cooking shows, but who never actually cook.  They know a lot about cooking.  They appreciate good cooking and enjoy eating.  They discuss cooking with authority. But armchair cooks don’t actually cook.   

The difference between being an armchair psychologist and being an armchair cook is that the armchair psychologist will probably never be faced with actually treating a patient.  If the armchair psychologist becomes more understanding of others through the process of learning about psychology, the world is a better place.  The armchair cook is in a different situation.  Eating is a necessary daily activity.  Cooking for ourselves and others is an act of love that gives satisfaction.  Eating, and thus cooking, is not a spectator sport (regardless of what happens in Kitchen Stadium on the Food Network.) 

It is fortunate, however, that being an armchair cook can be the beginning of becoming a real one.  That cannot be said for armchair psychologists like me.  The only way to make the transition to becoming a bone fide psychologist is through a long stint in school.  There is no similar reason not to ease into cooking.  No matter how much you have read about making a soufflé or deboning a duck, you do not have to start with such an ambitious introduction to cooking.   

Starting to cook begins with the decision to do it.  Perhaps instead of a Lenten sacrifice, a Lenten promise to cook one meal a week instead of eating that meal in a restaurant could be a good start.  After making that commitment, the next step is to decide what to cook.  A simple roasted chicken, a salad and roasted root vegetables constitutes a simple and nutritious complete meal.  No need to butcher the chicken.  The salad is really just assembly.  The vegetables can almost cook themselves.  The ingredients can be obtained easily at any neighborhood grocery store.  And the reward of sitting with family or friends around a table, eating food that you have cooked will be worth the effort.  It will even be worth doing the dishes with the help of your family or guests. 

The habits that started you down the road to real cooking – watching television cooking shows and reading cookbooks and blogs and food magazines – can continue.  They will become inspiration instead of entertainment.  They will become a source of ideas and fun experiments as your confidence grows.  After doing it once a week until Easter, you might be ready to increase the frequency.  You might be ready to cook with a child.  But once you really begin to cook, you will not be an armchair cook any longer.  You will be a cook. 

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