A meal. It is more than just food. There is the purpose: sustenance, nutrition, the hollow need for fuel. And yet it is much more than that. There is creativity, pleasure. There is the gift. A meal is a gift we give to those around us. Like any gift, it merits effort. There is risk, of course; the usual vulnerabilities. How much of yourself you put into it, the extent of exposure, reveals something about your relationship with the eater. Is it a relationship of hope? Is it adventurous, explorative? Is it convenient; do you put in the minimal effort? Is it just food? Are you afraid; do you avoid criticism, play safe? Dare you risk the flair of something new or untried? Are you willing to fail, to disappoint?
Beginning with love, it starts with the recipe. A template, a formula of sorts. A recipe in your mind, learned through trial or experience. A recipe on the page. It doesn’t matter which. It is an idea. You gather your ingredients, lay out your vegetables, your meat (if you choose), your sauces, your flavourings. You gather your tools – the heavy pans you bought when you cooked more, cared more, in the days when meals were more than just a necessity, a habit. This is one of those days. It is important to get it right.
You take your vegetables in order of need. The sharp knife from the knife block. An onion, finely chopped. Once you begin flow inevitably follows; the familiar motion of hand and knife, the bite as it slices, the tap as the knife hits the board. You sense the music in the rhythm of repetition, the familiarity of the task. Your hands have done this before; you can trust them. Your mind can wander; the body is occupied, tied, momentarily to a place. There is the mysterious pleasure of chopping mushrooms (for who doesn’t love chopping mushrooms: their waxen quality, the slight resistance as the knife sinks in, the smooth cut. Repeat. Even my kids, avoiders of labour, will hover when there are mushrooms to be cut). Light under the pan. A slug of oil, unmeasured, the bottle tipped and held for just long enough. One by one the ingredients stack up. This is a creative task, built step by step with care and a dash of flair. A slop of this, a pinch of that. This is what makes it personal. You bring a spoonful of smoky sauce to your lips, blow, taste.
Time passes, but it is good time. You feel the strength in your arm, a certainty of movement. The warmth of the sauce rises, scent spills out into the room. The pot is a-bubble. Sauce thickens, over time. You could leave and risk burning, but it is better to be here. The mind is free to muse. There is nothing more pressing that this.
You stand tall, stirring, feeling the coolness flow from the stone beneath your feet, rising through your body, making you stand straighter, your shoulders held back, relaxed. Here, in this moment, you are in command.
And then it is done. The food flows from the pan to plate. Family gathers: this is what it is about. The silverware shines, water gleams in clean glasses. There is laughter, talk. The food is good, as you knew it would be.