The Joy Of Cooking

If I had to pick a book that sounds most profound based on the title, it would not be War and Peace, it would be The Joy of Cooking.

Humans look for grand purpose in life, but sometimes we overlook the basic yet fundamental. Offhand I can’t think of anything more homey, than cooking a meal for somebody. Neither can I think of anything more comfy, than eating something cooked for me. Even foot massage might pale in comparison to it.

When I see Pope Francis celebrates the Mass of Lord’s Supper in a prison washing inmates’ feet, I wonder why not he cooks a hearty meal instead. As amiable as Francis appears to me, I can picture him cooking a meal. I understand the foot-wash rite is to emulate what Christ did on the 12 apostles at the Last Supper, but I figure the Pope could cook the supper first, then wash the feet later – the priorities only seem right in this order.

Chinese people are famously fond of cooking. I don’t share the enthusiasm to the same extent – mainly because I dread all social gatherings, but I understand the philosophy. There is a Chinese saying 民以食為天, “Eating is a matter as vast as the sky for people“. Or you can paraphrase it as “Eat comes before everything“, “Hunger breeds discontentment“, “A good meal is all you need” … Death row inmates usually get to choose their last meals; we don’t really know which meal would be our last.

I suspect once we get old, all we care about will be what to eat – for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and repeat. Provided you still have good teeth and reasonable appetite, of course. And you will miss childhood food, hometown food, comfort food of all kinds. Everything else nonessential will be stripped down, only a tender remembrance of our favorite food outlasts.

There’s a well-known Chinese poet I once met, whose free-spirited poetry written in his early years used to be something every school girl in China kept on her nightstand. I might still have a cutout image of him from his youth stuck somewhere personal and intimate.

A bright face with high forehead and chiseled chin, lips firm at the edges but full on the flesh. Exuberant hair combed back, a few curly strands wandering off one temple and earlobes, a touch of nostalgic air. Jet-black long eyebrows, like some accomplished strokes from a calligrapher’s ink-brush. The most lethal are those intense dark eyes – bottomless deep seas, flamed with an army of darts and arrows, dancing with twinkles reminding you of sudden sunlight hitting a morning lake, sending spangles all over the ripples …

When I got to meet him in person, he’s rather advanced in years. The physical contours were somewhat identifiable, but the anima within had long shifted. Poetry had become redundant, and words empty. The only thing he truly enjoyed is food. The way he savored a steamed bun, an egg roll, a chocolate fudge, so attentive and absorbed, single-mindedly and wholehearted. His face beamed with such pure joy like a baby, as if nothing else really existed.

In the end what else could make us feel more sated and sustained, other than something tasty and savory? Life can be that simple, once we grow old enough and don’t fool ourselves anymore.

Just how old is old? I guess it has to be determined case-by-case. If you still have to share posts of lone shadow around street corners under nightly sky, voluptuous flowers blinking at any passersby, dewdrops on foliage, conch shells after morning tides, camel-toes amid treacherous sand dunes … then you are still too young, even though you are full fledged and middle-aged.

If you still think you have a hit song to write, a masterpiece to produce, a Nobel Prize to win, then you are not old yet, still have truckloads of luggage carried on. If we still crave for attention, thirst for fleeting pleasure, go to lengths to get people admire us, by all means try to make people overestimate us … then we are too young, still got a long way to grow and evolve.

Sometimes I ponder what I would like to do when I grow up. How nice it would be, if one day I wake up and find myself no longer driven by this well-disguised narcissism, no longer have the incessant need to say something or even think, but have all the leisure and patience to cook meals for a village of old people, watch them munch on and happily savor the delicacy I prepare for them.

I don’t mean doing it as a job, or a means to achieve any hidden agenda, but purely for the joy of cooking and serving. The village of people, they don’t even have to be my friends or family; they can be just any random strangers passing by, who’ve traveled a long way and finally got down to truly appreciate just one thing in life.

One thing I will surely make for them, is Tang Yuan, also called sweet rice dumplings. You put sweet-rice flour in a bowl, make a well in the middle, add water little by little, knead it into a soft dough.

Then you roll the dough into a rope, cut it up into thumb-size pieces. You can choose to put in any filling you like – toasted sesame seeds or coconut shreds, peanut butter or red-bean paste … then you round up each piece between your palms, and drop it into a simmering soup made with sliced ginger, red dates, gouji berries and brown sugar.

Once all the dumplings float up to the surface, they are ready to serve. Although the longer you let it simmer, the better the bite seems – viscous, smooth, springy. It is the simplest yet coziest treat easiest to make.

Back then in China, my mother often kept a stew on the stove. The hot fusion of ginger, brown sugar and red dates is heartwarming for wintertime, late night or early morning hours, particularly comforting during menstrual period. I scoop up a Tang Yuan, blow on it a little, nibble a bit around the edges, careful with the hot fillings, then I slide it down smoothly, feeling every neuron in my body falling into a rightful place.

My mother is not a happy person. I disappoint her as much as she has been disappointing in herself her whole life. Usually I can’t stand her for long when I go home. Now I have all the freedom being half a globe away from her, but I miss the stew of Tang Yuan she made.

The older I get, the more the tenderness in Tang Yuan seems to stand out, and the more my resistance to her criticism softens. I suspect by the time I get really old, all I remember will be just the stew of Tang Yuan on that stove.

frog8 (4)

 

 

21 Comments

  1. Beautifully written Dot. There is more to a good meal prepared by a caring person than just a taste, but rather a fulfillment, a connection, not only to the cook but also those the meal is shared with. I have enjoyed Tang Yuan many times. It is always best when prepared at home or with a dear friend. To eat well and live well is a way to happiness we should not overlook. I could taste the Tang Yuan as you described it and it transported me to favorite memories. Thank you, Dot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice to see how cooking has impacted you, it truly is such a delight; well, this is coming from a chocaholic and a spicy food lover😋. Maybe you’re right about what the Pope could have done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Judging by the way you comment, it doesn’t surprise me that you love spicy food 🐌 I am happy to hear you agree about the Pope 🐝

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I know that my mother, among many millions of people, owned The Joy Of Cooking. Wouldn’t surprise me if that book is still in print. Take care.

    Neil Scheinin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy to see you drop by, Neil 🍑 I often heard about the book, but I never get to see a hardcopy yet. You’re lucky to have a mother who owned The Joy Of Cooking. Hope you take care and be well 🐠

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Your deep thoughts move me, and remind me of an old song here in the USA. “Marry an ugly wife.) Google it and listen if you like. The lyrics..if you want to be happy for the rest of your wife, marry an ugly wife…

    But if you make an ugly woman your wife
    A-you’ll be happy for the rest of your life
    An ug-a-ly woman cooks meals on time
    And she’ll always give you peace of mind
    If you want to be happy for the rest of your life

    Something about your reflections on cooking, and it’s ultimate importance, brought this to mind. And I certainly hope things between you and your Mom improve over time. And I am by no means implying you are “ugly”…although we both know beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing the old song. I don’t have to google it, since I think I already got the gist of it 🐞 I may understand why men who are into this song consider marrying an ugly wife as a way to attain peace of mind (some men are just basic, aren’t they; one thing I envy them is that peace of mind is so easily attainable for them). But I don’t understand why there is a necessary relation between a woman being ugly and the surety of her ‘cooking meals on time’? Please enlighten me if it wouldn’t cost too much your peace of mind 🐏

      And I certainly wouldn’t mind whether you implied me being ‘ugly’ or not, it is really none of my business how you behold 🦒

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “…a necessary relation between a woman being ugly and the surety of her ‘cooking meals on time’?” First of all, it’s a joke. But all jokes have their roots in truth. The underlying thought is that beautiful women are highly desirable and pursued by many men…therefore have to do little else but look beautiful to get the man of their dreams. Ugly women, being “less desirable,” at least to look at, have to “work harder” to get the many of their dreams…or any man for that matter. Therefor, they turn into great cooks! What better way to get a man than through his stomach?
        Anyway….it’s a funny song and a funny joke. But there’s my deep dive Freudian analysis for you. I hope it translates across the miles and language barriers! LOL!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. First of all, I think it’s kind of stupid as a joke 😽 I expected you could’ve done better when it came to joke, but I guess all letdowns can be traced back to their rooting in the lame footing. Your explanation on why an ugly woman would necessarily be a good cook, it didn’t go beyond my expectation either. But the explanation itself speaks volumes about you – how a mature man in his 50s (probably 60s) could still be so naïve to assume that all women must be unexceptionally trying to get a man of their dreams, and that getting a man must be the only purpose of their lives and the only reason for them to ‘work harder’ or to even work at all. Your deep dive of such old-fashioned thinking has no language barriers, and speaks loud and clear across the miles between you and me 🐌✨🐾

          And in case you’re worried (I have my own vibe about people’s psychopath too) – don’t worry, you can rest assured that a mature man in his 60s with an antiquated mindset would never be the first choice in any woman’s dreams. Even if a woman ‘works harder’ through her cooking, she would aim at satisfying all other men’s stomach before she starts to behold your funny-looking stomach 🐢🦒

          Liked by 1 person

          1. LOL! OMG! You asked me to explain and I did…didn’t mean I agreed with it…but that’s where the song comes from…LOL! Did I need an asterisk saying * This is what the lyrics were intended to mean, whether I agree or not is not relevant to the question asked. But yea, this question comes from America circa 1950’s and that was the mindset. Good Golly!

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Only Neanderthals still think this way. As you can see, the first recording was made in 1934. I stand by my explanation to the question asked.
            1st RECORDING OF: If You Wanna Be Happy (aka Marry An Ugly Woman) – Hubert Raphael Charles (1934)

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Ok, my apologies 🦔 I mistook it as you agreed with it. That’s why I was taken aback how uncharacteristic you sounded. Maybe I really need to ‘work harder’ to overpass the language barriers … Thanks for the prehistoric information about the old song. I had to google the word ‘Neanderthals’ – an extinct species with a receding forehead and prominent brow ridges … that sounds quite matching my impression about you, to be honest 🦋 Although maybe I would make some slight moderation to redefine you: a distinctive species with a receding forehead and prominent sense of originality & humor 🥝🥥

              Liked by 1 person

              1. I am closer to the category of Homo Deus, thank you.

                Liked by 1 person

  5. Timothy Price

    There is a lot of joy in cooking; however, War and Peace is a wonderful novel. Good point about Pope Francis cooking a meal for the prisoners. There has been a long tradition in Christian asceticism of abstinence and suffering to prepare oneself to be right with God. I believe it’s very self-centered and does nothing to make the world a better place or help to make earth like Heaven. In the Lord’s Prayer we say “…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” That is saying one will do his or her part to make things better. If you look at the life of Jesus, he did not suffer much during his ministry. On the contrary, he got in trouble for eating and drinking at the wrong times, and especially with the wrong people. He famously fed the multitudes, as well. I believe he was looked upon as a wild party animal by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Christ did suffer on the cross, but his ministry was mostly teaching, changing water into wine, calming storms, healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the multitudes, eating with sinners, and being contrary to Jewish authority.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I keep reminding myself that War and Peace is a book worth reading, because I keep hearing wise people mentioning it, but life is just so full of distractions that it looks like I may never ever get to it … The story you share about the life of Jesus gives me another urge to read the Bible. The leather-bound copy is still on my tea table, I see it every day passing by the table. And I have lots of Christian books that Lori (the church lady) has given me to facilitate my study, but my habit of procrastination seems too deep-seated 🐨🐧🦔 Hope your biopsy result will come out happy this weekend, and everything will be all right🎈

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Timothy Price

        I sent you an email about my biopsy result. It’s negative. Now I have another scar in my collection. War and Peace is a long book. Is the a translation in Chinese? You would need to read the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as literature. You could look at Gilgamesh as an analog to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) with many similar themes and stories — notably the flood story.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I got your email, happy to hear it’s negative 🍑 now your collection of wild things just getting more interesting and fabulous 🦄 I will eventually read the Bible. And of course there is Chinese translation of War and Peace, but I can’t focus for long on reading Chinese either. Look forward to hearing your new parody, you are really good at it. I actually don’t think David Byrne would be any better if he didn’t get to have all the help from other amazing artists in his band 🐐

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never been into cooking, and so have a hard time understanding the joys of cooking for others. However, my brother is a former chef and I never, EVER, decline an invitation to partake in his culinary delights. And after receiving many of my compliments on his meal, his face is aglow with satisfaction. As is, my now full belly!

    Also — I think the Pope, who you said would be better off making a meal for prisoners would be more prudent if he then washed “their hands” after they ate, instead of their feet? Lol. I’m just saying!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I see you can get really funny with a full belly 🦀 I wish I had a family member who’s a chef. It’s easier to eat and throw compliments around than to cook and serve. Although if the chef is aglow with too much satisfaction and grows bigger appetite for compliments, then it might hinder our eating progress and inhibit the digestion process … Looks like everything is double-edged sword, there’s no such thing as one fits all 🐌

      Liked by 1 person

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