The reasons I love to cook are similar to the reasons why I love summer:
- They are both celebrations of ingredients.
- Both are vibrant, full of color.
- It’s nice to get a little hot sometimes.
- Time is relative: to what you’re cooking, what you’re doing, what the weather is like…
- Guidelines are helpful, but improvisation is key.
I roll with it, so to speak, in the kitchen—even with recipes. As far as I’m concerned, they’re guidelines to how certain ingredients might work together, to be used at your discretion. Though in recent years, I’ve enjoyed diving into the world of baking, cooking is my true love because improvisation can shine. Of course, in a professional kitchen, I understand the importance of measurements and reproducibility, but I love to explore in my kitchen at home, to cook with all of my senses and feelings.
I learned to cook by feel—taste, touch. When I cook, I taste everything, I watch everything. I am fully absorbed. I’m always sampling and adjusting. This makes it difficult to get down any actual, accurate recipes. I often come up with a meal plan, only to change my mind depending on how I’m feeling or which ingredients need to be used up faster. I can create food out of any odd combination of pantry and deep-freezer ingredients. I can make an entire meal of what’s to be found in my garden, on short notice. I can seize the moment. It’s exhilarating, nourishing.
I find that summer is best enjoyed in the same way—by feel, by seizing the moment. There is an over abundance in the summer—of sunshine, of produce, of energy, of time. It is a celebration in and of itself. Why say no when you are invited last-minute to hike over to some waterfalls even though you have weeding to do? It’s mid-afternoon, but there are still six hours of sunlight left. Why turn down an evening bonfire even though it’s hot out? In just a few short months, it’ll be too cold at night to stay outside.
Andrzej and I just took a vacation that was truly a practice in taking things as they come. We had planned to stay friends at their gorgeous, woodsy property in upstate Vermont for camping and lake time, but as new small business owners, they couldn’t quite pin down exact dates until the week before. We realized we had a few extra days of vacation time before we would meet them, so in two days, we planned an extra four-day trip up to Canada to visit a friend in Toronto and see Montreal before our scheduled Vermont time. We left the next day, no agenda, no schedule, just bags packed and a destination.
Then the real test of letting go began. We stopped at Niagara Falls (unplanned) because I’d never been before making our way across the border. In Toronto, we wandered the city alone for a few hours before meeting our friend for an unexpected trip across Lake Ontario to an off-coast island beach. We decided while we were there to stay with my best friend in Albany, NY on the way home to Maryland from Vermont. All was going well.
On the way to Montreal, I lost my purse (yes, with all ID, phone, everything), which derailed our evening and part of the next morning. With the help of the American consulate, some very patient border guards in Vermont, parents jumping to help, and our friend, who drove four hours round trip after hunting down my purse by calling my phone, we made it safely back to the US, and my purse made it’s way safely back to our house by the time we got home. Despite the setback, we toured around Montreal’s central downtown and old town before driving down to Vermont, where we spent four unplugged, unplanned days, following our dear friends and their pooch to their favorite lakes and restaurants.
Though I am happy to be home in our routine and familiar space, the lesson learned from the trip has not escaped me… I can figure things out as I go. I am capable, strong, adventurous. I am enough. Even when things don’t go as planned, I can find my way. I can find joy in the moment.
When cooking in the summer, it’s easy to find joy in the moment. The ingredients are fresh and simple. There is time to celebrate and feast.