Cooking and Eating

A steaming pot of soup…peach pie…bread baking…garlic and onion heating up—the inviting smells of home cooking promise good eating. The unadulterated pleasures of prepping and cooking, waiting and peeking, eating and talking deserve our fresh appreciation. I’ve enjoyed a wide variety of novel settings and delicious meals shared with readers/diners of The Philosopher’s Table. By far the standout recipe for instant camaraderie consists of the hosts chopping and simmering while guests also bring dishes they’ve prepared. Smiling faces burst through the door, arms extending their offerings. I can count on this surefire combination: the process of cooking, the gift of being cooked for, and the instant comfort and gaiety that fills the room. Yes, we’ve shared many good times in restaurants and on patios, but there’s something unique that happens whenever the gathering philosophers also serve as cooks.

Evidence of the soul food provided by home cooking isn’t hard to find. My college student prepared several dishes for our class as part of his project, and as the dishes were passing Adam described the satisfaction cooking provides: “I feel that I’m creating something good that makes people happy. I get to share the food I love to eat, put all of myself into fixing it. It’s as if I’m serving my heart on a platter.” My friend Chris can’t wait to get home after a long day, fresh ingredients waiting for his attention. “It’s how I relax. Cooking the best part of the day. I love experimenting and learning new recipes. And I really like watching people come to the table.”

Young Nelson proudly displays his first solo grilled corn.
Young Nelson proudly displays his first solo grilled corn.

I sing the praises of my small charcoal grill that defines homecoming for my godsons Nelson and Will (and me) on their cross-country visits. No longer young apprentices, these now early twenty-somethings commandeer the operation. Nothing intervenes—snow, sleet, rain, nor my occasional (faint) reluctance. Our love renews as the corn turns.

The Ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles named the four essential elements of the universe: earth, air, fire and water. These four have never looked better than in the Netflix documentary “Cooked.” (Series Trailer) Based on the book by Michael Pollan and featuring him on a global trot, the four-part series showcases the glory of the meal both as human invention and basic human need. Behold: the wood-smoked grill, clay pot, and huge oven—the magic of air transforming flour and water into bread or the fermentation that fuels us with chocolate and cheese. Pollan admits that home cooking costs time. Time isn't always available, but couldn't we make the choice to slow down and simmer more often? Nary a sad face in "Cooked!"

Hurry home, grilling godchildren.