Written by : Stephen Exel 

Why Cooking Makes Me Happy

I’m often taken by curiosity when I meet people who don’t give a thought about cooking. “When William’s not here,” a neighbor said to me the other day over a backyard glass of wine, “I don’t think about what I eat since he does the cooking. A can of green beans or a box of mac ’n’ cheese is fine with me.”

Although I like Dana, I feel a little sorry for her. Barbra Streisand once sang these lyrics about being alone: “not to share a pair of pork chops/when you crave champagne and cheese.” When Dana is by herself there’s a missed opportunity for her to indulge herself in food she truly loves, whether she cooks it or treats herself to a meal in a restaurant.

Because I do live alone, I only have myself to indulge food-wise. Sometimes dinner is a quick throw-together meal of pasta and sautéed veggies. Oftentimes it’s my favorite: a roasted chicken with roasted potatoes and carrots. On weekends there might be a cassoulet and the time to bake. And sometimes it’s champagne and cheese.

This is what makes me happy. It’s not just the eating. It’s the decision making, often spontaneous while I’m shopping. It’s the prep. It’s the doing, the chopping, the slicing. It’s the aroma. And then, finally, it’s the eating.

As a food writer, I suppose I should have charming childhood stories about cooking. But I don’t. My mother was a working mom—TV dinners, frozen potpies, and grilled cheese sandwiches were weeknight staples. She had a few special recipes she made on the weekends—chop suey with lots of exotic canned vegetables was one of them.

My grandmas didn’t live near us, so there were no Sunday mornings spent baking cookies with one of them, or Sunday nights learning secret family recipes. Perhaps that is why when I started to cook on my own—a late bloomer in my 20s—it became a particular joy for me. And, as a friend once said to me, “It helps pass the time.”

It does help pass the time. Cooking takes a little effort. Now that time is built into my day and I look forward to it. The time I spend cooking for myself (the time I spend cooking for others is also pleasurable, but that’s another story) is the time I use to think about the day, let the bad parts dissolve and the good parts revive and marinate a little, like the pork tenderloin I just put in the fridge in a bath of mustard, honey and a handful of herbs.

Dare I speak like the baby-boomer-me-generation member that I am? Cooking makes me happy because it IS about me. It’s my selfish indulgence. It’s champagne and cheese, even when it’s not.

Stephen Exel is a freelance food writer and editor whose work has appeared in Deck, Patio & Pool, Country Home and Figure. He is a contributing editor to Traditional Home magazine.

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