Monday, August 22, 2016

Ratatouille

Ratatouille
Disney Channel viewing

My health scare earlier this year convinced me I need to start eating better. I've attempted to do so in the months since. Habits I had ingrained within me for so many years - the bag of chips bought on the way home, the box of cookies unthinkingly tossed into the shopping cart, the constant refills on soda - they all have to be broken.

Temptation is in my face every damn day. I have to make conscious choices to not buy certain food, to read the nutrition labels on packages, to be careful not to eat too much of something. I have successful days and unsuccessful ones.

Then I started to do my own cooking.

I had a very mild interest in cooking for awhile, but it was never serious. I considered making spaghetti a culinary triumph. Now, though, my health has given me a reason to learn how to cook, and my whole outlook has changed. I've taken baby steps in a few directions. For instance, I used to be horrible at making rice. It would always burn. Now, I can make it in my sleep. I like cooking it in a broth and adding chicken cutlets cut up into pieces.

My mother has been a tremendous help. She always knows how something should be fixed, at what temperature and for how long. Learning from her hasn't been as difficult as I thought. When she demonstrated how to cook fish, she showed me not only how to turn them over in the pan so they won't fall to pieces, but also how to buy them at our local fish market. I've only cooked fish twice so far, but I find it less intimidating now than before. Definitely couldn't have done it without her.



The big surprise has been the outpouring of support I've received on Facebook. A number of my friends have been incredibly encouraging, offering advice, suggestions and recipes. For instance: I met Tricia in Columbus. She was one of my bicycling friends. Don't even know her that well. She sent me a package of basmati rice with spices!

Most friends, though, have stuck to providing words of wisdom. Lynn has been a big help. Recently, she suggested I try sautéed vegetables, which I may do the next time I make noodles. Melissa is a friend of Andi's. I don't know her that well either, but I've picked her brain for advice because she cooks for her girlfriend all the time.



Jen and I have had lots of conversations about food. As a child, her mother fed her junk food literally all the time, and it took years to restore her health to normal and to lose weight. (She's writing a memoir about her rough childhood. There's a beautiful passage where she describes walking for exercise for the first time and how liberating it felt.) She has a pretty good understanding of what I'm going through, and I've confided in her a great deal. She recently suggested I visit a supermarket in Elmhurst, an Asian neighborhood, because I can get things like noodles dirt cheap.

In the beginning, I stuck to the basics, but I've slowly begun trying to cook with a flourish - adding a spice or an herb here, a vegetable or two there. I recognize it's a matter of trying out what works and what doesn't, but I'm still learning about so many things: portions, tastes, smells, cooking techniques. I certainly don't expect to learn even a fraction of it all. If I never cook for anyone other than my mother and myself, that would suit me fine. Melissa seems perfectly happy cooking for her girlfriend. (I had mistakenly thought she cooked for a living.)



Given all of this, you can imagine how differently I now view a movie like Ratatouille. I may not have Remy's culinary instincts, but I think I understand his love for cooking better. It is a form of self-expression, as individual as art or music or writing. It's a language I'm only starting to speak, but native speakers like Remy are eloquent.

For Remy, cooking is not just a fun hobby; it represents an escape from the conservative traditions of his clan and a window into a new culture, a new way of thinking. That's a powerful metaphor. I think this is one of the finest of the Pixar movies; it's certainly one of the best American films of the 21st century so far.

2 comments:

  1. Your journey is inspiring.

    I am a baker. Precise measurements, and the assured outcome of tasty treats that I consider gifts to my family.

    Janet and Garry are what I call "the chef of the future", they stand over the stove experimenting and never keeping track of measurements. Theirs is a foreign world to me, but one I admire.

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  2. "Chef of the future?" Can they core a apple? :-p

    I'm definitely not ready to cook like they do, but if I never do, that's okay. I'm enjoying learning how to make stuff, little by little.

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