June 16, 2011

Cooking as Relaxation: Am I Missing Something?

I read a poll recently that said for many cooking and food preparation are very important leisure activities. Eating food I understand. I like to eat and my gym membership proves the point. But, I will admit I have never been grabbed by the apron strings and found any joy in preparing a fancy meal.

To me, a meal is primarily about providing fuel for my body. Yes, I'd like it to be healthy whenever possible, though I am not a fanatic about what I will or will not eat. But, my experience with following an involved recipe boils down to this: spend 60-75 minutes cutting, sautéing, and otherwise preparing and cooking a meal that is then consumed in something under 15 minutes.

OK, so the answer is eat more slowly. Take my time. Savor the tastes and experience the meal as an event. But, now my time invested in providing fuel to my body is around 2 hours. That certainly qualifies as a leisure activity, but I am still missing the appeal.

Being open-minded about this subject I did a little research. I typed "cooking blogs" into Google and came up with over 93 million results. There appear to be literally thousands of different cooking magazines I could read. There are several cable TV networks that talk about food and cooking 24 hours a day. For millions of folks cooking is a hobby. To them, preparing a meal is a form of creative expression, sort of like painting with vegetables.

Obviously I am missing something. An activity this popular must have something going for it. I read several times that cooking for pleasure relieves stress. Again, I say I'm missing something. Cooking creates stress for me. Maybe I don't have the right utensils or mixing bowls, or something. Then, there is all that cleanup! Other sites talk about cooking is a way to show love to others. So is going to a fine restaurant and letting someone else do all that work.

Then, I found an article by a fellow who went from cooking as a necessity to cooking is a hobby. Apparently he loves to learn what various spices will do the taste of a dish. He likes trying all sorts of different kitchen gadgets. He reads the labels on ingredients and has become more health conscious, an important benefit for him and his family.

Now we are getting somewhere. Cooking to better control what you put in your body makes sense. Buying new gadgets, even if for the kitchen,  sounds fun. But, I would probably draw the line at exotic spices in my shake and bake chicken recipe.

 I need your input. Do you cook for fun? Do you enjoy preparing an occasional fancy meal for family or friends? Does all this chopping and boiling relax you? What is your position on this important topic? Is cooking a chore or a thrill?  

I am on slow simmer while I await your comments.

Friday afternoon update: the response and comments have been strong enough I am going to take on the selection and preparation of a three course, fancy meal sometime in the near future. Look for a post about my experience, complete with pictures. It will be interesting!


  1. I've given up cooking. I loved to bake,but I don't do it anymore. I don't miss it-too much work and mess. I eat lots of fresh vegatables and prepare simple meals. I appeciate the work of those who love to cook-but for now I'll pass.

  2. I don't mind cooking in the winter. What else is there to do? But in summer I am all about salads, tossing something on the grill, and getting outdoors as fast as possible!

  3. Cooking for me allows my creativity juices to flow (medium rare in my case) :). This is especially true at the soup kitchen where I volunteer. We get some of the strangest food items; things that the local stores are not able to sell. And we often don't get some of the basic ingredients such as meat or often times veggies. It takes a good degree to creativity to make a nourishing meal for sixty people on a daily basis from what is on hand.

  4. Donna,

    YES! I agree, though I never had the urge to bake anything, except myself on a Hawaiian beach. I am a big believer in leftovers and quick prep.


    I have the same feeling about being outdoors and using the grill with one exception: in Phoenix we do that in the winter. In the summer we hibernate. The prediction is 112 degrees next week. Turning on an oven is simply out of the question.

  5. Morning RJ,

    Now that kind of cooking make sense to me. You are combining creativity with volunteerism. Good for you.

    A soup without meat or sometimes veggies must be an interesting challenge. I'll bet you produce something much more tasty than broth!

  6. In our household, my husband is the cook. He loves it and is very good at it. I'm not a huge fan of cooking, every once in a while do cook a nice meal and am always surprised that I am enjoying myself when I do it. I get the most pleasure when I'm making something using our own home-grown produce (tomatoes, artichokes, squash, lemons, berries, cherries, or herbs.) I'm still amazed when we can make practically a whole dinner just from things in the garden.

  7. Hi Syd,

    Making a meal from your own garden..how fabulous. Most of us are so separated from the actual production of our food that we lose any connection to its reality. Betty has several pots of herbs that are used a lot, but that is the extent of our own input.

    Tonight we are going to try a spaghetti squash for the first time. AS I understand it, the key is lots of punctures so it doesn't explode.

  8. Cooking is like any other basic life function that people become passionate about. Cars are just transportation. Clothes are just protection. Music is just noise. Furniture is just a place to sit. Yet, each of these parts of life can produce passionate involvement. And passionate involvement, whether you are a prison minister, athlete, teacher, chef or craftsman, adds richness and dimension to your life. The "twenty-somethings" have embraced cooking just the way I used to build cars and drool over the latest auto gadget. So, enjoy a new cooking tool, build a meal, and sit down to watch "Iron Chef" with your kids.
    Dr Keith

  9. Hi Keith,

    You make a great point: anything can become a passion, including cooking. I hadn't really thought about it in those terms before.

    So, I don't have a passion for cooking, but I could experiment and see if it is simply hiding, waiting for me to puree it to the surface!

  10. Everyday cooking is a bore!!!! Thinking of what to eat, then going to the store to get it and then fix it - only to have the meal over quickly and the kitchen a mess that begs to be cleaned up.

    However, cooking things like soup - you make a lot to enjoy for many meals - or cookies that last a long time. Well that's a different story. I don't do this kind of cooking often, but when I do, I get a feeling of satisfaction knowing that I have cooked something that is healthy and tasty and will be there to enjoy over a long period of time.
    So give me someone to do the everyday stuff, and I'll take care of the "specials".

  11. Good morning, Pat,

    Now you are on to something. I actually do find satisfaction in preparing things in a slow cooker, like soups or a roast. It is pretty much out of sight and out of mind until it is ready to eat 6 hours later. Clean up is simple, too.

    One of cooking's greatest inventions is the leftover. Because we are cooking for two, we will almost never make only enough for one meal. Making enough for two main courses is no more work than for one.

    Of course, restaurants are nice, too.

  12. Cooking for fun = eating for fun, which = getting diabetes and other over weight related diseases. You discovered 93 million google hits on this subject because, let's be real about this - We love to eat, and are getting fat There is growing evidence that our generation will live the longest of any prior, or later group. Our children will live shorter lives than us because they eat too much, and move too little. Is this something we baby boomers should be proud of?

  13. Generally, I cook to eat, and eat to live. Though I do get some jags at times to try something new, like baking bread, creating interesting salads, or using the crock pot for new recipes for soups or stews. But those things fade quickly for me.

    My wife loves the cooking "thang" and that's fine with me. :)

  14. I tend to agree with pat. I adore eating especially gourmet food with all those exotic spices in the chicken recipe. But as the woman of the house, I put dinner on the table every.single.weeknite for God knows how many years. So I'll cook up a storm for company, but for the day to day stuff I can see myslef getting a grileed chicken every few days once the kids are gone.

    My husband on the other hand, read cookbooks like they were novels and cooked everyweekend andmost holiday meals for twenty five years.

  15. Adam,

    I quoted a study yesterday on my Twitter account that says watching too much TV actually increases diabetes. Why? Snacking while watching, seeing all the commercials for junk food, and inactivity.

    I'm not sure I am ready to accept the blame for the next generation's health, but I certainly agree Americans have gotten huge.

    Of course, cooking healthy foods is so much better for us than microwaving prepared and processed stuff. So, cooking isn't to blame, our laziness is.

  16. Steve,

    That's me: "cook to eat and eat to live" for the most part. We will try one new recepie every 7-10 days, but usually they are not complicated. If we both give it an A it goes into the files. Anything lower than that...into the trash.

  17. Hi Barb,

    I'm noticing a trend so far: many women are tired of cooking since usually they are the ones who have been preparing meals forever.

    Because they aren't burned out on it, men are more apt to treat it as a new and exciting experience.

    Your husband, Barb, started many years ago to handle the "special" meals. That's interesting. I wonder what got him to take on that task. After a quarter century, he's probably gotten quite good at it.

  18. Bob:

    I agree with you, and am not saying that the baby boom generation is responsible for future generations failures to eat right and exercise. I do think that we have, set a poor example. It's ironic that we continue to stuff our faces full of chow, only pausing long enough to complain about impending medicare cuts because we desperately need medical attention that is primarily caused by over eating and lack of exercise.

  19. I agree, Adam, that many of our health problems as we age are our own fault. At some point, health costs will be adjusted based on whether the patient refuses to quit smoking or lose 50 pounds. It galls me to go to the gym and watch what I eat, while paying for the fellow who thinks a daily double cheesburger is a healthy choice.

    Personal responsibility is a rapidly disappearing commodity.

  20. Well stated! I'm equally galled. Thanks.

  21. I've loved to cook since I was 10 years old and now I've been cooking for 50 years. My mom was a good cook and her specialty was Iowa farm cooking. When I was a kid, as the oldest daughter, I was expected to help in the kitchen and too over cooking many dinners by the time I was 12.

    The past 15 years or so, when my husband and I started focusing on healthy eating, my love of cooking came in handy. I like to take recipes we like and convert them to healthier fare. One of my favorite things to do is look for new recipes and try different dishes, like Thai or Lebanese.

    I grow and use my own herbs, which adds another dimension to gardening too.

    To me, the favorite part of my day is when I head to the kitchen to make dinner and it is relaxing for me. Since what we eat is such an important part of life, I always thought I was very lucky to love cooking. It opens up many possibilities. Also, it saves us money on going out to dinner because I can cook the same dishes at home!

  22. Good morning Joan,

    You summarize perfectly the joy of cooking. You are lucky to be good at it and find it relaxing.

    I assume most readers knew I was being somewhat tongue in check with this post. In fact, I do a lot of the cooking in our house and often will pick a new recipe to try..nothing terribly fancy, but at least out of the ordinary.

    Cooking isn't relaxing or a hobby for me, but I can find my way around the kitchen. Maybe I'll try fried tumbleweeds (inside joke for Joan).

  23. For me, the explanation: a basic and practical social activity. As your research found, cooking is a way to show love for others.

    "Cheese product" casseroles not excluded


  24. If cheese/macaroni/hamburger casseroles were ever excluded I would have grown up a hungry boy. After a long day of teaching, that was Mom's default choice.

  25. Bob, maybe fried tumbleweeds could be your niche market!-lol

  26. Joan,

    They would certainly be easier to mail!

    Note: see Joan's blog to understand this exchange!

  27. Bob,

    I feel exactly like you do about cooking! It feels more like a chore than a creative, relaxing, or fulfilling activity. Can't wait to see how the 3-course meal comes off!

  28. Hi Sandra,

    I have noted on my calendar when I have to plan my meal and be sure the ingredients make the shopping list! It will make an interesting post but I'm not so sure about the meal.

  29. Bob,
    I've always loved to cook. When the kids were small I'd fix special dishes on weekends but mostly just fix breakfast for my boys on Sundays. These days, I don't cook much because it is usually just my wife and I. I'll whip up something special when our son comes over. These days I look for things that I can whip up quickly, serve two people and still arn't boring. My favorite is breakfast. My only problem is that my wife doesn't like variety. When I go beyond egg,bacon and biscuits or lox and bagels she gets mopey. And I certainly won't fuss to make the food I cook 'healthy' like the health thought police have conditioned us. Food is for enjoying and if it might make you fat, you just don't eat it so often or take so much. After 70 years I'm for enjoying life not holding back.

  30. Hi Ralph,

    If I had to choose a favorite meal to have at a restaurant it would be breakfast. And, yes, it is bacon, sausage, hash browns, wheat toast with extra butter, eggs, even grits on occasion. But, at home I'll opt for cereal and yogurt with a banana. I just don't want to go through all the effort to make and clean up a big breakfast.

  31. Bob,
    Once you get the system down, cleaning up gets to be part of the experience, especially if you share.

  32. Ralph,

    Someone that helps the cleanup phase...so that's the trick!

    Actually my wife and I have a system: one person prepares the meal and the other cleans up and loads the dishwasher. It works well.


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