When we cook, we cook alone...

Jeff Keys' ruminative author piece had me thinking about the solitude of cooks--not just chefs like Keys, who bear the responsibility for feeding and pleasing tables and tables of visitors every night, but home cooks too.

Personally, I like company in the kitchen.  It takes the edge off after a long day, and it makes the expectation we all face--coming up with something for everyone to eat in an hour or so--less of a burden.  I like chitchatting with my husband while he fixes me something to drink.

Yet there are parts of my cooking brain which remain completely solitary, even with my kids lobbing questions across the kitchen, or the welcome laughter of guests floating high in the steam.  There's a part that's tracking the progress of the chicken.  There's a part trying to remember if there's any more dill in the garden. There's another part converting tablespoons to ounces.  And since cooking is a full-contact sport, there's another part looking out for sharp things and hot things, not always successfully.

In the end, though, we're the captains of a ship that has to get into port somehow or other, and soon.  Cooking makes us leaders even when, in other parts of our lives, we don't think of ourselves as leaders. We may dither over exactly which shade of ivory to paint the walls, or what brand of fabric softener to buy.  But when it comes to literal matters of taste, all such wavering falls away.

Perhaps you've heard the Spanish proverb:  How many people does it take to make a salad dressing?  Four:  A profligate for the oil, a miser for the vinegar, a judge for the salt, and a madman to mix it all together.  We cooks contain multitudes, even when there's no one else in the room.  And that means that even when we're cooking alone, we are rarely lonely.

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