The talented chefs in the competitive and instructional cooking show circuit never cease to amaze me with their creativity and knowledge.
They magically conjure amazing dishes from such simple ingredients.
Through experience, education and instinct, they know which spices, herbs, vegetables and meats when combined that can create a symphony of flavors in your mouth.
Yes, I am in awe because I don’t like to cook. It’s more of a labor than a passion.
My favorite cooking ingredients
When I do decide to prepare a meal, I lasso my son into joining me in the kitchen for this drudgery. Together, we peel, cut, bread, mash, stir or flip the ingredients in their turn to create a satisfying, comfort meal.
Joseph’s involvement not only helps me overcome the feelings of being alone and isolated in the kitchen, but he makes this potentially solitary experience fun.
He and I bring the best ingredients to each culinary excursion: lively conversation and endless laughter.
These staples of my emotional, spiritual and intellectual diet have been essential to me overcoming my aversion to cooking and seeing it as a way to bring people together.
The work of cooking
While I was growing up, the meal itself brought people together.
The majority of the dishes were prepared in advance. My mother or grandmother would buzz about the kitchen, peeling, cutting, breading, mashing, stirring or flipping the ingredients in their turn.
I would begrudgingly help them, knowing that any enjoyable conversation and laughter were reserved for the guests. Cooking was tedious but necessary work with little time to chat as the time for the meal to be served approached.
Bored and hungry
In my heart, I wanted cooking to have the same effect as the meal, so I created the Infamous Chicken Dinner.
This meal was the Holy Grail for my friends and me in our quest to entertain ourselves on an extremely cold winter evening in Minnesota.
We were a band of bored, grad students with little money and large appetites.
Aside from the university, the little town in the middle of farm country where we lived offered few amusements. Mankato, situated near the Iowa border, had two bars that I recall from the time I resided there in the 1990s.
A few pool tables, a limited cigar selection and a bartender who was particularly generous with the liquor denoted one.
The other bar distinguished itself with a sticky dance floor for those who refused to keep their drinks at the table while dancing to the music the hired deejay of the evening determined.
If not at either of these bars, the students gathered at house parties for drinking, dancing and debating, sometimes at a fever pitch. These events generated enough heat to keep everyone warm during many frigid nights in the Midwest.
But, not everyone wanted to go to the bars or parties. Not everyone wanted to dance until they dropped or drink until they couldn’t stand. Some students found activities on campus to wile away the evenings, such as an involved board game or an indie film.
At times, however, none of these options seemed appealing. A collective mood would manifest itself that only meandering conversations, bottles of wine and a delicious meal could satisfy. A laid-back dinner and drinks at a friend’s home or apartment seemed the only appropriate response to this social lassitude.
The Infamous Chicken Dinner
It was this state of mind that inspired the Infamous Chicken Dinner.
My friend volunteered her home and I brought a fresh, whole — uncooked — chicken.
I suggested that we create a meal using the ingredients in her home, seasoning and stuffing the bird with her herbs, spices and vegetables. Our friends were invited to contribute as well.
She was intrigued by this idea and so were our friends. The meal would not be waiting for us; rather, we would be waiting for the meal.
Once our friends arrived, we began to prepare the chicken. Everyone participated in the creation of this meal, sorting through potential ingredients and making suggestions.
The bird was then placed in the oven and that’s when the fun started — and the anticipation grew. Wine was poured as we laughed, chatted, argued and debated.
For the hour or so the chicken was cooking, its delicious aroma accented with herbs and spices gradually filled the house. Our attention eventually turned to the bird that we checked periodically to inspect its progress.
Our mouths were watering as we discussed what it would taste like, this chicken that we each helped to make into a delicious meal.
Finally … finally … it was ready.
My friend removed the majestic creature from the oven and pulled it apart effortlessly.
And then we feasted! It was magnificent! Every ingredient brought out the flavor in the succulent chicken — or vice versa.
It was definitely the best chicken I have ever eaten.
So many people to thank
But what made this culinary experience so amazing was that it would not have been possible without everyone contributing, without everyone socializing and without everyone eagerly awaiting its arrival.
This meal helped me realize that cooking in its own way could bring people together.
It allowed us to put forward our individual tastes and indulge in how they all worked together to create something absolutely divine.
The elegance of this meal’s achievement has never been lost on me.
Through its creation, we celebrated each other while finding common ground in a humble chicken.
On Thursdays, I share a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
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