I was recently asked, “What is your motivation to make everything so beautiful for just two people?” Since then, I have been thinking a lot about this. There are the short easy answers. “It’s just who I am.” But that doesn’t answer the question. Those who might ask obviously don’t have the same drive that I do. They are genuinely curious. So I gave it more thought.
We are a species driven by attraction. We like things to “look good” and we insist on this from who we choose to spend our lives with to the apple at the supper market and everything in-between. It’s not that simple though. If it were, we would all be surrounded by beauty, we would never let anything including ourselves or our homes “look” bad. Let’s be honest. We’re also very lazy. The more advances we make the lazier it makes us. That’s not to say you sit around all day doing nothing but it has killed our drive. How many people WANT to take the time to do anything anymore? We all want instant gratification. Somewhere along the way we lost our desire to take the time and do it right, a job well done, or any or the other cliches.
It was not that long again that if we wanted something we had to make it ourselves. This ability to just go buy one is desensitizing us to being able to take pride in our accomplishments. Think about the last time you made something? Anything… It could be cooking or not but when you put the time effort and energy into making something you have a deeper appreciation for it. That appreciation turns into enjoyment. Sticking with the topic of food however think about spaghetti. Most American households make it. They get a box of pasta and boil it and they buy a jar of sauce and dump it on. If they are feeling really ambitious they might brown some pre ground meat and add it to the sauce. Finally they top it with already grated cheese.
Now lets take the same dinner. This time you’re going to join me in my kitchen. It’s the end of August and the beginning of September. Tomatoes are prolific on the vines in the garden to the point I have to pick them daily. So let’s head to the garden. It’s hot and humid out and there are some mosquitoes but we stroll up the hill to the garden. The sun is shining and the tomato plants are out of control (in the best possible way). We begin digging into the plants looking for full ripe tomatoes. You reach in. As you do this bright vibrant smell that only comes from the fresh vine of a tomato plant wafts towards you. Birds are chirping all around you and the occasional butterfly dances through your peripheral vision. Our basket is getting pretty full and I have gotten a few mosquito bites. I mention we should head in. “Oh, wait… I almost forgot the basil. Would you mind picking 10-12 stems?” You head over to the bed of basil. You start picking, With each stem the aroma get stronger. You’re hungry.
We take the bounty back into the house. The air conditioning feels great! You start rinsing the tomatoes of any bits of dirt but nothing too aggressive. While you do that I prepare the rimmed baking sheets, lining them with foil and preheating the oven. I also grab some garlic and onions form the pantry. I get busy pealing garlic and rough chopping the onion while you quarter the tomatoes. We lay it all out on the baking sheets. Smelling these amazing tomatoes you can help yourself but grab a few bites of vine ripened tomato and tell me how you’ve never tasted anything quite like this. I ask you to pick the leaves of basil from the stems and tuck them into the tomatoes. I finish it off with a drizzle of olive oil and some corse salt and fresh pepper. The whole thing goes in the oven to roast at a very low temperature for a really long time.
I whip up a batch of my favorite cocktails and we go sit on the sun porch and gab about all that’s going on in our lives and every so often you tell me how fantastic it must be to live like this with a garden like that and how amazing the tastes and smells are whether in the kitchen or in the garden. Due to the long roast time I whip up something different for dinner but we all enjoy a fantastic meal as the tomatoes roast. After dinner the tomatoes are finally done and have cooled slightly. You watch in amazement as I pick up the trey and dump all the contents into my food processor. I secure the lid and quickly blitz it up. I open the lid and hand you a spoon. “Go ahead, taste it.” You do. The flavors dance on your pallet. The rich sweet tomatoes, the sweet onion, the basil, the tang of the garlic and best of all it’s a thick full-bodied sauce.
Now, let’s jump to today. I haven’t seen you in a while. We all lead such hectic lives but I invite you over for dinner. You pull up to the house. You see how lush all this rain has made the property. You come inside and I offer you a glass of wine. You take a seat at the island and I pull out the food processor again. I dump in some flour and eggs and blitz it up into a dough. I wrap it up and let it rest while I put the pieces of the machine into the dishwasher. You look shocked. “You’re not going to rinse that?” I tell you no and go on to tell you about how great our dishwasher is. You look skeptical but slightly in awe. We gab for a bit and then I grab the pasta machine out of the pantry and as we chat I start rolling out the dough. I put a pot on the stove, using the pot-filler add the water and set it on high to boil. I keep working out rolling out the dough. I dust the counter with flour and continue to roll it out. You’re shocked how easy I make it look (it really is easy). Now have my sheets of pasta. I pass it through the other side and now I have spaghetti. I put another pan on the stove. I grab some ground meat I got from my butcher and a block of cheese I picked up from my favorite cheese shop. I hand you the cheese and a grater, asking you to do the honors. I quickly and effortlessly brown the beef. As it’s almost ready I go to the pantry and grab a couple jars of that tomato sauce we made last summer. I pop them open and add them to the meat. The kitchen is overwhelmed with the aroma of the pasta sauce. The water is boiling so the pasta goes in. Almost as quickly as it went in it comes out. You’re shocked! “That’s it?” Yep, I tell you. The joys of fresh pasta. I put some in a shallow bowl. I carefully ladle out some sauce and nestle it into the center of the mound of pasta. I take a big pinch of the cheese you’ve been grating and sprinkle it over the sauce and the pasta. I grab the pepper mill, giving it a few turns.
Once all the servings are assembled we sit to eat. You look at the dish. Form the stark white ceramic against the pale pasta and the red sauce, to the artful arrangement of the pasta sauce and cheese, you look with anticipation. You take your first bite. The pasta is something you weren’t expecting. It’s firm enough to have a bite but perfectly cooked. It’s flavor is subtle but noticeable. The sauce immediately takes you back to that day in the garden with me picking tomatoes. The food becomes something so much more than simply a quick and easy spaghetti but a delicious meal, full of flavor but there’s something else. What is it? Then it hits you. This is invoking memories, feelings, moods. It’s an experience and with that it becomes so much more than a meal.
Now, thinking about the two experiences both are perfectly fine but by taking the time it created something more than a meal. Making food an experience is all the motivation and inspiration I need to make each meal something amazing both to look at and to eat. Are all my meals perfect? No. Are they all an experience? No. That said I notice when a meal is something thrown together and when it’s done with intention.
Going back to the question of where do I get the motivation? I think the answer is simple. The motivation is the last experience. When my husband and I sit to eat a meal together it’s a shared experience. Good or bad we share, we reflect, and we converse about it. I have grown so much as a cook because of those conversations. When I am feeling a bit beat down and want something I don’t have to put much work into for the upcoming meal all I have to think about was how enjoyable the last meal was.
You may think this is an awful lot for a meal but let me share one last observation with you. The other day I was talking with my husband about food. My epiphany was that food can be the most enjoyable way to spend the hard earned dollar and the experience can be stretched so much more than anything else we spend our income on.
It starts with the meal plan. I dig into my cookbooks and look for recipes to try. As I come across the things I am excited to try I tell my husband about them. He too gets excited about what I will be making. I get the grocery list put together and then on Saturday morning we head out together to do the shopping. We don’t dilly-dally and we do have a plan but we don’t rush this is our time together. As we drive from store to store we talk about what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in our own lives, we talk. We talk almost the entire time. Sometimes we put on a podcast and discus the topic after the episode but it’s time together. As we shop my husband knows what’s to come so as the ingredients fill the cart he’s just as excited as I am.
When we get home from our day of running errands I get everything put away and we enjoy a little relaxing time. Sunday we get up and after getting ready for the day we set in on all our meal prep. We get all the breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks made. If need be we make another batch of dog food too. We do all this together. Talking or listening to music as we get through all the recipes and preparation. It’s just more time together and it’s not costing anything. Then during the week as we enjoy each meal we enjoy it even more because the whole experience of getting the ingredients to getting it on the table is done as something we can share in together. It makes us want to savor and enjoy the meal. That dreaded task of menu planning, grocery shopping, or cooking dinner EVERY SINGLE NIGHT… became something we both look forward to.
Although I may want to cut corners and just through dinner on the table (and occasionally I do) I have to push on. I have to make it desirable to create the moment in the day where no matter what else is going on in life there’s that carved out piece of time where something looks amazing, tastes amazing, and edifies you on more than just getting sustenance. It can’t be about, do I “want” to make it beautiful? It needs to just be a requirement. No excuses. This is my time as the one who takes care of the home to show my husband that I care, I put effort in to my part, and it my way to show him how much I love him.
If I can’t do it just for the two of us I wouldn’t ever be able to do it for any more than the two of us and you got to start somewhere. So tonight think about what you put on the table and maybe try and put a little more intention into it’s presentation. After all we eat with our eyes first.
Finally a major component to motivation is having an inspirational space to work in. You’ll never find motivation to make beautiful food if you hate how your kitchen looks or if it feels dark and depressing. Creating a space to be creative in is key.