Yesterday I was cooking in my kitchen, and I realized that cooking is much like writing. You need to stay within a certain structure in both writing and cooking, but then there is room for inspiration--and it is in that inspiration that you discover magic.
Comfort foods for me are like my favorite books--I know exactly how they turn out, but therein lies the comfort. I know just what I'm going to get.
I reach for comfort foods whenever I have a bad day--or when I want to surround my family in love. In my novel, Jane in Bloom, Ethel makes comfort foods for Jane--and preparing and eating those foods helps Jane to heal.
Yesterday, it was cold and raining outside, so I prepared beef stew for my daughters. One of them loves eating meat, and the other (like me) would prefer a salad. So I have to alternate meals around here--in the same way that I find as a writer I must alternate genres in order to reach more readers. The manuscript I recently completed is a paranormal YA adventure, which is completely different from the middle grade family drama Jane in Bloom. And I am presently working on two ideas at once (not the best plan, by the way!). One is an alternate history novel and the other is a YA drama. Sort of like making lasagna one night and cobb salad the next.
I am not a well-trained cook. I have learned to cook out of necessity. My abilities have evolved as my daughters have grown. I started out making my own pureed baby foods for them, then a couple of years later, added to my talents, the world's best quesadillas and carrot muffins. And now, I have finally graduated to real family dinners. I find that I love cooking because it makes my daughters so happy to eat the food I have prepared for them. As a single working mother, my cooking is not elaborate--I wish I had time to make the Martha Stewart meals in my cookbooks, but I only have a short time to cook and I have to juggle the chopping with math and spelling homework. So I take shortcuts wherever possible--it may not be gourmet, but it is healthy and comforting at the same time.
If anyone is in the mood for Rainy Day Beef Stew, here you go:
1 1/2 lbs of beef stew meat (I prefer grass-fed organic)
1 bag of peeled baby carrots
Six medium sized russet potatoes
Three pints of Beef Broth
1 Cup of Flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tablespoons of oil
1. Salt and pepper the beef, then dredge the beef in flour.
2. Put the oil in a pan and warm on medium heat. Brown the beef in the pan.
3. Put stock in large pot. Add beef to stock. Bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat to simmer.
5. After one hour, add peeled and quartered potatoes.
6. After another hour, add quartered onions and carrots.
7. Cook for one more hour. When meat is fork-tender, it is ready.
8. Serve in bowls with a pat of butter. Eat with someone you love in a comfy warm room with the rain pelting the windows.