A Practice for the Days You Eat

M. Jane Ross

I’ve always looked on the task of cooking the evening meal for my family as a meditative exercise that separates the outward-directed activity of the workday from the hearth-centered conviviality of the evening. Though the day-to-day family meals I cook are not often works of culinary virtuosity, they are usually balanced, varied, and tasty (at least, my family tells me they are). I look on each meal as adding to a “body of work” as the chief cook for my household and as providing nourishment on more than just the physical level for my family.

Some evenings I stretch myself by trying a new recipe or a new ingredient, or I try to reproduce some dish I’ve eaten elsewhere and enjoyed. So my repertoire has grown gradually over the years. When time permits (more often on a weekend) and if we are expecting company, I am drawn to the old-fashioned dishes that require long, slow cooking and that yield deeply comforting dishes where the taste of individual ingredients is subsumed in a rich complex blend of flavors: cassoulet or moussaka, beef stew, coq au vin, or pot roast. 

What brings me back night after night to the stove to cook dinner from scratch are the connections that this task reinforces. There’s the connection to the farmers who grow the produce I buy and whom I greet weekly at the farm stand. There’s the connection I feel through the recipes I use, most especially to the incredible family cooks I knew in Brazil. There are the connections I recognize in the very cooking vessels and utensils I use daily. The clay pot (panela de barro) that I use for the Brazilian fish stew (Moqueca), with the still-visible marks of the artisan’s fingers in its dark clay, brings back intense memories of my time as a newly-wed in Rio de Janeiro.

This Brazilian clay cooking pot (panela de barro) still shows the impressions left by the artisan's fingers. MJ Ross

I realized only recently that my cooking has become a regular practice that’s intimately tied to many aspects of my life: to people from my past, to other times and other places, and to those whose livelihoods are bound up in helping create my food. I realized too that I have been more successful at creating a sustained and satisfying cooking practice than a journaling practice, and I wonder now, how could I learn from my experience in the kitchen to establish an equally nourishing writing practice? For this practice to be a sustainable one, it needs to become a routine, so that when I skip it, I feel un-nourished, hungry for what I know feeds me. And when the practice is rooted in connection to those with whom and for whom I write, then the writing is its own reward.

My music teacher used to say: “You don’t have to practice your instrument every day; just on the days you eat.” We writers can apply the same dictum. So I commit to noticing how my writing practice can become as nourishing and satisfying as the food I choose and prepare for my family and to write only on the days I eat.  

One response to “A Practice for the Days You Eat

  1. Wonderful, thought-provoking article. I really liked your description of the way you cook! Me too, but I never realized it or thought about putting it into words. Thanks.

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