Sweet Smell Of Success

Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil into a stainless steel skillet on medium-high heat. Throw in a minced clove of garlic, or, even better, a whole clove of garlic. It sizzles, and in a moment, the garlic releases its flavor. Drop in some sliced onions and sweat them out. Crack some pepper and sprinkle sea salt. Pick your favorite herb—I like rosemary—and toss that in there, too.

You haven’t made anything, but, God, isn’t that better than reading the news? Keep going with it, add tomatoes and zucchini, let it cook and fill the whole house with something beautiful and basic and right, if only for the act of it.

I spend hours in the kitchen. Yesterday, I filled a large stockpot (which we usually use as a breadbox) with ten different vegetables and herbs. I found out the French name of allspice (piment jamaïque) and bought some at the local spice-&-specialty shop. I filled up this pot of vegetables and spices with water and cooked it down to a beautiful stock. That took about an hour.

Then I used the stock to make a wonderful French onion soup. Lovely. Apollonia brought a jar of the soup to her job and the French declared it repulsive by the look of it. They asked why it’s called French onion soup—don’t the English have onions? The Irish girl liked it.

The soup took an hour. I made rosemary-garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. I was in the kitchen about two-and-a-half hours making a dinner that Apollonia and I ate up in twenty minutes.

I love cooking. I love going to the market and picking out fresh ingredients and being excited when something comes in season. I am at a strange time in my life filled with idleness and impatience, but I have peace and focus and confidence in the kitchen. I happily spend hours cooking, listening to radio shows or old records, chopping, chopping, chopping, and then finally there is that moment when the first ingredient sizzles in the oiled skillet.

I wish I had as much drive to write. I put that off all day—I have been drifting all day and now, only at the end of it, when I have to put on dinner or anticipate Apollonia coming home, do I sit down and write something. Why is it such a labor, and why have I committed to something so wanting of pleasure?

The joy of cooking is in taking raw ingredients and making art. Not only art, but sustenance. It is purposeful and so easily sublime. Any fine thing started as something simple, be it a saddle, a fence, or a loaf of bread. But do that simple thing well enough and often enough, and soon it becomes a vehicle for your art: the well-cut and fine-trimmed silver-stirrup saddle; the ornamental wrought iron gates and fences of the palaces of St. Petersburg; and the oyster mushroom ravioli in fresh shallot-fennel tomato sauce I plan on making this week.

I don’t know how to write the way I cook, and, more than that, I don’t know if I should. Writing has always seemed to me to be a rather thankless and somewhat joyless art; unlike the performing arts, the writer agonizes in a lonely room for most of his life for those epiphanies and rare moments of satisfaction. It is this way: as a writer my joy has always been in looking back at the things I have done. As a cook, the joy is in the doing: the sweat and dance and pressure of bringing everything together; the sense of accomplishment; and the gratification of eating my art and seeing the real pleasure it gives people (as opposed to the unknown and doubtful pleasure amateur writing can give).

It is dangerous to express my doubts. I am not planning a career change. I have already considered it and have decided that I enjoy cooking as a pastime, and if I did it professionally, however that’s done, it would lose its fun. But I need to know how to make writing more attractive. I cannot continue like this, these days of anxious procrastination. I suppose the reason I’m doing this blog—aside from to prove my existence to a largely uncaring world—is because here, I write the way I cook, fast and relaxed, and it may in the end produce the best results. I feel, as with the cooking, that joy and craft are sneaking their way into the work.


Cathy said…
Reilly, you must relax and write about what you know, then you will enjoy the process as much as you enjoy cooking! You make your vegetarian meals sound palatable even to a die-hard carnivore like myself.
Do not indulge in your favorite worldly pleasures until you have sat at your computer for a period of time. For example...I can read the newspaper after I have done an hour of homage to my computer, or I can treat myself to a leisurely stroll after two hours. It matters not if you write, so much as you discipline yourself to sit and contemplate. Hopefully, after a while the words will flow.
Anonymous said…
Good for people to know.

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