I’m certain a mathematician can work this into a formula, perhaps a beautifully plotted graph that demonstrates in didactic elegance the relation one experiences with recipes and ingredients, with passing time as a factor. Like the rest of my generation, following from milk, I started out eating nothing but Cerelac, a simple, bland sort of food that my mother used to get me onto solids. Soon after came fruit, then rice dishes, vegetables, yoghurt, cheese, meat and the rest. And there was no stopping progress. Retrospectively, Cerelac was my Big Bang moment, a taste experience before which there was nothing, but after which nothing would be the same. Unknown molecules start forming and binding to each other into new recipes and dishes, pushing my personal Food Universe into an ever-expanding state in both breadth and height, giving rise to new experiences.
When you start cooking for yourself, and if you have that kind of obsessive grain within you, you might throw yourself at it whole-heartedly. What was ultimately a nutritional exercise quickly transcends the Get-It-In-Ya experience as you discover that so-called Joy of Cooking. Your one bedroom studio closes in as more and more recipe books pack against the wall and more and more utensils are stacked above the kitchen bench. Your fridge will almost certainly contain foods with exceedingly exotic origins, superbly interesting qualities and utterly unpronounceable names. (While we’re on the subject, how DO you pronounce galangal?). With the ammunition well-stocked, experimentation ensues and with it, the inevitable successes and failures.
To me, that seems to be the era of chaos that precedes universal order. At one point in time, not too long ago, a cookbook mutiny threatened to over-throw my sanity; I had over 50 ingredients in my fridge, the same amount in my pantry and more pots and pans than you can poke a slotted, wooden dessert spoon at. But gradually, things changed. I stopped buying utensils and use a frying pan and a cast iron pot for most of my cooking. Instead of purchasing more cookbooks, I rely on 2 or 3 that I own already and love the most. I make stir-fries with 4 or 5 ingredients instead of 10. My fridge stocks a limited variety of food. It seems my Food Universe has reversed and is now shrinking. And I love it that way. My dinner might be a pastured steak fried in good butter with some hot English mustard on the side. If I am feeling adventurous, some glazed carrots might find their way to the plate. Good quality eggs make a meal, with need for little else. Some good cream mixed in there, and a just-set, custardy omelet is a decidedly brilliant dinner. Dessert need be nothing more than Pepe Saya’s phenomenal mascarpone with some berries on top. Or a slice of good cheese. If the ingredients are of high quality, there’s no need to diversify. Focus on the singular and you will find happiness, that’s my new mantra. Sure, I might not be heading straight back to Cerelac, and perhaps the universe is getting more focused rather than shrinking. Order. There’s a quiet enjoyment to be found in minimalizing a repertoire; a kind of meditative calm, an asserted certainty; and if you look closely enough, an infinity of choice.
How about you? Are you eating more variety than you did a few years ago? Do you find you are happier with more food choice or with less?