More than cooking myself, I love when people cook with me, and I love when people cook for me.

We went out last night, and got in fairly late. Got to bed at 2:30, woke up around 9, went to work at 10, and just got home now. My usual routine would be to come in, pull the vegetables out of my bag, and start to cook the evenings dinner, but as I came up the stairs tonight, I started to smell something stewing from our apartment.

I knew it wasn’t pizza, and it wasn’t a weird curry or hamburger smell that I normally pick up coming from the neighbor’s apartments. It was the smell of a tomato sauce. That meant one thing. She was making manicotti.

Of the two of us who live in the house, it’s no secret that I’m the one who usually does the cooking. It’s what I’ve been trained for, and it’s what I can do with ease. The pots and pans that cover our stove are my blackboards, and each night’s meal is my solvable equation.  Yeah, Mulligan stew is a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, but the end result is the sum of all parts in perfect harmony.

With that being said, I admire those who do not cook, or think that they do not cook, but who put the time, effort, and thought into the food that they do make. Right now, there’s a sauce on the stove that has all sorts of good things in it that has been simmering for a while, and there are pasta shells being filled with cheese and spinach, and there’s a beautiful woman with a smile on her face laughing on the phone to her mother making one of my favorite meals.

Moreso than all the crap that I throw together because I can, I recognize the effort that it takes to cultivate a meal. You forage, plot, mix, stuff, fry, simmer, stop, think, bake. Everything. Within the context of savoring a finished meal, I appreciate everything that has gone into the preparation. It starts with a seed of a thought- an inkling of something that can be enjoyed by everyone who tastes it, because along with the time invested, comfort is built into the meal.

She bought the shells and fixings for the meal. She went to the store, worked the recipe, boiled the noodles and stuffed them. Made a sauce from scratch, letting it simmer until all the flavors were just so on the palate, and then combined it all and put it in a casserole dish to bake until bubbly hot. It’s a beautiful thing when you have the creaminess of a ricotta blended with a savory tomato sauce and a pasta that fills you up. Making a meal is art, regardless of how it looks on your plate. You’ve got your palette of greens, reds, ecru, and the smells of fresh herbs and vegetables to combine. When it all comes together, nothing is more satisfying to me than the smell of some delicious item wafting through the home, promise of a wholly fulfilling dinner ripe under your nose. It’s all about how it makes you feel. It’s familiarity, comfort, delight, relief, and expectation all in a single inhale. When you take a bite, it all just seems to come together.

One of the many reasons I adore her is because of this meal. When we have it, it’s all I want for dinner, and it’s always just the right thing.

On a similar note: do not ever, as a diner, forget the simple pleasure of a grilled cheese.

***

It’s now after hours, and my belly is full. It is no longer grumbling, and I am comfortably reclining whilst typing this. After a night of sharing food and conversation with friends as we should, together, I am satisfied and grateful for a meal that afforded the opportunity.

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