Why do I cook?
There are many different answers to that question, but my reason usually varies depending on the day and my mood. Mostly, I truly love being in the kitchen. Of course, when life gets in the way, making a dinner can seem like an impossible task to conquer. These nights are deemed “date nights,” which make us feel better about eating out…we’re being romantic, not lazy!
I find that even on the days when I’ve declared a hiatus in the kitchen though, it calls my name. Take-out menu in one hand, phone in the other, I’ll suddenly decide instead that I’ll just make a “quick” sauce with the tomatoes and peppers sitting in the fridge. Once that first onion is chopped, I’m in another world, suddenly relaxed, relishing the time it takes to make what has turned into a not-so-quick sauce after all. To me, there is such comfort in cooking that it only takes moments to turn a bad mood around. I’m amazed to find myself singing and dancing along to music mere minutes after I’ve been ranting to Andy about my “awful” day. Perhaps it’s that my day wasn’t actually so bad? In the grand scheme of things, no, it definitely wasn’t, and cooking somehow gives me that perspective.
What else do I like about cooking?
I like the look on someone’s face when they really love something you’ve made. My sister is notorious for this face. Her eyes roll slightly back and her mouth turns up in a Cheshire Cat-like smirk. She gets “the face” when she eats Cadbury eggs, chocolate or bacon, among other things. Turns out, she also gets “the face” when she eats my blood orange marmalade.
My sister has recently taken up residence in another state. Her move didn’t come as a big shock, and due to her travelling the past few years, I’d already gotten used to her not being just down the street. With technology being what it is, we get to “see” each other often and are up-to-date on the current goings-on in each other’s lives. But she was here visiting last week and seeing her face-to-face made me miss some things more than usual. I miss our after-work happy hour meetings where we’d dish on our day, nothing too inconsequential to mention. I miss our inside jokes that would leave others looking at us like we were insane. I miss stealing her clothes and then blatantly lying about it, sometimes while wearing said item of clothing. I miss throwing cashews in her eye. (Really, who doesn’t close their eye when a cashew is coming towards it?) I miss our Spock-like mind meld, where all we’d have to say was one or two words to get our point across. But mostly, I just miss my sister…period.
So when she tasted my marmalade and made “the face,” I promptly made an extra batch to send home with her, under the guise of wanting to tweak the recipe a bit. Why the guise? I’m still not sure…the best I can come up with was that I wasn’t quite ready to admit how much I miss her; wasn’t ready to shed the tears that accompanied that admission.
As I was making the second batch, I thought about the look on her face when she tried it, how much I appreciated that look, and how I hoped she would make that face every time she ate it. And also, how I hoped that every time she ate it, she would think of me. After all, the gift of food is a powerful one…hopefully as much for the recipient as for the giver.
Whether you're cooking to relax, cooking for yourself, or cooking for others...enjoy.
Blood Orange Marmalade with Clove and Vanilla
Makes about 4 cups
1 pound blood oranges
1 Meyer lemon
4 cups water
1/2 vanilla bean
3 cups sugar
Trim the ends off the oranges and lemon. Thinly slice fruit, then cut slices into small pieces. Split vanilla bean in half and scrape out seeds.
Combine citrus, water, cloves, vanilla bean and seeds in a saucepan. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a heavy simmer. Let simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until rinds are very tender.
Remove cloves and vanilla bean from mixture. Stir in sugar. Return to a boil, then reduce to a heavy simmer. Let simmer for about 70 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pour into glass jars. When cool, refrigerate to set completely.
I’m not normally a big fan of orange marmalade, but the floral notes from the blood oranges, along with the clove and vanilla, make this a marmalade I can get behind. It doesn’t have that overt bitterness that I usually associate marmalade with, which is why I like this one. It’s perfect on toast, and might even make an appearance in cheesecake soon…hint, hint.