I have been accused of being a bit compulsive when it comes to a few things, but my coffee-making ritual is “Rainman-like,” or at least that’s what my wife claims. Of course, watching her make martinis is like watching Nomar Garciaparra between pitches (sorry about the baseball reference).
But there is real pleasure in rituals that lead to such wonderful things like a great cup of coffee or a perfectly shaken, ice-cold martini. I am sure that there is a machine that will make a cup of coffee that is indestinguishable from, or maybe even better than, the coffee I make for myself every morning. But it wouldn’t taste as good, nor give me the pleasure, that my coffee gives me (freshly ground Peets Coffee beans, freshly boiled water, in a rinsed filter paper in a heated Mellita cone). Perhaps ritual is too strong a word . . . perhaps it’s the process that becomes an integral part of the enjoyment. And that’s part of the pleasure of cooking — the process that leads to great meals, or just a pleasant dinner with friends. Sometimes, the process becomes unpleasant, because of time constraints or overly complex recipes that turn cooking into a mad scramble for arcane ingredients and an insane juggling of three pans, a pot, something in the oven, and a cutting board full of ingredients.
It is our job as cooks to grab that pleasure and avoid the grind of churning out overly complicated, tediously cooked meals that may taste great but ultimately will turn us away from the simple joys of hanging out in the kitchen with friends, lovers or sometimes alone, having fun making something good to eat.