You would think that cooking while on vacation would be a hassle and detract from the laying back and unwinding we all hope to achieve when we step away. And yet.
As Emma and I have spent the last few days cooking or preparing each meal ourselves up in the country, it's become clearer to me that preparing food is itself a means to relaxation. So, between meals I've been thinking about why cooking isn't work.
Cooking is satisfyingly completable
Most of what I do consists of open-ended projects - relationships, work and career, health and healthfulness - and I appreciate the beginning-middle-and-end-ness of cooking food and the fact that each meal is independent of every other meal. Closing the chapter on a meal - drying that final pan, putting it away, and closing the kitchen for the night - provides a satisfying contrast to most of my other projects which are accretive and have no end.
Cooking is meditative
I once read that people can only keep a handful of thoughts in mind at once. I'm pretty sure that this concept is at work in yoga where part of the practice includes controlling your breath and a focusing on fixed points with your eyes: When you're thinking about those two things and toss the intricacies of the pose on top, there's just no room left to think about anything else.
Similarly, I find that even the simplest dishes and meals provide enough food for thought (pun intended!) to make it impossible to think about anything else. There's just no space left over when I've got six or seven elements that need to come together in the next 30 minutes to create a meal. I'm not a skilled or confident enough cook to get entirely lost in the process but the time I spend cooking tends to go by very quickly.
Even when it's bad it's good
I've made some very bad meals at home and I've had some very bad meals at restaurants and I much prefer the home-made variety. For me, one of the surest ways to destroy my "chill" on vacation is having to endure an over-priced and bad meal and it seems to me that vacation area restaurants have pretty bad success rates. So cooking to avoid waiting an hour for a table at a bad restaurant is a very good trade.