The other weekend, home alone and holed up inside from a howling storm, I found myself with nothing to do. At least, nothing that needed doing. This is so rare for me, as I’m sure it is for many, that when I realised the day, the whole day, stretched before me uncluttered and empty, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Busy-ness gives us structure and purpose, a sense of achievement at having completed the To Do list; which is perhaps why we’re all so addicted to it (the default response to ‘How’s things?’ now seems to be, ‘busy’). But today, I had no purpose and no goal.
Sat with a cup of tea and the weekend papers, I felt a dawning sense of possibility. I could do anything I wanted today. Anything. Or nothing. I could read, watch TV, go for a long dog walk, have a huge bath. No need to achieve or check off anything. It all sounded quite liberating. Or, I could cook.
I love cooking, obviously, and so when there’s even the hint of someone or something to cook for I will seize it. But, since I never cook when it’s just me eating (I know, silly, but I’m a feeder and I like an audience – it’s an ego thing) there was no reason today to be cooking at all. And yet I felt an urge to create or invent something with this free time. To make something with my hands and have the satisfaction of seeing an idea come to fruition. So that’s reading and TV out. And I’m shocking at art and craft and my ukulele playing is horrid so those wouldn’t satiate my urge to make. Cooking it was then.
But it couldn’t be a meal: no one to eat it. And anyway, a meal has to be ready to a deadline. It wasn’t a day for deadlines. What I needed was something that was ready when it was ready and didn’t require a bunch of people to eat it. In the end I went for making marmalade and a batch of wholemeal loaves for the freezer.
But what I made isn’t really the point. The point is that the whole thing was completely unnecessary. And it was all the more enjoyable because of it. No one needed bread or marmalade making. (And if they had I could have much more easily gone and bought it.) I hadn’t had it planned for ages, it was completely a spur of the moment thing. Both the recipes I choose are quite ponderous, requiring time and a distraction-free kitchen – something I certainly had that Sunday. So I spent the whole day pottering about stirring and kneading, proving and chopping. I was completely focused on the actions before me; unencumbered by a timescale or an end recipient.
And it struck me, at the end of the day, that I’d had a really terrific time. I was genuinely very happy. There is a simple joy in making something with your hands and unnecessary cooking is quite special in that regard. You can take all the time you need since there’s no deadline. It doesn’t matter if you fail because no one needs it anyway. You’re not fitting it around other things and so permanently half distracted. You are totally in the moment. This was cooking for the pure pleasure of it and, whilst opportunity for it is all too rare, there can be no better way to waste time.
(For those interested, I used the Riverford marmalade recipe – to great effect. And my standard bread recipe is River Cottages’ basic bread dough. I highly recommend spending your next available Sunday with these two recipes, a fire, a spaniel and nothing to do.)