6 May

The Joy Of Planning Lunch. Still Learning Who I Am

by Jon Katz

I surprised myself again by getting all excited about making lunch for Maria today.

I woke up planning the recipe in my head and rushed off to our food co-op to get some of my needed ingredients.

She gets hungry between noon and one p.m., and when she gets hungry, she gets grumpy, so I just laid out all the things I need and will start cooking in a few minutes.

I wanted to write about it because I feel like, once again, I’m headed in the opposite direction of anyone who might be a peer.

I told one of my doctors yesterday that I was disoriented; as I approach my 75th birthday, I feel I am getting healthier, not sicker or more infirm.

Lots of people love to cook, and are a lot better at it than I am, but I’m having fun and eager to do better.

I just have to dismiss the idea that growing older is about what you lose, rather than what you can gain.

That’s a cheeky position for someone with heart disease and diabetes.

When I married Maria, I tried desperately to buy some life insurance so she would have a lot of money when I died. I couldn’t get any.

The insurance actuaries all said the odds were that I would be dead by age 75; I was a bad risk for life insurance. The only insurance I could get cost a fortune, and coverage ended at age 75.

Last year, I managed to get a small amount of insurance – $10,000. But this was expensive, and was only if I was killed in a car crash. Otherwise, forget it.

Most – by no means all – of the people my age are getting weaker and sicker.

Perhaps I’m delusional, but I feel different about my place in life.  My body is weakening, but my spirit is strong.

This might be more craziness. But here I am, taking classes, working out at the gym, and loving the taste of the vegetables I scorned for much of my life. It doesn’t matter. I still can’t get life insurance.

I decided to change my relationship with food, but I never imagined I would love it.

I am learning that I love to cook and plan for cooking, even though I know very little about it.

I am learning that doing good is a fundamental part of my soul and psyche. It is its reward.

I am learning that I have a good feel for cooking, and my instincts are proving worthwhile.

I am learning that I love to cook for other people, especially those I love or like.

Tomorrow, Maria and her friend Jackie are going on a guided morning Wildflower walk in the nearby state forest.

She offered to pick up sandwiches on the way home for lunch. I said no; I insisted on cooking for them and rushed to the fish short in Saratoga to get lump crabmeat and our food Co-op to get some rice noodles and vegetables for crabmeat – rice noodle stir fry.

This is not something I would have thought of or enjoyed doing for much of my life.

I’ll make an ingredient list in the morning, something I never did.

This morning, I’m all cranked up about lunch; I can’t wait to cook it and surprise Maria, working on some fantastic art in her studio.

I’m doing a large shrimp stir fry with Moroccan wheat couscous.

I’m just seizing on the opportunity couscous offers to learn about mixes and spices. I’m boiling and simmering the couscous in water and oat milk. I’m adding sliced almonds, raisins, baked pine nuts, chopped shallot, and vegetable broth.

I’ll pan-fry the large shrimp and mix it with the couscous when it’s warmed up. And add some chopped fresh vegetables – cumin, carrots, peppers, celery, kale, and anything else I can throw in. I’ll simmer these things in virgin olive oil and vegan butter.

This morning, I went over my cooking list and had all I needed to be lined up on the stove to move quickly 20 to 30 minutes before lunch.

I’ll toast the pine nuts in the oven for a few minutes, put the couscous in a stove pot, add boiling water, lower the heat, and let the couscous simmer.

I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll mix the shrimp with the couscous or serve each separately on the same plate. I like that idea; the couscous will have its flavor. I’ll add some of the cocktail sauce for the shrimp I bought at the fish store.

I was always such a poor student; I am amazed to be so eager to learn and absorb new things. I don’t understand these changes, but I keep going back to the idea that this is not about a new me but the old one finally breaking free and trying to live up to his potential.

I see that cooking is just as creative as photography or writing; it offers the same opportunities to think out of the box and do something worthwhile. Good cooking is neither simple nor easy.

It is also exciting.  There are so many things to keep an eye on at the same time that it’s easy to mess up.

I may be going the wrong way, but I am sure liking it. There is also something extraordinary about feeding and nurturing someone you love.

The lunch was a great success. When Maria came in from her studio, as she always does when hungry, the timing was just right. I took the couscous out of the pot and put the shrimp on plates next.

She was surprised and impressed. “This is delicious,” she said, “thank you, it’s just great.” She peppered me with questions about how I did it – the baked Pine Nuts were a smash, they added so much to the flavor of the couscous – and gobbled it all up, as I did.

It wasn’t just another meal. It was my best meal, a breakthrough of sorts.

I had an incredible feeling of satisfaction. It was good, and I handled it perfectly, if not always neatly. I can’t wait to top it. I’m not dead yet and have no plans for leaving soon.

Tomorrow, I’ll do it again (but I might go out for take-out pizza tonight, I don’t want to slip into a veggie rut.) Everything in moderation, say the monks.


  1. You are excited about the creativity of creating beautiful and healthy food. It’s a lot of fun and adventure when you begin to look at it that way. Your dishes sound wonderful.

  2. I am so enjoying your new love of cooking good food! Cooking is an act of love ….unless you are doing it for strictly utilitarian purposes. It involves planning, thought, and gentle tending……..the final result is the love that went into its creation creates a wonderful meal. My husband turns the burners on high, sears everything….and wonders why it doesn’t taste very good. I keep reminding him that is is patience and love…….. that makes for good cooking! Your cooking adventures are inspiring, even to me……..who loves to cook, but sometimes tires of it.
    susan M

  3. I am so happy I have found your blog as I have loved all your books. It is so exciting the things you are doing and it makes me smile every time I read these posts. As the old saying goes “ aging isn’t for sissies “

  4. No better feeling than watching someone enjoy a dish you created.
    I was raised by a man than didn’t cook so I learned early. I’ve been doing most of the cooking for 50 yrs now.

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