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Articles & Essays

"Shake your booty, wave your saucepan"

Published 09/02/12
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)

A sincere and muscular young trainer at my gym was trying to convince me that there might be some sort of exercise that I would actually enjoy.

She pointed out a Zumba class, which she said was like dancing. Exercise that masquerades as a party sounded promising, so I asked when the class was held.

Fridays at 5 p.m.

That won't do, I said. That's the start of the weekend cocktail hour.

Her eyes froze forward as she strained to keep them from rolling.

Certain parts of my schedule are inviolate, and Friday evening is one. The Hub is rolling home in a weekend mood, there's rarely anything hanging over our heads like there is on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, and I am in the mood to cook festively. Using one hand, of course, while the other is occupied with a cold hefeweizen or glass of merlot.

Once the beverage is set, the next need is music.

Cook in silence? Stick your head into any restaurant kitchen and you'll find out how important music is.

According to the New York Times, a Columbus, Ohio ice-cream company plays different music in each test kitchen, depending on what kinds of flavors are being created. For concentrating on toasting marshmallows with a blowtorch, there's Schubert; while Lady Gaga or Katy Perry fuel the creation of fun summer flavors.

I asked some friends about their musical inspirations.

One said she needs music she can sing along with in the kitchen, which makes her a better multitasker than I am - singing, drinking and cooking might lead to sauce on the walls

Another answered, "Wagner." Now that's a bold cook. If she got really into it, she could fashion a costume from saucepan lids.

Fellow cookbook author Judith Fertig broke down her soundtrack preferences by what she's cooking: "Baking? Something measured and structured, like classical Bach. Grilling? Jimmy Buffett. In the kitchen just playing around with a recipe? Corinne Bailey Rae. I probably match music more to the mood of the recipe. Baking, you have to concentrate. Grilling, you're outside having fun. When you're winging it with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, you need chill-out music."

For me, putting on a CD involves rummaging around the room for one, and squinting at the stereo controls or finding two remotes. I'm still looking for the CD slot in my smart phone. So it's much easier to flick on the tuner. I can do that with one hand.

As for the choices, news radio is either too distracting - I stop what I'm doing to listen to an interesting story - or totally vanishes as I concentrate on the food. It lends little to the flavor of the cooking process.

Oldies radio exposes me to the menace of that pina colada song. Exposure would lead to many hefeweizens or merlots to flush it from my brain. The Hub might discover me collapsed beside a bowl of uncooked crab cakes, shouting "No, I don't like getting caught in the rain!"

There's only one answer for me on Fridays: an all-funk show on a college radio station, WSHA at Shaw University in Raleigh.

No commercials, no sickly-sweet ballads, no politics. Just four hours of the likes of Bootsy Collins, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and Tower of Power. And they take requests.

There's something about that funky stuff that just fires up my kitchen. If I can't cook something good while listening to "What Is Hip?" I should bury my stove in an unmarked grave, fake my own death and become a long-distance truck driver.

Also, booty-shaking while chopping works out just fine, and poses no undue coordination challenges. It might even look a little like Zumba.

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