I have always enjoyed cooking. Though I'm not a great cook, I get a lot of pleasure out of taking a list of measurements and ingredients and turning it into something that others can savor. When I interviewed for my first real job, they asked me what I did to relieve stress. I said, I bake bread. The woman interviewing me, whom I found out later, hated to cook, looked at me like I had two heads. Anything else? she asked, sure I must do something like jog or take long baths as a stress reliever.
Although, I'd love to be able to throw together the things in my cabinets to make something tasty without following a script, I think much of the pleasure (and the stress relief) I get comes from the focused attention on the recipe. I rarely have a recipe memorized and so I must concentrate on what it tells me to do. While I'm concentrating on the instructions, I can't really think about anything else. Any worries I've had disappear as I rush to get onions chopped or carrots peeled or find the curry tucked away in the cabinet.
There's the added pleasure, too, of watching everything transform. I love watching onions soften and broccoli turn bright green, sauces thicken and butter melt. And the colors of things mixed together, of broccoli next to carrots, of tumeric turning everything yellow, of tomatoes mixing with cream to be almost (but not quite) pink. It reminds me of being a kid again, when I would mix play-dough colors together or paint and I wasn't quite sure how it would turn out. And it really didn't matter. I was delighted nonetheless.