October 31st, 2016

To Cook With A Book, Or Not… THAT Is The Question

“You learn to cook so that you don’t
have to be a slave to recipes.
You get what’s in season and
you know what to do with it.”
Julia Child

I have always followed this philosophy about cooking, which my very small collection of twenty cookbooks reflects.

Then why would I want to write a blog post about cookbooks?  For the same reason I like to believe that I keep getting invited back to write for We The Eaters: I hope I represent a demographic of readers that align with this perspective.

My only thought, as I flip through the colorful, enticing and inspirational pages is, “Why buy a whole book, when odds are I’ll only utilize a handful of the recipes and it takes up space?” Mind you, this logic does not prevent me from giving them as gifts. Nor does it stop me from getting lost in some book nook, while slowly strolling through the pages of these instructional, glossy tomes, where the pictures within and the aroma of coffee in the air aim at lulling you into a purchase.

To be honest, I tend to be very practical when it comes to buying anything… except food.

egg-944495_1920My approach to cookbooks is similar to that of people in grocery store lines who thumb through issues of Us Weekly or People Magazine while waiting in line, putting it back when it’s time to check out rather than purchasing it. Let me just take a peek and if there is something that grabs my attention. I can always look it up later or ask a friend what they know about it. So I close the cover and walk away, leaving no trace. I do not bend the pages, leave fingerprints or crinkle the cover as I put it back on the shelf. That’s out of respect for all you cookbook-obsessed.

Though I fancy myself a cook, NOT a baker, seven of my twenty cookbooks are about baking. Baking is about being exact and delivering beauty through distinct methods. It is kind of like dancing the tango, where technique and timing are everything. The baking cookbooks that I do have parallel my values about loving being in the kitchen and respect my lack of appreciation for the need to stay the course. In short, they set me up to succeed every time. These seven books have many fingerprints, crinkled pages and notes written in them margins. The authors range from old school maven Julia Child and British chef Nigella Lawson, to a lovely French author, Beatrice Peltre, as well as an immensely talented woman I am proud to know, Paula Shoyer. Her book “The Kosher Baker” is not just for the Jew in you. It’s ideal if you are lactose intolerant, like I am.

When I am in the kitchen, I want to disconnect from all outside stress. My goal is to get lost in the rhythm of chopping and dicing, or find myself keenly aware of the melody that occurs when deglazing a hot pan, mostly because part of what I value in cooking is the opportunity to create, design and connect with the experience.

That said, I do like finding inspiration in cookbooks and am cut-1123737_1920fond of food porn in general. So before I actually build a plan for a menu or a shopping list for a weekend of cooking, I surf a web site (or three), an Instagram account or a few food blogs to see catches my eye and makes my tummy growl. I skim recipes for techniques I have not employed in ages, or ingredients I forgot existed because they were out of season. Then I prepare my menu and shopping list.

Only after the dishwasher is running, all the leftovers are packed away and I have changed into what I call my “fat pants,” do I sit down in the silence that is now my kitchen, with my almost empty wine glass to assess each recipe I’ve made. If I feel it was noteworthy, I pull my big, generic black binder out along with a three hole punch and put it into permanent rotation.

I save the menus, along with notes written all over the margins. Inevitably, someone will bring an amazing Rioja that was the perfect compliment to the duck ragu. Or a guest brought a dessert that I loved, but will never make. Or I had an idea during the meal that could be fun to try if I make one of the dishes again.

Honestly though, I save the menus because — like photos — they remind me of the amazing joy that I experienced in relation to that menu, with wonderful people. And no matter how much I try, I can never recreate that exact moment… even if I have the exact recipe.

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Posted in Dear Diary