I went through a phase my junior year of high school where I only watched Food Network and that is how I learned to cook. Of course, when I got to college, I abandoned my culinary knowledge for easy mac and beer but still looked forward to those long holiday breaks where I could get back in the kitchen and get creative.
Cooking has always been unobtrusive therapy for me. I love escaping into the quiet, bright openness of the room, usually with Pandora radio or WEVL
playing in the background. If it’s the morning, I have a mug of hot coffee or tea in my hand as I stir. In the evening, wine, if I’m lucky. I like to lay all the ingredients out on the counter tops so they don’t get lonely as I transport them one by one to their bath of steam or butter or olive oil, sizzling all the way. There is something blissfully monotonous in the creation of a recipe, something warm and welcoming that I can get lost in, like the continual soft needing of a ball of dough, or the beating of egg yolks in sugar into that amazing lemon yellow color. And it always helps to have a house full of recipe testers at my disposal. I read cookbooks like novels, but much prefer to leave them on the shelf (or my bedside table) when I enter my workspace, relying on intuition, acquired knowledge, random impulses, and a slightly askew sense of creativity to be my guides.
However: my friend recently married (and, side note, gave birth to the cutest kid in the universe, whom I get to play with) and received this book as one of her wedding gifts (to which I remarked, why is it only married couples who get awesome household gifts? to which her husband responded “throw a house warming party” to which I responded “…Oh…”) and since she put it in my hands I have not put it down (and dreamt of beef stew last night).
I have been on the hunt for a “cookbook bible” lately and I think I’ve found my grail. This book, created by self taught home cook Mark Bittman, has two thousand (count them) recipes and weighs more than any textbook I’ve ever encountered. He has sections for every single meat, and explains things that all Americans really should know, like how Organic is the ONLY label that has any rules for regulations of meat production and treatment and diet of the animals (as an aside, Kosher, I learned, means much cleaner, unprocessed meat that is typically cured and fresh). Also, grass-fed cows are becoming increasingly rare, and none of what factory farms feed their cows (soy, corn, grain) is in a cow’s natural diet. Bleh.
Anyway, all this to say that I know exactly how I will be spending my spare time in the coming weeks. Fall is slowly encroaching on us, the perfect time for homemade breads and slow-cooked stews. Bittman even includes a section on how to make your own cheeses and yogurts, which I am bursting with excitement to try. I’ve never been a crafty person, or someone who can make pottery or paint (though I’ve always wished I could), but I believe that cooking can be as equally as artistic an endeavour, from the the stress-relieving, screw-the-world-I’m-in-my-zone process to the final palatable product. I don’t actually own this book yet (catch the sutble hint, family? Kidding.), but I plan to absorb as much as humanly possible in the next five days, before I venture home to Tennessee (where, I will, most likely, buy this book and then sleep with it under my pillow).