I actually thought I’d stop buying cookbooks, since everything is online these days, but a new sort of cooking genre has sprung to life in recent years, one of memoir or history, sometimes both blended together with a generous dollop of commentary on top. I’d managed to end up with a collection of these tasties, most of which, owing to a critical, chronic lack of time and energy, I never read past the beginning or a skim through. This was a reality that contributed to my slowdown last October, when I decided to take some time off from penning book reviews and, hopefully, start pursuing other interests and projects as well. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought it would to get my mojo back, and my reading has seriously slowed down. Little by little, however, I’m feeling something, and last night I got serious about a few recipes I wanted to try out.
I know I’m not ready to jump back into things in quite the same way as before, particularly relating to food, given the “field work” involved in these examinations. There’s also the reality that I’m not what one might call a “foodie” – I don’t have a culinary degree or a bank of nutritional information stored in my brain and my expertise is limited to what I’ve taught myself to do from previous reading and experimentation. There were also a few setback years in which my now-teenaged son, who as a toddler and young child ate all the spicy Indian and Middle Eastern food I cooked, switched to a puzzling array of home-cooked “fast food.” (At least he has always disliked the commercial stuff.) He’s still stuck on pizza, but his repertoire at least has once more begun to expand. He’s a loyal child, but will in fact tell me if something was too bland, a criticism that actually fills me with joy.
So it works well for me that The Lost Art of Real Cooking: Rediscovering the Pleasures of Traditional Food One Recipe at a Time is set up the way it is: with a table of contents dividing dishes into categories, sure, but the book itself takes a narrative approach. This is a delightful concoction that allows one to begin at the beginning and stop when one reaches the end, skip around or do both. Moreover, it slowly and patiently brings a reader like me back into the fold: I’m exhausted but expectant, longing to know the etymology of food (so to speak) and have an aversion to measurements in cooking. It also (negatively) references the long line of products and foods developed for those wanting fast results, a condition I have over past years grown to deeply dislike. One of my very first blog entries spoke of it and I still retain a deep abhorrence for the condition because I believe it has damaged our society and how we interact with each other.
I’ve said it before: A delicious meal prepared with care for those who will eat it is an act of love and actually tastes better, and I want to gift that, especially to my son. Universally food is a uniter, and some of the best discussions are over a good meal, especially when one is eating slowly, savoring the textures and flavors of food and conversation alike. It takes us places, even when one reads about it, which is probably why these new food books are so successful. Even “ordinary” novels and other works can magically bring that feeling alive, such as in Rodriguez and Vigorito’s Forty Years in a Day, when the children sneak into the kitchen on Sundays to dip bread into the simmering sauce. I remember doing it myself as a kid – smearing the soft and chewy bread with real butter, especially delicious on the ends, which we fought over, and using them to wipe clean our plates and pop the last bit of chewy heaven into our mouths. This is the moment you ease back in your seat and enjoy those in your midst, saying, as my son and I still do, “You wanna know the best part of that meal?”
I’ve got a lovely task ahead of me today, straight from the pages of The Art of Real Cooking, but within my kitchen, exactly the reason the authors put the book together. “Cooking slowly with patience is inherently entertaining,” they write. I agree, but would add that it’s also meditative. It calms me. It helps me to slow down by forcing the deceleration, enabling me also to focus more on actual mindfulness (and not the cash cow it’s being turned into) as I learn to let go of not having finished everything today I would have liked. When fatigued, it doesn’t necessarily pep me up, but does engage me in a slow stir of calm movement redirecting my mind’s insistence that I sit down and close my eyes. The entertainment referenced above sets in as my ingredients meld, dance, reduce, bring me into its midst as the world and its concerns take a bow for the time being. This is our show. We loosen up and anticipate, engage in the movements uniting my hands and what the ingredients become as, together, we provide something while we prepare to share with those we love the most.
Banner: Azerbaijani tendir oven made of clay in a hole in the earth, courtesy MrArifnajafov. Click image for more details.