My Tottering TBR: Focus on Food

Today is sort of relaxing even though I’ve been doing some editing—my own and someone else’s—perhaps because it’s sort of rainy, I’m kind of of sleepy and I didn’t eat at the desk while working. I also broke to go to the library and post office, where I saw several packages waiting for me to collect them.

As it turns out, I had six review books in those packages, though I didn’t open them until at home, which is quite a change for me. Usually I get into them as soon as possible, sometimes even at a table in the post office, or in the car. Today, however, I ran a couple of other quick errands, came home and set up my lunch, opening as I ate.

frenchieNow, according to Mireille Guiliano, if I recall my reading correctly, one should never do anything while eating except relax, talk and enjoy the company you are with. I don’t remember if she allows exceptions for opening packets of lovely books (though she does kindheartedly prohibit reading), but I did do this today with deliberation and pleasure, and even slowly (which she would approve, I feel sure).

And so this brings me to the train of thought that inspired what is before you now. Well, that and an earlier invitation I’d received to participate in a blog concerned primarily with frugality, the debut of which went straight for the food. Frugal Days, my kind of blog!

No matter where in the world you go, food is the glue that binds the people of various communities together, and checking out that food is something I like to do. I’m not a “foodie,” that is to say I don’t have any special training and my culinary knowledge has loads of gaps. However, I care enough about food to keep, for example, charts of fruits and what their benefits are, to try at home tasty dishes eaten out, and to get creative or even just a little clever with what I’ve got on hand. There’s a savory satisfaction to re-purposing leftovers or putting to good use ingredients I’d forgotten the reason for buying in the first place, or purchased and didn’t use very much. Or even just taking it all out and with care and deliberation, putting it all together.

[Cooking food image to be replaced]

I really enjoy cooking and consider a delicious meal prepared from scratch to be an act of love. Sometimes I see pictures of food and the elements—cast iron pan, rich mixture of ingredients, hearty satisfaction, wondrous smells, attractive colors—and it brings memories of feeling comfortable, at home, in an environment that soothes and wraps itself around you like a warm blanket on a bitterly cold day.

As it happens I’d recently made in the slow cooker a similar meal—chicken chili. Until recently I haven’t really loved beans a lot, though I kept trying to talk myself into it because they do bestow benefits. So I got together this dish and the joy that coursed through my system when tasting it can hardly be overemphasized. It took me a few days to stop talking about it.

I'll use this book to help transform myself into a fearless home cook (click image)
I’ll use this book to help transform myself into a fearless home cook (click image)

Unfortunately, I do have a tendency to buy loads of stuff and not really use it all to its full potential—or at least to my full ability, which I would like to further develop. To me, it is also a matter of respecting the ingredients enough not to be wasteful of them, to engage with the creation stage as much as when it is time to consume. Earlier I sat with my books and my food, each one having its role in my little process but also its own moment—that is to say my hands never held books and food simultaneously—as each received its due attention. Awarding ingredients their place in part means using them, and making that into sheer joy also leads to really fun and delicious meals that friends and family can taste the love in. Even the sight of it waiting in its serving dish, or in a beautiful cast iron pan creates a real sense of home and being a part of something special.

Now what does all this have to do with a tottering TBR, or any kind of TBR? Well, my patient ones, I even like to read about food and I’ve got several books lined up that had given me many writing ideas since at least the last two years, though I’ve not had the opportunity to follow through. Well now…ta da!

Not just recipes, this is a must-read book (click image)
Not just recipes, this is a must-read book (click image)

As some readers already know, I’m also in love with the Middle Ages, and to that end had in the past acquired Food and Feast In Medieval England as well as Fabulous Feasts: Medieval Cookery and Ceremony as part of my quest to learn about all things medieval. Before I began blogging I’d fallen in love with one of the salads included within the pages of the first book, a dish that incorporated turnips, parsnips and beets, simple enough, with such other delectables as almonds, filberts, figs, dried apple rounds and dried honeyed pineapple.

I also once saw (and would love to get my hands on again) a book about spices that, much like the fruit chart mentioned above, laid out from where the different spices originated, their various health and taste benefits and how they interacted with each other, amongst other tidbits. I do actually have on my shelf Spice: The History of a Temptation, a gem I happened upon quite by accident at a popular local used book store. The crude oil of its day, wars were fought over this stuff, and one passage speaks of “The Debate of the Body and the Soul,” a poem narrated by the ghost of a rather vainglorious knight whose trappings in life included the “fragrant spices sweet to smell.” A phrase used by the author in the same passage–“spices meant nobility”–brings to bear our understanding that people traveled amazing distances and died to acquire what today sits casually, sometimes forgotten, in those small jars lined upon our kitchen racks.

Click image for book description
Click image for book description

By the same happy accident I also discovered Food in History, a work that brings us all the way to pre-history (to start) and musings about who and how it was found that meat roasted over a fire tastes pretty good. One chapter, “Food For the Traveller,” talks a bit of food at sea, a topic discussed at even greater length in Food at Sea: Shipboard Cuisine From Ancient to Modern Times. Having a bit of love for the sea myself, I was no less than ecstatic when I came upon this one at our library. “Telling the story of food on ships requires the telling of the story of the ships themselves,” the author introduces. He references the changing designs of seafaring vessels, which affected what and how sailors and other travelers ate. He promises a lot of surprises and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a fantabulous time making those discoveries, and am very eager to see what it is I take away from the experience.

spice food