The economy may be slowly improving (according to some sources) but I think most of us would agree that any particular economic situation could alter in a sudden and dramatic fashion. We hope it won’t but sometimes it does and when it does we have to find inner resources and develop strategies to meet new challenges. One place to do that is in our kitchens. Broad agreement seems to exist that cooking at home saves money over eating out (although even that seemingly reasonable tenet comes under dispute now and then).
Maybe our financial situation remains stable but our life changes in some other way. Maybe we fall in love and relocate. Maybe we become parents. Or maybe we want to develop a more focused and resourceful lifestyle. Even here, some of the most significant changes come about through shifting our perspective towards food and cooking. Here are a few memoirs that I’ve read over the past year that center around life changes and how those have effected the author’s perspective on the kitchen. All are available at DCPL and all are, I think, well worth your time.
The author of Poor Man’s Feast: a love story of comfort, desire, and the art of simple cooking is Elissa Altman, who also creates the popular blog by the same name. Altman was living a busy life in Manhattan, a life filled with work and complicated dinner parties, when she fell in love with a woman who lived in rural Connecticut. Altman moved to be with her new love (now her spouse) and, over time, found herself embracing Susan’s devotion to simple living and her practical (yet passionate) approach to food and cooking. My favorite andecdote is when Altman suggests making lobster bisque at a time when both women are between jobs. Susan gently insists on split-pea soup instead and the results prove that often simple is best and sustenance has a meaning beyond mere fuel.
The title of Robin Mather’s The Feast Nearby: how I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week) may seem like an exagerration but you soon find that this is not so. Within the space of a week, Mather lost her job and learned that her husband wanted a divorce. She moved to rural Michigan to re-group and start over and, lacking unlimited funds, determined to eat locally produced food and limit her food budget to $40 a week. Not everyone can, or wants to, grow vegetables and keep chickens – much less roast their own coffee beans – but Mather’s experience helped her forge connections in her community and develop a life both rich and deep. This is a moving, and quite upbeat, book that has lessons for all of us.
When Jennifer Reese, who writes the very funny food blog The Tipsy Baker, lost her corporate job she decided to experiment with trying to make food at home which she had previously purchased ready-made. The result is Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: what you should and shouldn’t cook from scratch — over 120 recipes for the best homemade foods (which I’ve mentioned before on DCPLive). Reese found out that homemade is often best…but not always. Some things are worth making yourself (hummus, marshmallows, peanut butter). Others aren’t worth the time and trouble ( butter, ketchup). Some foods Reese recommends either buying or making (yogurt, mayonnaise) depending on one’s available time and energy level. Wildly humorous, yet practical ( the recipes really work), I couldn’t recommend this book more highly.
Twenty-something Brooklynite, Cathy Erway, experienced an epiphany of sorts while dining out with friends. A no-better-than mediocre burger and a ho-hum beer made her realize just how much time (and money) she was spending eating out in the city where “no one cooks.” Erway decided to experiment by making all her food at home (for two years!) and blogging about it. Not Eating Out in New York is still going strong five years later and inspired Erway’s interesting memoir The Art of Eating In: how I learned to stop spending and love the stove. Erway experiments with urban foraging, freeganism, and competition cooking. Along the way, she faces challenges such as “If you can’t go out to dinner, what do you do on a date?” Erway also forges a deeper connection with her friends and family and she does indeed save money. This is a fun read that poses provocative questions about what it means to lead a sustainable lifestyle.