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cooking

Mar 3 2017

Keeping It Simple

by Dea Anne M

I love to cook. This statement will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. In fact, I imagine that some regular readers of this blog might think of me as “…that one writer who goes on and on about cooking and food. I mean it’s non-stop. Talk about obsessed!” Well, maybe I am – a little obsessed that is – and I freely admit that I love having a day during which I have nothing to do but cook an elaborate meal – no groceries left to shop for, all cooking implements accounted for and ready, (presumably) grateful  guests already invited – I love it all! That being said, my life is a lot like yours in that although I want to eat well, and at home, most evenings – I don’t have unlimited cash or hours to spend in getting meals to the table. Basic templates work well for me – frittata or quiche and salad, protein and pan sauce with roasted vegetables, good old rice and beans – I do them all, and often.

Now I realize that being able to do this rests on the reality that I’ve been cooking a long time and I understand at this point how to do certain things. When I was first starting out in the kitchen, I relied on cookbooks with some pretty mixed results. Don’t get me wrong. Using cookbooks can be a great way to learn on your own but as is the case with so much in life definitions of such concepts as “simple” can be very subjective. For some recipe writers, “simple”means that the cook just needs to open a couple of boxes and cans – never mind that the resulting quick dish tastes exactly like a box or a can. Other recipe creators seem convinced that a “simple” dish means you needn’t grind or pluck something first in order to begin preparing dinner. What I mainly look for in a recipe these days, or really in any book about food and cooking, is inspiration for what I might create with my existing skills out of ingredients that won’t be too inaccessible or pricey. If an idea for a meal can use what I already have on hand – well, that’s a delicious bonus. Here are some resources available from DCPL that have been inspiring me lately. Some of these I’ve mentioned in other posts, but hey, a good book is a good book.

Poor Man’s Feast: a love story of comfort, desire, and the art of simple cooking by Elissa Altman is written not by a chef but by a feastwoman who simply loves food. For many years, the tendency in her own cooking was toward the elaborate – game birds, exotic vegetables arranged in towers, lobster bisque.  No ingredient was too expensive or outre. Then, Altman met the love of her life, a New Englander devoted to frugality and simple living, and everything for this born and bred New Yorker changed. This is a wonderful meditation on the power of love and what it is exactly that transforms mere ingredients into something delicious. The recipes that end each chapter are straight-forward, delicious and, as the title promises, simple.

While there are many recipes in Tamar Adler’s lovely book An mealEverlasting Meal: cooking with economy and grace, I wouldn’t call it primarily a cookbook. Instead, it is a meditation on how to live a practical yet elegant life. Surprisingly, it all starts by boiling a pot of water and twines beautifully and hypnotically from there. I have read this book quite a few times and I never fail to be inspired by it in my own kitchen. I guarantee that Adler’s book will help you approach leftover rice and roasted vegetables in a brand new way. Highly recommended.

I sometimes find Jamie Oliver’s rugby scrum mateyness and amplified energy a little hard to take, but you cannot deny his revolutionenthusiasm for what he does. The British chef is well known by now for his commitment to improving school lunches, both in his native country as well as here in the United States. Also, well known is Oliver’s “you can do it” attitude about cooking. It’s a refreshing approach when one grows weary of gorgeously photographed cooking tomes authored by imperious chefs who think nothing of ordering us to prepare five different sauces for the “peasant style” duckling that we’ll be eating for dinner (about five days from now) or to process coffee beans and hazelnuts into a fine powder (sift three times to remove impurities!) to sprinkle atop the cherimoya-kumquat ice cream that we have churned by hand. These are the cookbooks that make you fling down your spatula and decide to just call out for a pizza. The food photos in Jamie’s Food Revolution: rediscover how to cook simple, delicious, affordable meals certainly don’t resemble those in the “cheffy” books. In fact, these dishes look exactly like what you would produce at home in your own kitchen and that’s kind of the point. Straightforward roasts, pasta dishes, easy curries and stir fries – this really is simple food – bound to inspire novices and experienced home cooks alike in a way that the gorgeous yet complicated  cookbooks never could. I also love Oliver’s “pass it on” philosophy by which he advocates learning a couple of recipes and then teaching them to a few other people and ask that they pass them on to still others. Sure, it won’t bring any of us clearer skin, better gas mileage or world peace anytime soon but it might help make the world a better place. Also, think how much money you’ll save by not buying fancy cookbooks or pizza!

I’ve been concentrating here on titles that seek to inspire by simplepromoting a specific philosophy about cooking and food. I want to end by recommending two books that are focused purely on recipes but carry out the simple food theme beautifully. They are The Best Simple Recipes by the editors of America’s Test Kitchens and Simple Fare: rediscovering the pleasures of real food by Ronald Johnson. The Test Kitchens book, as with all that this team has produced, gives us recipes that have been exhaustively tested until they really are the best. Johnson’s book has a much older copyright (1989!) but the recipes are both budget conscious and really delicious. A home cook could use either of these books as a sole kitchen reference and be completely satisfied with the results for a very long time.

How about you? What’s your definition of simple cooking? And what, by the way, is your favorite cookbook or cooking guide?

 

 

 

 

 

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Oct 8 2014

National Pizza Month!

by Glenda

pizzaDid you know that October is National Pizza Month? Whether it is fresh from the delivery or hot out of your oven, most of us love pizza. Some of us are traditional pizza eaters and delight in cheese and pepperoni. Then there are those who enjoy non-traditional pizzas like Spinach Alfredo or Chicken Parmesan. No matter how you take your slice, America loves pizza.

National Pizza Month was first observed in 1984. October was designated as National Pizza Month by Gerry Durnell, the founder of Pizza Today magazine. Americans enjoy eating pizza. 252 million pounds of pepperoni are consumed every year on pizza. Americans spend $32 billion dollars per year on pizza. 350 slices of pizza are consumed each second in America. On average, each American eats 46 slices of pizza each year. 93% of Americans report eating at least one slice of pizza per month. There are 70,000 pizzerias in the United States. Of those 70,000 pizzerias, 9,000 are in New York. Three billion pizzas are sold in the United States each year. (Pizzamarketplace.com has lots of information about industry trends and statistics.) No matter how you slice it, pizza is adored by America. If you are looking to make you own pizza, check out some of these books from DCPL: Pizzas by Linda Henry, Cool Pizza to Make and Bake: Easy Recipes for Kids to Cook by Lisa Wagner, Grilled Pizzas and Piadinas by Craig W. Priebe, and Pizza on the Grill: 100 Feisty Fire-Roasted Recipes for Pizza and More by Elizabeth Karmel and Bob Blumer.

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Jun 4 2014

Summer Salads

by Glenda

StrawberryAvocadoSpinachSalad500Now that summer is on the way this is a great opportunity to start eating more salads. There are a variety of salads that most of us eat on a regular basis, but this month take a chance and try some new salads. Most people love the classic Caesar salad or Cobb salad and I don’t know anyone who will turn down a fruit salad, but there are salads most people never try. So let us look at some of those salads. How about trying a Cantaloupe Carpaccio salad? To make this, slice cantaloupe extra thin, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, and top with pepper and ricotta cheese. This is an easy recipe and it’s very refreshing. Do you love fish in a salad? Well, try the Smoked Trout salad. To make this salad, whisk one part cider vinegar with three parts olive oil, minced shallots, horseradish, Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Toss with flaked smoked trout, julienne apple and beets, and arugula. If you don’t want to try either of these salads, then come by your local library and pick up a few salad books–such as Salads: 150 Classic and Innovative Recipes for Every Course and Every Meal by Leonard Schwartz with Sheila Linderman, Salad Suppers: Fresh Inspirations for Satisfying One-Dish Meals by Andrea Chesman, or Cooking Light: Big Book of Salads. When we think of salads we may think of only eating healthy, but salads can be fun as well, so make a fun salad.

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May 16 2014

Seeing Red

by Dea Anne M

I suppose that I’ve always had a thing for red fruit.  One piece of family lore has it that when I was about two years old my aunt, a recent bride, and her new husband volunteered to keep me for a week. Maybe my parents were otherwise occupied–probably with my newborn brother–or, I don’t know, maybe Aunt Libby and Uncle Tommy just wanted the practice. Anyway, the two of them apparently convinced me to eat all of my dinner each night of my stay by promising me sliced tomatoes for dessert. Apparently, the taste of summer tomatoes held much more allure for me than say ice cream or pie.

Well, that’s still true.  I believe that tomatoes are the supreme fruit (and they are a fruit botanically speaking) followed closely by strawberries. I also believe that the best of both are those acquired in as fresh a condition as possible–and for me that means the ones that I grow in my very own back yard.  I’m still waiting for the tomatoes to start coming in, but (and feel free to accuse me of bragging here…because, well, I am) to say that the strawberry crop this year has been “bumper” would be putting it mildly. So much bumper in fact that I have had enough to freeze and make refrigerator jam.

And that’s the thing about having a garden–you have to plan for the surplus if you are “lucky” enough to have it. My plan this year includes lots of canning (I hope), or as both my grandmothers called it, “putting up.” I’ve posted here before about canning and preserving but since then, DCPL has added some new and exciting resources. Check these out whether you’re growing your own or picking out the best of the season at a farmers market.

First up, and a fun find, is Food In Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round by Marisa McClellan. McClellan creates the charming canning blog Food In Jars and her emphasis in the book is on preserving seasonal food in small batches. Such an approach is bound to help a canning novice feel more comfortable diving into the process–quite a change from the month-long canning marathons I remember from my childhood. Steam-fogged kitchens and frazzled nerves are no longer necessary to preserving the good tastes of the season. Also by McClellan is Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces, which is similar in philosophy and approach. (DCPL owns this only as an eBook for now.)

A very beautiful book is The Art of Preserving by Lisa Atwood, Rebecca artCourchesne, and Rick Field. Copiously illustrated with gorgeous photographs by France Ruffenach, the book is equally abundant in its recipe offerings. You’ll find plenty here to guide you in making jams, preserves, pickles and salsas along with suggestions on how to use the resulting bounty. Chicken Lime Soup with Pickled Jalapenos anyone?

Speaking of using your preserves in recipes (because you don’t, after all, want to just line your shelves with jars in order to simply fruitadmire them…although maybe you do!), Put ‘Em Up! Fruit: A Preserving Guide & Cookbook: Creative Ways to Put ’em Up, Tasty Ways to Use ‘Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton will provide you with plenty of innovative ideas. Eighteen types of fruit are represented in this nifty little book (including tomatoes!) and offerings range from Spring Rolls with Asian Dipping Sauce to Momma’s Manhattan (made with cherries that you “maraschino” yourself). Yum! Also by Vinton is Put ‘Em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling.

Finally, my current favorite canning guide is Saving the Season: A Cook’s Guide to Home Canning, Pickling and Preserving by Kevin West. This book is gorgeous, with beautiful photography throughout along with a wonderfully written text that chronicles West’s preserving journey. From a “ramp dig” in Cass, WV to Plymouth, MA for a cranberry harvest, you will be charmed with West’s engaging and lively reports of his many road trips taken in search of the finest in preserving traditions. Equally intriguing are the recipes. I for one can’t wait to try Sunshine Pickles and Canadian Ketchup although it might take me awhile to work up to Nostradamus’s Quince Jelly.

Do you can and preserve or do you know someone who does? Do you have memories, fond or not so much, of canning?

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Mar 21 2014

Making silk purses

by Dea Anne M

Regular readers of this blog might assume, with as much as I write about food and food related literature, that I dine every evening on a lucullan scale. Well I don’t. In fact, I have moved far away from the meat/veggie/starch model of my childhood. These days, a weekday dinner is most likely to be a bowl of soup, a simple pasta dish, or something on toast. Then again, it might be my most favorite thing of all…leftovers.

I love leftovers, perhaps because they never featured strongly in the refrigerator landscapes of my childhood. My mother always seemed to make just enough food to serve each of us once although she occasionally planned for second helpings of those dishes that she knew we really liked. I suspect that my father might not have been a big fan of second act edibles. His mother, after all, set a table for which the term “groaning board” would have been an understatement—not to mention the fact that she would can or freeze just about anything that couldn’t run away from her.  Then there was my extremely picky brother who could spin dinner time drama from the simplest meals. Every dish that wasn’t dessert carried the potential of hidden threats (like diced onion) and dangerous spices (like pepper). Given the frequent scenes over, say, a casserole…or really anything “new”… I can understand my mother not wanting to risk a rerun by serving any dish a second time.

Not me. Nothing says meal time contentment like the knowledge that my refrigerator contains roasted chicken, cooked vegetables, a container of rice or mashed potatoes – not to mention eggs, chicken or vegetable stock, salad greens, and all sorts of condiments. Given these components, making dinner becomes primarily an assembly job and a very pleasant one at that. Or maybe I made a lasagna or a pot of beans over the weekend or even two months ago. Dinner is then a simple matter of pulling a container from the freezer and reheating.

You might be wondering how to attain that happy state of affairs in your own kitchen. Maybe you’re tired of relying on packaged food or store prepared dishes or take out. There’s nothing horrible about any of these options but they may not be as healthy for you as food that you make yourself and they certainly are going put a deeper dent in your budget over time. The older kitchen classics can guide you well in not only how to use leftovers but how to get them in the first place. I would recommend The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham, or my favorite, the 1975 edition of Irma Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking. The leftover concept can be a bit more difficult to track down in recent cookbooks. In spite of the popularity of cooking shows and food based blogs, it seems that more and more people think of actual cooking as something that belongs only to the most “iron” of chefs or to the sort of deep thinker who has hours in her or his day to stroll through the local markets picking up the choicest ingredients which will be transformed into exquisite food…in an equally exquisite kitchen…in Paris if at all possible. Well, what if you don’t possess that sort of training or time? What if your food shopping mostly happens on the way home after work and you don’t want to sit down to eat dinner at 10:00 p.m.? If that’s your situation (as it is mine) then check out theses resources from DCPL.

[read the rest of this post…]

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Jan 10 2014

Chez Panisse and its legacy

by Dea Anne M

Over forty years ago, a culinary event occurred which would have an influence far beyond anything that anyone could have predicted at the time. In 1971, Alice Waters, along with a group of friends and investors, opened Chez Panisse, the Berkeley, CA restaurant which has become a model everywhere for restaurant menus featuring seasonal, locally based cuisine. In fact, one could argue, as have many, that Chez Panisse changed forever what we think of in this country as “fine dining.”

Years spent studying in France during college sharpened Waters’  ideas of what American cuisine could be and her involvement in the Free Speech Movement of the 1960’s shaped her as a lifelong activist. Waters’  strong vision, combined with persistence and a genius for collaboration, brought Chez Panisse into being. She conceived the restaurant as a place that would be like having dinner at someone’s house. The emphasis would be on the quality of the food and the warmth of the atmosphere. Up until that time, most fine restaurants tended to be chilly temples of cuisine where chefs ruled supreme and the idea of using organic, locally sourced ingredients was uncommon to say the least. Chez Panisse (named for Waters’ favorite character from a trilogy of films by the French director Marcel Pagnol) changed all of that. Also new to many dinners was the idea of a strictly limited menu. From the beginning, the restaurant (there is a separate cafe upstairs) has served one meal a night at a fixed price. On opening night, the menu was Pate en Croute, Duck with Olives, and a plum tart priced at $3.95. The meal on offer January 11th of this year will include (among other things) Dungeness crab, grass-fed beef, and a chocolate tart and will cost $100. Times do change.

In recent years, Alice Waters has extended her focus to include such projects as The Edible Schoolyard which gets children involved in growing, harvesting and preparing their own food and which has affiliates throughout the country.  This program has spawned an important off-shoot in the School Lunch Initiative which seeks to make a healthy, sustainable and fresh meal part of every school child’s day.

40 yearsIf you’d like to learn more about what Alice Waters is up to now, check out this article from the Epicurious website.

If you want to learn more about the evolution of Chez Panisse, DCPL can offer 40 years of Chez Panisse: the power of gathering by Alice Waters and friends. The book features lavish photographs and eloquent text as well as gorgeous reproductions of the beautiful menus designed for the restaurant by Waters’ long-time friend Patty Curtan.

Do you think you’d like to cook at home like they do at Chez Panisse? If so, check out these titles from DCPL.

Also from Alice Waters:

united

Finally,  if you’d like to learn more about the culinary “revolution” that occurred in this country throughout the 1960’s and 70’s (and beyond), don’t miss David Kamp’s funny, dishy, and very well researched book The United States of Arugula: how we became a nation of gourmets. This one comes highly recommended (by me…but then I’m the one writing this post!).

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Nov 29 2013

The feast…and its aftermath

by Dea Anne M

By the time you read this post, Thanksgiving will have come and gone but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year.  Whether you host a big gathering for which you do all the cooking or you enjoy a potluck with friends, DCPL has resources to help you prepare the best holiday meal ever.

Let’s say you want to do a traditional Thanksgiving but it’s the first time you’ve siftonprepared it. Or maybe you’ve been asked to bring a dish and haven’t a clue as to how to make it. An excellent resource is Thanksgiving: how to cook it well by Sam Sifton. This is a calm, authoritative guide to everything Thanksgiving and could be the only Thanksgiving cookbook that you will ever need. Also well worth considering is How To Cook a Turkey: and all the other trimmings from the editors of  Fine Cooking magazine. A fine guide for beginners as well as experienced cooks, this book provides detailed instructions for all the well known holiday dishes.

Of course, not everyone wants to serve and eat a turkey. Maybe you are vegan bittmanor vegetarian or you just want to take the focus off of meat. For a really impressive compendium of vegetarian cooking, check out Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: simple meatless recipes for great food. This book has recipes for every vegetarian and vegan dish that you can imagine as well as excellent suggested menus. You’re sure to find plenty here to prepare the most festive of holiday feasts. And keep in mind The Heart of the Plate: vegetarian recipes for a new generation by Mollie Katzen. Katzen is the author of the well-regarded cookbooks The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Still Life With Menu and this most recent volume is just as charming and visually appealing as the two older books with less of an emphasis on dairy products and eggs.

Of course, Thanksgiving usually means leftovers…lots and lots of bubblyleftovers…and for many of us that’s the best part of the holiday. When I was growing up my family would usually just make up plates of whatever each person liked best and reheat but you might want to transform your leftovers into something that doesn’t so much resemble the holiday meal. Many think that casseroles are the right and classic home for leftovers. If you agree, check out the pleasures contained within the pages of Bake Until Bubbly: the ultimate casserole cookbook by Clifford A. Wright and James Villas’ Crazy for Casseroles: 275 all-American hot-dish classics.

sandwichesMaybe you believe that soup is the proper vehicle for your leftover turkey (including homemade turkey stock!). Soup fans should check out The Best Recipe: soups and stews from the editors at Cook’s Illustrated magazine and Sunday Soup: a year’s worth of mouth-watering, easy to make recipes by Betty Rosbottom. Maybe you’re a member of the club that considers turkey sandwiches the absolute ultimate. If so, let me suggest Susan Russo’s The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches: recipes, history, and trivia for everything between sliced bread or Beautiful Breads and Fabulous Fillings: the best sandwiches in America by Margaux Sky.

What will I do with leftover turkey this year? Nothing! This week, I’m heading to my mom’s house and she has already announced that the menu is to be everybody’s favorite…lasagna.

How do you like your Thanksgiving leftovers?

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Nov 1 2013

Marcella says…

by Dea Anne M

On September 29th, one of the great culinary lights passed away. Marcella Hazan was 89 years old, and since the late 1970’s has been considered by many (very many) to be the absolute authority on authentic Italian cooking.  While some people found her difficult, Hazan did not suffer fools gladly and was notably impatient. Her precision and genius level palate made her a revered figure in the culinary world.
essentials

Marcella Hazan (nee Polini) was born in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and trained as a scientist, graduating with a doctorate in biology and natural sciences. Up until her marriage in 1955 to Victor Hazan, she had never done any cooking. She did, however, grow up in a family of talented and enthusiastic cooks and her taste memories served her well once she and her husband moved to New York City shortly after their marriage. Hazan found that she could easily reproduce the dishes that she had grown up with in Italy. Eventually, she began giving cooking lessons in her apartment and in 1969 she opened The School of Classic Italian Cooking. Soon, she came to the attention of Craig Claiborne, then the food editor of the New York Times, who did a story about her. A book contract soon followed and in 1973 The Classic Italian Cook Book appeared. More Classic Italian Cooking came out in 1978. Combined into one book, the two volumes became Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking which came out in 1992 and remains the authoritative resource for Italian cuisine. Hazan retired in 1998 and moved with Victor to Longboat Key, Florida but even then another cookbook was to follow (from which I have gratefully borrowed this post’s title). Marcella Says…Italian cooking wisdom from the legendary teacher’s master classes is the book that Hazan
decided to write when she could no longer find the type of authentic ingredients that came so easily to her in New York City.

marcellaIn a time when cooking shows are all the rage and people like Lidia, Mario, and Giada enjoy celebrity status, it might be difficult to comprehend the enormous impact that Hazan’s Essentials… had on the American culinary scene. Polenta, risotto, braised squid, and sauteed swiss chard were a revelation to palates long accustomed to the type of Italian-American cooking associated with spaghetti and meatballs and pizza. Along with Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Hazan’s books revolutionized the way in which Americans ate and cooked. Though some of Hazan’s recipes are complicated, many more are incredibly simple. Take her recipe for Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter. It consists of a 28 ounce can of tomatoes, an onion peeled and cut in half, butter, and salt. That’s all…no garlic, no crushed red pepper, no grated carrot or zucchini. You gently simmer for 45 minutes, put the sauce on cooked pasta, eat it, and (as someone who has made this sauce many times) become very, very happy. Hazan’s classic recipe for pork loin braised in milk is another favorite of mine for dinner parties. It looks and tastes complex but is actually as easy as can be (and absolutely delicious!).

cucinaAlso available at DCPL are Marcella’s Italian Kitchen  and Marcella Cucina, which won both a James Beard Award and a Julia Child Award in 1997.

For a moving tribute to Marcella Hazan and her influence, check out this piece written by David Sipress for the New Yorker.

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Oct 4 2013

Life changes…in the kitchen

by Dea Anne M

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.

feastThe 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.

nearbyThe 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.

breadWhen 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.

eatingTwenty-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.

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Jul 10 2013

Rediscovered treasures

by Dea Anne M

Regular readers of this blog know that I am an avid reader of what I might term “culinary literature,” and I suspect that I am not alone with this fondness. Given the huge success of such books as Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, julieKitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, and Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, it appears as though many people are interested in reading well-written books that touch on the ways that food intersects with life. Indeed, it seems that every week there’s a new culinary memoir or collection of essays on gastronomy that appears on the publishing horizon and that trend shows no current signs of stopping.

But what about the older treasures?   There is much pleasure in discovering, or rediscovering, the wonderful food writing of the past. This was brought home lambto me recently after reading (I might even say devouring) The Supper of the Lamb: a culinary reflection by Robert Farrar Capon. Ostensibly a cookbook, this literary gem is also about what it means to be human and fully in the world. Capon, an Episcopal priest combines theological and culinary insights in a quirky yet completely readable fashion. Yes, there are recipes here (and they look like good ones) but what truly captivates is Capon’s obvious joy in creation and his love of simple pleasures. First  published in 1969 and reprinted as part of the excellent Modern Library Food series, the book is as strange, moving, funny, and gorgeous today as it must have seemed when it first appeared. Highly recommended.

Samuel Chamberlain and his family lived an idyllic existence in France prior to WWII. When war appeared inevitable, Chamberlain’s company called him home to the small town of Marblehead, MA. Accompanying the family, was Clementine, the magically resourceful cook who had come to work for them. First published in 1943 under the nom de plume Phineas Beck, Clementine In the Kitchen is a charming and funny portrait  of the Chamberlain’s culinary adventures in France and the U.S. courtesy of the indomitable and always interesting Clementine.

I have long been an fervent admirer of the writing of M. F. K. Fisher and A Stew or a Story:  an assortment of short works contains some of her best stewpieces. I particularly enjoyed “Love In a Dish” and “Little Meals With Great Implications,” but all the essays in the collection display Fisher’s trademark wit and beautiful use of the language. Also, included are some of Fisher’s short fiction and travel articles. All in all, the book provides a fine introduction to one of the best writers America has ever produced.

Elizabeth David was an elegant and marvelous writer and though DCPL does not own her fine collection of magazine writing, An Omelet and a Glass of Wine, you will find her Elizabeth David Classics: Mediterranean Food, French country cooking, Summer cooking which collects in one volume three of her best known cookbooks: A Book of Mediterranean Food, French Country Cooking, and Summer Cooking. Though this is a book of recipes, there is a wealth of David’s wonderful writing contained within, particularly in the prefaces to the chapters. David’s brief treatise on garlic in the French country cooking section alone is worth checking out this wonderful book. You probably won’t actually cook much from Elizabeth David Classics (David was notoriously inexact both in measurements and instruction) but it makes for marvelous reading.

A bit dated, the Compleat I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken still makes for entertaining reading. Ruth Eleanor “Peg” Bracken published the first I Hate to Cook Book in 1960 and it was an instant sensation. Heavy reliance on cans, packaged products, and short cuts goes against today’s  general belief that good cooking must always use the freshest, highest quality ingredients and preferably be a bit (or very) labor intensive. You’ll find no handmade pasta here and you certainly won’t learn how to remove the bones from a chicken without breaking the skin, but if you’re a beginning cook you’ll actually find some usable recipes. Everyone else can enjoy the witty writing, Bracken’s sly sense of the absurd and vintage illustrations by Hilary Knight. Knight is famous for illustrating Kay Thompson’s Eloise.

What are some of your rediscovered treasures?

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