On Cookbooks

I paged through Nigella Lawson’s Feast for Halloween-party cooking ideas this morning; for a brief time in KW, I swore I’d cook my way through it, and referred to its author playfully as ‘Queen Nigella’ – there was something to her poise, her warm turn of phrase, her sumptuous recipes and beautiful hair, that I wished to emulate. Failing that, conquer my fear of baking, gather friends for dinner, and learn that some of the most curious Anglicisms relate to food. (A swede is not a Swede, but a rutabaga.)

Shifting years and timezones later, while I didn’t elevate its author to the same royal moniker, I told myself the same thing about Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food. The books could be a study in contrasts; the rich matte pages with the simple line drawings reflected a life lived close to where everything grows, where so much had been pared away from what I’d known. Strangers in a strange land, the large portions and glossy photographs of Feast conjured bittersweet memories of knowing enough people to justify the recipes that served ten, or twenty; guiding one friend’s hand as he first cut an emerald bell pepper, or laughing at the repartee between others, assigned to molding lamb meatballs spiced with harissa and bright peppercorns. Though I’ve never worked in a kitchen, and suspect my knife skills would have me laughed right out of one (effective but unglamorous; funny: I rock-climb the same) those people, that time – they were a kitchen, they were a crew, though now scattered to the four corners of the continent quite literally.

Perhaps there’s something to the fact that I’m picking up Feast again, for more than its risotto recipe (which I think I know by heart, by now.)  Both women, both writers, are storytellers, which is at least part of why these books survived my shifts with me. There’s a balance to reading both, again. Know the land, know yourself, but don’t be afraid to look beyond (remember to learn things along the way.)

Carpe diem, and save room for dessert.

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