Posts filed under ‘Cookbook Reviews’
Amidst my browsing of the pleasantly cluttered and charmingly disorganized shelves of Walk A Crocked Mile Books, previously touted here on SFTF, I stumbled upon what may be the best cookbook to ever be printed. Well, really, let me refine that brash statement. Tassajara Cooking, printed by Shambhala Publications in 1973 for the Zen Center of San Francisco, may just be the best ever cooking philosophy book that happens to also contain some excellent recipes and practical how-to for the beginner and intermediate cook.
You read right: this is a book about the philosophy behind cooking. I find it utterly fascinating to flip through its pages at bedtime as it has such a wonderfully relaxed approach to preparing food that nourishes not only bodies, but also souls. It’s all very “zen.” Sadly, I think this original version is out of print, but if you have a lovely used book shop near you, perhaps good karma will yield you your very own copy.
It was this tidy summary on the back jacket of the book that prompted me to lay out the princely sum of three dollars that was needed to make it mine. “This is a book to help you actually cook – a cooking book. The recipes are not for you to follow, they are for you to create, invent, test. It explains things you need to know, and things to watch out for. There are plenty of things left for you to discover, learn, stumble, upon. Blessings. You’re on your own. Together with everything.”
You’re on your own…together with everything…I love it! The first chapter, entitled “Beginning”, does indeed outline how to begin: “You follow recipes, you listen to advice, you go your own way. Even wholehearted effort sometimes falls short, the best intentions do not insure success. There is no help for it, so go ahead, being and continue: with yourself, with others, with vegetables…The way to be a cook is to cook.”
A former “neighbor” of mine (she lived two doors down from my house but moved to the Lehigh Valley before I even came to the city) got in touch with me quite a while back (embarrasingly long ago, actually), asking if I might like to review the book she had just publish. Carol Hart is a freelance writer with a penchant for health and science topics. She’s also a busy woman who’s determined to slow down and eat right. And by eating “right”, she means following your taste buds. She puts forth a near-manifesto in her new book, Good Food Tastes Good: An Argument for Trusting Your Senses and Ignoring the Nutritionists.
What was so enthralling for me as I read this book is that the facts and research she’s pulled together verifies what I’ve always suspected. If I’m craving something, it’s most likely because my body instinctually knows it needs it (this “guiding light” doesn’t hold true in the case of my sweet tooth though – that thing never shuts off!). I find myself nearly frothing at the mouth at times for a particular vegetable or protein. It’s most often tomatoes and most recently it’s been soy bacon and yogurt. All of these cravings signal a depletion in my body of what those particular food items hold – folic acid, protein, salt, calcium, etc.
“…people ought to trust their instincts rather than Nutrition Facts and RDAs,” is Carol’s basic mantra, within reason. Obviously she’s not advocating living by chocolate alone (which could very well be my instinct). What she does explain – support in detail with many facts throughout the book – is that modern society has gotten much more concerned about a bunch of numbers on the side of a box than about getting a diverse selection of good and tasty food into their daily diets.
With winter sweeping in like a wolf on the hunt, I’m going to be changing the format of the blog (just a teeny eeny bit) to include some posts that aren’t focused on a particular locally grown vegetable and how to cook it. That’s not to say I won’t find a way to keep cooking local between my own preserves and those of friends and family, as well as with some produce from local farmers that are lucky enough to have greenhouses.
In any case, since my winter months are often imbued with reading (and knitting), I’d like to showcase a couple books over the next several weeks that I feel have powerful messages, as well as the occasional aside of comic relief. Together, we’ll hopefully get a little more educated about what’s being written on the subject of eating local and supporting small farms, including urban agriculture.
There’s no better place to start than the poignant volume, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, which my coworker Carol was gracious enough to loan me. Thanks to an elaborate sticky-note system, I’ve managed to curtail my impulse to underline important points and scribble my comments in the margins. There’s a tremendous amount of discussion-worthy material in this book though.
Already a prolific writer, Kingsolver has now tackled an immensely broad subject (the value and purpose of eating local seasonal food) through her own personal journey. Full of pause-worthy quotes and a tremendous amount of research disguised as jaunty dialogue, I can’t put this book down.
Quotes from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
“What the fad diets don’t offer, though, is any sense of national or biological integrity. A food culture is not something that gets sold [in advertisements] to people. It arises out of a place, a soil, a climate, a history, a temperament, a collective sense of belonging… A sturdy food tradition even calls to outsiders; plenty of red-blooded Americans will happily eat Italian, French, Thai, Chinese, you name it. But try the reverse: hand the Atkins menu to a French person, and run for your life.”
“The baby boom psyche embraces a powerful presumption that education is a key to moving away from manual labor, and dirt — two undeniable ingredients of farming… When we walked as a nation away from the land, our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry-soap commercial.”
“If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week. That’s not gallons, but barrels. Small changes in buying habits can make big differences. Becoming a less energy-dependent nation may just need to start with a good breakfast.”
Each quote makes a tremendous amount of sense to me, but then again I’m closely tied to farming. I’d love to hear your thoughts about them. What, in your mind, constitutes a food culture/tradition? And how do you rebuild one that’s apparently as defunct as America’s? Or isn’t ours defunct? At one point Kingsolver goes so far as to suggest American school kids take an entire course on agriculture. Is this too drastic a measure? Has our society become too removed from “dirty” work? Knowing that it will reduce our nation’s oil consumption by so much, are you now going to eat one “local” meal a week? Let’s get some chatter going here, people!