Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Over the last four months, my boyfriend and I have cooked daily, shopping twice or thrice per week at our incomparable farmers' markets. We have moved into a cottage of our own, and will begin (container) planting in the spring. We also have continued to pursue our respective PhDs; being full-time students and teachers on top of that really is a full-time job. Fortunately, we have photographed almost every meal we have shared. Unfortunately, we have utterly failed to post the pictures or recipes.

In the meantime, he has helped me expand my cookbook collection, to the point that I now have easily more than a thousand pages of recipes to read and remember. A good cook, I believe, should read a good cookbook cover-to-cover. These and recipes on the internet and from friends should inspire our own recipes, not dictate them. My boyfriend has taken over the dessert-baking in our house (and often prepares the dinners and breakfasts — he is already the better cookie chef, and I worry that at the current rate he will soon be the superior cook in every way), and makes cookies without referencing recipes, eye-balling the butter and chocolate in the double-boiler. I prepare meals with whatever vegetables are at the Market this week.

Of course, we regularly look in our cookbooks and online for ideas. The books by Alice Waters are our most regular source of inspiration. I have long referenced Chez Panisse Vegetables, and my boyfriend's Christmas present for me was the sequel Chez Panisse Fruit. (He also gave me an abacus.) For him, I found a lovely Pyrex Flameware double boiler, and a copy of Bakewise by Shirley Corriher. I expect that he will often produce her desserts, but more often read her discussions of the underlying chemistry and then create sweets of his own.

At an incredible used bookstore, I found a gorgeous inexpensive copy of Cooking from the Garden, by Rosalind Creasy (her other books look awesome too), which I have begun reading. It is in the same theme as many other recent publications, most particularly Barbara Kingsolver's sometimes preachy but always enjoyable Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: grow your own food, and cook it well, because this will lead to the best tasting meals and most fulfilling lifestyle. What seems remarkable about Creasy's books, since it was only in the few last years that the national media became so interested in local foods, is that they were written when Chez Panisse was much younger. Cooking from the Garden, for instance, is exactly two decades old, first published by the Sierra Club in 1988.

The book, from what I've read so far, is highly recommended. Every page includes mouth-watering full-color glossy photos of vegetables, vegetable dishes, and vegetable gardens. The text is well-written and well-researched: Creasy says she took close to three years putting together the material for the book, traveling across the country and consulting with master chefs and gardeners from disparate traditions. The book is organized around "theme gardens" created to highlight particular cuisines, climes, and food types, each with its own recipes, and ends with an "Encyclopedia of Superior Vegetables".

I am a relative newcomer to the local-foods-home-gardening-organic-agriculture scene — I am, after all, only 23. The New York Times would have me believe that I'm on the front of a national movement, and I would like to believe it. But I really don't have a good sense of the extent to which these issues were popular twenty years ago. Cooking from the Garden reads as if it were written yesterday.

Regardless, eventually I hope to own a farmhouse with a large plot of arable land, one which I can grow most of the food for my family. I've already started canning — this fall we put up tomatoes, pickles, and marmalade — and will eventually learn to make cheese. I hope I will have the time for such a life; I also intend on a consuming academic career. Books like Creasy's will be a huge asset in achieving a working garden/farm.

In the immediate future, although we have a cottage, we live in a dense neighborhood with little space for more than herbs. So the recipes here will remain farmers'-market-fed. I do hope to get back into the habit of posting my meals. As I said, I have a photo-diary of dinners from the last fall, and these will be posted here and on flickr soon. But we will be traveling for the first three weeks of January. Look for new updates then.

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