My Take on the Kitchen Arts

My Take on the Kitchen Arts

There are a lot of websites about cooking out there. I'm not doing what they're doing — the comprehensive recipe bank, the exotic tour through culinary traditions — I couldn't create that kind of thing if I tried and anyway I don't want to.

What I want is to make the best possible food I can as authentically as possible.

AUTHENTIC. "Original, genuine, principal" (Latin, authenticus; Greek, αὐθεντικός). "One acting on one's own authority" (autos "self" + hentes "doer, being," which comes from PIE *sene- "to accomplish, achieve").

So I thought I'd take a moment to say what my interests are, what you can expect to find here, and where I'm coming from when I write about food.

1. I have a thing.

I have a thing about the natural world which means (this is weird) that I tend to avoid relying on ingredients or even tools that I can't envision producing or indefinitely maintaining myself, on my own someday homestead, with local resources and minimal electricity — even if said tools or ingredients are great in every possible respect — not because they're "bad" but because I have a thing. Pay no attention to this. I'm not trying to convert you.

2. I like salt. Fat's cool too.

I think the kind of salt you use matters. There's a big difference between speckled grainy salt that has a lot of mineral content, and the kind that's had the spirit sucked out of it at a refinery. Nutritionists have been all about low sodium for a long time, but I think that's because we've been all about processed foods for a long time, and it's easy to overdose on salt when the sodium is hidden and it's empty sodium at that. If the salt is good, salt to taste.

Nutritionists also used to say that saturated fat was the devil; they're backpedaling now. Quality fat — like butter from a grazing cow, a healthy animal's lard, coconut oil, whatever floats your boat — is healthy and delicious. So I'm never trying to use less fat. I'm trying to use the right amount of fat.

3. It's all about the ingredients.

Take the same recipe and cook it twice — once with fairly raw, naturally-produced ingredients, and once with highly-processed ones.

Good ingredients are like a magic charm that can turn an otherwise adequate recipe into something transcendent. I love the ingredients I buy, it gives me joy to see them on the shelf, and I put a lot of faith in the difference they make.

4. Food that's good for you can be really good.

"Healthy" ingredients have a reputation for putting the "ugh" in "good for you." Whole-wheat bread that won't rise, cookies with no sugar, sugar that doesn't behave properly because it's got a weird pebbly texture that's politically correct and all wrong.

I say no. If the results aren't what you want, take a step back. Wholesome ingredients are an advantage, not a ticket to boring town. They have the potential to deliver an ecstatic experience, so let's do that instead.

5. To meat or not to meat?

I'm a vegetarian except for when I'm confident that the animal did not live and die in poor health and abject suffering, which means I'm a vegetarian about 90 percent of the time. Thanks, factory farming!

6. I have trouble following directions.

I think that knowing how to cook is a mysterious thing that happens to you over time, an alchemy of instinct, experimentation, mistakes and successes, which may or may not have anything to do with a recipe. Recipes are great, but usually, if I'm cooking from a recipe, I end up changing half of it by the time I'm done. Not because my ideas are better (it's hard to compare your variation to the original if you've never actually made the original; and in fact, I've made some hellish meals this way). I'd just rather do my own thing.

7. You don't have to be superhuman.

There are people who can make comprehensive meal plans, stock their freezer with six months' home-cooked meals and try a new recipe every week. I'm in awe of those people. I mean, just the thought exhausts me. If I had to try to do any of this, it wouldn't be happening. Luckily it's not that complicated.

8. You don't have to be rich.

Boots and I spent a good few years living under the poverty line, and we hung out in the very low income bracket for a long time after, which means we've learned to be pretty damn efficient. We make or grow a lot of what we have. We're fortunate to have handy, crafty friends and family who also make and grow things, with whom we can share things and time and skills. We splurge when we can; most of the time we can't.

That said, as much as we were able, we have prioritized buying good ingredients, and as a result, when I look at our home and table and lives, what I see is abundance — richness even. I'm amazed by this paradox on a daily basis. This I know: it is possible to exist in a state of gratitude-inducing culinary abundance, even if you are hard up.

2 Comments on “My Take on the Kitchen Arts

  1. You are doing beautifully; your food is delicious. It is wonderful, the freedom you have given yourself to do with food what brings most joy and tastiness.
    Your cookies and that loaf of bread are just wonderful! And so are the fruit jams and sauces..
    You are well ahead of the pundits on their TV shows. Simply delicious is one way to compliment your accomplishments.

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