True Love.Posted: June 27, 2012
No, this is not a post about John, even though it is our second third wedding-commitment-whatever anniversary today.
(Did that “second third” part confuse you a bit? See, we celebrated twice. Once in a windy woodsy park with our California friends and family, and once between days of epic rain in the backyard of the house I grew up in with all the rest of the folks we love. The first was three Aprils ago and the second was three (3? 3!) years ago today. Although, if you ask John, our anniversary is in November–because the man simply cannot be expected to respect such arbitrary concretes as a calendar–so maybe we’ll have a third third anniversary then, too. But I digress. BIG TIME. Onward.)
For a while now–long enough that I’d started to doubt that it would ever happen to me–I’ve longed for the experience of falling in love with a cookbook. If you’ve poked around these parts much in the past, you know that my trusty kitchen tome is The Best Recipe by the fine folks over at Cook’s Illustrated. The attachment to that book is twofold. First, it is the first cookbook I ever bought. It was a rite of passage, a declaration of adulthood, a claiming of my own kitchen, a promise to feed myself. And it wasn’t even on sale! This–for 20 year old me–was a pretty big deal. A hardcover, comprehensive cookbook at full price. FANCY! Second, it is the trustiest cookbook in my arsenal. While I have not always agreed that its take on a recipe is the best, it has–and at this point I’ve cooked my way through a respectable number of its hundreds of pages–never–NOT ONCE–given me anything close to a flop. And to be fair, when a recipe hasn’t been fantastic, it’s probably due to my own longstanding anxiety about over salting food and not due to any real shortcoming in the recipe. If I’m cooking for company, The Best Recipe is almost always my guide.
Still, though, despite the sizable space that The Best Recipe holds in my heart, I do not *love* it. Loving a cookbook the way I love other books–the way I love Bluebeard’s Egg and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood or The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch or Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy or The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner–has been an aspiration of sorts. It is something I’ve heard other people describe feeling towards a particular cookbook and it is certainly the fodder of food bloggers of all sorts. And yet, despite feeling quite excited by a number of cookbooks, the cookbook has eluded me. Seven years and dozens of cookbooks after bringing The Best Recipe home, I was starting to give up.
And then my mom visited. Remember that giveaway we did last week of Jenny Rosenstrach’s new book, Dinner: A Love Story? Well, my ma left her copy behind for me to read and–CUE ANGEL MUSIC AND LIGHT STREAMING THROUGH CLOUDS!–I think I’ve found my book. I read it cover to cover, laughing out loud and getting choked up and making John stop what he was doing to listen to excerpts. And then I started cooking from it immediately. Wait. Scratch that. I started cooking from it before I’d even finished it. I was THAT excited by it.
Dinner: A Love Story is the cookbook that made me want to cook. Many a cookbook before it made me want to try a recipe; Dinner: A Love Story, however, set my eyes to the prize: A home in which food is cooked well and often; a home in which food is an integral part of the familial spine. It opened my eyes to the prospect of a partnership strengthened by meal planning, preparation, and consumption. It reminded me viscerally that–in our pre-parent days–John and I cooked together regularly. It helped me realize that we still can, so long as we commit to doing it. It pulled me out of a food rut, sending me off to the grocery store with a bounce in my step, excited to shop for the dinners I was excited to cook–dinners not from the dull rotation we fell into after Maxine was born.
Dinner: A Love Story really won my heart, though, because it told me not to be so damned wedded to recipes and then, miraculously, helped me to realize that version of myself in the kitchen. For the first time in my life, I didn’t follow recipes. I read them before shopping and then trusted myself to execute them without constantly referring back to Jenny’s directions. And you know what? Jenny said it would be ok, and it was. Hell, I think it was MORE than ok. I think I cooked better than I’ve possibly ever cooked because, instead of making sure I had used 1/2 a teaspoon of whatever spice, I was tasting my food, adding and adjusting as I went based on texture and flavor and temperature and appearance. For the first time, I think, I was really cooking.
And tonight? I cooked a shrimp dish based on a bunch of different recipes I’ve read over the past few days without any single one of them in front of me. I miscalculated how much shrimp shrinks when you cook it, but I’ve never cared less about a dinner that ended up looking more like an appetizer. It was delicious shrimp, shrimp I was proud, served alongside a salad that complemented it well. Before, during, and after cooking I thought about flavors and textures, growing more excited and confident as I went along.
I’ve been writing here for a while. I love to eat and I love to bake and I work in a restaurant. And now, ladies and gentlemen, I think I’m finally ready to cook. FOR REAL.