I'd Rather Read About Cooking

I'd rather read about cooking than actually do it. Cookbooks are like relaxing beach books to me...they transport me to a parallel universe where I have intimate dinner parties featuring sophisticated conversation, rustic red wines and homemade pasta.

A light of recognition flashed as I read this passage in a Daily Muse e-mail from Skirt.com. Yes! I too love to read cookbooks. I almost never use them, because I’m more of a right-brain cook, making do with whatever is in the fridge when it’s time to feed faces, but having a solid grounding in exotic recipes gives me new ideas for how to use old ingredients.

I’ve been an impulsive cook since since my days as a bride, but my attitude toward cooking has changed considerably over the years. For the first twenty or thirty years, I regarded cooking as a maintenance chore, to be hurried through in minimum time. About twenty years ago I had lunch with a business contact who was old enough to retire and about ready to. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember a question she asked. In the middle of the meal she leaned toward me and asked in a conspiratorial tone, “Tell me, do you cook?” Obviously the right answer was “Oh yes!” But I knew I’d be over my head within seconds , so instead I quipped, “Only when I want to eat.” A brief flicker of disappointment passed across her face and we returned to business matters.

I’d answer that question differently today. I don’t “cook” in the sense of pouring over gourmet magazines and preparing dishes that use every pot in the kitchen and take seven hours, but I have come to appreciate the art of fine slicing and being more aware and present as I prepare food. I enjoy trying new seasonings and occasionally even resort to a recipe from one of the gorgeous books that fuel my imagination.

Today the average American has more food choices available than any people on earth have ever had. We have more variety in an average supermarket than chefs in the golden age of Rome could imagine (though the Chinese royalty may have come close). We have the cuisines of the whole world to enrich our menus. And then there is the whole field of nutrition, “eating healthy”, and “eating local”. Cooking and eating has become a complex and fascinating adventure for those who pay attention.

Passion for variety and quality in food extends to reading. Besides the cookbooks mentioned above, food is a popular memoir topic. Several titles I've enjoyed come quickly to mind:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by novelist Barbara Kingsolver.

Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, currently the editor of Gourmet Magazine.

Untangling My Chopsticks by Victoria Abbot Riccardi.

Educating Alice by journalist Alice Steinbach.

Take Big Bites by Linda Ellerbee.
You may not want to write a whole book about the food in your life and how you cook it, but a story or few about it will surely fascinate future generations, especially if your descriptions of food and meals include plenty of detail. Who knows? Kitchens may disappear in favor of reheating stations. Or, as global warming advances, people may have to go back to simple diets with limited ingredients. Time will tell, but in either event, your stories may be helpful as well as interesting.

Write now: about your evolving eating and cooking habits if you’ve been cooking for more than a couple of decades. Or write about the foods you grew up with, and how your current menus incorporate and/or transcend that food.

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