Take Care

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I always considered myself a perfectionist, until I actually met perfectionists. The amount of care, dedication, and effort that went into the smallest of details,  no matter the project, truly blew me away.

I’ve never been one for detail work. I don’t like “futzing” with things. I’m not a tinkerer. I cannot stand repeating a small task over and over and over again.

However, in the kitchen, most of that frustration and desire to hurry things along goes away. I’m happy to putter, to move the knife slower to get exactly the right slice. But I still find myself saying, “That’s good enough.” So when I watch shows like “Chef’s Table”, or “The Mind of a Chef”, I am still amazed and completely inspired by the care these artists take with food. Not just in the preparation, but in the presentation, the layering of details, the complexity that is almost overlooked by the supposed simplicity.

I’ve been watching the fourth season of “The Mind of a Chef”, which featured chef Gabrielle Hamilton. She is known for her restaurant Prune in New York, as well as her memoir, Blood, Bones, and Butter. I found myself immediately smitten with her style of cooking in watching her episodes, but it wasn’t until the last one where she said something that struck me like nothing else had thus far. She was teaching one of her cooks how to make a dish that looked simple, but required a significant amount of time, repetition, and detail. As they folded and crimped over and over and over again, Gabrielle said, “There is no reason to be this precise, and there’s no reason to not be.”

What a concept. I really feel smacked by that statement. It applies to so much in life, not just food. There is no reason to care for the well-being of people I don’t know, but there’s no reason not to. There’s no reason to sit and meditate every day, but there’s no reason not to. There’s no reason to make my backyard flower garden look beautiful and pristine, but there’s no reason not to.

What would happen if I took that much care in everything I did? It seems to me that care (as opposed to rigid, self-flagellating perfectionism) is at the root of many beautiful things. When someone takes care–of themselves, of their food, of their homes, of their relationships–others take notice. It draws appreciation, it incites love.

For many people, I think particularly in our American culture, time is a precious commodity, and we feel very selective about where we dole out those extra minutes. But what better way can we show our love, than through the amount of care and time we give to things, and to each other?

I know I’m going to be reflecting on this for a long time…

My Favorite Cookbooks

Let’s talk cookbooks. I am a cookbook lover. All the possibilities that await! All the learning I can do! All the tasty foods to try! I’m a sucker for it. Admittedly, I have my fair share of cookbooks that I got excited about in the store, and then never really used them once they got home. But there are quite a few I pull out on a weekly basis, and these are just a few that I’d like to share with you.

20140805-205924-75564081.jpg   It is not an exaggeration to say that this cookbook changed how I eat. I am not a vegan by any means, but I love every recipe she has put in here, and my body has responded so well to its new levels of protein and vegetables being eaten. Everything Angela does is so well-executed, from the sauces accompanying the dish, to the depth of flavor she can introduce. She even has a recipe for nacho dip! It was that dip that converted me to an Oh She Glows lover. If the idea of vegan dishes is gross or even sacrilegious to you, please try one of her recipes. I am always shocked that something so good for you can also taste so good (and really fill me up!) Most of my recipes these days come from here (I’d say at least 3-4 per week!), and my body is loving me for it.   20140805-205925-75565164.jpg   I’ll admit, I was skeptical about buying a “celebrity” cookbook, but this one has proven its worth time and time again. While she does have a small handful of more complicated dishes, like homemade lobster rolls or paella, the large majority are incredibly simple, with very basic, easy to find ingredients. From delicious pasta recipes, to amazing breakfast muffins, to brisket and chicken milanese (a favorite!), I find myself repeatedly pulling ol’ Gwyn off the shelf to help me whip up something that tastes like I spent hours making it, when it really only took 30 minutes. (My new favorite recipe that we just tried this week is her Vietnamese prawn sandwich [we used shrimp]. I couldn’t believe I could make a banh mi-style sandwich that tasted so good and was that easy! Truly. I could keep raving, but I’ll spare you.) 20140805-205925-75565946.jpg   This is one of my favorites for so many reasons. It’s incredibly photo-saturated, in the best way. Every step has a gorgeous photo showing you exactly how it should look, with extremely clear instructions. The first page of every recipe even shows all the ingredients laid out- it’s beautiful! Not to mention, it’s pretty hard to goof up when it’s spelled out that clear for you. Besides the photos, the book is organized so well, and contains everything from classics like margherita pizza and macaroni and cheese, to yummy things I never would have thought of, like a spicy asian soup. She also has a whole section for “long weekends,” and it’s from here that I devote a lot of time in the winters making soups, stews, roast chicken, and my favorite- coq au vin. I’ve even made chicken wings and loaded potato skins from scratch! So much better than buying those boxes from the freezer aisle (albeit, a bit more time consuming). I highly recommend it, for both seasoned cooks and newbies alike, as it’s an easy one to learn from and get your feet wet.

 

Do you have a favorite place to pull recipes from? I’d love to hear! I’m always looking for more inspiration.

Cooked

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I have been a fan of Michael Pollan’s work for quite a few years now, and I’d been meaning to read his newest one for almost as long as it has been out. I finally got around to it this past week, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it. In Cooked, Pollan enters into the world of cooking and why it is important via the four main elements: fire, water, air, and earth.

From the beginning I was hooked. In the introduction, Pollan comes to the realization that many of the questions he had in his life could be answered singularly: cook. “What was the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and general well-being? And what would be a good way to better connect with my teenage son?…What is the most important thing an ordinary person can do to help reform the American food system, to make it healthier and more sustainable?…How can people living in a highly specialized consumer economy reduce their sense of independence and achieve a greater degree of self-sufficiency?…How, in our everyday lives, can we acquire a deeper understanding of the natural world and our species’ peculiar role in it?” (Cooked, 1-2). He argues that in America, we have become so dependent on the industry and its companies for our sustenance and it has affected our health, the welfare of farmers, and our society as a whole. We have forgotten how to cook. We eat in separate rooms from our family members, or in the car with our customized meal, and we have lost the art of conversation and creation. Pollan takes us back to our roots and explores why these things have happened and how bringing back home cooking can turn things around.

Using the four elements as guides, the reader is brought through the secrets and mysteries behind barbeque, braises, bread, and fermentation. What we learn through all of this, is that the more intimately acquainted you are with your food- when you see where it comes from, learn how to prepare it, invest your time in it, and share it with loved ones- the more self-sufficient you can be, and a tiny vote is made against the system that has been in charge of how we eat. You become the one in control, and Pollan argues that the control is over more than just what food you are eating. “I also learned things about the natural world (and our implication in it) that I don’t think I could have learned any other way,” Pollan says. “I learned far more than I ever expected to about the nature of work, the meaning of health, about tradition and ritual, self-reliance and community, the rhythms of everyday life, and the supreme satisfaction of producing something I previously could only have imagined consuming, doing it outside of the cash economy for no other reason but love” (p 12). Cooking is a way of carrying on traditions, of building community and self-sufficiency, and improving our general health, happiness, and relationships.

I highly recommend Cooked. I was fortunate enough to be raised by a mother who made lunch and dinner for her family every day, but it has been only in recent years that the desire to produce my own food has come about, and this book increased the desire even more. I see a world filled with the sick and broken, and while it may sound trite, I really believe in the healing power of a good, healthy meal. As Pollan says so well, “Is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love” (p 23)? I think not.

Things I Miss

In no particular order…

the Local

Kopplin’s

the first crisp breeze when you know fall is almost here

walking around the sculpture gardens in the fall

hungover breakfasts at Uptown Diner

late night study sessions at Bad Waitress

smoking on the balcony of apt. 19

smoking on the stoop with [b] at Walden

drag shows at the 90s with my co-workers

free Punch Pizza emails

the first snowfall

layering

rain, rain, rain

a good public transportation system

knowing every nook and cranny of my city…and still finding things i didn’t know about

working at the coffee shop (even if it was a corporation)

Rustica’s chocolate croissants

dates in St. Paul

cooking big, incredibly delicious, but also incredibly healthy meals with the Cooks 

being in a place where wearing a scarf is normal

my fellow coffee snobs…and literature snobs, and music snobs and fashion snobs…

summer nights on patios

the Varsity

knowing my way through the maze of skyways

lake calhoun

uptown in the summer…or anytime

having a skyline…and living in that skyline

89.3 the current

my circle of friends

living in a place where people are proud to not have televisions 

farmer’s market

seasons!

where not loving Bon Iver and Sigur Rós merits you the social death penalty

there are so many more…Minneapolis, you are my heart!