"Cooking is like love - it should be entered into with abandon or not at all."
Harriet Van Horne
Cooking comes to me as naturally as breathing. I'm lucky to have been born to two foodie parents whose home revolved around the kitchen. Family vacations were planned around the list of restaurants my mother was dying to try out, and it wasn't uncommon to find my mother lurking by the kitchen at the end of our meal, trying to coax the house chef into giving up his trade secrets (with her beauty and charm she always succeeded...). My mother's primary expression of love was through her food – meals she would put her entire being into. Almost every day there would be a freshly baked cake, torte, pies, puddings, cookies, sitting on the kitchen table, beckoning me. In fact I'm convinced that the reason I never struggled with my weight as a child, is that I was never deprived of anything - my mother's only rule with regards to sweet treats was that they had to be made at home, from scratch and with love. She was convinced (as I still am today), that if food is made using the best real ingredients, and balance is struck at every meal (a protein, vegetables, and a salad and cheese plate if you're French), there is no need to diet.
I wasn't always thrilled about leading such a charmed life, mind you. At school lunch in elementary school, I would often feel embarrassed about my hot thermos lunchbox filled with delectable delights such as home-made meatballs and rice, or last night's Penang chicken curry leftovers, and secretly wished my mother would just let me eat the standard cafeteria fare, as most of my friends did. In fact it wasn't uncommon for me to trade my home-cooked meals for a friend's dry meat cutlet, overcooked steamed veggies and chocolate mousse made from a box. Oh the plight of childhood. :)
But perhaps cooking and food didn't play a central part in your childhood, and if that's the case, this newsletter is precisely for you. I don't need to fall in love with cooking, as I already fell head over heels as a young child. And to this day, it is a love that has never failed me. It has brought me solace and comfort during heartaches, it has been a vehicle through which I have loved on and nurtured countless people, and it has infused my life with a veritable joie-de-vivre.
My feeling is that if you're not excited about cooking, then perhaps it's because you may falsely be assuming that good cooking is complicated and difficult and takes a lot of time. That said, I do find it a little nuts that so many resent that cooking takes any time at all, and yet it's the very act of cooking that keeps us alive. Without proper fuel, without proper health, we are nothing. And yet presently, cooking has been relegated to professionals, to chefs. Cooking has become a career - a job description - instead of remaining what it should have always been: an inextricable part of being human.
So the first question we want to address for you, is: why is cooking so important? Michael Pollan recently came out with a short netflix series, “Cooked,” that perfectly answers this question. I highly suggest you watch it as Pollan does such a great job of reminding us why the act of cooking is so intrinsic to our humanity, to our existence. Once you've truly digested why it's so important for you to be cooking regularly, I want to help you get excited about cooking. Here's what I suggest:
Read novels centered around food - Sometimes it takes a good book to make food come alive for us. Two of my absolute favorites are Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel and Comfort me with Apples by Ruth Reichl (Reichl's Tender at the Bone is also fantastic but I'm partial to its sequel). They will tease your tastebuds and leave your heart aflutter, in the best of possible ways. Esquivel begins each chapter with a recipe and weaves the cooking instructions into the narrative and what results is a tantalizing tale of food and love: “Tita knew through her own flesh how fire transforms the elements, how a lump of corn flour is changed into a tortilla, how a soul that hasn't been warmed by the fire of love is lifeless, like a useless ball of corn flour.” Her writing gives me goosebumps. And Reichl, well, Reichl is a master at making good food and cooking accessible to everyone. Her passion and excitement is palpable and contagious. Moreover, as Paul Mattick so eloquently wrote: “Reichl understands that food lies at the center of human sociality. As the title of her memoir suggests, her interest goes beyond all the recipes, all the talk about ingredients, tableware and restaurant decor. At the heart of her book is love (however laced with conflict) for her friends and family.” And that there, is a big lesson: it is impossible to divorce good food from love.
Watch foodie movies – If you're not a big reader, or lack the time, then allow good foodie movies to ignite that foodie spark in you. Some good ones are: The One Hundred Foot Journey, Julie and Julia, Ratatouille, Chef, Woman on Top, No Reservations, Tortilla Soup. Notice that I didn't recommend you go watch all the documentaries on food politics because while those are very important (and will be the subject of future newsletters), they aren't going to awaken your tastebuds and tantalize your tongue, which is really what I'm trying to do: awaken your inner foodie (everyone has one, I promise).
Eat in season – It's impossible to get excited about a tomato grown in a hothouse out of season that tastes like water, and whose texture is unrecognizable from the plumpness and delicateness of a tomato ripened on the vine that spent its days bathing in sunshine, and that's bursting with flavor. Really. There's absolutely no comparison. I dare you to go to the farmer's market and buy a tomato in peak season, and then go to your local supermarket and buy a conventional tomato grown in a hothouse – and see what all the fuss is about. Repeat with cucumbers, squash, eggplant, melons, carrots, etc. Another important reason to eat in season, other than the obvious reward of tastier food – is to support our dear planet. There is a delightful rhythm to nature, and when we are in sync with her, everyone wins.
Cultivate a relationship with your local butcher and local farmers - When we are disconnected from the source of our food, cooking and eating lose a lot of their value and magic. It's honestly not much of a surprise that the art of cooking has been lost in this country when most people shop for their food in supermarkets under fluorescent lights. In Europe there is a different shop for each specialty, and each shop has been around for decades passed down from parents to children. The butcher, the fishmonger, the vegetable farmer, the winemaker, the chocolatier, the baker., etc. People take much pride in their respective trades, and you can really feel that passion when you come into contact with them. They've mastered their art, and they truly cherish sharing their passion with you. We are so lucky to live in a place that is saturated with organic farmers growing our food with so much love. Our farmer's markets are incredible, aesthetically AND to the palate! Make it a weekly ritual to go every Saturday morning with the family – kids especially love this ritual, and it's so important to begin honing their appreciation and love of good food, early. Let your eyes feast on that week's colors, let your nose take in all the delicious smells, let yourself feel the warm sunshine on your face, and smile! How lucky are we to be able to take part in this joyous ritual. I really want you to know the joy that comes with cultivating a weekly relationship with your farmers, exchanging recipes from the past week, coming home with a basket bursting with nature's bounty – knowing that you're not only supporting the local economy, your local farmers and the planet, but also your body, and in turn your soul. And now to add to our local delights, we even have a butcher – and not just any butcher, but one comparable to those in Europe! Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw (a super place to visit)(www.LeftBankButchery.com). They source all their meat from farms right down the road from them, from HAPPY animals, being farmed in a sustainable way. Best tasting meat – and any cut your heart could ever desire PLUS delicious charcuterie. I mean really. Someone's going to have to pinch me because I STILL can't believe it. Go meet them, ask questions, and support your local butchery. Vote with your dollars. Help keep the people doing things right in business.
Get an Instagram Account – This is probably not something I should be admitting in public but before bed, I may or may not scroll through my instagram feed majorly salivating over all the food photos – silently plotting my next week's menu. Ok I totally do. And I love it. And I highly encourage you to do the same (at any time of day) to get you salivating and super excited about what you might cook next. It's really super hard NOT to get super excited about food when the photos are so well taken! And you really have your pick of any cuisine! Just start following foodies, chefs, and before long you'll have a very appetizing newsfeed! I “Like” the photos of the meals I want to come back to later and cook – that way they don't just disappear into the ether. We are really so lucky that so many chefs and foodies out there are happily putting all their amazing recipes for free on their websites and blogs. Don't forget to buy their cookbooks too (once you know who you absolutely LOVE) and support all these amazing people.
Eat with Friends and Family - Food is so much yummier when enjoyed in good company. Growing up, my mother was pretty lax with her rules, but she always enforced a strict family ritual: dinner all together every evening. A chance to share our day with each other, share laughs, share thoughts. A chance to regale over the sumptuous flavors of that evening's supper. A chance to bond and grow closer over delicious home-cooked food. I encourage you to do the same – cook for friends, have at least one meal a day all together as a family, and don't forget the candles! Eating by candlelight is magical. I honestly don't know a greater pleasure than sharing good food with good friends. Here is a little snapshot of a recent conversation I had with a good friend (*cough cough* Kathleen) who was over eating a snack with me: “Oh my good God Ori, this bacon is TO DIE FOR!” (she was dancing as she said this and her pupils were dilated, which is a side-effect of eating really good food), “I know, RIGHT?!?!” “Yes, the sweetness and smoothness of the oatmeal just goes so damn well with the crunchy sweet/saltiness of the molasses bacon! How can something so simple taste SO GOOD?!?” She then promptly proceeded to devour her bowl of maple-syrup sweetened oatmeal covered in crunchy Left Bank Molasses Bacon, infused with a splash of bacon fat. I'm telling you. Good food doesn't have to be complicated. Good ingredients, a little creativity and inspiration, and bam! You'll also be watching your friends practically having orgasms over their food, which is always a good thing.
To finish, I'm going to leave you with this beautiful quote that so perfectly sums up what is possible when we allow our inner foodie/chef full reign:
"The kitchen becomes a veritable reservoir of creative and magical events, in which the cook who possesses this talent becomes artist, healer, and lover. Culinary activity involves not just the combination of prescribed ingredients, but something personal and creative emanating from the cook, a magical quality which transforms the food and grants its powerful properties that go beyond physical satisfaction to provide spiritual nourishment as well." Susan Lucas Dobrian
With much Love and Warmth,