A Week in Photos: June 24
July 1, 2013
I’ve decided it’s high time I learn how to cook. What that means exactly, I’m not quite sure. I haven’t gotten that far yet. A few weeks ago I finished reading Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked, and I am not exaggerating when I say that it is a truly riveting read. I had no idea that the vast world of sourdough starters could be so engrossing. Or that reading about chopping mountains of onions and making a nice braise could literally have me on the edge of my seat, impatiently waiting to turn the next page. I am a bit of a nerd, I admit, as is Michael Pollan I’m pretty sure.
I came away with two important discoveries after reading Cooked. The first one was that I am utterly fascinated by food. I knew this already on some level, I mean, I love cooking magazines, I love photographing food and everything that goes into it, I love cooking if the finished product turns out to be as amazing as I imagine it in my mind (insert many disappointing experiences here), and I enjoy reading cookbooks cover to cover. This book not only spoke to my interest, an interest I didn’t yet know I had, in the non-glamorous side of things, the bacteria and microbes and all the weird, science-y stuff that goes on under the radar, but it also helped me feel ready to get out of my comfort zone, to try things that have in the past petrified me (ahem, baking), and even more than that, it allowed me to let myself fail in the kitchen.
Which brings me to my second important discovery: that learning how to cook is so very important. Not just because as a result you get to eat way better, meaning, all the foods you like whenever you like, but having a few good recipes up your sleeve can do wonders for your self-reliance. But the dark side of discovering this new found confidence, is that you must let yourself be okay with failing along the way. Because how else are you supposed to figure out what you like to cook, what strikes your particular fancy, if you don’t discover that to you, green peppers are the absolute worst of all the peppers?
Now this notion of failing is not something I am normally very comfortable with. In fact, when I was an accidental carpenter for a year, it took me the entire 12 months, right up until five days before we closed up shop and moved to Asheville, to be comfortable with the idea that there was a lifetime worth of knowledge that I would probably never know and that I could simply be proud of myself for all the skills I had acquired along the way. It was humbling, while simultaneously being annoying. But it also helped me realize that when I was perfectly honest, the only things I truly liked to make were cutting boards. They are simple, beautiful and functional, and they look like a big glued up mess right until the very end, something that could be said of most carpentry projects, which is what I find endearing about it. It’s like getting a prize at the finish line.
When it comes to cooking, I am currently in that stage where I haven’t yet found my tribe, I can’t quite figure out what I like exactly, where my tastebuds fit in. I feel awkward, like I’m fumbling around, trying this and that, never having all the ingredients, always feeling the slightest bit disappointed. I want that feeling I had when I discovered my love of cutting boards, that all of a sudden it didn’t matter that gluing together cabinet boxes made me want to stab my eyes out, I had found a piece of it that I was genuinely interested in. But it took a lot of trying other things out to get there. A lot of things that sucked.
So in an attempt to become the cook I think I’d like to be, to stop over thinking everything, to gain confidence, have fun, and to enjoy the process rather than just the outcome, I have decided to be nicer to myself. And to make things easier. For instance, by cooking dishes that sound amazing and exciting and delicious, from one cookbook at a time. I get overwhelmed by options pretty easily, and despite the fact that I only have six cookbooks to my name, that’s still like 800 recipes or something. Eight hundred.
So here were are on the first of July, my birthday month, which seems as good a time as any to start a new project. I am not putting time limits or rules on things, none of my old shenanigans that make me crack the whip on myself, I am simply going to cook out of the Jerusalem cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi, for maybe a month, perhaps shorter, perhaps longer, we’ll just see how it goes. I absolutely love Middle Eastern food and this cookbook is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever laid eyes on, and I want to get comfortable with a cuisine, with having different staples in my pantry and I want to use my cookbooks for what they’re meant for, cooking. So perhaps next month, or in a few weeks or whenever I’m ready for a new challenge, I’ll move on to the next one on my shelf. I think it’ll be fun and I’m excited to see what I learn, and to eat really well along the way. So here it goes.