Julia

In the late 90s I had a crush on Julia Child. I was in my thirties and married. She was in her 80s, widowed with bad knees. Still, I was enthralled. I was living in California doing postgrad studies. As an escape from the books, I watched old reruns of The French Chef, the public…

E.B. White on kitchens

At a meeting of the American Society of Industrial Designers in the 1950s, one of the speakers made the assertion that “the kitchen as we know it today is a dead dodo.” In response, White offered this: I think the kitchen, like the raccoon, is a dead dodo only if you choose to shoot it…

Ephron on certainty

What I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It’s a sure thing! It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure; it has a mathematical certainty in…

Capon on the pleasures of drudgery

I despise recipes that promise results without work, or success without technique. … Technique must be acquired, and, with technique, a love of the very processes of cooking. No artist can work simply for results; he must also like the work of getting them. Not that there isn’t a lot of drudgery in any art…

Writing about food: celebrating the trivial

I am a glutton for good food writing. At its best it can transport me to far-away tables, tempt me with new tastes, prod my memories of heritage and family, confront prejudices and sharpen my sense of justice. With nothing but words, my imagination is fed and my living is challenged. I am richer for…

How to cook like a man

A few years back I read Daniel Duane’s book How to Cook Like a Man. I was intrigued by the title. The truth is, as I look back, the cooks I have most respected are women. While their gifts and technical skills were often admirable, what I came to value was their innate understanding of…

Stephanie’s obsession

‘He’s obsessed!’ I heard a friend of mine described that way recently, behind his back. It’s a powerful tag. Most often it infers dysfunction. Proponents of that holy grail — work-life balance — paint obsession a failing, a roadblock in the pursuit of health and wholeness. But I do wonder, does obsession deserve a little more credit? I am…

Capon on the taste of eternity

“To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is. Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever…

Capon on Feasting

“Let us fast — whenever we see fit, and as strenuously as we should. But having gotten that exercise out of the way, let us eat!  Festally, first of all, for life without occasions is not worth living. But ferially, too, for life is so much more than occasions, and its grand ordinariness must never…

Barnes on stove-splash

“In China it’s taken as a compliment if the table cloth immediately surrounding your place is, by the end of the meal, a site of major spillage. … The same principle applies — without any shadow of ambiguity — to cookbooks. The more decorated their pages are with stove-splash, peel-drip, edible Rorschach stains, oil starbursts, beetroot…

Conrad on recipe books

“Of all the books produced since the remote ages by human talents and industry those only that treat of cooking are, from a moral point of view, above suspicion. The intention of every other piece of prose may be discussed and even mistrusted, but the purpose of a cookery book is one and unmistakable. Its…

On food critics

Food critics can be a pompous lot. I have said before that much restaurant criticism is little more than posturing: ‘Look at me! Don’t I write well and with such culinary wit!’ The truth is, as one interested in food and restaurant culture, I find most reviews unhelpful. Granted, jealousy could be a factor. A prominent…

Barnes on cooking

“Cooking is the transformation of uncertainty (the recipe) into certainty (the dish) via fuss.” Julian Barnes, The Pedant in the Kitchen, London, Atlantic Books, 2003, 94.

Nigel Slater on cooking

“As I said, you don’t have to cook. You can get through life perfectly comfortably without lifting so much as a wooden spoon. Fine. Do that. What I want to say is that if you decide to go through life without cooking you are missing something very, very special. You are losing out on one…

Food as biography

Laura Shapiro’s book What She Ate demonstrates a fact: food provides a window into our lives. Indeed, food can shed light on issues of identity, longing, fear, and need. While biography may traditionally treat what’s on the plate as incidental, Shapiro’s work does not. “Food happens every day,” she argues. “It’s intimately associated with all…

Cooking as a Spiritual Practice

It’s an old school exercise book, “190 ruled pages” it says on the front, with “nine-millimeter spacing.” The cover is tattered from age, a faded postbox red bound along its edge with a strip of woven tape. At the cover’s center is a box for the owner to insert name and subject. In hand-printed uppercase…

Slow Food & me

We got divorced. It was an amicable split. In the end I bit my tongue and went quietly. Years later I still grieve for what could have been. It was good in the beginning, but the disappointments gradually mounted. Five years in and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I left. It was back in…

‘Table of Plenty’ by Susan Muto

Recipes are an interesting form of writing. At their butt end, they’re nothing more than a perfunctory list of ingredients and dot-point rules of construction. I don’t like them. I don’t want to be told what to do in my kitchen. At their best, however, recipes can be rich repositories of cultural history, family lore…

‘Soil and Sacrament’ by Fred Bahnson

I am no gardener. Though I recall tending to my designated ‘plot’ in the suburban garden of my childhood, the passion never took root. My beloved, however, is a gardener. I appreciate the beauty, abundance and joy of what she does. Though the city balcony on which she has to work is frustratingly small, the…

‘Keeping the Feast’ by Milton Brasher-Cunningham

‘We make bread so that it shall be possible for mankind to have more than bread.’ So said the ecologist John Stewart Collis back in the 1970s. He’s right. Food is never just about the food. In fact, when we write about food as an end in itself, it’s likely we’ve misunderstood our subject. That…