The Art of Food, Part I

This morning as I am contemplating calabasa soup, or perhaps cauliflower, but have no definite food activity to report, might be a good time to discuss food philosophy in general. Or general philosophy in general.

Cooking is art deploying science. I’m grateful for those folks who test and test recipes until they’re “perfect” (blessings upon you, Cooks Illustrated!). But then there are so many variables you face in the kitchen: you run out of, or have never heard of, anchiote chili powder; you live in the sticks, where if you asked for lemongrass the clerk would send you to the garden section of your local Wal-Mart; the recipe calls for pork but the store has fresh lamb for the first time in ages. There is much beauty and possibility in all this unpredictability.

Fred says that when he paints he has to turn off his inner critic, which allows him to try new things. This is how I approach food, despite the fact that I have that Southern inability to put a dish on the table without saying something like, “Well, I don’t know if this will be any good because I think I let the onions get too brown,” or the classic, “Oh, it’s nothing fancy–I just threw it together.”

That’s not how I approach writing, which I agonize over and edit and nitpick till it’s dead sometimes. That’s the other reason for this blog. It would be nice to write a bit more like I cook–freely, with a little less of the inner critic and a little more sense of fun.

Two of my happiest cooking moments occurred when I had to make dinner for a large group of people using only the leftovers available in the kitchen. In some ways this is how I approach grocery shopping, only instead of looking for leftovers (my goodness! the canned spinach is on sale!) I’m looking for the prettiest seasonal vegetables, the freshest-looking fish, the plumpest pork and tastiest cheese. When you’re confined to recipes you can’t do this–you want to make peach Melba in December; the store has just gotten some wild sockeye salmon that costs as much as a new pair of shoes but won’t be there as long and will taste much better; you get home with the chicken but realize you forgot to pick up the celery.

Fred and I now have to go to church–a friend of ours is being ordained. Just one more factor that keeps us from being bohemian.

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