I saw this New York Times “Well” blog post by Tara Parker-Pope this afternoon:
A Recipe for Simplifying Life: Ditch All the Recipes
[Y]ou will gain a new appreciation for the hidden potential of boiled food after reading the new book “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace,” by the chef and food writer Tamar Adler. Placing a pot of water on a hot burner allows us to “do more good cooking than we know,” she writes.
Both the article and the book it’s about super irritated me. Let’s look at why, because it proves (all over again) that i am not the New York Times’s target audience — and also says a few things about class assumptions behind a lot of food conversations going on right now.
paragraphs 6 & 7
“There is this sense that to cook well means to be struck with inspiration,” said Ms. Adler, 34, whose credentials include stints at the restaurants Prune, in New York, and Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif. “We think everything is supposed to be extraordinary.
“But in European and Asian food culture, food is simply supposed to be good and nourishing and enjoyable” — and, she added, far less stressful.
So right away it’s apparent that Adler’s talking about people who go to fancy restaurants like Prune or Chez Panisse. Which would be fine, except everything’s couched in otherwise general terms — as if she’s trying to write about USian culture at large.
And then she makes that ridiculous comment about European and Asian food culture, as if Europe and Asia don’t have fancy restaurants like Prune or Chez Panisse. Which … is an assertion i question.
paragraphs 8 & 9
Why are so many of us intimidated by cooking? It may be that this convenience-food generation never got to see our mothers and grandmothers boiling and roasting meals without a recipe, turning the leftovers into hash or stew. Instead we are guided by cooking shows that celebrate the elaborate preparations and techniques that Ms. Adler calls “high-wire acts.”
“Anybody who grew up with a lot of home cooking around them knows that you can have eggs for dinner or that lentils can become pancakes tomorrow,” she said. “But sometimes we just don’t know that we can do that because they don’t do that on TV.”
Here it’s clear that Adler isn’t talking about me at all. Because where does “this convenience-food generation” begin?? She’s identified as being 34, which is younger than i am. Is she saying we are the “convenience-food generation”? Because my parents are both Baby Boomers, and it seems that they, like many of the other Boomers i’ve met in the past 39+ years, could just as easily be called a “convenience-food generation” — THEY HAD TANG, FOR GOD’S SAKE.
Aside from the convenience foods that graced my parents’s respective pantries (Dad’s instant potatoes and gravy, Mom’s canned corn), there’s also something to be said about what constitutes “home cooking”. The only skills i can really say i picked up from watching my mother and grandmother cook are:
- How to open a can of veggies and heat them in boiling water. I hope you like your veggies mushy.
- How to boil pasta and open a can of spaghetti sauce.
- That a meal equals 1 meat, potatoes, and maybe a 2nd veggie.
For instance, while most of us stock our crispers with fresh vegetables and then spend the rest of the week racing to eat them before they turn brown, Ms. Adler buys up basketfuls of whatever vegetables are in season, and as soon as she gets home she scrubs off the dirt, trims the leaves, chops and peels, and then cooks and prepares all the vegetables at once — washing and separating lettuce leaves; drizzling cauliflower, beets and carrots with olive oil and roasting them in separate pans. Beet greens are sautéed, and chopped stems and leaves are transformed into pesto.
“[M]ost of us stock our crispers with fresh vegetables [...]” … MOST of us??
Who can bother about buying fresh vegetables??
- People who can afford it.
- People who have time to process them.
My aunt joined my CSA one summer and had to give it up because she never had the time to deal with properly preparing the vegetables. Me, i hate dealing with fresh beets, for example — popping open a can is so much easier if i want pickled red beet eggs, rather than boiling the beets for an hour, then letting them cool so i can massage their skins off (and turn my hands blood-red in the process).
Andy and i do, in fact, stock our crispers with fresh vegetables, but only because (a) in the past 8 years we’ve been stable enough in our jobs to be able to afford it, and (b) cooking is one of our hobbies. If i were just cooking to live and not cooking because the process is interesting, it’d be canned veggies all the way — again.
Obligatory comment on paragraphs 11 &c. from the cuisine of my childhood: What the hell’s “pesto”??! Or frittata, gratin, risotto, curry….
Hmmm. No, wait — we had potatoes au gratin.
“I feel like people are being hit from all sides by a lot of confusing messages, and they are feeling like eating well is really hard,” Ms. Adler said. “This is not a question of expertise. Other than being an expert eater, which we all are by the time we start cooking, we’re already experts at knowing when things are done or whether they need more seasoning.”
This last sentence is bullshit: i have no idea when food is done or properly seasoned. Do you like your food singed and over-salted? Then i’m your cook!! I grew up between a sort of Scylla and Charybdis in the kitchen — my grandmother almost always over-cooked her meat and my mother, in attempt to not do that, would routinely serve an accidentally bloody chicken roast.
The article makes so many ridiculous assumptions about how we do or should eat that it’s hard to take either the article or the book seriously. And while i do think that Tamar Adler maybe has a good point to make about how to make cooking easier, especially when it comes to keeping already-cooked vegetables on-hand, i find it interesting that ultimately, altho’ initially deriding the “convenience-food generation”, she’s basically turning fresh vegetables into convenience foods by cooking them all at once and keeping them on-hand thru’out the week.
Y’know, i think my mother already managed that. We called it canned corn.