21st Harvest Week <> September 17 - 23, 2001

Like everyone else, I am having a difficult time getting anything done, in light of the current situation. It is like trying to not think about the elephant in the room. Talk of war is disquieting, and invades and distracts my thoughts. But life continues for the moment, and so shall I. I pulled out a cookbook I hoped would inspire me with recipes, but instead I found a passage I remembered that I loved, because it resonated so with my own philosophy about cooking. So this week, instead of a recipe, I am going to share this delightful passage with you. - Debbie

From "Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings," a book of recipes and reflections by Edward Espe Brown, author of "The Tassajara Bread Book" and co-author of "The Greens Cookbook." The bit I am going to share with you is excerpted from a section entitled, "Acting on Your Own Recognizance."

Who says you can't cook? I give you permission. You can look with your eyes and feel with your hands, smell with your nose and taste with your tongue. You can think and create, be inspired, or stumble along. You keep finding your way.

...You can learn many things about "cooking," about ingredients, cutting, combinations, and procedures, but even more fundamentally you can learn to act on your own experience, outside of recipes, relying on your innate capacity to taste and sense and decide for yourself what you like. By this I do not mean follow your "instincts," which seems to me a rather amorphous concept, but being present, carefully observing the obvious, acquainting your palate with your palette.

When I helped Deborah Madison write The Greens Cookbook we worked very hard to produce a well-crafted manuscript. She edited the recipes on which I worked, and I edited her recipes. Then the two of us went through all the material together, and finally we went through the whole manuscript with a cookbook editor, checking everything: Does Parmesan have a capital "P" every time it is used? Is that "4" or "four"? We thought we had a highly polished draft, so we were dismayed when the manuscript came back with numerous pink press-apply labels sticking out the right side.

Where we had written, "Cook the onions until they are translucent," the little label would read, "How long?" Where we had written, "Season to taste with vinegar," the question was, "How much?" Deborah and I were pretty frustrated and annoyed because we were trying to teach people to COOK!, not by following directives but by paying attention to the process. We were giving out visual and sensory cues, not times and amounts. Are you going to cook by looking at the food or by looking at the clock?

Finally we came to a recipe in the pasta section where we had written, "Cook the vegetables until they are as tender as you like," and our editor asked, "How long? How do we know?" We threw up our hands. "If you don't know what you like, who does?" we raged at the heavens, or "Establish a standardized 'chew' which you will use to test whether or not something is 'tender' then place food in mouth and apply standardized 'chew'. If standardized chew manages to divide food in mouth, call that 'tender,' say you 'like it' by definition.

But clearly there is no definitive answer. You just have to wing it and feel for yourself. You're the expert on whether or not you like something. You have eyes and ears, a nose and a mouth, likes and dislikes (which can be revised sometimes). You can learn to trust your own taste, which will change and develop, get tired or be stimulated, as you go along.


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