Becoming pioneers of food
Maggie Wolff Peterson
Happy New Year, all.
Looking ahead at 2015, I want to be resolute about personal improvement. Resolutions are the bedrock of New Years’ traditions, so I need to come up with some. The problem is, as I slide past the midpoint of my fifth decade of life, I have already given myself permission to enjoy the pleasures I denied myself as a younger woman. If resolutions are about denial, I can’t make any. In my 40s, I determined that it was okay to eat dessert. All the tasty things I avoided in my bikini years, I would allow myself in the glow of middle age. My husband would love me just as much if there was a little bit more to love, and I would no longer hate myself for eating a cookie.
I can’t resolve to feed my family better. I have already become expert at preparing the dishes they love to eat. I shop at the farmers’ market and source my food thoughtfully. I have become workmanlike in the kitchen and even mastered a few things. I figured out years ago that the tastiest collard greens take two full days to cook, that rubbing really good steaks with a mixture of spices makes for better grilling, that I am the queen of sandwiches, and that I am never going to be a baker because I love to improvise.
I needn’t resolve to stock my kitchen, because I have every implement I need. Sure, there are pans and knives and various little tools that I might want, but I already have a drawer full of sheathed chef’s knives, a great skillet, a deep stockpot (remember, collards), various saucepans, and a bunch of devices that stir and chop and mix and slow-cook. Though I remain vulnerable to the kitchen store inventory, I don’t have to make a resolution to improve the inventory of my kitchen.
I could resolve to eat out more. That wouldn’t hurt. There are destination restaurants that I have yet to visit, and local joints that are always there to liberate me from a day’s kitchen chores. But there is something so satisfying about pulling out my cutting board and knife, and beginning to prep a meal. The ritual of pouring a glass of wine, laying out my mise en place, determining which spices to use, lifting my pan from the pantry to the stove. A restaurant meal does not deliver these pleasures.
Nonetheless, I will resolve to let others cook for me more often.
I will resolve to try new wines.
I will resolve to really read the important cookbooks that I have collected. I have more than two bookshelves’ worth of kitchen reference books, and about a third of what I have is waiting for me. A thick cookbook of Jewish recipes was received as a gift and shelved; time to open that one. The original Settlement cookbook, one of the first guides for Eastern European immigrant women at the turn of the last century, is also on my shelf. I also have more contemporary books, including one published by Pillsbury that bases its recipes on dough-in-a-can. I easily have a year’s reading in front of me.
And that has to lead to more cooking. So, okay. I resolve to learn some new tricks. I can master a few more recipes, diversify my table, find some new, surprise favorites. Perhaps I will get my husband to find the beauty in chopped liver. Maybe I will overcome my quirky aversion to mayonnaise. In 2015, we can become food pioneers.
That’s what I resolve.