I come from a family that loves ? nay, obsesses about ? food. Witness my grandmother, Betty: at 80 years old she will spend the better part of an hour-long phone call from her home in Soldotna, Alaska
, describing the food she ate over the last week and whether it was any good (don't get her started on who brought what to bridge night). My dad, Baker (yes, that's his real name) will drive down to Portland from Seattle simply to visit the Saturday farmer's market
in the South Park Blocks for mushrooms and the Pearl Bakery
's rosemary pecan rolls. And my sister, Acacia, found a way to make food her job: she's a dietician and master gardener who teaches city kids about nutrition through a community pea patch (and spends her spare time preparing elaborate meals for friends and hosting a wine club). And then there's me. I'm more home cooking than haute cuisine, but I'm fussy in my own way: I like to eat seasonally and locally ? and no meat. Luckily, I live in the Northwest, which is one of the best places in the country for good produce
(not to mention excellent artisanal bakeries
As a family of foodies, we have quite a few favorite books about food and cooking. Acacia swears by Marion Nestle's What to Eat, which hasn't gotten quite the attention that The Omnivore's Dilemma has gotten, but is just as important in the canon of the "know-where-your-food-comes-from" movement. She also recently recommended Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen. She has a cookbook collection that would make your eyes pop out of your head all cartoon-like, so when she recommends something, I know it's because she actually cooks from it regularly.
My dad, who loathes the modern celebrity chef phenomenon and regularly waxes nostalgic about the good old days of TV chefs (back when watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin one-upping each other was still considered a merry way to spend a Saturday afternoon), actually really likes Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food. Dad says he appreciates that Brown is really specific about technique, but I think it has more to do with the corny food puns peppered throughout (which happen to be a staple in my family [oh, look at all the food puns in there ? I must be my father's daughter!]).
My shelves have a range of cookbooks, from old '70s editions from the first whole foods movement, complete with my Aunt Karyne's notes in the margins, to stylish and mostly useless books that are little more than coffee table books. Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a favorite for its soups and stews. Madison is also a great cook to consult when you've got an odd produce item you're unsure what to do with. She got me through fava beans, quince, and arame. Being more of a baker than a cook, the excellent Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World has become a favorite ? anyone who says that you can't bake without eggs and butter need only try the Peanut Butter Chocolate cupcakes to be forever won over to the vegan side. (And while we're talking about cupcakes, check this out [http://www.cupcakeblog.com/] ? it's my version of internet porn.)
Acacia recently treated me to a cooking class at In Good Taste, which is a fabulous kitchen store and cooking school just a couple of blocks from Powell's in the Pearl District. The class was taught by Peter Berley, author of the James Beard Award-winning Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. Berley has been a chef in the vegetarian and macrobiotic food movements for years, even though he's not a vegetarian himself. He was amiable, knowledgeable, and made a fantastic meal from his new cookbook, The Flexitarian Table, for us. The Flexitarian Table is the perfect book for households in which vegetarians and omnivores cohabitate. Being a vegetarian myself, I was initially skeptical of the book ? I suspected it would be full of faux meat products in traditionally meaty dishes. I was seriously wrong. (My favorite part of the class ? in which I was the only vegetarian ? was when Berley told everyone to give up chicken stock.) What is so great about Berley is that his first concern is flavor: he treats ingredients individually, playing off their unique qualities and flavors, and so creates stand-out menus that both vegetarians and omnivores can get excited about.
Now that I'm a convert, I've tried his other books, too. My favorite book in the Berley oeuvre is Fresh Food Fast because it is as beautiful as it is easy to use, and the recipes are yummy. I cook from it at least once a week now. So far favorites are the Tomato & Goat Cheese Strata and the Sesame Soba with Tofu Steaks and Baby Asian Greens. (Does one capitalize titles of recipes? I'm realizing now that, even after a MFA in English, I'm not sure where the MLA stands on this.) His Kasha & Bulgur Pilaf has been a revelation ? faster than brown rice and better tasting than quinoa ? I'm not sure I'll ever go back to other grains (it makes a great hot breakfast cereal, too).
Berley has a blog now on The Daily Green, in which he discusses the opening of his new restaurant in New York ? a sustainable enterprise that will create its menu from the products of the city and its surrounding farms. Check it out. Marion Nestle also happens to blog there.
On another note, if you haven't read B.R. Myers' recent Atlantic Monthly review of The Omnivore's Dilemma (posted here in Review-A-Day), I found it fascinating. It is probably the first really thoughtful criticism I've read of Pollan's bestseller. Myers brings up some striking contradictions, though I would recommend everyone read Pollan anyway.