Change is afoot and that always leaves me longing for the kitchen. What better time than spring to revisit my cookbook collection and round-up some yet-to-be-tried recipes. Recipes it would be a shame to leave lost between the pages.Friday Night Dinners by Bonnie Stern – Lemon Basil Martinis – Marinated Goat Cheese – Roasted Vegetable & Chickpea Potjie – Chocolate Bark with Almonds, Ginger & Orange Peel Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson – Cucumber Cooler with Honey & Fresh Lime – Turnip Chips with Smoked Paprika & Lime Juice – Whole Grain Rice Salad with Spinach, Basil, Goat Cheese & Walnuts Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi – Watermelon & Feta with Basil – Marinated Mushrooms with Walnuts & Tahini Yogurt – Zucchini & Hazelnut Salad – Quinoa Salad with Dried Persian Lime La Tartine Gourmande by Beatrice Peltre – Millet, Oat & Apple Muffins – Summer Vegetable Tian Quinoa 365 by Patricia Green & Carolyn Hemming – Tomato & Basil Crustless Quiche – Basic Tart Crust (gluten-free!) – Ginger Molasses Cookies
If you’ve been wondering how to make Newfoundland fish cakes with fresh fish rather than the traditional salt cod, check out this quick cooking demonstration. Filmed with Brenda O’Reilly at YellowBelly Brewery & Public House in St. John’s, the recipe calls for fresh cod, potatoes, butter, feta, leeks, salt & pepper. A contemporary take on traditional Newfoundland cuisine.
When I took my first job as a waitress I had no idea what scrunchins and toutons were, and had yet to encounter the practice of serving fries with dressing and gravy. I had never tasted salt beef and assumed that jiggs dinner was something akin to the corned beef and hash my grandmother cooked on Cape Breton Island. We ate salmon, halibut and haddock when I was a kid but never any cod, and the idea of eating moose or caribou would never have occurred to me.
This all changed when I was in high school and my family moved from Cape Breton to Labrador. I got a part-time job in a family restaurant and was introduced not only to the rhythm of restaurant work but also to the local culture and traditions. Unfamiliar with the menu, I would carefully take orders and then deliver them to the cooks and watch as they prepared and described foods I had yet to eat. I was drawn to the urgency that restaurant work demands, but what I liked best about my job was spending time with the women who worked in the kitchen. Most of what they cooked was made from scratch and they were always happy to share stories about their families and the years they spent cooking.
It was not until I began to work in restaurants in other places that I realized what a rare occurrence a kitchen full of women was. The women I worked with in Labrador stayed with me as I raced through serving shifts in cities in New Brunswick, Ontario and Newfoundland.
Food culture has shifted in the years since I took my first job as a server. Comfort food has made its way into fine dining and eating local, seasonal fare has been embraced by celebrated chefs and thrifty home cooks alike. Newfoundland cuisine is enjoying a revival of sorts and many of the dishes that were once cooked with economy in home kitchens have been re-imagined by chefs making a name for themselves within and beyond St. John’s.
Newfoundland cuisine has recently been profiled here in Gourmet Live and here in The Montreal Gazette. I wonder what the generations of women who cooked jiggs dinner every Sunday or worked in restaurant kitchens in small communities around the island and across The Big Land would make of all this.
Cookbooks tell stories. Not just the stories of their authors, but the stories of those whose homes they come to inhabit. The cookbooks that line my kitchen reveal something about who I am and who I have been. Over the years my collection has migrated from the confines of a single kitchen self into my living room and onto my coffee and dining tables. Some of these books have not been opened for quite some time.
Researchers keen to explore cooking and eating practices often ask people how many cookbooks they own and then how many of those books they actually cook from. But that’s only part of the story. In many ways, the cookbooks I keep but do not use reveal more about me than those I thumb through regularly. The pages of these books contain more than simply recipes. They contain memories.
A quick glance at my collection might suggest to some that I eat meat and regularly bake with gluten. Books like Quickies Chicken, Company’s Coming Casseroles and no less than three books devoted to gluten filled cookies continue to have a place in my kitchen despite my vegetarian leanings and gluten sensitivity. What these books lack in practical value they make up for in remembrance.
I still have the first cookbook I was given – a cookie book given to me by my aunt one Christmas when I was in junior high school. Each time I open it I am reminded of my first solo forays in the kitchen and the comforts of my childhood home. I still use it to make classics like snickerdoodles and oatmeal cookies for those who are not compelled to eat gluten free.
Chicken recipes and casseroles were mainstays in my first apartment kitchen. Baked chicken with salsa and chicken rice casserole were some of the best dishes I cooked in my small student kitchen. Although chicken is no longer part of my regular meal rotation, some of my fondest memories of cooking and eating during my early university years centre around perfectly baked chicken and creamy casseroles.
Cookbooks recently added to my collection differ from those that first made their way into my hands and onto my countertop but basic elements of my early cooking continue to influence my taste preferences and kitchen habits. I still favour cooking and baking with whole foods over convenience foods and consider the table to be the focal point of my home.
More important than the evolution of my cooking and eating are the memories that accompany my culinary journey. My oldest cookbooks serve as a constant reminder of those I love and those I no longer know – roommates and friends with whom I have fallen out of touch – and culinary selves past and present.Cooking next from: Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson – granola with currents, walnuts & orange zest Hoping to acquire: Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights by Sophie Dahl
I resisted reading Julie & Julia for a long time.
Resisted isn’t really the right word since that would imply that I wanted to read it but refrained from doing so. I watched the film and did not take to Julie Powell so why read the book? I figured I could skip it and let those who like reading about the culinary misadventures of dissatisfied women continue to enjoy it. Trouble is: a) my dissertation is about food memoirs; b) I loved reading Julia Child’s memoir and the recent publication of her letters with Avis DeVoto; and c) I came across Powell’s book on the bargain table in my favourite bookstore.
When I watched the film, Julie did not seem like my kind of heroine. She hates her job, dislikes her friends, and dreads turning thirty. Not exactly someone I’d like to chat with over coffee. Then I read the book and changed my mind – Julie is so unlikable that I could not help but like her. She drinks too much, eats too much, and generally behaves badly. She loves butter and the F-word and uses both with wild abandon. She fumbles her way through 524 recipes in 365 days, and comes to love and loathe Julia Child’s seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
What I like about Julie & Julia is its messiness. Julie Powell isn’t an ideal heroine and that is precisely why I should have read the book sooner but didn’t. Cooking in her tiny – at one point maggot infested – kitchen, Julie reminds us that food does not always bring us pleasure and that’s okay. Sometimes cooking is a chore that demands extra butter and a few choice words.Related posts: Reading (& Eating with) Ruth Reichl