Someone balked a few days back at my admission that I don’t much care for Rice Krispie Squares. What kind of solemn upbringing did I have, that I find these neat squares of sticky white airy goodness all a bit lacklustre?
My mom made them from time to time in her burgundy plastic bowl, microwaving the butter and marshmallow into a strange-scented congealed heap. She’d add a capful of vanilla and dump in the puffed rice. Stir with her wooden spoon, then smear the mess into a Pyrex dish. Cool. Cut into squares. Stack neatly.
People and recipes are a lot alike. We have our favourites, and what makes one perfect for me might turn you off completely. Some are good, some better, some ho-hum. Now and again, one is so amazing that we cheer in delight and fall off our chairs and triumphantly proclaim that in the history of friends and recipes, none has been better and none will be better, until the very end of time.
Despite good intentions, failures in execution often have more to do with the cook than the ingredients. They’re so subjective, these recipes and friendships. Everything left to temperature and proper salting and distance the ingredients travel. Are today’s tomatoes sweet? Did the pan heat evenly? Have I done enough and been enough for someone whom I love?
Tastes and people change, and what may be the most beautiful dish today becomes another recipe tucked to the back of the mind. As someone who photographs many meals I have a catalogue of past favourites: some long-lived in my repertoire, some fleeting. The entire fall term of my senior year I had a pot of split-pea soup on the stove. I haven’t made it since.
Sometimes, years later, we pick up the phone and call to say hello – but mostly we move on and have new go-tos and standbys and reliable concoctions.
In matters of belly and heart, I figure my steady palate has served me well. When I find things I like, I keep them around. They’re good in a way that I can’t possibly ever let go. People and dishes that offer strange comfort after a dreadful day and reassurance that this friendship, this recipe, this method – it’s failsafe.
So many ways to make Rice Krispie Squares and keep someone’s heart. Lucky enough, we might find a favourite for keeps.
The more I cook, I realize that I like simple flavours and few ingredients best. It occurred to me the other night as I stirred a Greek peasant soup that’s nothing more than some chickpeas and lemon simmered in broth. This weekend visiting Sameer, it was sweet butter lettuce, pomegranate arils and thin apple slices with a wisp of dressing. Most of what I eat is a few things, lovingly combined.
I’ve been cooking for a long time – and when I was younger, I reveled in complexity. I devoured molecular gastronomy and made multi-step brioches and attempted salmon sous-vide in my university kitchen (a very bad idea: salmon is not meant to be sous vide, as it goes). My salmon excepted, this cooking is often beautiful. I wouldn’t be so enamoured with Grant Achatz and Ferran Adrià if I didn’t appreciate complicated food. But in my own kitchen, more and more it’s less and less.
Anyway, tonight I pulled together dinner. A blended soup of broccoli, celery stalks, vegetable broth and black pepper finished with a swirly glug of olive oil. And I’m afraid that’s it. It tasted so good: a little sweet, creamy, warm and with an unusual depth considering its five ingredients and no aromatic base. I wanted to share it right away so you could make it, too. But a recipe for boiled broccoli seems unnecessary, given all the gorgeous and complex things out there to make and eat.
Instead I leave you with this: next time you see a most beautiful head of broccoli, buy it – for me. Slice it up (stems and all) with a stalk or two of celery and cover it with good vegetable stock. Simmer for 10 minutes or so. Test for salt and pepper. Blend. Slurp with some olive oil from a big white mug – and feel the kind of contentedness only soup brings.
I love this poster and its sensible advice. My only question: how on earth did such sensible advice come from the United States Food Administration? Maybe because in 1914 the FDA wasn’t yet run by lobbyists.
Ah, simpler times.
1 – buy it with thought
2 – cook it with care
3 – use less wheat & meat
4 – buy local foods
5 – serve just enough
6 – use what’s left
don’t waste it
Thanks for sharing, Sameer.
I love markets. Inexplicably so and completely. When I visit a new city, forget monuments and museums: I carry a list of all the must-see markets. (Just ask Sameer, who saw me squeal with glee each time we found a new one in Barcelona, and who – accidentally – ended up buying me a kilo of figs from one of those markets. That’s a lot of figs.)
Of any market, though, I best-love my home market, and not just out of bias. May through October, every Tuesday, at the south edge of Cabbagetown in Riverdale Park West, vendors set up stalls. Riverdale Market is amazing for so many reasons. It’s a producer-only market. All vendors have to grow/raise or make their goods: there are no “farmers” who buy from large vendors and resell at a premium. Growers must follow [near or beyond]organic or wild/foraged and sustainable practices. I always encounter a happy mix of single-product vendors (the mushroom man, sprout growers, honey seller) and full-range farms with a variety of produce.
More importantly, at Riverdale I stock up on the best pickles ever. On crisp October days, I drink a steamy paper-cupful of just-ground cacao. Angelos sells my very favourite kefalograviera cheese and olive oil that tastes like home. Yesterday evening I was gleeful to find the season’s very first coronation grapes, and chatted with their farmer about how he cares for his vines.
Apart from production standards and yummy finds, the market just has a spirit of camaraderie and love of good food that’s infectious. Prices are reasonable, produce is handled with care, the old man selling beets always sneaks me an extra “for good measure”. In exchange for a crisp $20 bill each week, I walk home feeling positively abundant. Last night I scooped up everything pictured: a bag of pear tomatoes and striped baby heirlooms, two pounds of lacinato kale, a box of grapes, 14 peaches, six purple beets, a glut of summer squash and head of garlic – all organically grown, put in my hands by their growers, driven in from a few kilometres away.
We so often focus on the many costs and externalities of cheap food. Groundbreaking studies tell us organic isn’t any healthier than conventionally-grown produce. We spend on average only 10 percent of our incomes on what we eat as we bemoan rising food costs. I’m guilty of this over-analyzing, this urge to make my food functional. But really – I only need as antidote one glorious bite of a fleshy, warm-from-the-vine heirloom tomato in mid-August; the ritual of roasted sweet potatoes through Ontario’s long winter; June’s first snappy green beans. Beautiful food, food that’s grown with love, is best.
Via the Epi-Log on Epicurious – what ten food items do we require, most days, to really enjoy life?
And what a difficult list to compile!
This isn’t recipes, or favourite foods, or whole food groups (one person said “cheese”, another “fruit” — not so easy!) but single items that you turn to most days … the building blocks of your meals, the items that are dropped most often in your grocery basket, eaten or imbibed most frequently. An honest list of habits, if you will.
Here are mine:
- earl grey tea
- black Americanos
- fleur de sel
- fresh-ground black pepper
- fruity olive oil (usually Greek or Spanish)
- crusty bread with a good chew
- extra-firm tofu
- apples (my go-to crisper fruit)
- greens (perhaps I’m cheating here, but spinach, lettuces, kale, chards)
- crunchy almond butter (Nuts to You Nut Butter out of Paris, Ontario makes my go-to jar)
And some that were begrudgingly cut from the final list, for sake of ten, and because they are either seasonal, or not used every day:
- unsalted butter
- grainy mustard (I haven’t met a Kozliks Mustard I didn’t want to eat by the spoonful, and they’re Toronto-based)
- cooking onions
- the ubiquitous hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano in my cheese drawer
- plain Greek yogurt
- squash of all kinds in the fall/winter
- asparagus in the late-spring
- tomatoes, peaches and green beans by the mound in the summer
It’s a good list, I think – or representative of how I like to cook, at least. Simple, uncomplicated, pared down food.
What does your list include?