Several years ago, a coworker of mine introduced me to Smitten Kitchen. She was obsessed. I thought the pictures were pretty, and some of the desserts made my mouth water, but I didn’t really get why she was so into it. At that point in my life, my cooking skills were limited to a veggie stir fry, spooned over pasta or rice, that I made several times a week. My boyfriend at the time and I didn’t cook much together, partly due to lack of interest and skill, and partly due to messy shared kitchens of early 20 somethings.
Now, I have come around to appreciate cooking as a hobby and a necessity. First, I moved in with a new roommate who was a great cook. I acquired a few more skills. I realized ordering takeout several nights a week was not healthy for my wallet or my waist. I have always loved hosting people, and I wanted to offer them more than chips and dip (though I make a really good dip). I started dating M, and realized that cooking together could be a really fun shared activity.
Which is a long way of saying I now get the Smitten Kitchen love. I even bought the cookbook for my mom for Christmas. Now she is obsessed, to the point where she asked for a cast iron pan for her birthday because “Deb uses one a lot.” A recent post about a beautiful-but-intimidating cookbook really exemplifies why I think so many people are fans.
“And it’s not that I don’t share the book’s values, either. Like most people, I prefer local humanely raised pork to the feedlot variety. If you haven’t yet, I hope you get a chance to try freshly dug potatoes from a farmers market in a month or two, so you too can be amazed by the depth of flavor atypical of the grocery store variety. I recently bought Anson Mills polenta and grits for the first time, and I’m converted. They’re incredible. They’re fantastically expensive too, as carefully grown food, the best in its class, often is. My grandmother would roll over in her grave if she knew I had used two cups of them just to dredge buttermilk-soaked pork chops (you know, among other concerns there), as the cookbook suggests. I unquestionably believe the world would be a better place if we all had access and the budget for these kinds of ingredients, or if we could all eat Brock’s amazing cooking — James Beard award-winning food that is exclusively indigenous to the South, using heirloom produce and heritage animal breeds — every night. But when it crosses the threshold of my apartment, it’s hard not to be aggressively aware of its gap with the reality I live in, or, as Morrissey once sung to me from a poster on my high school bedroom wall, “it says nothing to me about my life.” My central question in my daily home cooking is: will this work for me? In my kitchen? With my budget? With the ingredients I have the patience to get on a 25-degree day on foot?”
I feel really lucky that I have the ability to purchase the food that I do. It certainly isn’t all fresh, local, organic, etc, but sometimes it is. It’s nice when it is. Other times I take the bus to Trader Joe’s and fill as many bags as I can carry with frozen lunches and stuff to make my never-fail, quick and cheap veggie stir fry. In the aspirational, filtered, posed, and prettified world of food blogs, it is nice that some one is acknowledging the reality of buying the beautiful ingredients that are not available to many people.
Photo of First Root Farm peppers via organicfarmfood.org.