When I think of wisdom,* I think of Henry David Thoreau and his 1854 book Walden; or, Life in the Woods. In Walden, Thoreau urges the reader, through both theoretical arguments and reflections on the two years he lived alone in the woods near Walden Pond, to simplify life and focus on what is really important—like health and wellness, quiet time alone, quiet conversations with friends, and an appreciation of nature and art.
What does this have to do with cooking? Well, everything. Some people are passionate about cooking and spend endless joyful hours reading recipes, shopping for ingredients, and working in the kitchen. If that’s you, that’s fabulous; and when can I come over? If that’s not you, or if you’re busy with other commitments that take precedence, one of life’s dilemmas is how to simplify the task of preparing meals while neglecting neither health and wellness, nor one’s appreciation of delicious food.
Of course, there is no lack of recipes intended to assist the reluctant or busy cook, the cook who is concerned about health, the cook who wishes to prepare delicious food, and even the cook who embodies all of these types. But while recipes are wonderful and useful, the reluctant or busy, health-conscious, epicurean cook may find that they often have drawbacks in these areas:
- Simplicity. Scanning through recipes and selecting one; buying ingredients, sometimes hunting through multiple aisles or stores to find them; rounding up utensils and appliances, sometimes not owning an item and having to buy it, borrow it, or figure out how to do without; and following elaborate instructions—all of this takes time and energy. If you don’t enjoy these tasks, or if you enjoy them but are too busy to do them often, it is helpful to simplify the process by cutting out unnecessary steps.
- Random leftover ingredients. Almost inevitably, you will have random leftover ingredients after following a recipe. This obligates you to find a new recipe that incorporates these random items. The new recipe, though, often leaves you with a different set of random leftover ingredients—and sometimes you still haven’t used up the items from the first recipe. So you fall into a vicious circle of always having to hunt for new recipes to use up random ingredients—or, alternatively, let these ingredients go to waste.
- Local food sourcing. If you have a garden or buy locally grown veggies, it can be tricky to find recipes that use the particular ingredients you happen to have on hand. Also, many recipes are impossible to make with locally grown vegetables, either because a particular veggie doesn’t grow in your area, or because the recipe uses two or more veggies that are harvested at different times of year—i.e., fresh asparagus (early spring) and fresh tomatoes (mid to late summer).
- Healthy eating and food requirements and preferences. Finding the perfect recipe, one that has just the ingredients you wish it to have, and not any ingredients you don’t wish it to have, can be frustrating and time consuming.
It can be exciting, instructive, and fun to follow a recipe. To assist with the times when it is not, I have written what I like to call my “Recipe to End All Recipes.” (See part 2 of this two-part series.) The “Recipe to End &c.” is flexible enough to work with whatever ingredients you happen to have on hand, and it results in meals that are simple, tasty, healthy—and dare I say wise?
*In case I have not made it sufficiently clear up until now, I would like to express that this blog is about seeking wisdom through books and elsewhere. For more information, visit my new About page.