Food for Talk


Reading Michael Pollan's Cooked, his fascinating natural history of how raw ingredients are transformed into the food we eat, I find myself musing about my own culinary methods. My family and friends know that I enjoy cooking. One of the great pleasures of life is preparing food for the people I love, followed immediately by sitting at the table with these same people, partaking in lively conversation, and eating what I've cooked. I'm not a fussy cook, though. I much prefer simple recipes with plenty of natural ingredients, put together with a soupçon of technique gleaned from the traditions of my French upbringing. My Parisian mother was a wonderful cook—my mouth still waters at the memory of her pork roast braised with onions and thyme, and her creamy coquilles St. Jacques. But there was always a lot of drama surrounding her culinary masterpieces. During my teenage years, when we were back in the States, she was renowned for her sophisticated dinner parties. The cooking would start days ahead with much complaint and worry on her part. The ingredients from the military commissary or local markets were never up to her quality. My sister and I, who were "recruited" as kitchen help, always fell short of the high professional standards she expected. By the time the guests arrived, my mother was exhausted, and we were grumpy, but as we sat in the kitchen eating our own share of the luscious meal, the delighted exclamations from the dining room were unmistakable. The results of Maman's efforts were always magnificent. It makes sense, though, that her daughter would choose a quieter path. So I like nothing better than planning an easy dinner—a sauté of fresh vegetables with quinoa, a paella with mushrooms and local farm sausage, pasta with fresh basil pesto—what I call my "one-dish wonders." I don't want to give the impression that all my food prep is done quickly, though. Since I work at home, I can cheat and fit my "slow" cooking around my schedule, which is a distinct advantage. I keep homemade beans, pizza dough, and extras from the big efforts—ratatouille, sauces, soups, and stews—in the freezer, so I can use them quickly. But I count my dinner a success when I spend more time talking and eating than I spent cooking!