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Call me a gullible optimist, but I relish the practice of making New Year’s resolutions and taking stock of what’s worth improving. So, in the spirit of Intention Season, here are a few ideas that I plan to take with me through 2022, inspired by some of the cookbooks that have passed my desk this year.
Create a pantry that will “set you free”. I’m guilty of fancifully shopping for groceries, letting impractical products that I once imagined haphazardly clutter up the space, like so many pretty cocktail dresses with no opportunity to go out. What I really should have are the food equivalents of the perfect jeans and t-shirts: quality fundamentals that blend well with others. As Carla Lalli Music points out in “That sounds so good, “If I had a well-balanced pantry that was always stocked with staples – assorted dry carbohydrates, spices and sauces, canned fish, etc. – I would only need small amounts of fresh produce and protein (the props, say) to whip up a full, satisfying meal.
Think of cooking as a meditation, not a chore. Philip Lago and Mystique Mattai, the couple behind the food blog Chef Sous Chef and the co-authors of “Eat with us”, Approach their time in the kitchen and at the table as a practice of mindfulness, a slice of peace and quiet necessary during the day. It means being in the moment, devices far away, TV turned off, senses awake. Their philosophy (and popular recipe for carbonara spaghetti) just might be the antidote to the fateful scroll we need for the New Year.
Go easy and delicious (but not necessarily perfect). I think we’re all a little hungry for happy nights in the company of great friends, so when dinners return I’ll remember Devin Connell’s wisdom in “Ideally delicious”: The chemistry of a great time is 18% on food and 82% on everything else. Ditch sweltering tradition and formality and embrace fun, freshness and surprise (like Connell’s up-down idea for a party: champagne and tangy wings).
Use it or lose it. Reducing food waste is something I (and probably you) could be better at: City of Toronto notes that more than half of the food waste in our single-family households is preventable, but we often buy too much, don’t plan meals and don’t store food properly. In “Cook more, waste less», Christine Tizzard recalls the motto of the chef school: first in, first out. Eat the most perishable item first (bought earlier). It seems obvious now, but it’s not a rule I’ve followed before. Vegetables are the most wasted food, so I’m going to be looking at soups to use them up quickly. The soups are freezable, forgiving (you’ll never notice the slightly drooping greens when cooked in something bubbly), and suitable for improvisation (mix whatever you like).
Sharpen your culinary intuition. In his introduction to “A shameless cookbook, “ Chef Joshua Weissman doesn’t mince his words: “The most important thing you can have in your kitchen arsenal isn’t some weird, modern appliance whose only job is to dismantle a single lawyer and literally nothing else. The most important is culinary intuition. Yes, understand the techniques and ingredients (see: Weissman’s chapters on making basics from scratch, like unsalted butter, sourdough, and fresh dough). But also, “it’s time to stop putting the past on a pedestal and do something really delicious.” With cooking in the new year, I’ll be focusing more on the practical, with an irreverent and fun side.