I use Grammarly for proofreading because, well, because every time I have a typo on this blog I cry uncontrollably. I don’t, of course, but Grammarly offered me a $200 Amazon gift card to start my post with that line, and they asked me to come up with a funny reason. Comedy, of course, is tragedy plus time, and, I thought, if I turned a typo into something tragic, it might be funny by the time you read it.
What is really tragic, though, is that I feel like I’m in the culinary version of “Groundhog Day.” I know I’m not alone in this. By definition, a parent who cooks is going to be a parent who gets stuck repeatedly cooking the most popular dishes. Over the weekend, I was talking to one of the dads I know through Nina's soccer. He cooks black beans, roasted chicken, a meat and tomato sauce every single week. I call this a cycle of recipe dependency—that is, we get addicted to the things that are easy and that our kids will eat.
It’s not exactly a depressing situation—we are, after all, eating well (guess what's back in season!)—but I miss the feeling of seeking out and succeeding at new dishes. It reminds me of Ishmael from “Moby-Dick,” who starts the novel by saying:
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
I’m not going to head out to sea (who would cook for Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria?), but I do like to explore my cookbook shelf. “The New Food Lover’s Companion,” one of my favorite food books of all time, was recently updated. It is a pocket-sized volume (that is, if your pocket is a bit large—this is a small but thick book), organized alphabetically, that defines everything from “aamsul” (a kiwi-sized fruit from western India,) to “zwieback (the twice-baked toast).”
It covers the basics with precision, observing that a hare is “a larger relative of the rabbit,” and it “can weigh as much as 12 to 14 pounds, compared to a rabbit at about 5 pounds.”
It offers tasty tidbits about the origins of dishes, pointing out that the name for “jambalaya” is thought to derive “from the French jambon, meaning ‘ham,’ the main ingredient in many of the first jambalayas.”
The book gets into folklore, noting that “in parts of Europe it’s believed that rubbing the skin with eel oil will cause a person to see fairies.”
And a good sense of humor is often present—about “Glühwein,” it observes that the name of the German mulled wine translates as “glow wine,” and “is so named not only because it’s hot, but because it gives those who drink more than one or two a definite glow.”
The book is very handy for settling arguments (in a pre-Internet kind of way) and for satisfying curiosities about odd foodstuffs. Plus, it’s very fun to read, and good for getting out of a rut.