More than ten years ago, I published my first book: The Cooking Book, A Dance in the Kitchen. It had hardly got back from the printer, when I started jotting down ideas for a sequel, mostly suggestions from the very first readers. But what made sense as an update or addition kept shifting in its focus. Initially, I thought I’d try adapting the recipes in the original work into a vegan mode, with substitutes for eggs and dairy. Then, I thought why not explore variations on all the recipes? Lastly, it occurred to me that I should simply share all the unusual recipes from around the world which seem to be constantly crossing my path.
Some of those recipes developed during 2011 – 12, while I had the privilege to teach the art of cooking to a teenager, Julian Fischer Frank, while he was home-schooling. Julian is originally from Cambodia, though he’d been in this country and in my life since he was five months old, so that added a special mix to our work. At the end of every class, we sat down, ate our work and critiqued it. We experimented. We did things I had not done before. We both learned. He agreed to assist in making this book.
The obvious answer to the question of what should be included in this book was to try to do it all. There’s no point in making useless distinctions and so this book has information about vegan food, variations on themes already explored, and unusual world recipes showing the texture of our cross-cultural fusion in this ever approaching one world cuisine. Like its predecessor, the recipes are all vegetarian and some are vegan, that is without any animal products. The principles of cooking are the same, however, so we think this book is useful for everyone who spends any time in the kitchen.
That of course has brought me to my own experiments with “recipe recombinations” and different techniques on some of the basics. There are simpler methods to some really difficult procedures and some additional lessons on technique which I have employed in the last ten years that now seem appropriate to share.
To our great delight, half-way through the testing of all these recipes, Rowan Marcus, a friend of Julian’s, joined the team in the capacity of apprentice. His Interest in food and his willingness to work hard made him a welcome collaborator. As with Julian, Rowan and I cooked, ate and critiqued. And, as with Julian, we sometimes remade the recipe with a slightly different version at another session.
My galley kitchen, where there is barely room enough for one person, never mind two, with 2 feet of counter space not taken up with appliances and drain board, is a challenge. And yet, it is bigger and has more storage space and is better equipped than most kitchens in the world. Getting perspective on what you have compared to the rest of humanity, helps you break out of the unhappiness brought about by feeling you don’t have “enough.” In fact, when you put a large wooden cutting board down on top of the stove and use the hutch around the corner from your little kitchen as a further shelf to put things in use, AND ORGANIZE YOUR WORK, almost anything is possible.
Julian, and then Rowan and I learned how to be in that space together, how to cooperate and how to actually anticipate each other’s movements and needs—without words, eventually—so that we could not only be efficient but engage in a dance with each other and with the food we were preparing. This is the space where all the recipes for A Dance in the Kitchen, Joyful World Cooking, were tested and retested. Space was not the only challenge we encountered, however. There were always issues of time constraints, fading energy, scheduling and needs. There were always larger issues than simply accomplishing a list of prescribed tasks in any given session. How much were we learning and adapting? How did one kind of food relate to other kinds of food? What principles were operating behind any given technique or layers of flavor? Diversity is found not only in the kinds of food we prepared but also in the styles each of us brought to the art of cooking.
This brings us life lessons about how to cooperate and work together with others on other issues. As with most things, it is about being centered enough to pay attention. It also requires that we be rested and nourished and feel good about ourselves. To be well-rested and not frantic means we have to be cognizant about the amount of things we take on; simply saying “yes” to everything that interests us can be a fool-hardy approach to life. That doesn’t mean you can’t be doing a whole bunch of different things simultaneously. It just means a little planning and a lot of noticing how we’re doing at any given moment. If we’re always anxious about getting things done or getting confused about what we should be doing or, in the case of cooking, if we start to drop things, then it’s time to evaluate what we’re doing and when and why. Not getting enough sleep also makes it difficult to have any sort of impulse control, especially about things like eating. When we’re tired, or bored, we often crave sweets (to give us an artificial kind of boost). Whereas when we are centered, we become creative, not just about the use of space in the small galley kitchen, but about alternatives to doing, indeed new ways of being.
Adding to the mix, we were fortunate to be joined by Lisa Wexler, who had done the art and photography for that first cookbook. Lisa created original art for each chapter and gave good advice on the layout as a whole. Linda Andrews, with whom I have worked on other issues of housing for the elderly and those with disabilities, assisted with a good deal of the photography and finally undertook the daunting task of proofreading the book.
In addition to the chapter on vegan food and substitutes, there are history lessons embedded in some of the recipes and some information about the origins and spread of food as well as nutrition and politics, all of which are part of the subject of food. For me, art and politics are inseparable and the recipes of the world reflect food availability and the value systems of those who cook and eat the finished product.
The ease of internet research allowed us to dive into a treasure trove of recipes and experiences of other people. It was a delight to discover that something we thought we’d invented had been done by others. The recipes were never identical; neither were they completely different. It has led me to believe that the chances are high that whatever you come up with has been tried by someone somewhere already. But such a discovery means that your idea is not all that bizarre and that it might really appeal to others. The same is true of all the arts.
The discovery of our common human experiences with food leads us into a wider appreciation for the many cultures, religions/spirituality, and perspectives on life. The global community is a veritable hot house of diverse custom, expressed through song, dance, prayer, poetry, and, yes, food.
Art and politics are inseparable and the recipes of the world reflect food availability and the value systems of those who cook and eat the finished product. With all that in mind, I hope you will consider purchasing A Dance in the Kitchen, Joyful World Cooking. Please enjoy the commentary and recipes posted on the “Food” part of this website.
If you’d like to see me in action, here’s a link to a 4 part video of a cooking demonstration I did at Boston’s Trident Booksellers & Cafe on Newbury Street: