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I stopped cooking last year because my appetite was drowned out by my heartbreak. It was impossible to enjoy food the way I used to when if felt like my whole life was falling apart. Weirdly, I didn't give up other food-related habits, like my weekly trips to the Greenmarket, or reading cookbooks.
That I kept up my dedication to the Greenmarket makes sense to me: It's one of the happiest places I know. I always feel a little restored and like the world is full of magic after a visit—of course I'd go there when I'm feeling sad. I find the cookbook habit, however, mostly odd. I spent time reading about something I wasn't doing at all, looking in like a total outsider. I wasn't inspired to cook, but reading recipes was doing something for me, I guess—feeding me, somehow.
So I subsisted mostly on market produce and store-bought hummus while reading recipes I had no intention of making. All of which I hate admitting and regret doing: The produce deserved better treatment than that, the cookbook authors more respect.
The cookbook that got me to turn on the stove for something besides eggs was Nigel Slater's Eat.
In the fall, The Guardian published an excerpt from his newest book, A Year of Good Eating: the Kitchen Diaries III, that struck every cord in me. I keep it saved in a browser window on my phone and refer to it, even still, when I need a reminder of why I should be cooking more. I love what he says about enjoying the act of cooking, that quiet part of everyday life.
What has always mattered to me is that we enjoy not just the end result, but the hands-on craft along the way, the act of making ourselves and others a meal. Cooking has, for this cook at least, never been purely about the end result. It is the small, joyous details of cooking that have made it a lifelong pleasure.
His recipes are often exactly the kind of food I like to cook: unfussy and delicious. I'm especially fond of how flexible they are, and the permission he gives the cook to make changes. When I read the line "I bring you suggestions, not rules," I decided I needed to get myself another one of his books. I wanted more of his suggestions in my collection.
The next day. I went to a favorite bookstore, picked up Eat, and flipped to a page that had a recipe for "A simple miso broth for a fragile moment." I didn't bother reading the recipe because my head was spinning: My whole year has been a fragile moment, I thought. This recipe is for me; other recipes in here must be for me, too. I immediately took the book home.
Admittedly, miso soup isn't much of an accomplishment, but it was a much-needed gateway to something more substantial. A few pages after the broth for a fragile moment appears, there's a recipe for Miso Soup with Beef and Kale: a dish that's light enough for when your emotions are still getting the best of your appetite but perfectly warming and hearty for a cold night.
- 3 1/2 ounces cavolo nero or other kale
- a little oil
- 8 ounces piece of sirloin steak
- 3 chopped green onions
- 3 1/2 cups boiling water
- 1 tablespoon bouillon powder
- 2 tablespoons white (shiro) miso
I've made this recipe more than a few times and love how easy it is to put together. You can read the instructions once, then get to making it without referring back to the book. And can add any other ingredients you'd like. The Greenmarket isn't full of options right now, but there are carrots and mushrooms, which I think are perfect additions.
It feels so good to give ingredients and the cookbook author the treatment they deserve.