When I set out to write Pretty Simple Cooking, I thought I’d be sharing what I already knew—the nourishing, sustainable home cooking that my husband Alex and I document on our blog, A Couple Cooks. Instead, I found the book taught me its own lessons about the creative process along the way.
More than just recipes, Pretty Simple Cooking is built around our 10 life lessons for a “pretty simple” approach to the kitchen. Of course, I didn’t realize these lessons are also key in the writing process. But thinking back, each one spoke to me in a different way. Lesson eight, gather and share, guided me to a community of friends and testers who helped us perfect our recipes ad nauseum. Lesson four, face your fear, helped me push through when recipes bombed in our test kitchen or recipe testers gave (well-deserved!) critical feedback.
And lesson three, love the (creative) process, helped me step back and truly enjoy the process of crafting a cookbook. Just as cooking can start to feel like a chore when you view it an obligation, so can writing. But when you’re working from a place of love and creativity, it can feel “pretty simple”.
A recipe is like a chart for a jazz musician: it’s an idea, codified to pass it down from one person to the next. All recipes in our book are ideas. As you become a confident cook, feel free to mix and match, substitute one vegetable for another, inspired by the ingredients you have on hand. Take a breakfast recipe and serve it for dinner (and vice versa!). It takes a bit of time to understand what can be modified and what can’t, but above all, take care to preserve the integrity of the flavor when making changes—like keeping fresh garlic, real lemon juice, and fresh herbs instead of opting for shortcuts.
Every human has an inner maker. We all embody a natural desire to be creative. And guess what? We also all need to eat. That means 3 times per day, 21 times per week, and 1,095 times per year we have the opportunity to put something on a plate—and that something can be inspired.
Not every meal has to be creative, but many can be. Dinner can be a chance to try a new spice, make a hearty pasta using only the ingredients on hand, or use leftover kale leaves in a new way. Breakfast waffles can be a canvas for art made with fluffy coconut cream, fresh peaches, and bright green pistachio crumbles. A meal with friends can be a chance to dust off an old cookbook and make an original rendition of empanadas or gnocchi or ceviche.
If you believe cooking is more than just a chore, you’ll find it to be rewarding in the best soul-filling kind of way. Make your plate something tasty, interesting, soulful, and intoxicating. Unleash your inner maker.
Excerpt adapted from A Couple Cooks | Pretty Simple Cooking: 100 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes to Make You Fall in Love with Real Food by Sonja and Alex Overhiser. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.