What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

--Wendell Berry

In 1993, this man changed my life.

Tom Dorman was my high school cross-country coach, my eleventh grade honors English teacher, and the first person to inspire me to live life as a seeker.  He was and continues to be one of the most influential people in my life.

Tom Dorman welcomed me to the high-school cross country team I had no business being on, hating running and all forms of cross-training, and made me part of the first community where I felt truly at home.  He gave me strong, silly, funny, and confident women to look up to and taught me how to curse and revel in playing in the mud.  He took me camping and trail running and taught me how to read topo maps and star charts.  He taught me how to be a leader and a mentor, and to never stop questioning.

In 1995, I left the prestigious independent study classes I'd worked my entire academic career to get into so I could be his student.  It was the first time I followed my heart instead of my mind, and it may have been the best decision I'd ever made to date.  Tom Dorman introduced me to Edward Abbey and Wallace Stevens, to Thomas Lux and the superiority of short stories.  He introduced me to The New Yorker, to Powell's Books, to the importance of keeping a journal, and to the idea that I could find beauty anywhere and everywhere.

His constant love and support allowed me to believe, for the first time, that maybe--just maybe--there was something special about me, too.  That perhaps even I, this intense, awkward, serious, and naïve first-born daughter of immigrants, might be able to break out of the endless, ambitious capitalistic cycle of moremoremore I already felt myself captive to at age fifteen and instead live a creative, inspired life.

One of the most enduring, and powerful, lessons Tom (can you ever grow up enough to call your high school English teacher by his first name?) taught me was the difference between quality and Quality.  Though I don't remember, any longer, how he articulated it, I can explain what it means to me today.  It means not only doing my very best work all of the time, but also infusing it thoroughly with love and meaning.  It means choosing to surround myself with GOOD PEOPLE who are generous, compassionate, intelligent, creative and funny--and if they happen to be rich or famous or powerful, then that's good, too.  Not the other way around.

This lesson served me well in college, at Chez Panisse--a veritable temple of Quality--and at every other point in my career as I've done my best to navigate the topsy-turvy food-for-pleasure-meets-food-justice world in which I live.  For the past two decades, I've been practicing discernment, seeking Quality in everything I do and everyone I meet, and I can see so clearly how it's paid off.  Lately, I feel like it's actually been taking the form of contraction, of a more intimate private life that fuels my public endeavors.  Less time on the internet, less social networks, less of a desire to go to every social event to which I'm invited, less time eating out in restaurants.  More time with friends, cooking dinner at home.  More time reading, and writing, and watching movies.  More time outside, more time meditating, more time in the water.  

And somehow, something is happening now where I'm crossing paths with so many excellent, interesting people on a daily basis.  Yesterday, I finally met Leah Rosenberg after a long, drawn-out, mutual obsession with one another, and I can tell you right now that we are the sweet and salty twins.  Total soul sistas.  How can it be that someone I've never met can so totally be on the same page?  And how can I be so sure so immediately?  I don't know.  I just am.  And you know, I totally trust it.  She's Quality, with a capital Q.

Thanks for that, and so much more, Coach.  I love you.  Always will.

nigel slater's the kitchen diaries

i'm so inspired by this book that i feel like i have to quote the entire first page for you:

Right food, right place, right time.  It is my belief--and the point of this book--that this is the best recipe of all.  A crab sandwich by the sea on a June afternoon; a slice of goose with apple sauce and roast potatoes on Christmas Day; hot sausages and a chunk of roast pumpkin on a frost-sparkling night in November.  These are meals whose success relies not on the expertise of the cook but more on the basic premise that this is the food of the moment--something eaten at a time when it is most appropriate, when the ingredients are at their peak of perfection, when the food, the cook, and the time of year are at one with each other.

There is something deeply, unshakeably right about eating food in season: fresh runner beans in July, grilled sardines on a blisteringly hot August evening, a bowl of gently aromatic stew on a rainy day in February.  Yes, it is about the quality of the ingredients too, their provenance and the way they are cooked, but the very best eating is also about the feeling that the time is right.

I do believe, for instance, that a cold Saturday in January is a good time to make gingerbread.  It is when I made it and we had a good time with it.  It felt right.  So I offer it to you as a suggestion, just as I offer a cheesecake at Easter, a curry for a cold night in April and a pale gooseberry fool for a June afternoon.  It is about seasonality, certainly, but also about going with the flow, cooking with the natural rhythm of the earth.

Learning to eat with the ebb and flow of the seasons is the single thing that has made my eating more enjoyable.  Our culinary seasons have been blurred by commerce, and in particular by the supermarkets' much vaunted idea that consumers want all things to be available all year round.  I don't believe this is true.  I have honestly never met anyone who wants to eat a slice of watermelon on a cold March evening, or a plate of asparagus in January.  It is a myth put about by the giant supermarkets.  I worry that today it is all too easy to lose sight of food's natural timing and, worse, to miss it when it is at its sublime best.  Hence my attempt at writing a book about rebuilding a cook's relationship with nature.

--Nigel Slater

forty books to celebrate

i had to swing by chez panisse today, and when i tracked cal down in the kitchen, he and nathan were flipping through the auberge of the flowering hearth, a book i haven't picked up for at least eight or nine years, but whose mythical story i love as much as its recipes.

i wondered why they'd chosen this book to cook out of today of all days, and they told me it's their book for the week.  

when i made another confused face, they went on to explain that for each of the forty weeks leading up to the fortieth birthday celebration of the restaurant next august, they'll be writing menus inspired by one of the seminal cookbooks in the chez panisse library.  

brilliant!  but how come i hadn't heard about this yet?  

it's only the second week, cal said.  no one really knows about it yet.  

what was last week?  

richard olney, of course.  

so then i started asking who else was on the list:

scott peacock?  yes.  
niloufer ichaporia?  yes.  
mfk fisher?  yes.
elizabeth david?   
marcella hazan?
madhur jaffrey?

yes.  yes.  yes!

i am in love with this idea...and want to make my own list of forty cookbooks.  who would be on yours?

a few of my favorites:
the cooking of southwest france
honey from a weed
mastering the art of french cooking
the tuscan year 
jane grigson's fruit book
the fannie farmer cookbook
marion cunningham's breakfast book
the art of mexican cooking by diana kennedy
on food and cooking