p!nk has been getting me through the last few weeks. p!nk and cooking.
i rarely read a cookbook that makes me want to cook from it.
that’s not a diss against cookbooks; it’s just that i tend to approach cookbooks more as aspirational reading material than cooking inspiration; and i love the stories people have to tell about food, whether it’s the food they cook, the food they ate growing up, the food they crave and pursue and want. given all that, it’s not much of a surprise that i liked kristen kish cooking (clarkson potter, 2017) as much as i did, though, at the same time, it kind of is to me — i walked into this book a little nervous that i wouldn’t like it because i’m wary of personal brands, public figuredom, and celebrity, not because they’re bad things per se, but because there’s a level of something there i find inherently inaccessible and undesirable.
i don’t know. it’s one of those things i’ve been trying to put words to for months, but words continue to elude me, to the point that i haven’t even been able to read for the last few weeks because my ability to focus has gone to shit.
when that happens, i cook.
i’ve spent the last three weekends cooking from the kish cookbook, and this has been surprising because i assumed i wouldn’t cook from this book at all because kish is all about technique and the book was touted from the beginning as being technique-driven. say “technique-driven,” and i automatically go, well, shit. i can cook, but i don’t know anything about technique, soooo …
kish’s food isn’t simple; that might as well as be said upfront. if you’ve watched top chef, if you’ve read or seen (or eaten) her food, i think you’d already know that. she pays intense attention to detail, and that comes through in the book, whether in the photography, the plating, the design work, layouts, recipes — there’s nothing about this book that wasn’t done very intentionally.
that intention comes right out in the writing as well, and kish paired up with cookbook author meredith erickson who does a spectacular job capturing kish’s voice and perspective, condensing her story and background into a short introduction and brief headnotes while keeping her alive and buoyant throughout the entire book. her voice is there in the recipe instructions, in the index of techniques that follows the introduction, and i obviously don’t know exactly how the writing broke down between the two, but they worked very well together. the book is testament to that.
because the book is a highly personal one, but it’s one that thankfully avoids the trap of getting lost in or self-obsessed with the person. kish isn’t attached to a restaurant; she’s not tied to a show or a program; so this book is entirely about her food, the personal coming in only as needed to lay a foundation for that, to give insight to what inspires her, how she approaches food and, ultimately, how she cooks.
and, holy shit, i love what she does with food.
i’m always a little bummed when people don’t do events with their co-authors. i’d love to hear more about that collaborative process, but, because i can’t have that, here’s an interview erickson recently did with the globe and mail.
some dumbass left a comment on an eater post talking about kish’s book, and it asked if she’d ever opened her own place, why people should buy her book if she couldn’t get people to invest in her ideas, and that made me think, … what???
it sent me down the spiral of wondering how we define our worth, how we attach value to the work we do. in this social media world, it’s easy to get lost in numbers — in followers and likes and comments — and, in this capitalistic world, it’s easy to fall back on money. we want the highest bid. we hear about the book deals that sell for six, seven figures. we talk about the net worth of people in the public sphere. in this competitive world, we want those macarthur genius grants, those michelin stars, those pulitzer prizes. we want that prestige. we want that recognition.
the greater majority of us will never get it.
so where does our value come from? what makes our work worth paying attention to? is it about book deals and film rights and bylines? status and renown? restaurants? is it about investors and venture capitalists and funding?
i wrote a book; does that work have no worth until an agent signs it, a publisher buys it, and the public adores it?
my desk is basically stacks and stacks of books with a tiny little space cleared out for my macbook and a mug of coffee, but i’ve been struggling to read these last few weeks. i’ve been struggling a lot with focus, my brain feeling foggier and more muddled than usual, and i’ve maybe made it through a few pages here, a few pages there, before setting my book aside — and, at first, it was that one book, then it was another, then another and another, and here we are.
this weekend, my psychiatrist started me on concerta, which is in the ritalin family, simultaneously to deal with ADHD and to attempt to lift my mood, which has been collapsing in recent weeks after a few months of stable normality. maybe this is the frustrating thing about mental health, the ebbs and flows, though it’s not much different from physical health because even physical illnesses have good days and bad days — there’s just the added social stigma when it comes to brain stuff.
because maybe here’s the thing about mental health: it’s not much different from physical health. despite the mysteries enshrouding the brain, it is still a part of the body, and mental illnesses exhibit with physical symptoms as well. we’re simply ingrained to write them off as laziness, as mood swings, as petulance and immaturity and weakness, when the brain is screaming at us that it’s malfunctioning, it’s dying, it’s ill and it needs medication and therapy and care, just like the body does when it’s ill.
where’s the shame in that?
i admit that, when i write about my brain, i’m constantly quelling the impulse to go on the defensive. i always want to add some kind of note that none of this, not the depression or anxiety or insomnia or ADHD, keeps me from living a full, productive life. it doesn’t affect my ability to work; it doesn’t impact my capacity to make friends and meaningful connections and keep them; it doesn’t diminish my value as a human being.
i always want to explain that, like it needs explaining.
i always want to explain that because i’m afraid no one will think i’m worth investing in, in whatever capacity, because i often feel defective, broken in ways that mean i will never be whole or fully functional in a way this world demands.
maybe brain stuff just feels scarier because the most alarming symptoms happen inside your head and people can’t see that. people interpret behavior through their own filters and interpretations, and, so, the symptoms of depression and suicidal thinking and anxiety go ignored or unseen or misinterpreted for whatever reason — people are too busy; things are tense in relationships already; no one wants to believe someone she/he/they loves and cares for could be in such a bad mental state that she/he/they could be thinking actively of killing her/him/themself.
it’s too bad that doesn’t stop the deterioration of a brain. that doesn’t make mental illness go away.
that all just makes everything worse, and we’re the ones who pay for it.
here is this, though: you are your best advocate.
i ask myself constantly why i do this — why do i keep writing about my brain? why do i keep sharing all this? why can’t i just write about a goddamn cookbook and about the experience of cooking, and why can’t i just keep my personal shit to myself?
but maybe the thing is that my biggest takeaway from the kish cookbook was totally personal because i walked into it thinking, pfft, technique, i won’t be able to cook any of this, and realized that, wait, i can cook this — i can cook a lot of it, actually. i know the language of food; i know what it means to braise and blanche and reduce, the difference between chopping something into a brunoise and mincing it, how to work with yeast and gelatin. i can laminate dough and roll pasta by hand and crimp a pie crust, and maybe i can’t do any of these with extraordinary brilliance or skill, but i don’t have to doubt my ability to feed the people i love and to do it well.
that might sound like nothing to some, but it means a lot to me.
when you’re stuck in a place where you feel like you’re constantly sinking, like you’ll never be free of all the disappointment and self-loathing and self-hatred, knowing you’re capable of something means a lot, and food for me is intensely personal. i attach a lot of meaning to it, maybe more than i should, and, if there’s anything that really stirs up my longing to belong somewhere, to be a part of something, it’s food.
maybe it’s the necessity of food. maybe it’s my complicated history with it, one that continues to be complicated and messy given my type 2 (that i have admittedly willfully ignored the last few months). maybe it’s how food just naturally brings people together, how some of my best memories are grounded by meals, how the thing i miss the most about home are my monthly book club meetings when my friend would cook and i’d bake something and everyone would bring wine and beer and babka and fruit, and we’d sit around in a living room and eat and talk and maybe discuss the book for a few minutes.
because, like i’ve written before, california compounds all my lonelinesses, and, as the end of the year draws closer, i get more and more afraid that these silences are it, that i will no longer be able to fend them off anymore.
about being your best advocate, though — i mentioned this in one of my posts for national suicide prevention week, but i feel like it’s worth repeating, that no one can help you in ways that you need until you start speaking up and, at times, pushing back.
as someone who’s naturally non-confrontational, this has been an exercise these last few months, trying to make myself heard and understood and known. it hasn’t helped that i also come from a stance that talking is kind of a waste of time, that it’s just wasted breath, and i can’t say that my opinion on that has changed all that much. sometimes, i say things, and they go totally misinterpreted, and, sometimes, people say something, and i totally misinterpret — and there we go, round and round, in this cycle that drives me mad and saps me of my limited reserve of energy.
maybe that’s the point, though, that we try. if we don’t try to speak up at all, we’ll never have a chance to be known or understood. if we hide away in silence, all we have are the echoes in our head. if we run away from potential conflict, we’ll always be on the run, and people will always fall away.
so maybe that’s why i’m here; maybe that’s why i do this at all; and it’s no different from the reason i cook. cooking, too, is communication; it’s a way of saying, i’m thinking about you. i care about you. i love you. it’s a way of fighting to survive, to stay alive, when everything seems like it’s going to shit and you might not outlive the year. it’s a way of saying that you’re here, that you consume, that you aren’t just empty form to be glossed over, unseen.
it’s a way of belonging, of being a part of something, and that, to me, is the thing i love so much about food and one reason i cook so much in times of mental distress.
kristen kish cooking is published tomorrow, 2017 october 31. it retails at $40, and i do recommend it.
i’ve loved everything i’ve cooked so far, and, if you want a list, i’ve made her braised potatoes (which includes her vegetable broth), creamy barley (which includes her onion broth and onion syrup), cavatelli (twice in two weeks) (just the cavatelli, though — it is not currently the season for corn), whole wheat tagliatelle with champignon sauce, crispy chicken thighs with chili honey, and matcha green tea custard with sablé crumbs and macerated fruit (she uses berries; i used persimmons because i was experimenting with the idea of macerating persimmons; and i think the experiment has failed). altogether, not bad for three weekends. there’s a pork dish with bae and chamae i want to make soon, and i’ll be trying her basic pasta dough (i’m thinking of making the tortellini in the book?), but that probably won’t be for another few weeks because i’ll be out of town these next two weekends.
i’m looking forward to the break, though, because this shit isn’t cheap. i mean, i spent $6.50 on potato flour. what else can i make with potato flour?!?