Friday, October 6, 2017

Adventures in Cooking

Anyone who is Facebook friends with me knows I post a lot of recipes.
One reason is that I like to entertain and am always imagining my next dinner party and wondering what to serve. But recipes were also my entrĂ©e into cooking. It’s only through recipes and cookbooks that I ever learned to cook.
            Back in my twenties, when I was single and living in Manhattan, I didn’t have a clue.  My mother cooked, but I wasn’t particularly close to her.  I never watched what she did, and I was so immature that I would not give her the satisfaction of asking her any questions about what she made.  I figured she didn’t know what she was doing and assumed if I wanted to know how to cook I’d have to figure it out myself.  To that end I bought I Hate to Cook by Peg Bracken.  In fact, I still have it in all it’s broken binding and torn cover glory, along with dozens of other cookbooks that I’ve acquired since.  But I Hate to Cook holds a special place in my heart and when Peg died last year, I felt as if I lost a close friend. 
This little paperback was the perfect introduction to cooking.  The recipes were simple, her instructions thorough, and her commentary funny and irreverent.  Most significantly though, her book made cooking seem easy.  Thanks to her I didn’t hesitate hosting my first dinner party in my sixth floor walk up railroad flat on the upper eastside.  I don’t remember the party except that I made Peg’s lasagna but I’m guessing it was a success because I’ve been hosting dinner parties ever since.
            From Peg Bracken I discovered Marcella Hazen, whose death last year I also mourned, and then onto Julia Child and Gourmet Magazine.  I learned about fine cooking and how to make the perfect beef bourguignon, leg of lamb, coq au vin and scads of other recipes.  But it was Peg who launched me and it was Peg’s recipes that I used during law school when I’d host a crowd in my Brooklyn Heights studio.  It was Peg who made me fearless, reminding me that as long as you provide your guests with something to drink and good company, the party will be a success.
            So it’s Peg that started me collecting recipes, always imagining the next dinner party, thinking of who to mix with whom, and what would be easy to serve so I could enjoy my guests instead of toiling away in the kitchen.  Her advice was invaluable and, at least for me, has made entertaining something that I enjoy doing instead of thinking of it as daunting or an obligation.

            Thanks to her I discovered that cooking is just the first step to sitting down to a meal with family and friends and one of life’s great pleasures. It’s not the actual eating or even the food that’s primary, but the conversations and interactions that take place while eating.  This is true at any meal, but more so at dinner parties. And it’s possible that sharing recipes on Facebook is my homage to Peg Bracken and will inspire another novice cook to host their first dinner party.

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