Like any foodie, I do love my indulgences. Recently discovered pleasures include the pucker-up tart seville orange marmalade from Josephine’s Feast, that sublimely creamy straciatella on the pizza I had the other day at Farm Shop in Marin, and that orgasmic cup of hot chocolate using Recchiuti dark chocolate pistoles

However indispensable these are to the life well-lived, over the holidays I realized that my real foodie pleasure comes from preparing it,  not just consuming it. So I resolved to cook more, cook with more focus, more intention.

While this realization would have many running to the nearest farmers market, for me, it starts with cookbooks and recipes.

Now there are a billion lovely cookbooks out there, oozing with luscious imagery, compelling stories and the exploration of the astounding alchemy that is cooking. My collection includes a range of these like Jerusalem by Yottam Ottolenghi (beautiful, evocative), Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook, and Tartine (astoundingly geeky).

The pleasures of cooking

These books are beautiful. They’re inspiring. They certainly teach and inform. But they are not cook books: they are Food Porn. Or perhaps we should call them food books or books about the cooking lifestyle.

Now I’m pretty fearless and experienced in the kitchen, and have been known to fuss quite happily over complicated recipes. But these books, instead of heightening my pleasure, actually depress me in the way that tall willowy models in Vogue used to depress me. (I’m over that one now.) Beautiful, entertaining, and inspirational, yes. About anything approaching cooking in real life? No.

Cook books (and now blogs) should be complicated enough to challenge and keep you on your toes, but most of all they should make you love the process of cooking, engage you as a member of their community. Then cooking becomes the pleasure I want it to be. Then the food tastes better. Then I savor the memories.

Here are 2 books and 2 blogs that bring me serious pleasure.

First off, there’s Breakfast, Lunch, Tea, by Rose Carrarini. Sophisticatedly simple, the voice engages, draws you in. The Fruit/Christmas Cake pages are particularly sticky.

Then there’s the 10 year old Cooking with Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser. Part autobiography (confessional and bloggy before cooking blogs became the thing), part cookbook, it nonetheless succeeds where so many other cookbooks fail: it’s usable, and the results are sublime.

Moving into blogville, there’s the meditative Yummy Supper by cook, writer and photographer Erin Scott. It’s gluten free, but it’s hardly abstemious or politically correct. After all, there’s a recipe for Bacon Candy.  With photography so creamy, dreamy, and lush this could easily fall into Food Porn category but the recipes are so smart, accessible, and delicious that it avoids that trap quite handily. The book version comes out in August 2014.


Glorious Yummy Supper. Image courtesy of Erin Scott.

And finally, a new favorite – still underground – is the mother-daughter blog, Lee and Lou Cook by Lee (daughter) and Lou Havlicek. Recipes are eclectic, for the way we live, with a gently rollicking spirit of adventure to them. It feels like cooking with good friends, glass of wine in hand, laughing at the cats on the counter, giggling at the fact that you forgot an ingredient and a having a good natured squabble over alternatives. That is pleasure, that is joy, and far, far greater than the simple eating of food however wonderful it may be.

Lee and Lou Cook. Image courtesy of Lee Havlicek.

Lee and Lou Cook. Image courtesy of Lee Havlicek.

Halibut Poached with Vegetables a la Lee and Lou Cook
Serves 4

– 4 halibut steaks—wild caught if you can get them
– 2 tbs of olive oil (for a 12-inch sauté pan)
– 1/2 large onion, sliced
– 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
– Sprinkle of turmeric, about 1/8 tsp
– 4 cups broth, chicken or vegetable: 2 cups for poaching, 2 cups to add to the stained broth
– 1/3 cup dry white wine
– 1/2 lemon, juiced
– 4 carrots, washed and peeled: 3 julienned and 1 cut into chunks
– 4 ribs of celery, washed: 3 julienned and 1 cut into large pieces
– 12 fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and washed, skins left on
– 1/4 lb snow peas, julienned
– Salt and pepper
– A few sprigs of thyme

More…where you’d expect it over at Lee and Lou’s.