Friday, February 26, 2010

Keepers of the Flame

A couple of weeks ago, Katherine and I spent an afternoon pasting hexagonal post-it notes on a large conference room wall at her office in San Francisco. On each hexagon (see examples in the photo) we wrote the name of a recipe or a story that has appeared on my blog since the middle of May. It was quite an impressive collection. We sorted the recipes by appetizer, soup, main dish, etc. and the stories by a more complicated system. Our purpose was threefold: to see what I had done in these last nine months, to look for any holes which I might want to fill in the next stretch of time, and to ponder the question of how to turn this blog into cookbook. We didn't get very far on this last issue except to determine that I still want to create a cookbook.

Here are the stats on what’s appeared: 7 appetizers, 4 soups, 23 main dishes, 18 salads, 7 salad dressings, 6 grains/starches, 10 vegetables sides, 5 relishes, 6 desserts, and 8 baked goods. The main dishes broke down as follows: 4 chicken, 1 beef, 3 ground meats, 3 pork, 2 shrimp, 7 vegetarian, and 3 pasta. No fish. So starting today with three nice warming winter soups, I’ll be filling in some of the missing pieces.

But something more important bubbled to the surface that afternoon.
“Keepers” for me has always referred to the fishing term. Keepers are the fish you keep to eat. Everything else gets returned to the pond. The recipes I give you are the ones I love the most. Recipes worth keeping.
But there is another meaning as well.

Those of us who cook regularly, who buy produce and raw meat, who chop and sautĂ©, who dish out steaming bowls of home-made soup are “keepers” of a cooking tradition. Not unlike Ancient Rome’s Vestal Virgins who tended the sacred flame of Vesta, the goddess of hearth and home, and prepared food for rituals necessary for the health and well-being of Rome, we cooks, male and female, moms and dads, standing at our stoves, are keepers of the flame. Sitting with our loved-ones at a table over a home-cooked meal, we too tend to the health and well-being of our friends, our families and ourselves.

In my darkest moments, I worry that we keepers of the hearth may cease to exist. After one or two more generations of families with no one cooking in the kitchen (will houses cease to have kitchens?) and with the food industry doing everything it can to process our food for us and pumping it full of cheap ingredients that make us fat or fatter, what is the future for the home-cooked meal, made from real ingredients that nourish and sustain? Who will teach the next generation how to cook? Who will teach them the difference between a tomato and a potato?

This morning, I watched the TED speech of Jamie Oliver, a celebrated British chef, who won this year’s TED prize ($100,000 and the help of everyone in the TED audience to accomplish his goal) and who, at 34, wants to change how people eat in Great Britain and now here. His acceptance speech is tough, challenging and inspiring. His wish is to form a strong sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again, and to empower people everywhere to fight obesity.
We who are the current keepers of the flame need to find a way to join him, to find each other, and to make sure that all the recipes we love, our “keepers,” get passed along to the next generation. Our future depends on it. Are you with me?


Allison Addicott said...

Katherine...This is Allison, not Madeleine. Your blog is great. I, too, have always enjoyed those "dutch baby" style puffy pancakes. To my mind, they are better than crepes..even the ones in Paris. Some of us are making sure that kids continue to learn to cook...we already have Madeleine mastering the art of roasting a whole chicken. Great fun! I hope you own Emily Luchetti's "Stars Desserts" cookbook. I used to work with her there..watched her compile is, hands down, a simply wonderful book.
be well and peace,
allison (addicott)

Dante Noto said...

Hi Katherine - I was struck how your note talks about cooking for "ourselves, our family and our friends," which of course is a wonderful conception of community. I'd like you to consider another aspect of community. One of my current passions is feeding the homeless. Twice a month, a group of us like-minded folks (some affiliated with the Unitarian church, some not) serve dinner to about 60 residents of the homeless shelter in Laguna Beach. They are particularly enamored of our lasagna, multi-salad, bread and tangerine banquet! We also do more uncoordinated dinners. It is a joyous event and the gratitude flows freely and wonderfully. I hope your readers are able to take their passion for food and cooking and share that joy and bounty with those in need. For me, the act of serving is a wonderful gift, and I treasure my colleagues who take their own particular joy in preparing the food. At the end of the evening, I am in love with everyone, server and served alike.

It's an interesting contrast to the volunteer work I did in San Francisco with the Food Bank, which is much more geared at packaging and distribution at a large scale. That was also a wonderful experience, understanding that a thousand tons of potatoes won't feed the hungry unless someone puts them in bags and delivers them somewhere where people can get them. I've never seen so much food in my life, sitting in vast vats while waiting to be bagged, boxed, sorted, labeled, and whatever else before it becomes stale, rotten or unusable. It's worth a visit just to understand this complex ecosystem.

Thanks for all of your great writing.

Linda Y. said...

Hi Katharine,
I love reading your blog and looking at your photos. This installment, Keepers of the Flame, was thought provoking. In a segue, I think when we cook from scratch, we eat better and get closer to the land and our communities, but so much of what we eat disturbs the earth, especially the meat coming from polluting and cruel animal factories. To that end, do you have any great TOFU recipes? To me, mindful eating of more plant-based proteins is like acnowledging we are Keepers of the Earth.

Tinky said...

I'm definitely with you--and I enjoyed this essay although I'm less worried about this than you are. I see little flames everywhere!

Ruth S. said...

Hi Katherine,
Your blog continues to be fun to read...both for recipes and ruminations...I'm glad you're going forward with your cookbook project. I like the Keepers double meaning...but like Tiny, feel more hope than worry at this moment...

Carla said...

Hi Katherine! After finishing the documentary "Food, Inc" this evening, I browsed your blog for the first time and was surprised to see some of my evening's own thoughts and worries mentioned in your latest entry. The combination reignited my passion for eating and buying local. (Which can be a little more of a challenge in small town PA than it was in CA!)

Your blog is super fun to read and I look forward to more... I'm also excited to have access to some "Katherine Chosen Recipes". (but Oh, how I miss your cooking!) Hope you are both well in California!