My (mis)adventures in the kitchen used to unfold this way:
Step 1: Spend a ridiculous amount of time rifling through cookbooks as well as a fat folder stuffed with recipes that I’ve collected from magazines, newspapers, and friends…until I finally narrow in on a few
Step 2: Make a lengthy shopping list
Step 3: Search high and low for ingredients, crisscrossing town to various stores until I locate all the items on the shopping list (regardless of how inferior their quality that time of year)
Step 4: Follow the recipe instructions lock-step
Step 5: Be too spent (in energy, emotional bandwidth, budget, and time) to enjoy the results
No wonder I didn’t enjoy cooking much. Making matters worse, the results were often mediocre. Even complicated dishes could turn out flavorless. That was usually because I had chosen recipes without consideration of the season. And I had purchased ingredients with a lot of effort, yes, but without much regard for freshness, quality, or origin. It was enough to have checked items off the list.
That maddening pattern began to shift about a decade ago, once I made a practice of shopping at farmers’ markets more than at traditional grocery stores. I enjoyed going to markets well before that, but it was more for the experience than as the main way of feeding myself and my family day in and out. Once I began frequently farmers’ markets both in the U.S. and abroad, I started to appreciate the seasonality and “localness” factors more. I learned that extraordinary flavor doesn’t require extraordinary effort. Simple dishes based on fresh and local ingredients not only make shopping and cooking more manageable but also make the eating more enjoyable.
I could have spared myself gobs of time and disappointment if I’d had Clotilde Dusoulier’s newest book The French Market Cookbook sooner.
Dusoulier inverts several steps of my old, self-defeating approach to cooking. She skips others entirely (most importantly, Step #5). And throughout, she coaxes more flexibility and improvisation. Her starting point is finding what’s seasonal and fresh at the markets, and then deciding what to prepare.
Now, back to the kitchen. But these days with a smile and energy to spare.