In a used bookstore the other day, I stumbled across an old favorite cookbook called ‘Unplugged Kitchen’ by Viana La Place. I'd owned this book back when it was first published in 1996 but had lost track of it since. So I picked it up, starting paging through and 5 minutes later I was still standing in the same spot, reading through her recipe on summer baked tomatoes with brown sugar.
Rule of thumb when you pick up a book in a bookstore and find yourself still reading it five minutes later: just go ahead and buy it.
It’s a lot of fun to rediscover something after several years. Paging through Unplugged Kitchen, I realized that La Place was a bit ahead of her time. Much of what she ecourages is getting a lot of attention today: basic home cooking that emphasizes good, well-grown vegetables simply prepared. Meat and other protein are secondary. Her food is intensely personal and encourages a playful improvisation, a love of imperfection and the kind of lifestyle that allows one to wander about here and there in search of the freshest ingredients.
This is both a good thing and at the same time a little romantic, much like the idea of a garden can be more attractive than actually having a garden (and all the work and tending and time that it requires.) While I love the image of a stack of linen towels as a symbol of an unplugged life--hell, I actually do the stack of linen towels thing--it’s not always possible for some folks to give up their conveniences. Sometimes having a food processor plugged in and on the ready means the difference between finally getting around to making that batch of pesto or not.
Still, in the end, I find myself leaning somewhat in the unplugged direction. I think this is because for me, cooking and being in the kitchen is a joy--I often don’t want to be anywhere else. To me there’s nothing more fun and sexy than cooking for someone I love.
So yes, I have frozen slabs of mac‘n’cheese in the freezer because there are times when that’s all I can manage. And I’m not against the occasional In’n’Out drive-through burger run either. But when my time has come and if I’m aware enough to be able to reflect back, I suspect those hours spent dicing onions or stirring polenta or figurung out how to roast a chicken will be among the sweetest.
So why not slow down a little, unplug a few things and enjoy the moment. After all, it's the only thing we really have.