My Nomination for the Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks

I am obsessed with cookbooks. I own at least of them and have only cooked from one so far (Isa Does It, if you’re wondering), yet I keep buying them because they’re so inspiring and pretty, and I suppose they’re often quite personal and informative too.

In my daily perusing of cookbook news this morning, I stumbled across Food52’s 2015 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks. Much like March Madness, the Piglet Tournament features 16 notable picks (cookbooks, not basketball teams, so more my speed) and puts them in a bracket system to face off and be judged by famous foodies, restaurateurs, and chefs until the end, when one emerges as the best cookbook of the year.

This tournament has been a thing since 2010, so I’m kind of embarrassed that I only found out about the Piglet today, which is incidentally the kickoff day to the 2015 tournament. In honor of my discovery of this new bracket obsession I’ll have for the next 3 weeks, I decided to take it upon myself to nominate one of my favorite cookbooks I have in possession: The Nancy Drew Cookbook. Had the Piglet been a thing in 1973, I’m sure it would have been a shoe-in for the prize.

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The Nancy Drew Cookbook is quite a cookbook to add to any personal cookbook collection. As is the case with the rest of the nearly-century-old book series, author Carolyn Keene has crafted a sleuth-themed masterpiece sure to delight Nancy Drew fans—okay, at least the prepubescent ones. “Keene” grouped all the recipes for easy reference, from breakfast to lunch to dinner, and even featuring holiday and international dishes. The book provides a full education of such cooking terms as bake, combine, and the elusive simmer.

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Not only that, but it also serves as an ode to the classic Nancy Drew mysteries, featuring recipes with titles like “99 Steps French Toast” and “Hidden Staircase Biscuits.” Just as many cookbooks have the power to transport the reader to another place or pace of life, The Nancy Drew Cookbook indulges the reader in his or her own fantasy of being a fabulous solver of mysteries like Ms. Drew herself, providing tips under the guise of “Clue to Extra Goodness,” “A Mystery Taste,” and more. This cookbook also transports readers back to the good old 1970s, when margarine was all the rage and pre-packaged and canned ingredients were convenient staples in all kitchens. (Canned salmon? You best believe.)

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Inspired by the mysteries lurking at the heart of good home cooking, The Nancy Drew Cookbook is a treasure for all—and not just because I literally dug my copy out of a pile of books at the secondhand bookstore down the street a few months ago. Much like Nancy Drew’s timeless, heartwarming, and inspiring mystery books, this cookbook is a veritable relic of the past, empowering readers young and old to cook at home and to invite their loved ones for special dinners of things like “Black Key Mystery Patties.”

The Nancy Drew Cookbook teaches us that we don’t need to be gourmet chefs with complete spice racks and a 12-piece cutlery set to get the job done. With as few as three ingredients, it is possible to use the book’s clues and put together the pieces of the puzzle of good cooking. Nancy Drew and friends, we salute you.

Happy Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks season!

The Best Advice from In Defense of Food

I love reading books about food and learning more about what we should and shouldn’t eat. These kinds of books are great for the thoughts and awareness I experience while reading them (although I definitely will not be giving up bread, sorry Dr. Davis), but they all ought to be taken with a grain of salt, as one author’s or one population’s opinion in the scheme of everything. That being said, I finished reading Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto the other day, and while the book positions itself as another belief system, I encountered some great plain-spoken advice that anyone with any dietary beliefs could live by.

Eat meals, and do all your eating at a table.

Eating is one of my favorite things, and I am prone to both snacking all day if I have snacks on hand, and shoving down my lunch when I’m in a hurry. For instance, yesterday at work, there were doughnuts so I of course had one as a midmorning snack. But come lunchtime, I had five minutes to eat my soup because I had a meeting to attend, so I lapped up my soup and tipped the bowl back into my mouth, barely tasting what passed between my teeth and more eating until it was gone.

Pollan advocates snacking less but making time to sit down at a table (office desks don’t count!) to enjoy meals at peace. This isn’t a novel idea for me; I read Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat last fall, and of all of her tips, eating at a table with real silverware and real dishes (not out of the paper or plastic packaging) really stuck out to me.

The psychology behind post-meal satisfaction is pretty fascinating, and based on my experiences, I can vouch for the sense of satiety that comes from making your meal an event rather than an obligation. I’m not perfect at this, but try to sit down and use nice plating when I can.

Cook and, if you can, plant a garden.

For me, striving to become an adult has largely meant spending more time with my food. I cook my dinners as often as possible, so around 6:30 in the evening, you can usually find me trying to chop things up. Of course, there are some nights when I would rather go out for dinner, and that’s fine, but what isn’t fine are the times when I go out and buy a package of ramen noodles to bring to work. It’s like, come on, you can do better than that! Anyone can do better than that! With a little planning, cooking can happen, even if it is just scrambled eggs for lunch.

Planting a garden is something that is a little far out of my ability range, at least as an undergraduate living in a student apartment. There are some great community gardens in Chicago, like the Peterson Garden Project, if I do ever feel the urge to venture beyond my basil cultivation level, but something that I might be able to do sooner is join a CSA program. CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” which means you opt in for the service and pay your dues, and every week or two you get a box of whatever grew on the farm lately. It sounds like a pretty sweet way to get super fresh, local produce and experiment with things I haven’t tried to cook yet.

I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver last summer, and in it, she advocates for all this cooking and gardening business. The manner in which she so lovingly describes the flavors of the freshest, ripest vegetables makes me want to frequent the farmers’ market more often.

Eat like an omnivore.

Whether or not you choose to eat meat is your call; but eating a variety of different foods all the time is very important, not only for your general eating satisfaction, but also for the health benefits you get. The more diverse foods you eat, the more diverse nutrients you’ll pick up in the process, and this ensures that you’ll get plenty of vitamins and won’t have to worry about deficiencies.

Some people even say, when picking your vegetables, to eat the rainbow, and this is also a good idea because different colors mean different things—greens are much different from the orangey beta-carotene-laden vegetables, but all are good for you.

Eat well-grown food from healthy soils.

Alright, so I’ve complained about the prices at Whole Foods really often throughout my past few years shopping there, but I’ve actually realized it’s the more processed stuff and the nuts that are expensive. The produce is a relatively normal price, so for all my grumbling, I’ve actually been enjoying a lot of organic fruits and vegetables.

When something is grown organically, this means there is often better soil involved and more plant health (and less pesticides), so the resulting produce often has more nutrients and might taste better. Of course, this only really matters if you’re going to eat the skin of a fruit or a vegetable, but if you want to buy organic bananas and avocados, be my guest. Organic apples, though, are probably not a bad idea.