Have you ever had, I don't know, five years of your life that are pretty challenging and you start to see yourself making some unhealthy choices in an effort to cope and you're like, "Maybe I should do something other than drink and compartmentalize?" You and the Bota family (pretty sure that's their name) have gotten pretty tight, and those wine glasses you bought at your old English professor's yard sale stare longingly at you from the cabinet every night, not completely unlike the way your old English professor stared at the more attractive people in class. Maybe you tried some yoga and some long walks that helped a little, but you needed a hobby-- and watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills didn't feel like a real one.
Well, anyway, I started cooking.
It started as a joke more than a deep realization of anything, if I'm being completely honest. My idea, a year and a half ago, was to try and recreate Julia Child's Boef Bourgingon and write about what a disaster it turned out to be. I assumed I wouldn't be able to do it. I understand now that this is already a thing and thankfully my experiment "failed." The reason I didn't follow through wasn't because of accidental, potential plagiarism but because when I spent the day making this meal, it turned out surprisingly well. Yes, I mistakenly bought maple flavored bacon and had to figure out how to embrace the extra smokiness. And, sure, some of the wine that was intended for the sauce ended up in my glass, slowing down the whole process by... quite a bit. (It's normal for a meal to take 8 hours to make, right?) But, as I served my family their bowls of Julia's most famous dish, they were like, "Wait. YOU did this? The one whose most famous family story involves you looking for directions on a can of corn?" Yep. It was me. Failed Corn Girl made this.
Other than the canned corn incident of 1993, I haven't actually been a cliche, can't-even-boil-water type of gal. I make a mean spaghetti sauce and have a delicious lentil recipe that makes people exclaim, "HOW CAN LENTILS POSSIBLY TASTE THIS GOOD?" But, it wasn't until Julia's boef that I thought I could really do this and maybe this could be my thing... and I really needed a new thing.
So, I joined a cookbook club. Not an in-person one! My God, who do you think I am? No, a Facebook one where I never have to talk to anyone, obviously. It's called Food 52 Cookbook Club. 27,000 of my new friends and I cook and share pictures of our food. We pick a new book each month and we also have a book we use the entire year. This year's book is Sunday Suppers at Lucques. I have cooked nothing from it, although the recipes look tasty. Instead I've been focusing on the monthly books that seem even more challenging. Last week I made Chipotle-Garam Masala Olives. I mean, what even is that?? (It's deep fried olives in a spicy breading is what it is... and it's delicious.) The recipe came from Season by Nik Sharma. I've also made gnocchi. And bread. BREAD, PEOPLE. WITH YEAST AND A DOUGH HOOK AND EVERYTHING! Bread (or any cooking that seems science-y) is my biggest hurdle mentally. There's so much time invested and what if it doesn't turn out? Well, as Naz Deravian says in her book, The Bottom of the Pot , "Don't be scared of the dough, remember you're much bigger than it -- and it's just flour and water!" Thanks, Naz! And thanks for the instagram love.
None of this would be possible without the library, of course. There is no way I could afford or find a place to house 13 cookbooks a year. And since not all cookbooks are created equal there are only a few I've bought since I started this endeavor 18 months ago. These are the three I've determined worthy of buying so far:
Dining In by Alison Roman (This one has so many amazing recipes, it's unreal. I've cooked the most from this one and I absolutely adore it.)
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat (A contemporary classic that always has a holds list, so I bought it. Nosrat focuses on teaching why each of these elements is so important in cooking.)
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. (The start of my love and self confidence in cooking. Also, did you know Julia Child wasn't French? Oh, you did? Well, some of us didn't until a year ago. It's a learning process, OK??)
I would also like to mention the Bob's Burgers cookbook that the library currently does not own (but it will soon, if I have anything to do with it). Sometimes you just need to make a burger based on a cartoon. There is no shame in this. If I could eat the Baby You Can Chive My Car burger every day without the risk of heart disease, I would. YOU MAKE WHEELS FOR THE CAR BURGER OUT OF FRIED PICKLES. It is a DELIGHT. I'm sorry for the all caps but I am excited thinking about this burger.
A real fear of mine as I slip into middle age is not feeling that spark to try new things. I have my husband and daughter; I have my clutch-five friends and a job that I love. I have a little house that I enjoy tinkering around in; I have my REM Spotify playlist, and of course, my wine. These are all lovely things. But I needed more and I found it-- and I found most of my inspiration at the library, which is not surprising. You know what is surprising? THAT I MADE BREAD. REMEMBER HOW I MADE BREAD? I made bread.
-Sarah Matthews is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.