Categories
Environment

Eschewing Avocados

Avocado from Mexico.

It is my minority opinion that avocados should be avoided in the United States. Don’t buy them, don’t eat them. The fruit has become popular, and because of it, Mexican growers can’t keep up with demand. This creates a problem.

To meet surging demand in the U.S., farmers in Mexico have cut down swaths of forest in the western state of Michoacán, one of the most important ecosystems in the country. By some estimates, as many as 20,000 acres of forest — the area of more than 15,000 American football fields — are cut down each year and replaced with avocado plantations. The rapid expansion of orchards will threaten forests in Mexico for years to come.

The bad news about your avocado habit by Benji Jones, Vox, Feb. 13, 2022.

Dishes like guacamole, avocado toast and smoothies taste delicious. Refined oil from the fruit is popular among foodies and nutritionists because of its unsaturated fats. By one estimate, sports fans eat through 105 million pounds of avocados on Super Bowl Sunday. The deforestation problem is directly related to such consumer demand.

The immediate catalyst for this post was a project to reduce my cookbook collection. I found many recipes for guacamole and felt we needed a reminder to moderate consumption and address the deforestation their popularity causes. I can hear long-time readers asking, “Didn’t you cover this before?” Yes, I did in the post titled, “Can Hipsters Stomach the Truth about Avocados from Mexico?” Not much has changed.

What can consumers do about deforestation which creates high-margin avocado plantations? Solutions are complicated. Ecosystem Marketplace outlines some of the challenges here. In the meanwhile, go light on the guacamole and avocado toast, and find another oil for cooking.

It is something we can do to contribute to efforts to solve the climate crisis.

Categories
Living in Society

Costs of Development

View of Trail Ridge Estates on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021.

SOLON, Iowa. — It is no surprise a year into development of Trail Ridge Estates by the Watts Group additional public costs are being identified. The first is environmental.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported yesterday the Watts Group was fined $3,000 by Iowa Department of Natural Resources for pumping construction runoff into a storm drain that leads to Lake Macbride. I note the Watts Group built the storm drain after developing what was previously a farm field. Such environmental pollution is part and parcel of a development this size. The lake is already feeling pressure from development and this additional loss of farmland has an impact. The matter was settled by the parties in a consent order signed Oct. 25.

What will cost more is the recently announced $25 million school bond expected to go to voters this spring. Trail Ridge Estates will contribute directly to area growth and the requirement for more classroom space in the school system.

The district, like the town of Solon, has seen a steady increase in enrollment since 2014, and anticipates planned housing developments — with another 500 new residential units — to bring additional families in to the district. Solon schools’ current enrollment is 1,450 and is expected to increase by about 350 to 750 students over the next 10 years, depending on how quickly new housing developments take shape.

Solon schools plan $25 million bond, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Nov. 28, 2022.

The farm field in development was planted mostly in corn and soybeans, so converting it into housing is no significant loss to the food system.

Trail Ridge Estates was annexed to the City of Solon and will contribute to significant growth, maybe 50 percent more than the 2020 U.S. Census count of 3,018. What may get missed in this news is the area is evolving from what it was when we moved here into something new: a more expensive, environmentally compromised place to live. While promoters of the bond issue say it won’t increase taxes, how can it not increase expense as the school system grows to match population? The district will eventually see increased costs as a result of this development.

We will welcome more information on the bond issue. I plan to study it closely yet will likely vote for the bond. Public schools are endemic to thriving communities and we want our nearby city to thrive.

Categories
Writing

Main Pivots

Fire hydrant at the village well.

Today is the third day of renewed effort on my autobiography. Since last winter, I lost my place. Searching for it led me down a different path, one of considering structure different from the chronological timeline I wrote last year. There are considerations.

The first part was written in chronological sequence, which is okay and will likely persist. I tell a story from history, memory, and a few artifacts from the first two decades of my life. This part of the writing was engaging. My parents and maternal grandparents did not tell a single narrative of how they came to be in the Quad Cities by 1950. My grandfather did not live there. I didn’t know my paternal grandparents who both died before I was born. Every tale about the past came in asynchronous short stories. The few times any longer narrative was woven, mostly in writing by Mother, it seemed imbued with interpretation rather than facts. If I pieced the stories together in a new narrative there would be significant gaps and flaws, both mine and theirs. Getting a chance to write my story may have biases, yet by making it mine, the narrative is more complete and satisfying.

As I begin the 2022-2023 winter writing project I need to finish the narrative I started, yet want to break it and present different threads going forward in time. There are natural breaks which I will call “pivot points.” A pivot point was a time when, in a specific place, I considered my options and made a decision about where I would take my life. Here is my current reckoning of these pivot points as I navigate through this winter’s writing.

Leaving Davenport

Most young people make a decision in high school whether to graduate and what to do next. This was complicated for me by the death of Father during my junior year. There was never a question about finishing high school. It was going to university that hung in the balance after he died.

I had begun to look at options my junior year and had discussions about them with Mother and Father. I was on a trajectory to attend University, yet Father’s death brought a pause in moving forward.

I remember the conversation with Mother clearly. It took place during daylight in the living room where she sat on the couch and I sat on the chair next to where we kept the telephone. I explained I was willing to give up university in order to stay in Davenport and help her get through the loss of Father. In no uncertain terms she told me to leave and I did.

Living at Five Points

Before I left for military service I put my belongings into storage. Some were at Mother’s house, some in storage with a moving company before the advent of commercial storage units, and I took a small amount of belongings with me based on a conversation with my Army recruiter. When I returned from Germany I got an apartment near Five Points in Davenport to figure things out. I reunited most of my belongings, including a considerable number of new ones brought back from Germany.

I reconnected with friends who stayed in Davenport. We had one of the few parties of my life at Five Points. I cooked a lasagna dinner on Nov. 25, 1979 and we sampled wine mostly from the Rheingau region of Germany where I lived. I was a terrible cook yet dinner was eaten. At the end of the evening, I cut up my military ID card recognizing it was the official last day of my active service. We toasted the event with shots of Jägermeister.

At Five Points I felt like youthful times were ending and weighed what to do next. I decided life in Davenport was not for me and that was that. I was eligible for the G.I. Bill, applied and was accepted to graduate school, and in Summer 1980, moved to Iowa City and never looked back to my home town.

Marriage

After finishing graduate school in May 1981 I went on a trip down south to visit friends from the military. I evaluated returning to military service and decided visiting those who stayed after their initial enlistment would give me an idea of what it was like. I drove my yellow Chevy pickup to Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort Rucker, Alabama, and then to Houston where I stayed with a buddy who went to work for Exxon Oil Company. After the trip, I decided to stay in Iowa City and find a job.

At 30 years old, I recognized that I hadn’t found a mate, and would be unlikely to do so unless I worked at it more than I did. Iowa City offered the best opportunity in the state for people like me, so I got an apartment on Market Street and found a job. It was a complicated time, yet one of the main decisions was to settle in and see if marriage would be possible. We married on Dec. 18, 1982. I remember being at the church like it was yesterday.

Empty Nest

When our child left home in 2007 for a year-long internship with the Walt Disney Company in Orlando it set things in motion to be who I am today. My interest in the paid work I had been doing since 1984 waned. I wanted more from life. With our child a two-day car trip from home, I began to look at options. On July 3, 2009 I left work for the transportation and logistics company that employed me for almost 25 years.

Transportation and logistics has been part of who I am from the time I got my first newspaper route in grade school until I left paid work at the home, farm and auto supply store permanently during the pandemic. The decision to end it as a career in 2009, while still young, was hard to make. I’m glad I did it. The company bought me one of those big sheet cakes and I brought cupcakes baked by a neighbor working from home the next day. I got a phone call from the owner, and looked around at what I helped build for the last time.

I remember sitting in the car in the parking lot after my shift. I sat for a while in that moment. I turned around and exited the parking lot the back way, an exit I had never before used. That pivot made the difference in who I am.

Hard to say if this is a final list of pivot points. As always, writing a post helps me formalize what had been vague notions floating through my consciousness for a while. Now I better figure out where I left off last winter.

Categories
Home Life

Holiday Gatherings 2022

Vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner from a previous year.

Everyone invited to our holiday gathering was under the weather so we cancelled Saturday’s in-person event and video-conferenced. As we spoke, tissues were passed around and microphones muted while participants took care of sinus congestion. It was sub-optimal, yet worthwhile. Ours is a small family, so we are flexible. Those who tested for COVID-19 were negative.

We have plenty of uncooked leftover food. Enough so this week’s provisioning run will be extra light coming home.

I met a friend for breakfast on Friday at the Tipton Family Restaurant. It was our first in-person meeting since the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March 2020. We picked Tipton because it is the midpoint between where I live and he was staying. The restaurant gets three stars, yet to be clear, it is not on the Michelin star scale. Breakfast was fine as was our conversation and walk along the main street.

The rest of the long weekend was highlighted by cooking. We ate simple fare on Thanksgiving, a veggie burger patty with two sides. On Saturday I changed my dried bean recipe from baked beans to bean soup along with vegan cornbread. Sunday I made a pizza for lunch. Since pizza is mostly a delivery mechanism for melted cheese, and I haven’t found a way to make palatable vegan pizza, it was pizza for one. I incorporated home grown red pepper flakes into the sauce. I was sneezing for about ten minutes afterward.

At some point we will make the full holiday meal that includes wild rice, baked sweet potatoes, baked beans, scones and cranberry relish. We don’t know when that will be. Taking the big meal out of Thanksgiving changes the tenor of the holiday. We are okay with that.

Categories
Living in Society

Holiday Politics

Vegetarian Thanksgiving 2013

What went wrong for Democrats in the 2022 midterm election? A lot. How do we fix it? The first reaction, and I believe the wrong one, is to throw the bums out.

I like Ross Wilburn, Iowa Democratic Party chairman and have since he was the Iowa City mayor. I agree with the idea that if he can’t perform as state party chair — and the lack of Democratic wins during the recent election cycle makes a case that he can’t — we should replace him. There are three parts to this and they don’t lead us there.

First, Democratic core activists like the groups with which I associate were very busy with political work for a year before the November election. Whatever analysis we or others might make about the mechanics of the campaign (Vote Builder, money, coordinated campaign, messaging) it doesn’t detract from the fact our core active Democrats were busy working to get our candidates elected.

Second, the state central committee, which elects the party chair, is increasingly irrelevant. Our last days of glory were in 2006 and 2008. It has been a long, dry season ever since. The biggest change in the state central committee has been the rise of Bernie Sanders supporters who wanted to change everything for the better. They won their elections to the central committee, yet I’m not seeing change we need. The last two cycles have really rotted. Maybe they should be replaced as well.

Third, the problem in replacing folks on the state central committee, and how they organized the 2020 and 2022 cycles particularly, is millennials and Gen-Z voters are not stepping up to help campaigns the way my generation was accustomed to doing. I noted in a previous post, contrary to the national trend, they were the ones who found reasons not to vote on Nov. 8. Instead, they are packing their bags and leaving the state permanently. This is part of a broader dynamic. Changing members of the central committee can be fine, yet it doesn’t address the brain drain ongoing in Iowa. This is an unrecognized, real-world consequence that costs the party. People who leave the state to better themselves seem most often to be, if not always, Democratic voters.

A Republican strength is it targets young Iowans who attend community college, get married, raise a traditional family, and settle down close to where they were born. The culture of this is stifling, yet some folks in those generations thrive in it, have multiple children, and buy McMansions to withdraw into church, school and family. For the most part, they are not Democrats.

Making do in this bleak Iowa cultural landscape seems unlikely for young people who have more ambition and are willing to trade what they know for a chance at something better. They will leave the state and never look back.

I’m not sure changing the party chair addresses this core problem. That’s why I’m not anxious for major changes in the state central committee.

For a minute, let’s go into the Wayback Machine. After Wilburn was elected in 2021, The Des Moines Register reported,

Wilburn said he would begin the party’s rebuilding efforts by creating a three-election-cycle strategic roadmap; improving candidate and local leadership development; working to become a better asset to county parties and other constituency groups; and improving the party’s use of data.

State Rep. Ross Wilburn elected to lead Iowa Democratic Party as chairman by Brianne Pfannenstiel, Des Moines Register, Jan. 23, 2021.

What of that plan? To my knowledge, that was the only public mention of it. On its face, it’s one cycle down and two to go. From my perch, candidate development seemed very good. There were great candidates fielded, like Kevin Kinney, who didn’t win their elections. This part was successful, even if the results were disappointing.

I’m not sure how the state party became a better asset to county parties. Here in Johnson County, we had freedom to structure a campaign the way we wanted. It appeared we had enough paid staff and resources to conduct operations. Statewide candidates were frequently present. We weren’t successful in the most Democratic County, yet there should be valuable lessons to learn. The biggest lesson should be found in answering the question why did we fall about 4,700 votes short of our 32,000 Democratic margin goal?

As far as improving the party’s use of data, all I heard as election day approached was that we were focused on turning out likely Democratic voters who previously voted only in presidential years. We had the data to target those folks, yet not enough of them voted. As I have written, my precinct turnout, among Democrats and Republicans was significantly less than 2018 and 2020. Part of that is erosion of Democratic registrations yet turnout in both parties was down. Three cycles equals six years, so hopefully the state central committee is busy analyzing data to figure out what went wrong during the first two.

During previous election cycles, I wrote my analysis of the election quickly, soon after the polls closed and results were known. It seems essential we take our time this cycle to examine the results carefully and thoroughly. I plan to live in Iowa for a long time, and would like to see more Democratic wins. 2023 will be the first time I’ve had a Republican state senator since we moved here in 1993.

Things have been better when Democrats had a say in our governance. We are a distance from that being the case again. During the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, part of the celebration has been coming to terms with that reality.

Categories
Living in Society

Reading 2022

Sorting books for library downsizing.

The garlic rack converts to a table by using a remnant of a 4 x 8 sheet of 3/4-inch plywood used to build our child a loft bed for college. I laid it down on top of the two by fours used to hold garlic as it dries. The rack is tall enough so garlic leaves don’t touch the floor. As a table I can work without bending over. It is a useful space to sort things out.

I read 50 books thus far this year. They are listed on the Read Recently page which is updated after I finish each one. Here are the highlights of this daily activity.

By far, the most interesting book was Year of the Tiger: An Activist’s Life by Alice Wong. She was born with spinal muscular dystrophy and her book stands out as a tale of living an active life with a disease that confines her to a wheelchair. In her discussion of Twitter, she describes how the social media platform is used by disabled persons who may have no other public voice. As Elon Musk acquired and is changing the platform, I hope he improves the disability community’s ability to participate in this aspect of society.

Memoirs and biography were too small a portion of the books I read. As someone writing their own autobiography, I should be reading more in this category. Each of the four I read was important. I enjoyed Loretta Lynn: Coal Miner’s Daughter more than Ted Kennedy: A Life by John A. Farrell and Like a Rolling Stone by Jann S. Wenner. Lynn’s book was relatable in a way Kennedy and Wenner are not. A person can take only so much of the life story of rich people. I associated Joan Liffrig-Zug Bourret, who died in the care center in town this year, with the many cookbooks she published at her Penfield Press. Her memoir, Pictures and People: A Search for Visual Truth and Social Justice tells a story that goes well beyond her chronicling of the Amana Colonies in Iowa.

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut seemed unique and necessary. The Chilean author presents, as The Guardian put it, “an extraordinary ‘nonfiction novel’ that weaves a web of associations between the founders of quantum mechanics and the evils of two world wars.” It was unlike anything else I recently read.

I read fiction for diversion and to see how other writers do their work. Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway was the best of the lot this year.

In poetry, how did I miss Mary Oliver in my life? I don’t know but Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver was well-written and engaging. I’ll be returning to this excellent volume.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America by John M. Barry tells a story essential to anyone who is from or is writing about life in the Mississippi basin.

Related to my autobiography was The Trader at Rock Island: George Davenport and the Founding of the Quad-Cities by Regena Trant Schantz. This is an essential book about the settling of the Midwest. What was most surprising is it was just published in 2020. I would like to have read this when I was a teenager in Davenport.

There were no real clinkers in this year’s books. What made a difference in reading more was setting a daily goal of reading 25 pages in a book. I hope readers find my review of 2022 reading to be useful. I’d love to hear what you are reading in the comments.

Categories
Writing

Thanksgiving 2022

Peak migration. The noise of hundreds of waterfowl could be heard throughout the neighborhood. The big flock can be seen in the distance.

The lake is crowded with waterfowl stopping to rest during migration. We often take it for granted this exists, even if the noise of their gaggles can be heard inside our house. I saw them swimming during yesterday’s walk along the state park trail.

Today is Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday created by President Abraham Lincoln on Oct. 3, 1863 during the Civil War. He proclaimed,

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving… And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him …, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

National Park Service website. Written by Secretary of State William Seward. Proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln.

We Americans seem to be condemned to live in the shadow of the Civil War in perpetuity.

Today I am thankful for readership gained for my public writing. It is difficult to determine precise numbers because my main publication places here, on Blog for Iowa, and in a number of Iowa newspapers for whom I write letters to the editor and opinion pieces, each have quirks of reporting that obscure how many people saw my work. I do know 2022 was a good year for viewership.

Blog for Iowa

My most read post was a letter of support for Iowa gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear. It was the fourth most viewed post on the site this year. It was my effort to call attention to the race when most news outlets minimized her candidacy. A shorter version was published in the Des Moines Register.

Also popular was a post with Democrat Elle Wyant’s press release announcing her candidacy to represent House District 91 in the Iowa legislature. Her campaign benefited from the mention because there was so little information available from formal news outlets early in the campaign.

I published a series of posts about Carbon Capture and Sequestration in Iowa in 2021 and a couple of those posts did well again this year. It is a popular topic for our readers. New posts, cross-posting Sheri Deal-Tyne’s Physicians for Social Responsibility article on the subject, and my recent update were well-received.

Continuing my work with Thom Hartmann’s publisher, I reviewed two of his books this year, The Hidden History of Big Brother in America and The Hidden History of Neoliberalism. I also interviewed Hartmann and posted the audio recording.

In 2022, I posted 34 times at Blog for Iowa.

Newspapers

I lost count of how many times my letters and opinion pieces were published in Iowa newspapers this year. The Quad City Times has daily circulation averaging 54,000 so when I published there, the reach was the greatest. The next most significant places were in the Cedar Rapids Gazette (my local daily newspaper) and Des Moines Register which each have average daily circulation of about 33,000. The other newspapers are important to my work, yet less in reach.

Publishing a letter in the newspaper is a tribal affair. From time to time people reached out via email to complain to or compliment me. When we write in public, we take what we get. Most telling is when I am with people in real life. I get comments, mostly positive, about them seeing my letters. I usually thank them and suggest they could also write a letter. I make it a practice of posting a version of my letters on this blog as a way to be sure I save a copy.

The most important letter I wrote may be to the Des Moines Register, titled, “The Second Amendment is not Good Enough for Republicans.” It was about the public measure to enshrine strict scrutiny into the Iowa Constitution and have an impact on law-making about gun control. I opposed it, yet it passed.

Journey Home

Journey Home is my home base where I post daily when I have a topic. My most popular posts this year, in descending order by number of views, were,

With Thanksgiving comes awareness that winter is approaching. This winter will be the second where the majority of my writing goes off line and into my autobiography. I am thankful to have had a life worth living and to be passing my stories along to our child. I’m almost ready to go.

Reflection about what we are doing comes naturally at Thanksgiving. It is something I’ve done since before leaving home in 1970. I don’t know what the new year will bring except for hope. We should hold hope close and go on living.

Categories
Writing

Toward a Productive Winter

Migratory birds on Lake Macbride.

On Monday I created a Mastodon account on the epicure.social server. It is a small space on the internet and one never knows if “small” will survive. I don’t plan to leave Twitter until the bitter end or when I croak, whichever comes first. Mastodon is my insurance policy, a place to go if I need one. If the server fails, I can move to another Mastodon server. Having networked multiple servers is a feature of Mastodon.

Christopher Bouzy, creator of BotSentinal.com posted, “Twitter will not be relevant two years from now. No platform can survive catering to one group of people, and once journalists migrate to another platform, Twitter is done. And if you think it won’t happen, ask MySpace how things are going.” Bouzy is not wrong, although he has an interest in starting a Twitter substitute platform and therefore is biased.

In any case, there seems to be significantly less Twitter traffic in my timeline. The same is true for other social media platforms I follow. People just are not feeling it right now. This is good for productivity as I move indoors. Fewer distractions facilitate a more rapid growth toward a solid 4-5 hour daily shift of writing.

Ambient temperatures are forecast to reach the low 50s this afternoon. I scheduled a walk along the lake trail. Getting enough exercise is a winter issue, especially once snow flies. I take advantage of every opportunity to exercise that presents itself.

As time moves toward winter, how we spend it changes. With thoughtful planning we can be productive and perhaps useful to others. Productivity is what I most hope for between now and the end of the year. With hope comes value in society. That’s something we need now more than ever.

Categories
Writing

Cookbookery

Sorting Cookbooks

This photo represents about half my cookbook collection. None of these made the first cut represented by what is visible on bookshelves in my writing room. What the heck am I doing?

Going through them is not the same as sorting them. As I make and look through each pile, I have thoughts about how to use them. The categories are beginning to appear.

Mostly vegetarian

There about three dozen books devoted to vegetarianism or with mostly vegetarian recipes. I categorize myself as mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian and my spouse is vegan, so these are of particular interest. There are also books with instructions for how to prepare almost any vegetable imaginable. The best of these will be keepers and the others will be sold, donated or given away.

Culinary reference books

By this I mean books related to cooking yet are not comprised mostly of recipes. For example, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is in this stack. So is Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor by Hervé This. Some of these will go into my main library as reading material. A few may go on the cookbook shelf to be built for the dining room.

Souvenirs and memorabilia

When I was in Texas, I bought a souvenir cookbook with recipes from Texans. When I was in Georgia, I got a similar volume written by Georgians. There is a book about cooking potatoes presented as a gift. I’m not sure how many of these memories remain important. Once I have a pile, I’ll have to go through them and decide.

Books of yearning

Some books, by their title or cover or introduction beg to be examined more closely. Eating Cuban by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs is one of them. The Greens Cook Book by Deborah Madison is another. I yearn to spend an afternoon with books like these to dream about culinary invention.

Community cookbooks by geography

The City of Solon near where I live makes a cottage industry of community cookbooks. There is one for the one-room school house and one for the PTA, along with several others. A new one gets published regularly. Our home cuisine is so different from these recipes, I’m not sure of their relevance to our kitchen garden. The most interesting cookbook is titled The Solon PTA Cook Book with “Favorite Bohemian and American recipes.” The advertisements all have two and three digit telephone numbers which were phased out by 1920. No one currently living would have submitted a recipe, so that opens it up for use in my writing. On the back page of the cookbook, readers are admonished, “Aw shucks Mom. Put that cook book away and bring the family up to Lowell’s Cafe for a delicious steak, chicken or fish dinner.” Lowell’s Cafe is now part of history.

Community cookbooks by broader geography

Community cookbooks that were published outside Iowa can be first to go. It seems unlikely I will write about Mont Clair, New Jersey, for example. The question is where do I draw the line? A community cookbook from Ely or Mechanicsville might be keep-able. Most of the ones I have from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City are likely not. If I was a part of a community that wrote a cookbook, like the American Trucking Association maintenance council, I may look through it before disposition.

Appliance cookbooks

When we buy major appliances like refrigerators, ranges, and countertop appliances there is often a cookbook inside it. I have a stack of these. I don’t plan to keep any of them. Too much to read in too little time.

We have company coming over the weekend, so whatever I get done needs finishing by tomorrow. As I go through them all, the last thing I feel like is cooking something. Good thing there are leftovers in the refrigerator.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Do We Need Cookbooks?

Not for recipes on how to prepare your pet dog or cat. It comes from the PET milk company.

Clearing space to put large format signs and maps piled on top of boxes of cookbooks was a start. I had the project of reducing the number of my cookbooks in mind for a while. It began with a question. How many cookbooks does a home cook need? Not as many as I currently have.

The end result will be a shelving unit in the dining area with the consolidated collection nearer to the kitchen. The goal is to review hundreds of cookbooks one last time, reduce them to as few as 20, and sell the rest at a garage sale, donate them to the library, or give them away. The project forces me to think about what cookbooks mean in my kitchen garden.

According to author Nichole Burke, “The kitchen garden is a small-scale version of the vegetable garden that enables you to experience the magic of growing and enjoying some of your own homegrown herbs, greens, and vegetables, but that gives you the convenience of requiring just a few minutes or hours of your time each week.”

My idea of a kitchen garden is different. I seek to incorporate what goes on in the kitchen more closely with the garden so they become one coherent whole. I began a couple of years ago and each season the two entities are closer to integration. As a result, more of what our household eats comes from the garden.

My garden is larger than what Burke suggests. In addition to patches gleaned for daily meals as she suggests, there are rows designed to grow and preserve vegetables for winter. Examples are peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onions and broccoli. Cookbooks are useful as a way to help determine which vegetables should be grown in larger quantities for preservation and storage.

The Inspired Vegetarian by Louise Pickford is a themed cookbook. The theme is eating vegetarian meals and it is designed to provide examples of a variety of vegetarian dishes for adoption in a home kitchen. It seems unlikely I would follow her recipes exactly, yet when she presents the idea of a vegetable cassoulet, for example, I know what that is and can take it as a starting point to create a version that fits into the world view and produce of my kitchen garden. The recipes may encourage me to grow different vegetables so I can prepare dishes we like.

Big decisions are easy. I’ll keep Joy of Cooking, Julia Child and company’s The Art of French Cooking, and Larousse Traditional French Cooking. There will be one or two “American” cookbooks even if there is not really an American cuisine outside fast food. The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion is essential, along with one or two other baking references. These alone would be enough for endless meals.

When on long-term work assignments in South Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas I spend idle hours watching Food Network. I expect to keep volumes by Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Rick Bayless and Giada Di Laurentiis. Also in the mix will be Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet), Ming Tsai, Martin Yan and José Andrés. Celebrity chef cookbooks have accessible recipes. I expect them to be a third of the final collection.

Another section of retained cookbooks will be those created by a community of which I was a part. My collection includes cookbooks from the hospital where I was born, the church where I was baptized, and other coherent groups to which I belonged as I proceeded through life. I read The Iowa Writers’ Workshop Cookbook edited by Connie Brothers over the weekend. It is an example of why certain communities shouldn’t produce a cookbook. I mean, some of the recipes seemed like outrageous inside jokes. I did enjoy seeking out authors with whom I interacted or saw at events in Iowa City in the cookbook. Most of the workshop mainstays provided recipes a person could actually use.

Another main use of cookbooks is in my writing. I intend to write about a trip I took to New Orleans. I read Lucy Hanley’s book New Orleans: Cookin’ in the Big Easy, which provides simple recipes of classic New Orleans dishes along with a list of local restaurants. The recipes and images evoked memories in a way that will be useful to my writing. While I spent only a few days there in 1981, the cookbook helps me remember. The same holds true for other regional or city-specific cookbooks.

With the rise of internet search engines, one questions whether cookbooks are needed at all. When I’m looking for ways to use radicchio, for example, it is easier to do an internet search than pore through a number of general purpose cookbooks searching for recipes. At the same time, there is something about having a book.

For now, I’ll be keeping some cookbooks.