Angie: Growing Branches on the Tree of Life
Designing and testing recipes for Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking, was only the beginning of a journey into the kitchens and hearts of fans and friends who generously embrace the idea that every recipe has a story. Since the release of the TOL cookbook last February, Joy and I have had the pleasure to share our recipes in our homes and those of friends, old and new, in restaurants and professional cooking class kitchens. Each time, I’m reminded that every recipe DOES have a story. And that each recipe has a life of it’s own. I learned all too soon that a tested and retested recipe might only be a template for other home cooks.
This was brought home to me a few months ago while co-hosting a TOL dinner party with my friend Carole for twelve of her life-long friends. Many people brought wine or a dessert to share, and friend Debra offered to make the Baked Hummus with Pine Nuts, a TOL recipe, for the meze table. It looked beautiful and was still warm from the oven with melted butter and toasted pine nuts on top. “I don’t really like chickpeas,” Debra said while placing the deep Moroccan ceramic dish on a trivet in the middle of the table. “So used the red lentils I had in my pantry.”
“Humm,” I thought. This could be interesting. I took a pita chip and dipped it into the creamy mixture. It was yummy. While the taste was somewhat different, the texture and effect was equal to the traditional version. “You’ve made the recipe your own!” I said. “I love that.”
It was true. If these recipes provide home cooks the confidence to open their pantries and see how they might make adjustments to recipes based on their own preferences and experiences or what they have on hand, that gives me pleasure.
In a hands-on cooking class last month for sixteen people where the menus had been established a month earlier, printed out and placed in front of each pre-set mise en place, we learned that two people were vegans and one gluten-free. The Red Lentil Soup with Bulgur recipe was adjusted on the spot using oil instead of butter, gluten-free flour used for the roux, and a single serving was pulled out before the bulgur was added. The Herbed Bulgur recipe was divided in two with one recipe using butter and the other oil. The filo dessert used vegan butter instead of the real thing. In our opinion (and taste) nothing can replace the rich taste of butter yet each recipe was equally as good as the original recipe and no one noticed that the Apple Filo Pastry was layered with “fake” butter.
This all brings me back to my childhood when I stood on a kitchen chair next to my mother and watched her make pie dough. Flour, lard, and salt were placed in bowl and mixed by hand. Nothing measured. Water sprinkled over the crumbled, pea-sized dough mixture just until it held together. It was done by feel and texture. Soft dough made two perfectly round crusts. Once the pies were popped into the oven, I was given the dough scrapes to roll out and cut into various cookie-cutter shapes. I sprinkled cinnamon sugar over the tops. Every scrap of dough was repurposed into these fun pastry cookies. Mom was a fabulous cook and baker. I don’t think she ever owned a cookbook. Born in 1917, she learned her way around the kitchen from her mother who baked the world’s best pies in a wood fired stove. These were some of the very first farm-to-table cooks.
As young woman in the sixties and seventies who moved away from the Midwest to sunny, sophisticated California, I wanted entertain guests in my tiny apartments and craved more culinary techniques for the abundant fresh ingredients available to me year around. From the Joy of Cooking I learned the differences between beating, stirring, and folding. From Julia Child’s cooking shows and I absorbed French culinary terms like bain-marie, mirepoix, chiffonade, roux, velouté and béchamel sauces. Steak Diane, Chicken Marbella, quenelles, soufflés and flaming crepe desserts were tried and perfected. The culinary world was my oyster – until I later developed a bi-valve shellfish allergy that is! However, my two first and favorite cookbooks were Edward Espe Brown’s The Tassajaja Bread Book and Tassajara Cooking based on the recipes created by Buddhist monks at the Tassajaja and Green Gulch Zen Centers in Northern California. It was the seventies after all and Brown’s book dedication had me hooked:
“with respect and appreciation
to all my teachers
past, present and future:
gods, men and demons;
beings, animate and inanimate
living and dead, alive and dying.
Rock and Water
Wind and Tree
Bread Dough Rising
are patient with me.”
While sensibly pursuing a business career, cooking was my creative outlet. Travels through Mexico, England, France, Africa and Asia brought home new ideas to recreate the recipes I’d learned in foreign homes and restaurants. I purchased and devoured every Silver Palate and Moosewood cookbooks and swooned over Alice Water’s Chez: Panisse’s unique recipes.
Many cookbook writers who have spent a lifetime and career developing and perfecting recipes might be horrified when a home cook decides to eliminate or change one of their recipe ingredients. The dish no long belongs to them. For good or bad, it belongs to someone else. They have made it their own, with another story.