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Tue Jul 18, 2017, 10:25 AM

Writing about food: Greg Atkinson's "At the Kitchen Table, The Craft of Cooking at Home"

"But among creative outlets, cooking and writing are unique in that both endeavors produce something that ultimately becomes a part of whoever partakes in them. If I cook a meal and someone eats it ... then something in that food will become a part of that person. If I read something and internalize that dialogue, then the words on the page will be incorporated into my own thoughts. Ideas expressed on the page will be reformulated in my mind into thoughts of my own. If I write a recipe and you make it, then we are sharing both the words and the dish that results from them.

"The novelist Tom Robbins is quite devoted to Best Foods-brand mayonnaise. ... When Tom's wife, Alexa, invited my wife, Betsy, and me ... for a private mayonnaise tasting, we hit the road with a few jars and bottles of our favorite brands. I also had, secreted away in a canvas shopping bag, a wire whisk, a deep mixing bowl, a fresh egg, a bottle of organic canola oil, some white balsamic vinegar, and a bottle of good Dijon mustard. It occurred to me that Tom and Alexa might like to learn how to make their own mayonnaise, and I wanted to see how the homemade stuff stood up in a taste test with the commercial brands ... . ... But when I set about making a batch of homemade mayonnaise ... Robbins did not appear to be interested. ... 'I have been eating mayo for sixty years, and until ten years ago, I didn't even know what the ingredients are. I preferred to think of it as some kind of substance dug out of an underground cave in the French Alps. ... I like the mystery. ... I used to cook quite a bit, too,' he said. 'But I didn't use recipes. When I cooked, I cooked from vibrations.'

"I like the idea of this well enough, and even though I write recipes for a living, I almost always cook without them, feeling my way from one step to the next. First this happens, then that happens. While the onions soften, I'm cutting the celery, and on a back burner, the rice is simmering away. But eventually, my left brain kicks in and I start to codify things because I want to share them. ... I like the geometric proof-like formula of a recipe, and I feel that if the precision of writing it down doesn't get in the way of the thing, it can be like an incantation, a magic formula for transforming a bunch of ingredients into something completely unlike its component parts. Mayonnaise is, after all, nothing like eggs and oil."

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