Love and Cookbooks

Dear Tasha,

This evening–ok, it was 22:30 after my Catalan class, Spanish style–I headed to Thai Thai to pick up dinner, but because it’s Monday and here like at home everything is closed, I ended backtracking to Mikasa just down Diputació. This

 

is a photo of the remains of what was one of the best bites I’ve had of late, two slices of slightly crispy, smoky, melty eggplant covered in a rich honey miso sauce. It was, in a word, heavenly and gone in two bites.

My thought at that moment was, “Why didn’t we ever go here?” (The second thought of course being why didn’t I photograph that before I ate it?) What a bittersweet discovery it was.

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m a lover of cookbooks. I admit I admire them more for their stories than for the recipes. An exception to this is Fuchsia Dunlop’s menagerie of cookbooks, not only because they are impressive works of personal and professional dedication but also because there’s a dearth of good recipes involving sichuan peppercorns on the Internet, a taste for which I just recently discovered. I love the floral bite of a sichuan peppercorn, the heady, swoony feeling I get when I eat them. It also turns out I love Chinese food. Who knew.

Every time I discover a dish I love, I dig through my cookbooks, looking for the recipe, in hopes that I might be able to add to my repertoire. So tonight I turned to one of my favorite books on Japanese cooking to see what I might find.

 

The opening line of Nancy’s cookbook–because I feel like we’re on a first name basis at this point–begins: ” I came to Japan for the food, and I stayed for love.” I can’t think of a sweeter opening line to a cookbook than that one. I love reading about her life in Japan with her husband, an organic farmer, and her children, of her work at the school farm that she created, and of their simple meals together. I love that she makes all of her own dishes from scratch, including her own vinegar.

Her work resonates with me now as it might not have before, since moving to Spain and taking up life here. I’ve taught myself a lot since my arrival six years ago, much of which occurred when I was in various stages of desperation and angry because I knew that at one point way back when people knew how to make biscuits before there was ever a pop-open tube. I’ve since taught myself–in a flurry of flour and determination–how to bake bread, pizza dough, pie crusts and biscuits, all the things I never put a thought to before. Bread, as you know, is easily gotten here and good bread at that. But there’s nothing more satisfying that attacking the process oneself, even if the result is a mis-braided loaf, more calzone than baguette.

At the moment, I’m writing an article on Spanish fish. The process is an interesting one because it reminds me of just how much I’ve learned and how very little I know. I spend a lot of time on the translator searching for the English equivalents of lluç and “rah-pay” while trying to figure out how to explain to a sophisticated audience that we don’t eat rape for dinner. Frankly, I find it all a little exhausting.

On that note, this will have to be part one of a two part letter, because this is the second time I’ve written this letter tonight (always hit save first) and my eyes are closing.

I leave you with a bouquet and the sweet sentiment of nostalgia.

 

Love,

m.

Melissa Leighty