The Canal House Cookbook Is Ready to Take You on a Year-Long Culinary Adventure
What makes for a good cookbook? Decades ago, massive recipe compilations with detailed instructions for everything anyone could possibly want to prepare were considered mandatory components of any kitchen library. The Joy Of Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, and How to Cook Everything, were, and still are, popular titles that taught novices the basics of cooking.
Over recent decades though, the trend has shifted to more personal recipe collections that combine story telling and lush photography to create cookbooks that read more like storybooks or travel journals than culinary encyclopedias. Cookbooks are becoming less about mechanics and technique and more about a connection with an author or a time, place or mood. Paging through a good cookbook nowadays has become a journey in itself -- one you don't have to leave your kitchen to enjoy.
Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton allude to that journey in their most recent cookbook, Canal House Cooks Every Day. A poem tucked in the front pages kicks off a 12-month-long trip through seasonal cooking dotted with personal anecdotes and lots of great photography.
I get a lot of cookbooks sent to me, and while I admit The Official High Times Cannabis Cookbook drew me in for a little light reading (strictly out of curiosity, of course) most of them sit idle on my desk. Maybe it was the scarlet red cover that drew me in -- the bright cloth is as pleasing in a tactile sense as it is to the eyes -- but for whatever reason, I took this one home and paged through the entire book in bed over the course of two evenings.
Many of the recipes are simple, attainable meals you can execute on a weeknight night after work. "There's a shortage of real home cooking," Hamilton told me, when describing another popular cookbook trend: chef-driven books that look nice on coffee tables but rarely find their way into the average cook's kitchen. Hirsheimer and Hamilton wanted to make something beautiful that resonated with a more traditional home cook.
And while the book has plenty of shortcuts, from frozen french fries to frozen peas, there are plenty of challenging recipes that will keep you occupied in your own kitchen when you're craving a daylong cooking session. The sense of satisfaction derived from spending hours in the kitchen rolling pasta, simmering sauce and cooking chicken to fill cannelloni, for instance, is a journey all on it's own.
Perhaps that's why Contantine Cavafy's Ithaca was tucked into the first few pages of the book. The poem describes the trials, frustrations and obstacles we might encounter while undertaking any kitchen task not as something to be avoided but as something to be savored.
"That's Christopher's favorite poem," Hamilton told me. "It's a philosophy. Food is one of the greatest pleasures of life, and you get to do it three times a day."