There seems to be enough new and old evidence that points to the fact that what we eat is of crucial importance on who we become physically and mentally. If we indeed are what we eat, then the role of cooking must be of paramount importance in our lives. It was the food critic Grimod de la Reynìere who said about two centuries ago that "only the vulgar would see no more to a kitchen than saucepans and no more to dinner than dishes".
The main purpose of cooking is to produce foods which nurture us physically and mentally and help us develop our potential as human beings while providing us with a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. The art is cooking to prepare nutritious foods that turns the eaters on, making the process of being nurtured and of developing ourselves into a pleasure and a feast for our senses. The colors, textures, flavors, aromas on our daily plates will transform into those of our daily lives. Food can and will transform us. When cooking it is important to play with the variety of elements which we have at our disposal, and to stretch our imagination in order to create the world we would like to live in. Daily cooks, more so than the fancy haute cuisine cooks, are the builders of civilization.
So what are some of the elements that we can use to help us create dynamic nourishing foods on which civilizations can continue to be built successfully?
-beautifully prepared foods-
My journey begins 50 years ago on the island of Cuba. I was born in 1963, by that time the revolution had already succeeded and Fidel Castro had become the leader of the country. Castro instituted food rationing in order to try to equalize food distribution in the country. As a result, besides often not getting enough to eat, much of the food that was available to the general population was simple and basic. Traditional Cuban food shows the influence of Spanish, African, and native cuisine, but it wasn't until years later after we had settled in the U.S and had access to a wider range of ingredients and restaurants that I was able to experience the Cuban cooking that my mother's generation had grown up with; a very rich cuisine, based on meats, white rice and beans, with very rich sugary, eggy desserts. Nevertheless having lived part of my childhood with my parents and grandparents in Santiago de Cuba in the post revolutionary Cuba, I was able to experience the Cuban approach to foods and cooking from a very simple and down to earth perspective, stripped from many of the ingredients that most people missed and longed for, but which also made the dishes heavy, greasy, too sweet, and generally unhealthy for most people.
As a child I saw my grandmother and mother cook in a country which was not affected by the novelty of fast-foods, and the over abundance of ingredients. They had to cook with what there was, without the possibility of running over to the store for a couple of onions if those at home were finished; the stores didn't have more onions. At the beginning of the month everyone got their share, until the next month, unless you could get stuff in the "black market" at outrageous prices. Cooking at that time in Cuba was not only about creativity, but also about planning. Nevertheless the food my grandmother(she was usually the daily cook then, my mother was more for the 'fun' sweet stuff)cooked was always simple, tasty and beautiful. The economic system forced people to be creative and to live with what they had, it made people find meaning and beauty in simplicity. This process of creating, regardless of our circumstances can dramatically improve our creative abilities.
In this book it is my goal to portray cooking as an example of the art in daily living. The daily activity of cooking which sustains and nourishes us, and which until very recently was an activity practiced by every culture on earth and given a great deal of attention, can demonstrate to us that art is something in which we all participate, that we are all artists, because, as Eric Booth writes in his book The Everyday Work of Art, "the work of art is a way we all do things when we are working well".
When are we working well? When we can make our limitations feel limitless, we find meaning in our actions, in our creations.
Today I have a cold and it's rainy outside, typical Dutch weather. I have no desire to go food shopping, but at 12 o'clock lunch has to be ready since my daughter will be home from school. I look through my cabinets and fridge and assess the ingredients I have and conclude that it will probably be possible to create a "Vegetable Paesotto", my way of not succumbing to the pressure of having to create a perfect traditional Paella or Risotto.
1 onion cut in medium size cubes
2 pieces of garlic finely chopped
About 1/2 cup of squash cut in cubes
1 medium carrot cut in smallish cubes
2 tomatoes cut in cubes
The kernels of one corn husk
A bunch of string beans cut in medium size pieces
About 1 cup of chopped celery
1 tbs olive oil
1 organic vegetable bouillon cube
1 tbs miso
4 cups of cooked brown rice
2 cups of cooked chick peas
1/2 tsp smoked spanish pimiento powder
In a casserole heat the oil and add the onions, stir, then the vegetables one group at the time sautéing and stirring a bit in between additions
Add a pinch of sea salt
Add the pimiento and bouillon cube, stir a bit
Add the cooked rice and the chick peas stir and add enough water to almost cover it
Cover the pan and lower the fire when it almost gets to boiling point
"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."-Carl Sagan
As with any form of art the art of cooking is inseparable from our own personal stories, our memories and associations. Therefore I thought it important to let you into my world of foods, how these foods participate in my world and in the world they come from.
Here I will post recipes which I have used to nourish, amuse and inspire my family for the last 20 years. Just as with most food choices, there is a personal story, a feeling behind these recipes. Some are dishes which are reminiscent of my Cuban background, some reflect a certain Spanish influence from my mother's side and from having lived in Spain as a child, many have an American influence as a result of having spend a big part of my youth living there, and of course there are Dutch influences behind some of these recipes, since Holland is where my adult family life takes place as wife and mother of 4 children.
All of the recipes here are vegetarian because that is how my cooking has mostly been for the last 20 years. Plant based cooking has been my basis since I became health conscious 20 years ago, and 5 years later when I came across Macrobiotics. But, my journey with foods did not come to a halt with those discoveries and my fascination with cooking has continued to grow and develop beyond the confines of philosophies and trends. My goal has been to combine ideas with a sense of purpose, receiving and giving insight from and to the world around us.
Approaching cooking(or any other activity) as art requires in the first place engaging in the process with a sense of wonder for the ingredients, activities and skills related to it. But, on a larger and more profound level it requires engagement, awareness and gratitude in and for the universe.
Transforming beautiful, whole, fresh products into delicious, nourishing foods can be as valid of an artistic endeavor as Michelangelo discovering a statue inside a block of stone. Art is an act of giving, and traditionally works of art have had the intention of encouraging devotion or awareness in a visual or aural way. Culinary creations encourage bonds between family and friends while nourishing the body.
"It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, or so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere through which we look - to affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of the arts." Henry Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
Spelt crust with a bed of thinly sliced braised potatoes and caramelized onions, with wild mushrooms and spinach, seasoned with fennel seeds a light dusting of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove powder and a hand full of raisins.
Bartolomeo Scappi was a famous Renaissance chef. His origins had been the subject of speculation, but a recent research shows that he came from the town of Dumenza in Lombardy, according to the inscription on a stone plaque in the church of Luino. Bartolomeo cooked for several cardinals and popes and was an innovative cook, showing a great deal of creativity incorporating the New World vegetables in his cooking.