Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kitchen Diary

Before this blog, I had a kitchen diary.

The main difference between a blog and a kitchen diary is that a (my) blog records selected endeavors, things that I think other people might be interested in, and a kitchen diary, as I understand it, is a place to record everything that happens in the kitchen, with all the minute variations of ingredients, temperatures, guests' reactions, and timing. It might seem like this blog is pretty mundane, that almost all my kitchen actions are documented, but in reality, what's recorded here is maybe a third of what passes through my kitchen, if that, and the details are often sketchy.

In other words, a blog of this type is edited entertainment, whereas a kitchen diary is raw data. I have to assume that you, my readership, do not want to know every time I chop lettuce or fry an egg. The occasional post about the ideal lettuce salad or fried egg, the occasional exceptional picture, yes, but not the nitty gritty of every single meal and its ups and downs. In the kitchen diary, though, I would note how the egg fried, what fat I fried it in, what toast I had it with, and then in a year or so I could look back and learn that, a: I fry about five eggs monthly, and b: they turn out best fried in butter, etc... I am not sure if either of the above assertions is true, because I no longer keep a kitchen diary.

Full disclosure: I only had a kitchen diary for around three months before it morphed into a blog. I figured at the time that if I was going to boast about my breads and cookies all the time, I might as well do it in a consolidated format that anyone could opt in or out from. This way, if you want to know what I'm proud of, worried about, working on, it can all be found here, and if you don't, I won't bother you with it. After about six months of blogging, I'm still here because I enjoy it. It's a consistent writing exercise, it allows me to share something private as part of a public discussion, and it's good for my photography, too. And, as an ongoing record, however sketchy, it does have some of the benefits that a kitchen diary offers. Even in this short time, patterns emerge, and some of the things that repeat themselves are becoming obvious.

Not enough, though. As my household has shrunk back to two, I've been spending time thinking over the opportunity that this offers to really examine the ways I cook, eat, store, and shop. I am interested in individual dishes, but more in the way that food moves through our kitchen, the ways in which we provide for ourselves via the stream of CSA vegetables, farmers market fruit, meats, and dry goods that I buy compulsively. What is the path of a chicken from roast to leftovers to stock? Are we using all the vegetables before they have to be thrown away? Are we composting? What foods do we crave and how do we make them? Are we salty people, meaty, chocolate lovers, sweet and custardy? Do we favor bitter greens or particular cheeses? What is missing from our diet? Is our kitchen sustainable, and economical? Are we eating together or separately?

All of these questions fall under the heading of what John Thorne calls a 'personal cuisine.' It is composed of new tricks and old loves, recipes from family, from cookbooks, dishes created on the spur of the moment and dishes repeated again and again. It is what we have for breakfast, for lunch, and dinner, especially as I try to limit eating out to special occasions. Personal cuisine, for me, is the understanding of the kitchen as a living entity, an 'ecosystem,' as Amanda Hesser has called it. In time, I would like to make a garden part of that ecosystem as well. For now, I try not to kill all the herbs and the mysteriously wilting avocado tree (why does it continue to grow but lose all of its lower leaves as it goes?). Maybe this is about control. After all, the larger world seems to be falling apart, and all this introspections seems at first glance to be turning away. I hope, though, that it is just a part of the whole understanding I want to have, of how to be a human part of a living world, micro and macro.

As a tiny part of the macro, I'm planning to keep up the blog. My plan is to add in more structure, more weekly or monthly series, and some more discussion of sustainability (I'm hoping to get some vermicompost!). I welcome suggestions. But I'm also going back to keeping a kitchen diary, so that I can have the larger, more complex, more detailed, more personal, handwritten record of how we live and eat. I hope to look back at both with pride, and to learn something from both formats.

1 comment:

Joan said...

Whoa! The blog as highlights is really exciting and great reading material. I agree that you might have to keep the kitchen diary to yourself.

Your secret blog fan.