I read cookbooks like they are novels, for the romance, suspense and intrigue.
New techniques are as good as dramatic plot twists in detective stories, inventive combinations of ingredients the surprise cliffhanger I never see coming. Favorite ingredients or dishes, described lovingly and tenderly, become even more special to me when seen through someone else's words and the meaning they have in their life.
And that's really the heart of it, isn't it?
Some cookbooks inspire me because I want to learn - how to use new [and sometimes scary] ingredients, how to employ new techniques. I want to bring something new and exciting into my cooking and my life that other people can teach me.
Some cookbooks inspire me because I want to be the kind of person who uses those ingredients, makes those kinds of dishes. I want to throw breezy dinner parties, have friends over for drinks and cocktails, or whip up a delicious, fantastic meal based on nothing other than sheer celebration of perfect ingredients. I want those occasions to happen in my life, even though they don't, really.
Some cookbooks inspire me because I want to have the life itself. Living with the seasons on a farm in the countryside. Raising chickens and grabbing a fresh egg or two from a straw nest for breakfast. Walking the Parisian cobblestone streets cruising the best pastry shops for dessert. There are people who make a living out of living the lives we want, and while I don't necessarily want that as a job, I do want that as a life.
The problem is, I think, that it is a job, and like any job, you have to work really hard and be really good at it to make it look easy to casual gawkers like me.
That's quite apparent, both the coveting of the life and the hard work it takes behind the scenes to actually make it happen, in my new favorite fantasy escape represented by Orlando Murrin's cookbook A Table in the Tarn. Who doesn't have even a tiny stab of wistful longing to buy a ramshackle old stone house in France and lovingly restore it, then spend your days cooking delicious food for people who pay you to do so?
I know I did, through almost every page of this book.
Except, of course, I don't speak French.
And renovations are a nightmare, and trying to organize one in a different country, in a different language?
Shoot me now.
Plus, the whole cooking breakfast for a table full of strangers early in the morning, when I am not my best?
But hey, that's why it's a fantasy, right?
And for now, I get to pick and choose the best parts of this fantasy life to add to mine. Temptingly, though, the gorgeous house is for sale, making the fantasy just a little more tangible, if still completely unattainable.
If you do decide to cash it all in and go for it, invite us over, would you?
This fresh apricot jam is extremely quick to make and very easy, the perfect way to use those gorgeous fresh summer apricots coming to market right now. I love to stir this into a little yogurt for breakfast, in order to pretend, even just for a moment, that I am basking in the southern French sun on a gravel patio, with nothing but a day of leisurely strolls and coffee drinking to accomplish.
Sadly, that is not the case, but for a few seconds every morning it feels like it just possibly could be.
Fresh Apricot Jam.
From Orlando Murrin's A Table in the Tarn.
Makes about 2 1/4 cups.
2 1/4 pounds of ripe apricots - about 12 apricots
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons raw sugar
Cut each apricot in half, remove the pit, and then cut each half into quarters. Stir the apricot pieces with the sugar and cover, then allow to sit on the counter overnight.
The next day, when the apricots have yielded lovely juice, pour into a large pot and slowly bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir regularly. There should be bubbles across the entire pan, not just the edges. Continue to simmer for about 10 minutes, as the apricots move towards soft while the juice moves towards thick. Some apricot pieces will start to break down and thicken the jam. The apricots will look glossy and jammy, with thick syrup. If you have a thermometer, aim for 205 to 210 degrees F (about 95 degrees C).
Transfer to jars, cover and refrigerate until used. Eat within 10 days.