25 things – thing 3

It’s been a while since I’ve done any things about me. A friend reminds me to move forward!

By the time I graduated from college, I did not know how to cook at all. This is something of a sad state of affairs, considering that my mother cooked amazingly and consistently throughout my adolescence. In 7th grade, excited by a recipe learned in home economics, I tried enthusiastically to make an applesauce loaf. Flour, eggs, and milk all got added, but halfway through I realized we had no applesauce. This story entered family lore: Peter can’t cook.

Through college, I made a few things, but like many people (men, I imagine in retrospect), there were many many calls home: what’s the difference between roast and bake (nothing)? can you use canned tuna instead of fresh tuna (no)? what the hell is a roux (flour cooked in fat)? Is it supposed to look like this? Why does it taste like feet?

Fast forward a few years. As a graduate student, one of the things I noticed was that there is an inverse relationship between how much emphasis you placed on your studies, and how interesting you were as a person. The better I became as a student, the more boring I was as a person. So I decided as a New Year resolution to embark on the New Peter Project. The NPP was meant to re-introduce interesting hobbies, activities, and interests into my life. I was tired of being at a party where the only thing I knew how to talk about was whether or not Foucault’s critique of normal science meant that we couldn’t speak about ‘woman’ as a coherent category, and whether this meant that feminism was in its final historical moment (probably for the former, no for the latter).

Cooking was the first of these, and I have cultivated an interest in cooking ever since. Like many people (again, men, I imagine in retrospect) I like to make things as much as possible from scratch. For some time, when we lived in Chicago, we would throw pot-luck parties and cook for crowds; in Manhattan, we held a weekly summer dinner-and-movie series for a few years running. My favorite cookbooks are Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, Giuliano Hazan’s The Classic Pasta Cookbook, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon (from which I’ve basically made the roasted chicken on page 2), Bill Granger’s Bill’s Open Kitchen, Sundays at Moosewood, and a few others. There’s a tiny Thai cookbook with a recipe for amazing egg rolls, Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte for its oven-fried chicken, and hand clutch of family recipes from my mother and sister-in-law.

I also make the best chocolate chip cookies that you will ever eat. I know, burying the lead. Many people to whom I have said this statement respond with some version of, ‘I’m sure they’re good, but I know chocolate chip cookies, and surely they are not the BEST.’ Please, trust me. These are, in fact, the best chocolate chip cookies you will ever eat.

I also make chocolate chip Mandel bread, which, if you grew up Jewish, and eating Mandel bread, will make you feel like Anton Ego in Ratatouille.

I haven’t followed up on many of my New Peter Project projects (still have not learned to weld, or to master electrical engineering – it may have been ambitious), but the cooking has continued as an abiding passion.

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