Thanksgiving Cooks: Bittman Implores you to Chill, and Gives You Good Reason | Civil Eats

Thanksgiving Cooks: Bittman Implores you to Chill, and Gives You Good Reason


Tomorrow’s the big day to strut your stove and hosting skills, and as people everywhere are now shopping hastily for last minute ingredients — or even starting the cooking of the coming feast — many of the cooks out there are also freaking out about the sheer quantity of food that they’re going to be producing, the timing of it all, and trying to make the dinner memorable and delicious besides. In the New York Times on Sunday, Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything and the NYT’s Minimalist column, implored all of us to just chill out. “When did performance anxiety and guilt become prerequisites for offering family and friends nourishment hospitality?” he asks. He then goes on to say:

So, cooks: Say “Om,” and pretend the situation is reversed. You are going to your cousin’s, your mother’s, your sister-in-law’s, your best friend’s. These are people you love, you’re happy to have been invited, and you’re looking forward to gorging, perhaps drinking too much, yelling across the table, laughing out loud. This is the spirit in which most of your guests will be arriving. They’re glad you’re cooking for them, and they’re rooting for you.

Forget your fears, relax, and enjoy it. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good.

Even better than Bittman’s call for calm is the ammo he’s backed it up with in last week’s Minimalist column: 101 harvest season-inspired recipes that are easy, and can be made in advance (and since you probably won’t get through all of them, will give you fresh ideas through the next couple months, seasonal as they are). They fall into various categories: relishes, chutneys, and jams; soups; stuffings and grains; vegetable side dishes; salads; breads and crackers; and of course, desserts. Now there is no turkey here and most of the dishes are vegetarian — good if you are going all Martha Stewart and creating a tasty turkey-less Thanksgiving for your table. Or, the list will just help you round out the bird with some diverse, mostly plant-based companion dishes.

A note about the style of these recipes: they are conversation starters, so to speak. There are no specific directions for amounts, because cooking can be even simpler than that. In short paragraphs, Bittman engages your senses and pushes you to be a little creative — to take his idea and make it yours. This is his gift. He has always insisted that he is not a chef; that he cooks well through having practiced — recently comparing cooking to driving. (However, as Tom Philpott points out at Grist, cooking is a lot less dangerous).

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If this style inspires you as it inspires me, check out Bittman’s latest book aimed at giving you simple ideas to get cooking, called Kitchen Express. Inside are 404 recipes, 101 for each season, which he claims can be made in 20 minutes or less. So now you have no excuse! That old one about not having enough time to cook goes right out the window — just pick up a copy of Kitchen Express and practice quick meal preparation. Once you get the hang of cooking, I promise you it’s easy as pie.

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Paula Crossfield is a founder and the Editor-at-large of Civil Eats. She is also a co-founder of the Food & Environment Reporting Network. Her reporting has been featured in The Nation, Gastronomica, Index Magazine, The New York Times and more, and she has been a contributing producer at The Leonard Lopate Show on New York Public Radio. An avid cook and gardener, she currently lives in Oakland. Read more >

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