Passing the time

It’s been a fairly mild winter, overall, but still . . . winter. Cold days, snow, rain. I haven’t been out with my camera as much as I should (shoulda coulda woulda) due to foul weather and, well, because it’s just plain frigid out there!

But frigid can have its upside now and again.

My cooking has consisted of comfort soups, roasts and stews. But that doesn’t mean I’m not stocking up on new cookbooks and dreaming of breezier days and better kitchens.

The house we’re presently renting was designed as a holiday house, so the kitchen is . . . “adequate”, I guess would be the right thing to call it. At first glance, it looks like it’ll do just fine — enough space, decent cooktop. But then I start to actually use it and all its shortcomings spring into sharp relief.

But is there truly such a thing as the perfect home kitchen?

Maybe I’m just using that unattainable, utopian vision as a good excuse to put off seriously rolling up my sleeves and getting the place dirty. But just when I start to think I might roll up my sleeves, after all, I suddenly remember that hey, it’s not really *my* kitchen (the renter’s lament) — so maybe I should wait until I’m in my very own home space before whipping up clouds of flour, steam and grease.

*NOTE: In other words: procrastination rules again. Back to the books!

Which means I’m counting down the days to *my* very own kitchen.

We’re due to break ground on the home build in the beginning of September. Or so that’s the plan. A lot of cards have to fall in the proper place before that can actually happen (it would help if it stopped raining so the driveways could be properly finished and signed-off on), but the house design process is cruising along nicely, and we’ve been scouting recycled timbers, furniture, fabrics, floor finishings, appliances, low-VOC stains, old lighting fixtures, rescued brick, ay yi yi.

Frankly, it’s all starting to make my head spin a bit. No wonder most home-buyers opt for spec homes. It saves a hell of a lot of headache.

But then, by going full custom, we’ll be getting the home we want (*he whispers over and over to himself, like a desperate mantra*).

Books I’ve been reading:

A.)The Third Plate” by Dan Barber — honestly, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s the food-world equivalent of Dana Thomas’ “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster” (and you all know how much I love that book).

“The Third Plate” is an eye-opening exploration of how trendy designer menus at top flight restaurants (and on Food Network TV shows) have created an unsustainable mindset among diners. We’ve grown to love our heritage, organic vegetables and free-range, small-farm meats, but we also demand only the best of prime cuts and the most exotic of the produce, which leads to massive animal waste and overly intensive harvesting that the land & sea can’t support in the long term.

It’s a long-haul read, but definitely what I would consider a page-turner. I couldn’t put it down, and found myself nodding along to every single subject Mr. Barber addressed, from bird-friendly fish farms to natural foie gras to seasonal nose-to-tail eating.

Speaking of nose to tail:

B.)The Complete Nose to Tail” by Fergus Henderson — I just received my copy today, because I’m one of those home chefs that Barber talks about, consistently selecting the choice cuts (shoulders, ribs, legs) instead of learning to work with the entire animal, and I want to break that cycle.

It’ll certainly be an education, but I’ve rarely shied away from the lesser known cuts and organs when dining out (liver, kidney, intestines, tongue, trotters), but I’ve never cooked them at home — well, except for lamb kidneys, which I ruined (and which stank up the entire apartment in the process), so I never attempted again.

But Henderson’s book is so gorgeous, and the writing & recipes so very approachable, that maybe this time it’ll stick.

Pigs head, here I come!

*NOTE — I might, however, draw the line at his recipe for braised squirrel. Don’t ask me why, when I’m perfectly happy devouring nearly everything else. I think it may be the result of growing up in rural Michigan where wild squirrels were everywhere and considered to be filthy pests rather than potential dinner-plate fodder.

But never say never, right?

UPDATE (August 4th, 2014):

C.) Also, check out “Atul’s Curries of the World” by Atul Kochhar (considered one of the finest Indian chefs working in the West), “Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish” by Jesse Griffiths (which reinforces Dan Barber’s sustainable and seasonal message), and “River Cottage Veg” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (because I badly need to up my game on vegetable cooking, and Whittingstall’s recipes are satisfyingly simple and consistently delicious).

And after all that, if you still have some spare time, check out these documentaries: Ingredients, Fresh, Dirt and The Fruit Hunters.

Gee, can you tell we recently purchased some farm land?

New Zealand has truffle farms!

I only just discovered the Limestone Hills farm, and then realised that we’re nearing the tail end of the black truffle season here in New Zealand. So I contacted the farm, found out their truffle-sniffing beagle had sussed out a nice sized Périgord black truffle just that morning, and had them send it to the chef at my favourite local food haunt.

Needless to say, I had a treat of a Sunday morning breakfast waiting for me when I barged through their door this past week.

These are truly the best of times (cue my blatant and obvious ignoring of the missiles flying elsewhere in the world).