Saturday, June 11, 2016

Cooking with the Muse

Cooking with the Muse is a new book by Myra Kornfeld and Stephen Massimila. This 500-page cookbook that features 150 recipes, 200 photos , numerous  culinary poems and easy to read essays about the history of food –all meet together to educate, entertain and provoke all five senses.

The one-of-a-kind cookbook is divided in main four chapters, each corresponding to a season. Each recipe is paired with a poem, followed by the poet’s note at the end. We can’t tell if the recipe is inspired by the poem or the poem by the recipe but it does not really matter. The outcome is a pleasing pairing of food for the stomach and food for the brain with the poet’s comments adding extra historic facts about the ingredients, the dish or the poetry. In its introductory pages, you will find a detailed presentation of food and poetry throughout the centuries, from the Ancient Greeks to Modern Americans, a chapter detailing the ingredients used and  cooking techniques and foundation recipes.  The  book closes with a glossary, plenty of resources and an extended bibliography.

In Autumn, corn, pumpkin, squash and apples are celebrated as well as seasonal holidays like Halloween. The was intrigued by the essay  On Corn: Of American Gods and People and the well-thought pages on John Keats’s The Autumn. My favorite recipe of Autumn?
The massaged "halloween" kale salad with party mix and roasted delicate squash and this is the poem I picked, a Halloween haiku by Massimilla himself:
Carving crack-toothed grins
Heaven-scent of orange flesh.
The cat climbs in to feast.

The Winter chapter features healthy dishes like oatmeal and French toast for breakfast, potatoes, roasted vegetables, pies, and stews as well as Moroccan dishes like harira and some sugary desserts. The notable essay on  On Keats’s The Eve of St. Agnes: A Moroccan Feast will travel you to the country of exotic spices while preparing my favorite recipe, the celery root puree.
Chosen poem for the Winter:
Yam by Bruce Guernsey
The potato that ate all its carrots,
Can see in the dark like a mole,
Its eyes the scars
From centuries of shovels, tines.
May spelled backwards
because it hates the light,
pawing its way, padding along,
there in the catacombs

Spring is an ode to artichokes, onions, greens, asparagus and peas and that of British favorite, the rhubarb. Spring welcomes you with the On Robert Frost’s Putting in the Seed essay that is refreshing and sweet. My favorite recipe of the chapter is the innovative pea cakes with sesame crust
And my chosen short poem by Enrico Caruso
Artichoke? It’s a good food. You eat, you drink,
You wash your face

Finally, here comes the Summer, with salads, fresh fruits, fresh fish and ceviche. I recommend the On Robert Frost’s  Blueberries essay that will bring the summer in your kitchen. The cherry-ripe almond smoothie will be my favorite and easy-to-make recipe. Just make it when you read the Cherry-ripe by Robert Herrick
Cherry-Ripe! ripe! ripe! I cry,
Full and fair ones, come and buy:
If so be, ask me where
They do grow? I answer, “There,
Where my Julia’s lips do smile;
There’s the land, or cherry isle,
Whose plantations fully show
All the year, where Cherries grow!”

This gargantuan effort to pair recipes, photos and poetry together with culinary history is a treasure that needs to be added to everybody’s bookshelf.