As a husband, father of two young children, cookbook author, and magazine editor, I have a hectic and unpredictable schedule. But every evening, shortly after five, I stop answering the phone and e-mails in my home office and head into the kitchen. The kids are upstairs with my wife, Lauren, practicing piano, bathing, or just hanging out in their rooms, so I usually have the kitchen to myself. I begin by cleaning up the mess from the day— emptying the dishwasher, rinsing my daughters’ paintbrushes, and taking out the garbage. I turn on the radio, pull out a cutting board, and start chopping and slicing. The pressures and frenetic pace of the day fade away as dinner comes together. By around six, the table is set, the kids are seated, and supper is on the table.
Since I cook vegetarian meals almost every day of the year, I ask a lot from the recipes that make it into my repertoire. First, they have to be convenient. Sure, I wish I had hours to prepare dinner, but I don’t: a couple of simple dishes are about all I want to tackle on most nights. Second, every one of my meals has to pack plenty of flavor—my wife, a former pastry chef, has a discriminating palate, as do I. And finally, and perhaps most important, they have to satisfy nine-year-old Rose and five-year-old Eve, who have had their own busy days. In this book, you’ll find the family favorites that I return to again and again.
I love vegetarian meals for the variety they bring to the table. Vegetarian cooking is my connection to the seasons and to local farms and the six-month growing season on eastern Long Island, where we live. One day, I celebrate the arrival of the first new potatoes by preparing home fries with fingerlings so fresh they exude juices when cut. The next week it’s the first really good tomatoes of the year and time to make pasta with sautéed tomatoes, pan-roasted garlic, and fresh basil.
My family belongs to Quail Hill, an organic community farm about a fifteen-minute drive from our home. From June through November, we pick our own vegetables at this farm, which is set on two hundred rolling acres. The people who run the farm demonstrate their passion for vegetables by planting an amazing array of them: forty-two varieties of tomatoes, eggplants in hues of orange, red, green, lavender, purple, black, and ivory. At the farm, Rose and Eve learn how to dig baby Yukon Gold potatoes from the warm clay soil, play on the tire swing, or talk to the hens that lay eggs for us. It’s also where I become inspired by purple basil, red-skinned carrots, or ordinary- looking cucumbers.
By the first weekend in November, Quail Hill shuts down for the season. A few other farmers stick it out until Thanksgiving, selling broccoli, winter squash, and cabbage, but by December the local crops, which were in such abundance just weeks before, are gone.
Since I’m a practical cook as well as a seasonal one, I shop exclusively in supermarkets during the winter and spring. But that doesn’t mean I buy rock-hard tomatoes in January or corn on the cob in March. Winter means greens, root vegetables, grains, beans, and other wholesome, hearty foods in my kitchen. Although many of these ingredients are not local, they are in tune with the season. Even in winter, my basic approach to food remains the same.
Time is precious, and there are lots of other demands on me during the day, so high-impact, high-flavor items from my pantry are a must. Although simple, the food in my kitchen is never boring or dull. If I had to sum up my food philosophy, it might be “shop local and cook global, but keep it real.” In my daily cooking, I draw on the cuisines of Mexico, the Caribbean, India, Thailand, Italy, Spain, France, China, and Japan, adapting dishes to suit the ingredients I have at hand.
Yes, there are nights when I stare into the refrigerator and feel as if I just can’t come up with any appealing ideas. And yes, there are nights when we take the kids out for pizza. But most days I relish the job of preparing meals for my family. Cooking is time for me to relax and to focus on something other than work, the unpaid bills in my desk drawer, the overgrown weed patch otherwise known as our back yard, or the pile of laundry upstairs in the hamper. And dinner is about talking with my wife and kids, teaching my kids about food, and appreciating all the good things in our lives. The food doesn’t have to be fancy—and mine surely isn’t. As long as it’s produced honestly and tastes good, food is cause for celebration, every day of the year.
Copyright © 2004 by Jack Bishop. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.