It’s hard to keep from becoming a dinner-obsessed chef when you become a parent. I don’t know how I am managing it. It’s not that I don’t like cooking. Well, yes it is. That’s at least half of it. The other half is that I don’t like following directions.
I do like my children quite a bit, however, and last I checked, they do need to eat to live. So I have tried to make peace with this situation. I have done this by reading cookbooks. Reading cookbooks is the perfect activity for non-chefs like myself: it doesn’t entail any actual cooking and it provides me with some interesting and occasionally useful information.
I have three kids, and as a result, I have read a big ol’, fragrant mess of cookbooks. I have read so many that I can categorize them by type. And much like a particular type of cookbook author, I have now decided to share with you my amazing, life-altering system of how these cookbooks break down. Grab a snack—I don’t care what it is, as long as I don’t have to make it—and let me present you with some yummy sentences to digest.
Cookbooks for Info-Freaks
Do you like spreadsheets? Did you major in math, science, or engineering? Then you will find much solace on the cookbook shelf. You will recognize a cookbook for information-lovers by the fact that it doesn’t have any porn-worthy photos of grilled cheese sandwiches in it. It won’t have any photos in it, in fact. What it will have: charts. Many charts. And bullet points. If you are comforted by the great equalizing activity of a precisely spaced conversion chart, then these are the books for you.
The major redeeming quality about this type of cookbook is that it is not trying to sell you on the author, or the perfection of her kitchen-y world. The information-lovers who write these books don’t have time for that nonsense. Their focus is not inward, it is outward. Get your head out of the fridge, dear reader: have you looked lately, at what there is to eat in the world? You haven’t? Well, I have news for you.
The Great Mother of this type of book is a 674-page paperback called Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, with Mary Enig, PhD. Fallon may have written this book with Enig, but it is Fal-lon alone who is pictured on the back cover, looking a bit like a martial arts master who could kick the focaccia out of you. Her introduction is 78 pages, has 188 references, and it is filled with not-exactly-encouraging statements like: “Unfortunately, most water supplies are contaminated by a number of harmful chemicals,” “the milk sold in your supermarket is bad for everybody, partly because the modern cow is a freak of nature,” and “Baking powder can be another source of aluminum and should be avoided.”
Far be it from me to get into the dojo with any of that, my friends. But when you have a new ba-by, and are trying to figure out what to feed her, it may not matter that Fallon is tragically and undeniably right. What matters is that you need something to feed the baby. Now.
Here is my advice: remember, facts are fun. Read this book for its incredibly disheartening, fun facts. When it’s time to actually feed the baby, there is another book you should turn to. It is here to save the day. It is called Super Baby Food.
My husband brought home a copy of Super Baby Food for me when our first born was about a month old. I was still much involved in the womanly art of breastfeeding—yes, that’s the title of a book, and can we just take a moment to affirm its reader-flattering genius?—and the idea that I would soon begin to make actual table food for my son was a little hazy. I was already making super baby food, I said to my husband, a little petulantly. He handed the book to me. It was heav-ier than my son.
Super Baby Food, a heroic tome by Ruth Yaron now in it third edition, clocks in at 608 pages. Unlike Nourishing Traditions, which calmly but relentlessly pummels you with the painful truth, Super Baby Food dazzles you with a wonderful system, a feeding system. Did you think you would be doing things a little more haphazardly? Say, fixing food for your baby when he/she is hungry? Pshaw. That idea is for liberal arts majors.
Super Baby Food has a system all right, and though it’s not anything actually new—it really boils down to making food in big batches, freezing it in baby-sized portions, then thawing or re-heating at meal time—as anyone who has watched a late-night infomercial knows, that doesn’t matter. What matters is that its system is dazzling. You know that moment in an infomercial—and if you have a new baby, you have surely seen one of those—when what you thought were merely a bunch of 15 loose and unrelated knives are suddenly revealed as parts of a much great-er, awesomely connected knife package? Who doesn’t love how 15 knives can suddenly fit to-gether like one, big, happy family? Especially when you are sleep-deprived and holding your seemingly inconsolable baby? No one, that’s who. Where’s my $19.99?
Super Baby Food’s author, Ruth Yaron, was a satellite programmer for NASA, which is the kind of background you would expect for an author whose book includes a helpful chart entitled: “A Broccoli Food Cube Assembly Line.” In it, she breaks down the steps to making broccoli food cubes for your Super Baby, along with the allotted time for each step. There are 14 steps. It ends with a total time of “Less than one hour for four broccoli bunches.”
Now, this, fellow parents, is where you could possibly start to feel bad, if you were reading this with anything other than cookbook-lurker status. I am telling you, if there is one thing you must remember, it is this: you must lurk. If you read these books with any intention of follow-ing them, you are doomed. Do not start despairing about how you will never in a million years find the slightly less than one hour required to convert what seems like a paltry four broccoli bunches into cubes: that way lies madness. Have you ever seen a child studying a Pokemon evo-lution chart? Do you know how some tots love reciting how Pichu becomes Pikachu becomes Raichu? You are one of these children now. You know that the Earth has evolved so that all wa-ter is contaminated and the milk at the grocery store is crap. The only little problem is this: you have a child to give lunch to.
But let’s worry about that later! I have a table for you to look at! (No, not the kind you put food on, silly). This table is from Super Baby Food and lists the items Yaron keeps in her “baby emergency bag,” i.e., a duffle bag in the trunk of her car. It consists of 25 suggested items in-cluding a can opener. Whose mom keeps a can opener in the trunk of her car, along with 24 other items ranging from baby sunscreen to a full change of baby clothes? I love you, Ruth Yaron. Can we go camping? Will you be my mom?
Suggestions for further consumption: Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter
Keep reading, not cooking: Part 2 of The Great Cookbook Breakdown will feature “Cookbooks for Daydreamers.”
Until then, xo