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The book that changed my 2013: Michael Pollan's 'Cooked'

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Reviewing the year, as we're all bound to do today, this Examiner was most influenced by Michael Pollan's Cooked because it actually got me into the kitchen. (I've been a food blogger and food educator since 2011, but I only became a cook in 2013.)

Words that make us think are nice. Words that make us move are indelible.

This year, the battle cry to Cook! was everywhere, loud and clear from all corners of the new food system. Use the periphery of the supermarket (mostly, since seasonings are still in the middle). Put down passive foods, take up arms (spatula, skillet), source raw and fresh and DIY. Cookbooks, classes, Meetups, Cookups, recipe blogs, Food 52, and apps abound.

But it's not so easy. At the New York Community Table earlier this month, a group of smart, savvy food-system entrepreneurs and innovators spontaneously segued into an honest conversation about how hard it is to cook in an urban, whizzbang, 140-character world.

"I know I should," said Eric Vieira of City University of New York whose work focuses on behavior innovation and disruption for healthcare. "But I get off the train, have to pick up my kid, and by the time we get home it's 6:30 and I need to get something on the table fast and I haven't even shopped."

Taking your first steps toward a cooking lifestyle requires more than just a good shopping list and an outfitted kitchen. You need incentives. Lots of incentives.

Pollan gave me plenty. But above all, what drew me like a Siren's song to the stove were the book's assertions that cooking creates an oasis in the mayhem of the quotidian and that it connects the cook more deeply to her world.

Cravings for calm and connectedness were strong in me, as I'm sure they are for you. I also felt their lack. I was intrigued enough to see if the assertions were true.

In May, Pollan told PBS News Hour's Jeffrey Brown:

"What I learned from one of my teachers Samin Nosrat [is] the key to cooking is: Patience, Practice and Presence. Being there. And that when you chop an onion, just chop an onion... It's incredibly therapeutic to cook."

It was a beautiful notion. So I tried it. And it worked. All summer and fall, I spent evening commutes plotting menu items and on walking through the door, dropped my stuff and got right to chopping, sauteing, baking, and roasting. It was my way to come down from the day. And then, look, dinner's ready too.

As for connectedness, nothing (healthy) will connect you to other people and your world faster than making something delicious and life-affirming and then sharing it. Pollan writes:

"Surely the most important of all the relationships sponsored by [cooking] is the one between those of us who elect to do it and the people it gives us the opportunity to feed and nourish and, when all goes well, delight. Cooking is all about connection, I’ve learned, between us and other species, other times, other cultures (human and microbial both), but, most important, other people. Cooking is one of the more beautiful forms that human generosity takes; that much I sort of knew. But the very best cooking, I discovered, is also a form of intimacy."

To all your New Years resolutions and ambitions and intentions coming true this year. Happy 2014.



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