The food in this book, that comes from my kitchen, is eaten at my table, and will be eaten at yours, is the food I have always loved cooking. It doesn’t require, technique, dexterity or experience […] Life is complicated, cooking doesn’t have to be.
The book was released in October in the UK but just came out in North America and to mark the occasion, she spoke at George Brown College earlier this month and I was thrilled to receive an invite. Nigella’s one of those people who I could listen to for hours and I was really interested in hearing her speak a little but about this more “simple” philosophy of cooking (this seems to be popular right now – late last year, I looked at some cookbooks from Nigella, Jamie Oliver and Deb Perelman simplifying home cooking – sharing recipes and ideas for the way their authors (and, let’s be honest, most people) actually eat at home.
At My Table is a fine example of this new genre and there’s so much to love about this book. Firstly, there are no chapters – the book is roughly organised into breakfast, lunches, dinner, sweets with a few drinks as well – which makes total sense to me. There’s an excellent index (gotta love an excellent index) which is easy to search according to ingredients, which I prefer over rigidly telling people a dish is a dinner or a lunch dish, you know? I’d rather search by ingredient. So logical, for me, anyway, it’s like a playbook for life, with stories (because Nigella is a masterful storyteller, I enjoy her headnotes and sidebars as much as the actual recipes) and recipes. In her introduction, Nigella also speaks of the challenge of imposing a “serving size” on a recipe (something I too struggled with – there are so many factors coming into play to determine that number) but says her servings are generous enough to allow for leftovers – because life is always better with something good to eat in the fridge, right? (there are make ahead and storage suggestions in the back of the book too for those who like to plan ahead). This is a book for those who love to read about food as much as they love to make it. For those who like “unfussy”, simple to make but fancy to look at food (the photos are an excellent example of this – not overly styled, which I LOVE, presenting the food simply but beautifully), this is weekday (and weekend) inspiration par excellence.
Nigella’s talk was fascinating and she discussed everything from being a picky eater as a child to eating seasonally, with a healthy serve of modesty and humour. Even though she is most definitely a celebrity in the food world, she remains very down to earth and in touch with what the rest of us home cooks are doing in the kitchen. She touched on so many topics that evening but her are some lessons that resonated with me most.
Lessons from Nigella Lawson
1. Be realistic
Not everyone can do a from-scratch home-cooked meal every night. Nigella believes it’s more important to focus on getting people back to eating meals together as opposed to making people feel bad about not doing everything from scratch. She’s So right and I hope people pay attention. There is too much judgement in the food world about this type of thing. I once had a parent proudly show me a photo of the fresh pasta they’d made with their child, then they whispered “Sssh – don’t tell anyone I used store-bought sauce.” This made me so sad that anyone would think using a homemade sauce would overshadow the making of fresh pasta (with kids, no less). But it’s true. We can’t do all things all the time. Focus on what’s important (family time) and less on being a domestic goddess (pun not really intended).
2. Get your kids in the kitchen
A little girl in the audience asked Nigella what she would do to help a picky eater and guess what? Nigella was a picky eater as a child too! She told the girl that she became less so the more she cooked so she recommended getting in the kitchen and cook a little bit. Not necessarily eating everything but at least tasting. Enough said.
3. You can’t do everything
One of the best lessons I learned from this evening is that JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out) is a real thing. As she’s gotten older, Nigella realises she can’t do everything (go to all the events etc…) and has had to let a few things slide. Going out is one of them and now she truly loves staying in. This makes me feel so much more normal as I turn into more of a homebody the older I get! Thanks, Nigella!
4. Eat a balanced diet
When asked about “healthy food trends”, Nigella responded that “there is a lot of mumbo jumbo” surrounding “healthy eating”. She suggests “a little bit of everything”, not removing whole food groups from one’s diet and certainly not removing foods which we have been eating for centuries (butter and olive oil, for example) and replacing them with industrially produced substitutes. She said that people who freak out about 1/3 cup cream in a recipe that serves 6 people need to “get a grip”. Yes! THANK YOU, Nigella! She also said that many of her friends who deny themselves certain foods (i.e. chocolate) tend to binge eat it when they have it. She, on the other hand, set out for a multi-week tour with 8 bars of chocolate in her luggage. And she won’t binge eat those because she knows they are there and she can have a little piece when she wants. Sounds pretty sensible to me!
5. A good cookbook is more than about the recipes
Although the recipes must work and be reliable, Nigella says that a good cookbook must be easy to follow and easy and enjoyable to read – and that all of these pieces go together. There’s no point having a book that makes for a lovely read if the recipes don’t work and no point having a book full of recipes that work well but that is not pleasurable to read. At My Table is all of these things: reads like a novel, is interesting and the recipes are easy to follow and reliable.
Disclosure: I attended the evening with Nigella Lawson as a guest of George Brown College. I purchased my own copy of the book (last year when it was released in the UK) as well as a ticket to the event for Neil. This article has not been reviewed prior to publication and I have not received compensation for writing about the book or the event. All opinions my own.
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