Cookbooks I have but rarely use, a confession already divulged in this blog.
And food memoirs I’ve read but so rarely relish, whether they be Judith Jones’, Ruth Reichl’s, Julie Powell’s or — gasp! — Julia Child’s. I apparently lack the requisite curiosity about such well-known figures because I didn’t grow up watching “The French Chef,” come of age reading The New York Times or begin blogging until the medium had long since been pioneered.
Or maybe I just need something more home-grown, something that more closely resembles my own life. Enter Tod Davies, author of two books about how to cook and eat. Her second, “Jam Today Too,” headlines a Thursday evening event at South Stage Cellars in Jacksonville.
Davies is a fellow Rogue Valley resident who frequents many of the same sources for locally produced and organic foods that I do. But my affinity for Davies’ writing comes neither from its regional origins nor the likelihood that she and I have crossed paths, despite decades of experience separating us (She was a Mail Tribune employee when I was in grade school).
I felt like I knew Davies personally after reading the first few pages of “Jam Today Too.” It isn’t just her unpretentious, slightly irreverent voice. It’s her way of giving voice to my own inner conflict around cooking (after urging so many people to do it, I, too, was at risk of throwing in the towel).
More than identifying with Davies, however, I appreciate her approach to cooking and eating. Although I don’t live in such a rural setting as she does, I also ascribe to the philosophy of “cooking with what you’ve got,” as opposed to always schlepping to the grocery store. Mastering that art (and Davies is one such master) frees a cook from the tyranny of recipes.
On that topic, I love that Davies’ book is devoid of recipes per se, but instead offers lists, ratios and “algorithms.” Like me, she couches cooking in loose, conversational terms, rather than scientific formulas devised for precise replication. Outside of a professional restaurant setting, what’s the point of faithfully reproducing a dish? If cooking is a passionate pursuit, where’s the fun in cranking out carbon copies?
Enjoying good food isn’t an exercise in snobbery or absolutes, though, attests Davies. It’s perfectly acceptable to use a store-bought pie crust (“they’re pretty good”) for an otherwise homemade quiche, or to cook farm-fresh green beans until mushy. Davies endorses frozen spinach and peas but decries boneless, skinless chicken breasts, which have “no taste, no taste at all. You might as well be eating protein powder.”
Yet Davies’ laid-back approach to healthy eating (eat what makes you feel good, be it full and satisfied or light and energized) is refreshing. So is her way of effortlessly and joyfully bringing vegetarians and carnivores to the same table.
Sounds like the stuff of sympathetic dinner-table conversation to me. Find out if Davies’ food sensibilities speak to your own as she reads from “Jam Today Too,” from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 18, at South Stage Cellars, 125 S. Third St. Books will be for sale at the event.