Thursday, January 27, 2011

A sad goodbye to The Minimalist.

I woke up this morning to a flurry of links on my food blogroll pointing to the final post of Mark Bittman's Minimalist column in the New York Times. It was not a pleasant way to wake up. Even I am surprised by how sentimental I'm getting, as I think back to the effect that this single column has had on my cooking history.

The Minimalist was originally called Bitten, and this I started reading when I first started cooking in Australia. They plopped me in the country, gave me a kitchen, and for guidance, I had two resources: the internet and my mother, and my mother was far away. Before I even knew who Mark Bittman was, even before I could cook much of anything at all, I learned from him how to make things like kielbasa and cabbage, cumin-spiced lentils, and roasted eggplant. His recipes were less like recipes and more like outlines, full of opportunities for variation and personal flair. His videos were witty and unpretentious, and stressed the simplicity of the process. The first thing that I ever learned about cooking was that all you need for a good meal are just a few good ingredients, a basic knowledge of what heat does to those ingredients, and a grasp on how tastes and textures blend together. (And above all else, use garlic liberally.)

No exaggeration, it was this blog alone that taught me, crucially, how to cook, not what to cook. A person can follow a million recipes with success, but still fail to understand why, for example, you drizzle sesame oil last or why you shouldn't crowd the pan when browning or why you do one particular step before another.

Sure, I eventually accumulated a dozen more food blogs that I continue to skim every day, but over the years, Bitten (and then The Minimalist) remained the only blog whose every post I would read faithfully and carefully, and that is because of the way it encouraged me to think about food and cooking in holistic and not just functional ways.

I know it's sappy, but I'm going to miss reading the column like I'd miss a friend. Anxiously awaiting something new from Mr. Bittman.

Monday, January 03, 2011


The year, actually the year-and-a-half, was a formative one for me.

I don’t have a philosophy on life, because having a philosophy on life means that you’ve answered life’s important questions, or that you are satisfied with the answers you have.

My ache to travel is because I want to keep asking and keep looking and keep reformulating. What began as a trip about me, about understanding me myself and I – turned into a lesson that there is nothing you can learn about yourself that is not in the context of someone else.

I learned very quickly that the world is not a scary place. It is filled with people who have all the same fundamental human needs, desires, dreams. The most meaningful friendships I made were from people I knew for a day, a week, an hour. There are big things to be learned from the smallest encounters, and each one began with a simple ‘hello’. Distances between people are easily breached. The unfamiliar becomes the familiar.

In the end, most of the attributes that you pride yourself over – no one cares. No one, except you to an obsessive degree, really cares about how funny you are, or how good your grades, or how pretty, or how athletic. The greatest lesson has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with other people, and how you exist alongside them.

The best decision I made was not just to travel, but to travel alone. It let me fully see that I never once felt alone.

The crucial realization is that I didn't need to travel more than a block to understand this. People relate to each other the same way whether in Cornfield, Indiana or Bhaktapur, Nepal.

I deeply miss my time abroad, but I’m comforted by these lessons that I kept. The new year may not have any more adventures like those of the past year, but I’m going into it with a few more answers.