Words and images by Caitlin.
The first cookbook I actually cooked from isn’t really even a book at all. It’s a turquoise plastic duo-tang my mother threw together in 2001, shortly after I had moved into my first real apartment. I spent those first few months of real independence making a million variations on vegetarian spaghetti before complaining to my family that I needed to learn how to make some new things.
That Christmas, my mom sent me back to the city with that blessed collection of photocopied recipes, indexed with Post-Its. She’d even annotated some of the best ones, underlining Anne Lindsay’s assertion that this soup was “great for students,” scribbling “don’t bother” next to extraneous instructions. Those random pages made me feel miraculously close to home.
That winter, I cooked my way through those first selections; boiling whole heads of garlic in broth for lentil soup, sautéing mushrooms in the cheapest white wine I could find. I was living with my boyfriend and two other friends that year, and occasionally I’d try to impress them in the kitchen. Not so tough given that most of our meals up until then were cereal and tuna-centric. This is the best way to learn to cook: find yourself an audience with an extremely low bar.
Over the years, that tiny binder morphed into a record of my life. It was always out on the counter, and often functioned as an ad hoc notepad. On the back of a recipe for Thai Pasta Salad I scrawled a note to the boy, telling him I’d be home from my best friend’s after the Gilmore Girls was over. One Sunday night I wrote down that same pal’s mom’s biscuit recipe as the two of us prepared a wine-fueled dinner in the sketchy Annex apartment we shared for the last year of university. My first cookbook became unwieldy in the best way, containing not only my favourite foods but also my favourite moments.
As I moved from town to town, my cookbook came with me. In Vancouver, I’d write out new-found favourites on the backs of class handouts to save money on photocopies (never underestimate the frugality of a grad student). My parents kept sending me new additions; one Canadian Living article on fall veggies has my address scribbled in the top corner in my dad’s handwriting, a reminder to include it in a larger care package heading west. That autumn, the boy I’d learned to cook for and written notes to, was still back in Toronto and had recently broken my heart. Those packages and recipes from home made me feel a little less alone. I’d walk to the Granville Island Market with my roommate, pick up cauliflower and curry paste, and saunter home for cooked comfort in our Kitsilano apartment. At least I’ve got dinner, I’d think to myself as we ate curried vegetables and stared out at Grouse Mountain across the Georgia Straight.
In the many years since those first kitchen forays, I’ve amassed a million real cookbooks, ones I hope to write about later. I need a whole cupboard for my collection now. But it’s still that torn-up pile of copies that I go back to most often. My mom’s original index is long gone, but I always seem to be able to find exactly what I’m looking for. Those stains and water spots and notes unleash a flood of memories. I’ve lived much of my life in many kitchens. It’s important for me to keep a record.
So here’s a recipe straight from the first edition, a lentil soup first ripped from a magazine and annotated by my mother. It is so comforting and delicious with a big hunk of crusty bread.
French Lentil Soup
(Adapted from LCBO Food and Drink Magazine’s Fall 2001 issue)
- 1 head garlic
- 1 cup red lentils
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup onion, chopped
- 2 ribs celery
- 1 potato, diced (optional but nice for texture)
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I usually use a combination of parsley and basil)
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp. plain yogurt for garnish
- 1 tbsp. chili oil or hot sauce (you can go fancy on this one, but I’m always partial to Sriracha)
Cut root end off the garlic and separate cloves (don’t peel yet). Put the garlic cloves in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then drain. Peel the garlic (totally easy at this point).
Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic cloves and saute for 3 minutes. Add lentils, stock, and remaining oil and bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until lentils and potato are soft.
Puree the soup using a blender (or, as my mom wrote in, “don’t bother.” I usually puree about half of it). Return to the pot and stir in salt, pepper, herbs, and lemon juice. If it’s really thick, add a little extra water.
Combine yogurt and hot sauce/chili oil and spoon a bit over each bowl before serving.Add to favorites