a la carte

a la carte

I find it hard to consider photography as art, because it is so often used as a technology of persuasion. By this I mean it is used to seduce the viewer, into a purchase (advertising), an author’s point of view (illustration), or an idea (Sketch-up). In these cases the emotions triggered are not any intrinsic to the promoted product/belief/idea and so the images are false, presented in bad faith. I use photographs in MUSE, employing covers and preview images to entice you to read. But I take great care when choosing images to ensure that they contain the emotion or meaning of the writing they accompany. They are representational even as they add another dimension or layer to the piece, and are therefore true.

While photography can be conceived as an artful undertaking and product in its own right, I find many attempts frivolous and superficial – aestheticizing the subject, rather than exploring the subject, or color and line and pattern and light, or composition, or the medium itself. For me photography is most successful when it conveys the experience of landscape, and when it captures people authentically, in portrait. Whether these last are Art, or arts I am undecided.

The issue was front and center for me recently when I received an invitation to a book launch. The book is a collaborative effort by a graphic designer and photographer, and purports to record the authors’ memories of cooking with their mothers. As a writer, I find memoirs illustrative, informative, and engaging as they bring to light (life) small scenes and details that usually go unremarked, or as they record journeys, lessons, becomings. Humility is at the center of memoir, as is vulnerability – it is a sharing that the author hopes/thinks will console, inspire, educate, enlarge, redeem, or otherwise be meaningful to a reader. Yes, some memoirs are vanity and self-service, attention- and money-seeking. But a good memoir lets you know another person, another path, another life and pauses you, in reflection.

But not this book. The announcement featured a photograph in the style of the worst cookbook food porn, a graphic design positioning itself as art, but intended to sell, to convince you of the importance, relevance, worthiness of the effort it represents. It irritated me to no end. While I love to cook, and am always interested in new recipes, techniques, and cuisines, I find the photographic illustrations in cookbooks (and blogs and newspaper columns) false, especially when they claim to be the finished product, yet showing all the vibrant colors of uncooked ingredients. Really? As if a real cook doesn’t know the difference? The blatant aestheticization of a life-giving, soul-nourishing craft annoys me no end. The meaning of home-cooked meals, of recipes passed down through generations lies elsewhere, and deeper. These are topics worth writing about, and they need no decorative fluff, no beguilement to hold a reader.

So I didn’t go to the launch, and I will not buy the book. Instead I’ll share a food memoir of another sort – my favorite and (very well used) cookbooks. Most are illustrated simply with drawings: Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, Anna Thomas’ The Vegetarian Epicure (I and II), The Best of Shaker Cooking, The Mennonite Community Cookbook, and the American classics Fannie Farmer and Betty Crocker. I learned to cook Chinese meals from a paperback (The Wok), and Greek favorites from another (Classic Greek Cooking) in the same series.

Some of my favorite recipes of the last forty years, (that we have figured out how to make gluten-free!):

  • betty crocker book
  • betty crocker page_half
  • Veggie 1
  • Veggie 1-title
  • Veggie 1-page
  • Veggie 2
  • greek book
  • greek page
  • wok book
  • wok page



Quiche Lorraine (BCC, p 218) “This continental classic is pictured on page 214. Serve as a first course or as the main dish.”
Old-Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese (BCC, p 218)
Cranberry Jelly (FFC, p 282) “This is a tart, soft-textured jelly, very unlike its canned counterpart.”
Sarsoon ka Saag (IVAGC, pp 304-305) “Every community in the world has a basic food it refers to as its soul food. For the Punjabi Sikhs of Amritsar, the home of the Golden Temple, it is mustard greens cooked to a velvety puree and laced with ginger shreds, garlic slivers, and sweet creamy butter.”
Cheese Blintzes (VEI, pp 208-209) (And liptauer cheese: a variation, p 208)
Corn and Cheddar Cheese Chowder (VEI, p 58)
Tomato-Apple Chutney (VEII, p 373))
Cabbage and Dill Pierogi (VEII, pp 220-221)
Apple Bread Pudding (SH, pp 286-287)
French Tomato Pickle (Old) (MCC, p,400)
Catsup (Tomato) (MCC p 410)
Eggplant Moussaka (CGC, pp 50-51)
All manner of Stir-fry (TW)

I have used photographs to illustrate my love for these books, but genuinely. Now you know a little more of me.


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