Indisputable fact: We all eat. And most of us love to eat. We’ve come a long way since we waited beside the campfire for the hunters to return with a wooly mammoth, at the sight of which we took out stone utensils, sliced big chunks, and ate them raw and bloody.
Now we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, and the best part of the whole operation is that so many of us these days love to cook, and love to talk about cooking. From this basic truth, Oak Bluffs library director Allyson Malik formed the ingenious plan of launching a monthly cookbook club, each devoted to a different author or cultural cuisine.
Last Saturday afternoon marked the launch of this club. Ms. Malik chose the well-known author, chef, and foodie Ina Garten, a.k.a. “the Barefoot Contessa,” which is also the name of the food specialty store Garten opened in 1978 in Westhampton on Long Island, as well as the title of her first bestselling cookbook.
Allyson explained her choice to the half-dozen participants, all women — but there will be men, I promise you; they too eat, cook, and love to chat about it: “I took a look at our records of cookbook authors, and Ina Garten was the most checked-out in our entire library system!” exclaimed Allyson.
A woman named Jackie said she’d been cooking with Ina Garten’s recipes for years without a single dud: “I never made one that wasn’t good.”
The others among us had worked with the Barefoot books and found them agreeable, although we each had our own favorite cookbook writers, which we shared gladly; that’s what one does in book clubs. One of my own special foodies, I told the others, is Island author Susie Middleton, who grows a lot of her own herbs and veggies. I revealed how I’d been assigned to review her first book, “Fast, Fresh & Green.” It was late afternoon, and each of her recipes sounded SO wholesome and delicious that I exhausted myself with a continuous longing for someone to come in and prepare a Middleton meal for me.
A strong draw of this new cookbook club is that Allyson invites people to bring a potluck dish. She herself prepared, from Garten’s first famous book, a white cannellini bean soup. From a big pot she ladled out portions, offering spoons and napkins. It was good-ish, but the consensus was that it needed “something,” that elusive extra ingredient that most of us who cook are always willing to explore. Jackie thought Garten was often heavy-handed with the salt. A woman named Joyce described her eagerness to avoid salt by finding piquant spices and herbs. Patsy, whom I know from Featherstone, opined that the texture was excellent; Allyson had done her due diligence by soaking the dried beans, although a couple of us admitted we would have taken a shortcut and reached for canned beans in the market. Someone else thought a splash of half-and-half would go a long way.
A woman named Kathy brought another big pot, this one containing Garten’s meaty “Weeknight Bouillabaisse.” And a surprise visitor, Jennifer Schilling (married to the gorgeous dreadlocked Roger of the boutique on Circuit, ‘C’est La Vie’) appeared with her incandescently cute 6-year-old daughter Bella, and dropped off her own favorite Contessa dessert, “Pear Clafouti”: “I make it at home all the time for the kids and Roger.” Roger loves it because it reminds him of his mother’s cooking; he grew up in the banlieues outside Paris.
As we happily ate and talked shop, our subjects ranged from textures of salt to finding awesome recipes on Pinterest, to growing basil, parsley, and rosemary in a kitchen pot. We also darted hither and yon with chitchat about a tick out West whose bite turns people into vegetarians, genealogy charts to better grok the culinary specialties of our ancestors, and some of our favorite Island chic-but-fast food places, including Sweet Bites and Bite on the Go.
Then we got sidetracked into — what else? — politics. But we mentally slapped our cheeks, and returned to the Barefoot Contessa. Bottom line: Nothing makes us more voluble and happy than eating and yakking about eating. Next month’s cookbook club will feature Indian and Pakistani food. (Allyson’s husband is from Pakistan, and when his mother comes to visit, they indulge in a dream of sheer yumminess.) Don’t miss it: Saturday, May 27, from 1 to 3 pm.
And bring a bib.