Lighten Up: In the Green Kitchen

For this week’s “Lighten Up” post on simple ways to reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to the health of your community–both human and moreso–take a look at chef and local-food advocate Alice Waters‘ new book, In the Green Kitchen, Techniques to Learn By Heart. (The full review appears on Story Circle Book Reviews, the largest website for reviews of books for and by women.)


“At home in their own kitchens, even the most renowned chefs do not consider themselves to be chefs; there, they are simply cooks, preparing the simple, uncomplicated food they like best. Preparing food like that does not have to be hard work,” writes acclaimed chef and local-food pioneer Alice Waters in the introduction to In the Green Kitchen. That philosophy–preparing great food does not have to be hard work–is a major theme of this book, which is as much instruction in the art–and heart–of cooking as it is a compilation of recipes and technique, though it is the latter as well.

The inspiration and material for this course in cooking simple, delicious, local and seasonally appropriate food came from Slow Food Nation, a gathering in San Francisco in 2008 of “thousands of cooks and eaters, farmers and ranchers, cheese makers and winemakers, bakers and beekeepers, fisherman and foragers” with a passion for food and for a sustainable future. Waters and the other organizers included a demonstration kitchen as part of the gathering to offer “a set of basic techniques that are universal to all cuisines.”

Those techniques, introduced by the chefs who demonstrated them, and elaborated with Waters’ own commentary and recipes, comprise this book. “Once learned by heart,” Waters writes, “these are the techniques that free cooks from an overdependence on recipes and a fear of improvisation.”

This is a simple book in the sense that it can be used by any cook, from the rawest of beginners to those with years of experience and culinary training, and it is written in a straightforward, accessible way. Browsing it is like listening to an articulate and passionate cook teach their craft. It’s also a meditation on how the seemingly simple act of cooking can change the world: “Cooking creates a sense of well-being for yourself and the people you love and brings beauty and meaning to everyday life. And all it requires is common sense–the common sense to eat seasonally, to know where your food comes from, to support and buy from local farmers and producers who are good stewards of our natural resources, and to apply the same principles of conservation to your own home kitchen.”

In the Green Kitchen is lovely to look at, with clean, readable design, great photography, and a wonderfully diverse assemblage of chefs demonstrating the techniques, many well-known, some not yet, and prose that invites you in, takes your hand and welcomes you to the kitchen. My only quibble: the binding doesn’t open flat. For a book intended to lie open on the kitchen counter while you use it, that’s a flaw. But not enough of one to keep me from recommending it to every cook I know, and more.


This news from the brain cancer treatment cloister: It’s been two weeks since Richard’s second brain surgery, and he’s recovering steadily. His skewed eyesight is still exhausting and difficult, but it seems to be improving bit by bit too. Naps are still a big part of his day, but he’s also reading, writing, weeding, doing yoga and meditating, practicing juggling, and thinking about how to proceed with a water feature he’s been commissioned to sculpt. He’s doing so well, in fact, that we’ve decided to go ahead with this winter’s second “Words to Live By” workshop on Isla Espiritu Santo off La Paz, Baja California.


So here’s the shameless promotion: Join us for a once-in-a-lifetime trip; find your writing and creative voice, ponder your life’s path and purpose, eat great food, and play.


Spend a week in a comfy tent-camp run by Baja Expeditions, the area’s premiere eco-tourism outfitter, where rust-red cliffs studded by tree-like cactus rise out of the turquoise blue Sea of Cortez, fecund waters chronicled by John Steinbeck, Ann Zwinger, and other authors and still teeming with fish, whale sharks, sea turtles, sea lions and cormorants.

Watch as flying fish explode upwards out of the water, and magnificent frigatebirds, brown pelicans, and osprey cruise for fish from above; listen for great-horned owls at dusk; follow trails of bioluminescence illuminating the dark waters under a sky full of stars. In a world of hyperbole, Isla Espiritu Santo is one place that really is magical and transformative. Join us there to ring out the old year and begin the new “with glad heart and bright spirit.”


Next year, “Words to Live By” will move to a new location, so if you want to experience Isla Espiritu Santo with us, this is your chance. (This month’s Sunset Magazine lists this incredible desert-meets-tropical sea island as the top in it’s “Twenty Islands to Visit” cover feature.) You won’t regret it!