Choosing the right cookbook makes all the difference

I’m not a natural cook – as in: I don’t gravitate towards the kitchen to cook things. If anything, I’m a gleeful baker. I can mix things up, pour it in a pan and set a timer. Sometimes I experiment with making candy and using a thermometer. It requires diligence, but the risk of overcooking by even a degree is fun on some weird geek-in-the-kitchen level.

I’m dead set against processed foods, though. I want whole foods in my diet, preferably local (supporting local communities and economies with my food dollar). And, even though Mr. Old Fashioned is an excellent cook and shoulders that responsibility 99% of the time, I’m feeling the need to learn how to prepare whole foods myself.

It may not have been instinctual for me to dive into the world of cooking at a young age, but it’s certainly instinctual now.

I sense that the magic that happens in the kitchen should be my magic, too. I don’t have to just stare in awe at folks who can julienne carrots and pulls inside bits out of chickens.

I can learn this business myself.

To me (a novice,) the most important part of the whole learning process is either an excellent reference material or a seasoned mentor. With the help of my family and loved ones, I know I can pick up new, basic skills in the kitchen simply from spending time with them and helping them prepare meals. That’s the stress-free part of home economics – combining learning and quality time with your favorite people.

But when it comes to reference material, it serves to be picky.

What am I looking for in a reference material? A cookbook.

And what am I looking for in a cookbook?

1. I want my cookbook to be built around vegetables and fruits. For example, I want my table of contents to list individual food items (i.e. “Broccoli,” “Carrots”), so when I pick up produce from farm stands or the food co-op, I can cook up meals based on what vegetables are fruits are in season.

2. The recipes need to be simple. Very simple. When I search inside books on Amazon (or other sites, if they have that fancy function), I pick apart the available recipes and make sure that they aren’t chock-full of ingredients that are hard for me to come by (in super-northern Maine/St. John Valley, exotic ingredients are probably only available online). Thus, if there are any outlier ingredients, I know it’s not my style.

3. I’ll also focus on how many winter-veggie-friendly recipes are in any particular cookbook. I obviously live in a climate zone that provides an abundance of hearty root vegetables and I want a cookbook that provides a wide variety of recipes using those ingredients.

4. Personally, I don’t go for cookbooks that list processed foods as ingredients, such as “Bisquick” as an ingredient or “Velveeta.”

Considering all of these things, these two cookbooks looked up my alley:

Earth To Table – Michael Pollan recommended it and I recommend Michael Pollan (so it seems like a natural thing to believe his suggestions). Also, a customer review said it was “good for those with winter.” (Enough said.)

The Farmer’s Kitchen – It appears to contain good information on produce, including descriptions, methods of preservation, and various preparation terms. It also boasts a load of recipes, many of which seem easy (and require few ingredients).

These two cookbooks will soon be in my kitchen and, as fresh food from Maine farms piles up on my countertop, I’ll learn a basic skill that doubles as an art form.

Happy cooking, kitchen Picassos (or, in my case, Pollacks!).

If you happen to own or purchase either of the books above (I don’t make any affiliate commission on those links, by the way), leave a comment and clue me in to your favorite recipe.

Jenna Beaulieu

About Jenna Beaulieu

Jenna is a writer and fine art photographer who recently moved from the Saint John Valley region to the quiet side of Mount Desert Island. She’s a fan of excellent music, homemade gravy, and colored pencils (also, short books and long books, good pens, flannel, and when the June bugs don’t really come out much that year). For more about Jenna and her work, visit her website at