colin f lane

quarantine cookbook


two principles

  1. The best way to learn something, is to teach it to someone else.
  2. Once you no longer need to refer to a recipe, then you may write your own.


I endeavor to "prepare simple plant based meals". Animal abstinence is necessarily a personal choice, and should not be forced upon anyone, nor taken up without thought and some positive conviction. But in preparing vegetable dishes, one does not inconvenience his guest. Whereas meat dishes cannot be enjoyed by all. (Though the Buddha, we are told, did not refuse meat dishes when given him as alms.) So, I offer this book of simple vegetable cookery to you, that you might find some value in it.

The recipes in this book are simple insofar that their preparation is straightforward and without undue fuss, as well as owing to their modest ingredients. What I aim for are recipes whose technique never becomes an end in itself. Recipes whose entire execution may be conceived of and held at once in the mind's eye. Recipes which produce wholesome dishes constituted of easily identifiable ingredients whose essence is never lost along the way.

A good rule of thumb is, a dozen ingredients. Keep it simple in the kitchen, and keep it simple at the grocery market. Twelve items can be scribbled on the back of a dry cleaning receipt or a parking ticket, or held in memory, likely with little to no lossiness. They can be stowed in a basket or a tote while shopping, meaning one need not push a cart. It is difficult to maintain one's dignity and composure while pushing a cart. A basket is much more dignified. So keep it to a dozen items. And if you happen to see a bar of chocolate or a bouquet of flowers or a particularly vivacious grapefruit or a newspaper or a bottle of Chianti which catches your eye, then call that a baker's dozen. If you live nearby your grocery market, which you ought to, then you can put your dozen items in a tote and walk back home with them. Or put the tote in the basket of your bicycle, and pedal home.

Be gentle with your ingredients; avoid causing them distress. Stress is infectious. It is actually contagious. We know that people who find themselves in the company of other people who are distressed, may well become distressed themselves. It is like guilt by association, except stress does not always imply guilt, though it may involve it. The point is that these ingredients will eventually give themselves up to you and possibly your loved ones. Their raison d'être is to give themselves up to your wellbeing. You want to absorb their nutrients and energies and vital powers, not their stresses -- least of all any stresses inflicted through your own carelessness or exasperation. Always act with care, and if you must become exasperated, never do so in the vicinity of the kitchen. That is what the bath is for.

Here is the simple truth about preparing simple dishes: if approached in good faith, with care and without exasperation, with wholesome ingredients, they may not be great, but they will almost certainly always be at least good, and good is generally good enough for most of us good souls. But of course the opposite just as easily maintains. A dish prepared in haste, in a disordered and distracted state of mind, or with ingredients which one does not already cherish for their own sake, will communicate little beyond the distaste with which the cook pursued his work. Misery loves company, so too joy.

To keep things simple, I elide most measurements and quantifiers. Focus on the ingredients themselves. Leave the quarter teaspoon alone. Things tend to not turn out perfectly anyway, so drop the pretense and stop worrying. Worry too can be contagious. This is the beauty of simplicity: a modest combination of wholesome ingredients will clearly convey their essential goodness, even if the craftsman's hand is inexpert. Once you have prepared a dish several times, it will become second nature. You will not remember to look for the graduated cylinder. So forget about all of that up front, and focus on the food itself, and on the act itself.

mise en place

There is a right order to all things, including operations. In the kitchen, it is the job of the cook to understand and embody and instantiate the right order of operations. And to act with care, and without exasperation. This means, think first, then prepare, and act last. And breathe. Often the worst thing anyone can do, in the kitchen but also outside of the kitchen, is to act in a rash and precipitous manner. Only in a tiny minority of circumstances is this sort of behavior rewarded. Never slam the pedal to the floor for fear of being late. Nobody looks so foolish as the man chasing after the hat blown off of his head. The day will happily rearrange itself for you.

genealogy of knowledge

None of these recipes sprang from my genius naked and fully-formed. I endeavor to be a cook, not a chef. They had to have come from somewhere, and quite often identifying that genesis is a mundane exercise. Where appropriate, I try to acknowledge accessible sources for my recipes.

However, this is not in all cases possible or preferable. Like many arts and crafts, there is only so much to be gleaned in cookery from books, other people's recipes. True wisdom is more apt to be discovered through experience, or shared between people. There are few things more lovely than cooking with another whom you hold dear. It is like fishing, or gardening. Or sitting quietly listening to a piece of music on the stereo. Even if you accomplish nothing at all, you should feel thankful for having had the opportunity to share time with another.

It is like the Water Rat said, 'there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.' If you are fortunate enough to count among your friends and family people who also enjoy cookery, you really ought to avail yourself of the opportunity to simply mess about in the kitchen with them. It is a wonderful experience even if of no account among the affairs of the wider world. But then, if you were to master cookery and have no one with whom to share a meal, then where would you be?