I write about food for a living. Because of this, I spend more time than the average American surrounded by cooking advice and recipes. I’m also a mother, which means more often than not, when I return from work 15 minutes before bedtime, I end up feeding my 1-year-old son squares of peanut-butter toast because there was nothing in the fridge capable of being transformed into a wholesome, homemade toddler meal in a matter of minutes. Every day, when I head to my office after a nourishing breakfast of smashed blueberries or oatmeal I found stuck to the pan, and open a glossy new cookbook, check my RSS feed, or page through a stack of magazines, I’m confronted by an impenetrable wall of unimaginable cooking projects, just sitting there pretending to be totally reasonable meals. Homemade beef barbacoa tacos. Short-rib potpie. “Weekday” French toast. Make-ahead coconut cake. They might as well be skyscraper blueprints, so improbable is the possibility that I will begin making my own nut butters, baking my own sandwich bread, or turning that fall farmer’s market bounty into jars of homemade applesauce.
The disorienting part in all this is that so many of these recipes carry promises of speed and ease. Amazon’s “quick and easy” section is 8,000 titles strong; The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is a bestseller. Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything empire, launched in 1998, was updated last year with How to Cook Everything Fast. Jamie Oliver published a book of 30-minute meals in 2011, but has more recently shaved the time commitment down to 15. Just yesterday I read about a new cookbook from the editors of Lucky Peach magazine called 101 Easy Asian Recipes, filled no doubt with obscure sauces and vegetables that I have absolutely no hope of finding at the Pioneer supermarket on the corner. Everywhere, there are magazine features proclaiming that making and freezing my own chicken stock is a “no-brainer”; homemade Calabrian chili oil is an “easy” way to add big flavor; the secret to making effortless breakfast granola is to simply do it in big batches.