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How To Live Forever

October 28, 2015

In our last post, the cheery thought of the day was, “everybody dies.” Well, I thought that needed a companion piece, just to talk anyone off the ledge.

People seem to be obsessed with healthful diets. Many of them stop just shy of offering eternal youth. But the implication is that if you eat enough kale, you will never get cancer, and you will have vitality well into your advancing years. Kale is just an example, since this dark leafy green was most recently the wunderkind of the produce aisle.

Some experts will tell you to avoid carbs entirely. Others will say the opposite and have a diet that’s rich with whole grains. The Atkins people seem to rise up once every generation. The low-fat diet crowd has been revealed as a complete fraud, and yet its legacy remains. The calorie counters of yore offer a steady drumbeat in the background. I’m loving the call for full-fat grassfed dairy these days, but I know from history that down the road we’ll be shocked at our own naivete.

Eat like the people from the Mediterranean. Drink wine like the French. Consume mass quantities of yogurt like the Russians. Eat fish like the Japanese. Save the earth as you save your health and go vegan.

Well, just last night I realized something important. Everyone has it backwards. The key to living forever is more about cooking than it is about eating.

It all started simply enough with Mrs. Fussy packing her lunch.

This week, I made time to throw an eggplant on that cheap gas grill (which is still running fine, by the way) and bang out a batch of baba. It’s an easy enough thing to do. It’s a charred eggplant, some olive oil, tahini, garlic, salt, and lime. Pretty much you just mix it to taste. So as the missus was licking off the spoon, she said, “You make really good baba.”

I know. But, I can’t take credit for it. In fact, as I was making this batch, I was thinking about R, the Israeli physicist who taught me how to make it in his Princeton kitchen.

Here’s the thing. Every time I make babaganouj I think about R and the first time that he made it for me at a dinner party in his apartment. I remember standing in his office as he shared the PowerPoint presentation he wrote about how to make a proper Israeli babaganouj. I see his face. I picture his smile. I hear his voice. I think of his family.

R isn’t dead. He’s just back in Israel.

There is something incredibly powerful about teaching someone how to cook a favorite dish. It doesn’t have to be anything super complicated, in fact, easier is better. The easier it is, the better the chance that someone will make it again.

Raf taught me how to make Cuban black beans. And he learned from his step-abuela. My mom taught me how to make her signature crunchy chicken, two different ways. My dad had his signature tuna salad. I can’t make a cheese sauce without thinking of my dear Aunt N who blew my mind when I was eleven with this simple combination of butter, flour, milk, and cheese. Until that point I couldn’t imagine it coming from anything else but a packet.

And those whose memories are persistent don’t even need to be close friends or family. I remember Andy, who taught me how to cook mussels. And Jeff, who showed me how to make a sazerac for the very first time. Both were industry professionals, but these were still unforgettable experiences.

Maybe you can ask someone who regularly teaches people how to cook, like Deanna Fox, what it is about the process that makes it so indelible. But there is no arguing its lasting effects.

So here’s my challenge to you. Learn a recipe. Learn it really well. Then teach it to someone. And if you can’t find someone on your own, I volunteer the comments section down below.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2015 10:47 am

    Daniel, as you know, I’ve been putting some of my recipes on my blog. I really enjoy sharing them.

    But I’ve got to tell you, they are the least viewed posts by a long shot. Nobody seems to want to read a recipe post. They’d much rather read about the terrible burger I ate last week.

    • October 28, 2015 7:36 pm

      I WANT to make your biscuits receipe, which looks fantastic. But…I’m cutting down on starchy things, so it’s going to have to be a special occasion. Or maybe I’ll take them to work. In any event, please don’t stop posting them.

      I put some on my blog too, like my chicken livers, but people have different tastes.

  2. -R. permalink
    October 28, 2015 12:59 pm

    “… that cheap gas grill (which is still running fine, by the way)…”

    Give it another year.

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