A Platter is Not a Recipe

I sat down the other morning—actually I snuggled into bed because it was an L.A. version of bitter cold (35 degrees)—with David Tanis’ book, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, fully expecting to be annoyed by it. The still life on the cover seemed a bit self serious (there were the figs, alone on a platter, speaking for themselves), plus, as much as I love Chez Panisse and everything the restaurant stands for, I thought: Do we really need another Chez Panisse cookbook? But mostly, there was that title: A Platter of Figs: And Other Recipes. I get that Tanis was trying to be poetic, but it didn’t work for me. It felt cutesy, like in yoga when they say that shavasana (which consists of lying flat on your back and doing everything you can to… relax) is the hardest pose there is. I always think: Really? Have you ever tried putting your leg behind your ear? The point I am trying to make is that a platter of figs is not a recipe. I suppose Tanis’ editor had the same problem with the poetic title because Tanis explains himself on the first page, something about how he knows it’s not a recipe but that this is the whole point, the figs are that good—but then inside the book, he uses the figs in, like recipes. Still, given the bias, I loved the book. I mean i LOVED the book. I think it is the best cookbook I have ever read. It’s not that I couldn’t put it down: I didn’t want to put it down. I read every bit of text outside of the recipes and some of the recipes too. Read it cover to cover. Like a, a, a… book.

A Platter of Figs was a revelation not the least of which reason is because Tanis starts off by telling people not to eat in restaurants. On occasion, when you’re dining with two or four people, sure. But he goes on for a couple of pages about how great it is to eat at home. Remember eating at home? Oh, yeah. Home! It’s comfortable. You have the table all night, he points out. And you don’t even have to go anywhere.

The fact that the book is a best seller gives me hope. He tells people to put food on platters and have friends over and sit down at a table and eat at home and people are buying this book. Could it be? Now that the country’s finances have gone to hell in a hand basket, people might actually go home and sit down to a dinner that they didn’t dump out of a take-out container? My heart is warmed. And the soup is too (Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato).

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