Three years ago, Peter Miller Architectural and Design Books and Supplies proprietor Peter Miller issued a slim little volume called Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal. It was astonishing, for many reasons, not least because Peter Miller is a design bookshop owner, not a chef. Not professionally anyway.
And, by about page 13, you realized that that was the root of its charms. Miller adores food the way lovers and aesthetes and artists and hungry people adore it: Not as a commodity to be worked with, but as a pleasure to be reveled in. Oh, along the way he snuck in tips and tricks, like the trained chef he actually is, but in the main his advice was a sort of common-sense theology of food—if by common-sense we mean pragmatic and down-to-earth, if by theology we’re talking about the meaning of the thing we adore.
His new book, Five Ways to Cook Asparagus: The Art and Practice of Making Dinner, celebrates all the very same, only the ways they happen later in the day. Consider this little moment, from his preface on apples:
There is a lot going on, to serve a simple fruit with cheese, with many small decisions made, quietly and unnoticed, before you serve the plates. You have presented a piece of fruit that has in all likelihood been on a long journey already. You did not bake or smear or glaze it—you brought it out, all by itself, unadorned, the implication: here, a good piece of fruit. If you do it well, give yourself credit. It is a great honor, and a true antidote to a world increasingly trying to ignore its seasons and its very own nature. You have slowed the many false clocks and taken a moment for your own. Bravo.
Miller inclines toward seasonality, freshness, simplicity, and lingering; his very prose takes you back to your fondest memories of leisurely meals prepared with deepest care by people who love you. His recipes do, too: a compendium of his favorite ingredients, each prepared in five different ways. Lentils, dressed with croutons and fresh parmesan, as soup with rice and hot Italian sausage, on pita bread with hummous and avocado, and so on. Asparagus, simply grilled, sautéed with tomatoes and hot pepper, chopped into pasta...and more.
This isn’t food to shock or surprise you; this is classic pairings, simple statements, done beautifully. In short: the cooking method most of us wish we could muster round about 6:30pm on a weeknight.
For a certain kind of woman, there could be no better Mother’s Day gift.