When I started blogging about food for MNN more than two years ago, I was only vaguely familiar with Mark Bittman. As I immersed myself in all things sustainable food, I began to notice his name popping up almost weekly, sometimes several times a week.
I became familiar with his New York Times column The Minimalist, and it quickly became a must-read for me. When I was asked to review his book “Food Matters,” I found it to be one of the best and most commonsense books about how to eat consciously that I’d read up to that point. It’s still one of my favorites.
When I bought his cookbook, “How to Cook Everything,” it became the most used cookbook on my shelf. After years of trying all sorts of fancy meatball recipes, I found the perfect, simple one in that cookbook. There are several recipes that I use from that book regularly.
In addition to getting some of my now staple recipes from Bittman, I got a few ideas, too. When I read about his method of mostly eating vegan until 6 p.m., I gave it a try. In the end I found that while I love the idea, it’s difficult for me not to include cheese in my diet earlier in the day. But, based on that experiment, I now rarely eat meat before 6 p.m.
One of his ideas that has stuck with me and my family is the idea of “everything is fair game for breakfast” — that came directly from one of Bittman’s columns two years ago. I was already allowing my children to eat leftovers for breakfast once in a while. After reading his column and doing a week-long experiment, our breakfast choices really opened up. Mornings become much less stressful once grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, and leftover spaghetti became regular breakfast options before school.
Why this ode to Mark Bittman? After over 13 years of writing The Minimalist for The New York Times, he wrote his last column earlier this week. His exit column is a thoughtful look back at the evolution of The Minimalist. The column was so named because the recipes he shared in it used “minimal technique, minimal time or minimal ingredients.”
This exit column made it clear to me why I enjoy his recipes and his ideas so much. He’s got a lot of common sense and practicality when it comes to how the average person needs to look at food and cooking. These words particularly struck a chord with me.
To me the question was not, “Would I cook this as a native would?” but rather, “How would a native cook this if he had my ingredients, my kitchen, my background?” It’s obviously a different dish. But as Jacques Pépin once said to me, you never cook a recipe the same way twice, even if you try. I never maintained that my way of cooking was the “best” way to cook, only that it’s a practical way to cook. (I’m lazy, I’m rushed, and I’m not all that skillful, and many people share those qualities.)
But as his original column comes to an end, I wanted to thank him for sharing his recipes and ideas throughout the years. The food that ends up on my family's table is different and better because of what I've learned from him.
I know I’m not the only one who has l benefited from his words. If you've learned something from Mark Bittman, share it with us in the comment section.