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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Cookbook cues: Canal House Cooking No. 4 by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer

A while back, my friend Sue started wearing peasant blouses and long gauzy skirts. "I'm hoping if I start dressing like a hippie chick, I'll start feeling more like a hippie chick," she told me, eager to jettison what she thought of as a provincial, suburban Milwaukee value system. Eventually she quit her job teaching English and became a full-time potter. So I guess it worked.

That theory of transformation popped into my mind as I eagerly flipped through the latest installment of Canal House Cooking, a new, thrice-yearly magazine. I thought that if I started cooking recipes from Canal House, simple, fresh, beautiful dishes, maybe I would feel more like the kind of person who has a simple, well-designed life, and less like someone who has an emergency box of Gorton's fish fillets in the freezer.

I'm convinced this is what's behind magazines like Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple -- improvement by osmosis -- and Canal House's cook/creative team, Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer, have worked at Metropolitan Home, Saveur and Martha Stewart. Canal House is minus the raffia and the scrapbooking aspect, though; the focus is solely on food and cooking and is intoxicating. The magazine is much more like a book, although it is magazine-like in that it is an invitation to browse, fun even if you never haul a pan or a pot out of the cupboard.

"Canal House Cooking is home cooking by home cooks for home cooks," the authors write in the introduction. "The everyday practice of simple cooking and enjoyment of eating are two of the greatest pleasures in life." This fourth issue of the magazine is devoted to the market, "Farm stands, roadside tables and the garden." The arrangement is chronological through a meal, starting with beverages and appetizers, winding up with main dishes, dessert and finally a few words on putting food by.

Some recipes have an old-fashioned return-to-Grandma's-garden quality, like tomato-cucumber water, which can also be made into an aspic. Others have a more modern twist, like panko fried chicken. I liked the straightforward berry cobbler recipe and the granita formula. While the New York Times was telling me how to make shaved ice with a $50 machine that Amazon was already sold out of, Canal House suggested essentially the same cold treat made by stirring a pan of freezing juice with a fork.

I'm also working my way through a list of suggestions for "simple summer vegetables" from beets to zucchini and waiting eagerly for the tomatoes in the garden to ripen so I can give the section "The Big Reds" a whirl.

Negatives? Well, for a midwesterner, some of the seafood suggestions are impractical (e.g. oysters). And a recipe index would be nice -- even magazines usually have one. However, I liked issue No. 4 so much I sent away for back issues of 2 (fall and the holidays) and 3 (more of an early spring focus, with recipes for roasted root veggies, spring onions and sorrel sauce). The debut issue is sold out.

The series is a from-scratch publishing venture from Hamilton and Hirsheimer, who had the conviction to start an lavish upscale mag when conventional wisdom would have suggested perhaps a blog.

Canal House Cooking is available online via Paypal. Individual issues are $19.95; a yearly subscription for three issues is $39.95.

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