By Stuart Mitchner
This Book Scene began with lunch at cookbook legends Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer’s newly opened Canal House Station restaurant in Milford, N.J.
At the time, all I knew about the Canal House series was what I heard from my wife on the drive up. According to an August 12 article in Food and Wine, the “meticulous restoration” of the Milford station took about two years, with the result evoking “the warmth of a dear friend’s home…. Even the entrance, past the small garden and through a back door, contributes to the familiar sensibility the brand new restaurant has already managed to create.”
I understood “familiar sensibility” as a way of describing the quality that has made the Canal House books so popular, an idea that accords with the Cambridge English Dictionary definition of sensibility as “an understanding of or ability to decide about what is good or valuable, especially in connection with social activities.”
Poetry Up Front
I found the “familiar sensibility” in evidence as soon as I opened my wife’s prized copy of Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews McMeel $45) to a photograph and a poem that would seem to have more to do with what is “good and valuable” than with cooking. The first image you see after turning the title and dedication pages is a blurry vision of blue sky and cloud mass photographed through the window of a plane en route to Istanbul; taking up the facing page is C.P. Cavafy’s poem “Ithaca,” which begins, “When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,/pray that the road is long,/full of adventure, full of knowledge” and ends “Wise as you have become, with so much experience,/you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.”
As someone whose heart has never soared at the sight of a cookbook, I was more impressed by the association of cooking with a “beautiful voyage” than with any of the celebrity testimonials on the endpapers, except perhaps the tribute to “this kitchen bible” from actress Jamie Lee Curtis, a Canal House devotee who, like me, is not a “foodie” and admits to “no discernible culinary talent.” In fairness to Jamie Lee, the resemblance is strictly superficial; she cooks every day for “lots of people” and I’m a back-up cook, occasional sous chef, grater of cheese, composer of salads, and cleaner-upper. more