Good morning. “Manual competence” is the ideal Matthew Crawford speaks up for in his excellent 2010 book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Iinto the Value of Work.” Crawford’s a mechanic and a philosopher. He has no truck with craftsmanship or artistry. He speaks instead for the importance of trade work — “work that is meaningful because it is genuinely useful,” he writes. He finds that work engaging intellectually, and he finds in it an argument that celebrates responsibility and personal agency. (He’s a philosopher, remember.)
I think that’s right, and I think it’s right about cooking especially. The work that we do in the kitchen is at its best an exhibition of manual competence — making bread dough or flipping omelets or dicing carrots — and a salute to the responsibility we take on in feeding ourselves and our families. There’s no question it’s good to be able to work with your hands to make something useful like dinner. And it is meaningful, too, both for you and those you serve.
So practice and learn, if you haven’t already. Learn to roast chicken. Learn how to make pancakes and how to make perfect rice. Learn how to grill. Manual competence in the kitchen will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
And if you’re a scratch cook already? Cook something new. I like this ginger-lime chicken number, for instance. And this tomato and peach salad with whipped goat cheese (above) as well. Make pork schnitzel with quick pickles, and you’ll end up schnitzeling everything, pickling everything, too.
I hope you’ll make shakshuka with feta at some point soon, and wild salmon with green sauce as well. Take those zucchinis from the farmers’ market, make them into olive oil zucchini bread. Take the early corn and make shrimp linguine with herbs, corn and arugula.
This is all labor, but still some distance from digging ditches. You can even have a cocktail while you work, as with this recipe for pasta with chickpeas and a Negroni.
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Now, it’s nothing to do with preserving peaches or grilling tautog, but Joe Coscarelli’s latest “Diary of a Song,” featuring Phoebe Bridgers and “Kyoto,” is a master class in new-format journalism, and really fascinating to boot. And while you’re at it, here’s “I Know the End,” which features the primal scream Bridgers talks about in Joe’s story.