The Tao of Cooking, The Way of Cooks

Cultivating a Love of Local and Seasonal Foods

~by Anne Clemmer

ImageAuthor Anne Clemmer shares a recipe from her neighbor, who remembers The Tao restaurant – a beloved Bloomington institution celebrated in a new reprint of a classic cookbook.
Meeting my new neighbor has been one of the joys of moving earlier this spring. We like to chat when we both end up outside on a nice day. My dog likes to visit with him too. He (the dog) nestles his head into my neighbor to beg for rubs when Scott is out working in his garden. I've seen that dog leap the four foot retaining wall between our yards, like something out of an episode of Underdog, just to get rubs from my neighbor. And the dog is right: it's good to have neighbors. Especially neighbors who like to garden and cook!
Scott gave me some rhubarb not too long ago. I enjoyed making it into a tangy sauce and serving it over fresh red berries, like whole raspberries or sliced strawberries, and even halved fresh cherries. It's quite a treat. Rhubarb is a bit tart and it befriends these sweet and sweet-tart fruits well. A little fresh whipped cream with honey folded in is just the ticket to top off this simple and fabulous dessert.
Many people like to put rhubarb in pies. This is a good thing, especially for those who can make a good pie crust. My experience making pie crust runs the gamut from "edible" to "disastrous", with the worst experience being the time I had to saw the pie to cut it and found myself wishing for protective eyewear as pie crust shrapnel flew at my astonished dinner guests. 
I'm more of a cook than a baker. Baking requires a certain type of patience and an exactness of chemistry (well-measured ingredients, just-right heat, exact timing). Cooking allows a lot more freedom, or at least my experiments with cooking have always been more forgiving to me than my experiments with baking. I don't follow recipes. I glean ideas from them, but if I attempt to follow a recipe, the result is not as good as if I just follow my instincts and tune-in to the ingredients laid out before me. 
I always try to get to know my ingredients. What their qualities are, who their "friends" are (the other ingredients that compliment them well), and if they prefer to be served raw or cooked, for instance. This requires a bit of imagination as well as an understanding of plants, where they grow and what they are good for.
When my neighbor gave me the rhubarb, I mentioned to him my love of strawberry-rhubarb pie, which my Grandma Clemmer used to make in the summertime and pull from her fridge like magic whenever I visited. She called it "strawbarb" pie and it was heaven served with a glass of cold milk on a hot summer day. To my surprise, my neighbor then told me about his own recipe for strawberry-rhubarb pie, which is featured in the book The Tao of Cooking! This news was exciting to me because I work for Indiana University Press part-time and we just finished a new, beautiful printing of the vegetarian classic, which contains recipes hailing from The Tao restaurant, a favorite restaurant located in Bloomington many moons ago. Apparently, my neighbor had spent a bit of time with the folks who ran The Tao and swapped recipes with them on occasion. 
Now that the book is out, I plan to pick up a copy so that I can make a pie using my neighbor's recipe, and his rhubarb. I can't think of a nicer thing to pull out of my fridge on a hot summer day than a perfect strawbarb pie with a little coarse sugar sparkling on the top of the perfect crust. I might have to ask Grandma to help me with the crust.
Anne Clemmer is a member of the co-op who works at Indiana University Press. She is also a certified massage therapist. Anne enjoys cooking, gardening, and walking her two friendly dogs.