Welcome to the Canal House—our studio, workshop, dining room, office, kitchen, lair, lab, and atelier devoted to good ideas and good work relating to the world of food. We write, photograph, design, and paint, but in our hearts we both think of ourselves as cooks first.
How did we get here? Neither of us set out to make careers in the food world. Actually there wasn’t much of a “foodie” world when we both started. But our deep interests led us down paths that unfolded in front of us. We had worked with each other as food editors in the magazine world. We traveled the globe in search of essential and authentic recipes, sliding into banquettes in famous restaurants, meeting big deal chefs, and even cooking in far-flung home kitchens. It was great and exciting. But our work took us both away from our families, our homes, and our gardens, away from what really matters, after all. We live in little towns across the river from each other, one in New Jersey, the other in Pennsylvania. So we decided to join forces. We share similar backgrounds, having grown up in big families where food came first. In a time that seems like a million years ago now, our aproned grandmothers nurtured us with wholesome, comforting food—buttermilk pancakes drenched in salty butter and maple syrup. Our mothers were glamorous. They loved parties and cocktails and restaurants and brunch with Bloody Marys—food was exciting. Last night’s Chinese “takeout” would show up at breakfast reheated with two poached eggs on top. Both of us have deep food memories and large legacies to uphold. We found our loft studio in an old redbrick warehouse downriver from where we live. A beautiful lazy canal runs alongside the building. One hundred years ago, mules plodding along the tow path hauled provision-ladened barges up and down the state. In warm weather, we throw open the French doors and the voices of the people walking or fishing below float up to us. We plant herbs in our window boxes and grow tomatoes in pots on our wrought-iron balcony. In the winter we build fires in the Franklin wood stove to keep cozy when its snowy and gray outside. The Canal House has a simple galley kitchen. Two small “apartmentsize” stoves sit snugly side by side against a white tiled wall. An old wooden carpenter’s worktable with a little sink at one end is our long counter and pots hang from a rack suspended above it. We have a dishwasher, but we find ourselves preferring to hand wash the dishes so we can look out of the tall window next to the sink and see the ducks swimming in the canal or watch the raindrops splashing into the water. The town around us is a small American river town. A noon whistle still blows and church bells chime—no kidding! There is a drug store around the corner. Across the street is an old hardware store, and the best bar in the world is right down the alley. And every day we cook. Starting the morning with coffee or cups of sweet milky tea, we tell each other what we made for dinner the night before. In the middle of the day we stop our work, set the table simply with paper napkins, and have lunch. We cook seasonally because that’s what makes sense. We want stews and braises and rich thick soups in February when it’s snowing and blowing. In mid-summer, we buy boxes of tomatoes to dress as minimally as we do in the heat. And in the height of the season, we preserve all that we can, so as to save a taste of summer. So it came naturally to write down what we cook. The recipes in this book are what we make for ourselves all summer long. If you cook your way through a few, you’ll see that who we are comes right through in these pages: that we are crazy for melons in late summer, that we love to cook big paellas outdoors over a fire for a crowd of friends, that we make jarfuls of teriyaki sauce for slathering on roasted chicken, and tubs of homemade ice cream for our families. Canal House Cooking Volume n°1 is our first effort. It is a collection of our favorite summer recipes—home cooking by home cooks for home cooks. With a few exceptions, we use ingredients that are readily available and found in most markets in most towns throughout the United States. All the recipes are easy to prepare (some of them a bit more involved), all completely doable for the novice and experienced cook alike. We want to share with you as fellow cooks, our love of food and all its rituals. The everyday practice of simple cooking and the enjoyment of eating are two of the greatest pleasures in life.
Christopher & Melissa