Kay's Reviews > The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker

The Pot and How to Use It by Roger Ebert
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Feb 09, 11

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bookshelves: food_wine, health, nonfiction
Read from February 08 to 09, 2011

"We don't want no stinking cookbooks."

This quote from Roger Ebert's witty, irreverent guidebook illustrates his no-nonsense approach to cooking, using the simplest of tools (the rice pot) and ingredients (brown rice, oatmeal, beans and such, enhanced by a few "secret ingredients"). This approach is far from refined or pretentious. It is, in fact, the antithesis of pretension. Ebert's opening salvo states, "This is a little book for people who would like to be able to prepare meals simply and quickly in a very limited amount of space -- not even necessarily in a kitchen." He then waxes poetic, imagining his readership:

"I am thinking of you, student in your dorm room You, solitary writer, artist, musician, potter, plumber, builder, hermit. You with a corner of your desk or table free. You, parents on tight schedules with kids.... You, teenager home alone. You, rabbi, pastor, priest, nun, waitress, community organizer, nurse, starving actor, taxi driver, long-haul driver. Yes, even you."

When I bought the book, I fell into the space-challenged category. I was planning a somewhat extended stay in Honolulu, and I figured I could save major bucks by preparing simple and healthy meals in my studio hotel room. As chance would have it, I was upgraded to a studio with a kitchenette; I had no need to rely on a rice cooker alone. Still, I found the book so utterly charming and practical that I read it straight through and promised myself that I'd put the "pot" through its paces on my next road trip, especially as I have a deplorable tendency to fall back upon junk food whenever I'm on the road. (The pot to the rescue!)

The Pot and How to Use it is quite short, a scant hundred pages including some ten pages dedicated to chapter titles alone. In fact, the sections actually written by Ebert are too short, by my lights -- a mere 50 pages or so, followed by another 50 pages of comments from readers of Ebert's popular online blog and a handful of recipes, mostly contributed by readers as well.

However, it's abundantly clear that Ebert, who by a cruel slap of fate cannot actually eat -- he receives all his nutrition by stomach tube since losing his jaw and voice to thyroid cancer four years ago -- has not lost his trademark candor and sense of humor. It's first noticeable in the subtitle of the book: "The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker." Who, but Ebert, would have come up with that phrase? No one! The titles of the short chapters, too, are pure Ebert: "Your Soups," "Your Sauces," "Your Herbs and Spices."

Ebert on sauces: "A gourmet cook would never stoop to adding bottled sauces to menus, but I stoop all the time."

Ebert on using a rice cooker: "Whatever your gender, you will do this like a man, by refusing to read the instructions."

Ebert on cooking oils: "Always use oils very sparingly. Even my pals at Pritikin say you can use a little olive oil. That means a little, Chef Boyardee."

Chef Boyardee! He cracks me up.

If I have one criticism (and it's a biggie), it's that there is too little Ebert in this slim paperback and too damn much of his fans -- those blog-submitted comments and recipes are not exactly inspired. Not to mention that there are two prefaces -- why both an intro and a forward? Sheer padding! At $14.99, the book is an expensive proposition for what amounts to an extended essay.

My advice, and I'm sure, in his practical heart-of-hearts that Ebert would have to agree, is to go to the library. Check out and read The Pot and How to Use It. Then return the book, so that the wisdom of Ebert can be passed down through the ages.
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