Roger Ebert has not posted online -- not yet, anyway -- the baby photo of him using the potty, which he jokingly referenced during our conversation for this story in today's Food pages. The man has a sense of humor. And bless him for it.
That humor is what makes Ebert's new rice cooker cookbook, The Pot and How to Use It, in stores next week, such a read. It is how a man who can't eat or smell still finds pleasure in cooking.
There are no photos in the book. To call it a cookbook is somewhat a stretch. An essay with a to-hell-with-it-just-experiment-and-you'll-be-ok attitude is more like it.
I'll spoil some of it for you. Here is Ebert, on the Pot's intuitiveness:
"How does the Pot know how long to cook the rice? It is an ancient mystery of the Orient. Don't ask questions you don't need the answers to."
On why you should make your own oatmeal:
"Take a good look at the label on that microwave oatmeal you've been eating. It's probably loaded with salt, corn syrup and palm and coconut oil -- the two deadliest oils on the planet. It's a dangerous travesty of the healthy food it pretends to be. But it's high fiber, you say? Terrific. You can die of a heart attack during a perfect bowel movement."
On using bottled sauces:
"A gourmet cook would never stoop to adding bottles sauce to menus, but I stoop all the time."
You get the idea.
Ebert genuinely believes the rice cooker can be a godsend for college kids and those in tight quarters, but he also knows the rice cooker isn't God. It can't cook a souffle, for instance (though if you've successfully made a souffle in the Pot, let me know!).
If there's one thing Ebert thinks everyone should try in the Pot, it's oatmeal. "Put oatmeal + water + fruit in pot and its ready for you. Prep time 30 seconds. Try it," he wrote on his notepad during our interview. I'm of the oatmeal-with-milk persuasion, but I tried it. And while I have to admit I'm sticking with my own tried-and-true method of cooking oatmeal, I was pleasantly surprised at how other dishes turned out. His book had me half-sauteing, half-steaming onions for a tasty corn chowder, throwing raw chicken in for a no-frills rice dish and spooning out a heavenly scented rice pudding.
It had never occurred to me to cook anything but rice in my rice cooker.
The Pot may be just the thing to get more of us in the kitchen. If Ebert is cooking, shouldn't we all be?