I'm a horrible planner. When I actually make a grocery list (likely scribbled on the envelope of an overdue bill), I am sure to lose it in the depths of my purse, only to find it after I've been wandering around the grocery store and have already amassed a shopping basket straight out of Hodgepodge Lodge. At this point, whatever meal I "planned" is abandoned in favor of whatever slab of protein and vegetables have captivated my hungry and easily distracted eye.

I like to tell myself that this method of shopping has less to do with a lack of organization than the influence of Alice Waters. Ever since Waters's cookbook Chez Panisse Vegetables entered my life, things in my kitchen have vastly improved. I can pick up anything—a fennel bulb, some beets, a head of cabbage, a few shallots—and know that when I get home, Waters will be there to school me on the history of the vegetable and how best it grows, and offer a few simple recipes to play with and personalize. Her philosophy—that "good food depends almost entirely on good ingredients"—is one of the most important, inspiring, and liberating ideas anyone can incorporate into their cooking. Also, Patricia Curtan's accompanying vegetable prints (the morel mushroom one is my favorite) make this the most beautiful cookbook on the planet.