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Just across the Delaware River from New Hope, in Lambertville, N.J., Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer have established Canal House, “a studio, workshop, dining room, office, kitchen, lair, lab, and atelier devoted to good ideas and good work relating to the world of food,” as they describe it in an email to City Paper.
For the past three years, the two women (yes, Christopher is a woman) have been self-publishing a series of gorgeous cookbooks titled Canal House Cooking. Each themed volume is full of beautiful photos, hand-painted illustrations and recipes that convey a real sense of ease. And it’s this attitude that makes the Canal House series so appealing. When asked for advice to calm the nerves of anxious cooks, Hamilton and Hirsheimer respond with this sage advice: “If something goes wrong, keep on cooking, don’t get upset, just keep on cooking. It’ll be all right. If all goes wrong, order in Chinese.”
Of course, it’s easy to relax in the kitchen at Canal House, where summer days are spent potting herbs and tending to tomatoes, winter ones are warmed by a Franklin stove, and there’s always music playing in the kitchen. Hamilton and Hirsheimer cook together every day, shooting photos and designing recipes for their cookbooks, but at midday the two take a break, setting the table and enjoying a lunch together that is never rushed.
The latest volume of Canal House Cooking is devoted to all things Italian, with recipes born in a Tuscan farmhouse that Hamilton and Hirsheimer rented. The recipes retain that wonderful Italian simplicity: ricotta gnocchi in a simple tomato sauce, sausage roasted with apples, Vin Santo-poached pears.
Publishing at the end of the month, Hamilton’s and Hirsheimer’s next collection is Canal House Cooks Every Day (Andrews-McMeel), a handsome red volume filled with 250 recipes inspired by the ladies’ daily lunch ritual. And although the cookbook is on a much larger scale than the demure volumes of Canal House Cooking, it is, according to Hamilton and Hirsheimer, “home cooking at its best — by home cooks, for home cooks — and it’s pure Canal House.”