My Life in (Cook)Books

I can’t fight with the heat anymore, and the overwhelming sense of futility in the face of my current task: organizing and boxing my cookbooks.


Yes, I'm supposed to be moving right now.  I'm also supposed to be writing recipes for three different projects, and getting ready for two catering events.  But I can't fight with the heat anymore, and the overwhelming sense of futility in the face of my current task: organizing and boxing my cookbooks.  I can't finish this project because I need to hold and coo and flip through my beloved collection.  Moving always makes me feel displaced, but my books have always helped me to reconnect.

Packing Time!

I still have my last employee purchase from Williams-Sonoma, a copy of Food Lovers' Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst.  I cannot part with it, though it's fifteen years out of date and really worn.  It is adorned with a golden WS sticker and signed by my coworkers.  I bought it as a memento,since I was leaving home the next day for Seattle to attend culinary school.  Like a babe walking into the jaws of death, but hey-I had something good to read while being digested. 

I also can't part with my mother's copy of Elizabeth David's French Provencal Cooking, which floats around the bookshelf in three sections.  The middle section begins with a recipe for Quiche Lorraine and ends with a recipe for Beef Daube, which were mom's favorites.  This naked little clutch of pages often falls off the shelf when I'm rifling through and the same phrase on the last page always catches my eye: "O, scent of the daubes of my childhood!", a quote which David has taken from another cookbook to introduce the chapter on stews.  It is from Pierre Huguenin's Les Meilleures Recettes de Ma Pauvre MereMy own mother has underscored once and twice several sections of the following recipe for La Daube De Boeuf Provencale (unsmoked streaky bacon, orange peel, 290 F.).  And oh, the scent of that daube from my childhood!  It's pushing 100 F. right now in this house, but all I want is some bone-warming stew and ma pauvre mere.  

I've never organized these books, and I remember why as I'm trying to sort them out.  Where does Waverly Root's The Food Of Italy go?  Reference/history, or Italian cookbooks, or next to the collection of cookbooks by douchy chef-authors who have issues with women in the food industry?  Does Recipes for a Small Planet go in the local, sustainable section, or vegetarian/vegan, or do I relegate it to my "books of personal historical interest", because honestly, the recipes from this 35-year-old book will never be recreated by this hand, I swear on all things holy?

There are the utterly weird items that I can't sort at all-why DO I have a book called Dracula's Cookbook of Blood?  Um, whatever.  I'll pack it between The Romanian Cookbook and Death in the Pot: The Impact of Food Poisoning on History.  There are the copies of Food and Wine, Saveur, Food Arts, Gourmet, Plate, Cooks' Illustrated and a milliontythousand other magazines, those wire coat hangers of the bookshelf world.  I must keep them though, because I must keep them. 

One favorite book actually sits in a display stand on a shelf with a picture showing.  I change it every season as a dorky homage to the librarian in the Salt Lake City library who turned to a new page of the James Audubon Illustrated Book of Birds every day, the book on display under glass in the restricted section.  Thanks librarian, whoever you were. 

The Victory Binding of the American Woman's Cookbook-Wartime Edition

These books are really for the sake of comfort, I guess. I have three shelves of stuff that I haven't really looked at in ages but it would kill me to give up.  The cookbooks on the nightstand, however, I will kill to defend.  Right now, Judith Jones's Tenth Muse and  Herve This's Kitchen Mysteries are dividing my time, and both of them have a common inspiration: the Culinary Philosopher Jean-Anselme Brilliat-Savarin.  The Physiology of Taste is an absolute treasure to me, reading it the first time I felt a kindred spirit speaking to me about the things in this world that I loved.  Seriously, its subtitle (or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy) shouts to me: Food Geeks, You can Sit at This Table."  That, and Alan Davidson's Oxford Companion to Food, are proof positive that there are people in the world who want me to cook and think and be happy.  Ah, and so off I go again, my mind and heart fed and my stomach never left wanting for thrills.

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