Most of you guys know that The Beloved and I have bought The Most Beautiful House in the World. We are thrilled, but Concessions have been made. We’re trying to get all the knick-knacks and smaller items packed up early so we can be all Organized (guess whose idea this is) and Ready to Go. Guess what counts as smaller items? Books, people. The Beloved has packed up all of his paperbacks and hardbacks, and I have packed away The Cookbooks. Gasp! I know, right?! Now, I rarely bust out the cookbooks when I’m planning dinner, but I do take them down for research purposes, or just to drool over a few lovely pictures.
I must say, though, that I generally zero in on just a few of my cookbook friends. Although I’ve read them all through once, many of my books have remained merely polite acquaintances, and that’s kind of sad. So, as I was packing them all away yesterday, I actually looked at each and every one. I didn’t open them–I had a ton to pack–but I did look at the covers to just remind myself what I have.
Here are some of my acquaintances that I intend to make my friends, as soon as I liberate them from their temporary cardboard Conexes:
Baking by Flavor, by Lisa Yockelson
I found this book in the library at culinary school, and I immediately went home and ordered it. Recipes are arranged by, you guessed it, flavor profile: citrus, butter, caramel, vanilla, spice, chocolate, coconut, etc. That’s great and all, but what I love about what Yockelson does is that she talks about layering each flavor in multiple ways. All of a sudden, you can go from being dependent on Great Aunt Sadie’s recipe for crumb cake to riffing on it by layering the major flavors in multiple ways. (I’m a little sorry about using the word riffing here. I admit it: I shamelessly watch American Idol). I’m sorry for ignoring you B by F; I will see you soon.
Maida Heatter’s Cakes, by, well, Maida Heatter
Maida Heatter is really the Queen of American Cakes. I’m sorry, RLB, I love you, but Maida was around before you were a gleam in your parents’ eyes. Maida is not only a fabulous baker; she is also a wonderful teacher. Heard of Palm Beach Brownies? Hers. Bull’s Eye Cheesecake? Hers. If you look at the Bull’s Eye Cheesecake recipe, it comes straight from her book, so if you don’t know her, you can get a feel for her style. I think she rocks. Rest up, MHC, rest up.
How to Cook Without A Book, by Pam Anderson (I’m pretty sure this Pam Anderson has never been married to Tommy Lee) This is the book that really helped to liberate me from recipes. Really. Everything from Salads to Soups to Sautes to Sides. Not all of the chapters start with S, just so you know. She teaches a technique or series of techniques and gives you permission to use it Whenever you Want. I make pan sauce using her easy method at least once or twice a week.
There are others in there: Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Jacques Torres. Marsha Adams (one of my PBS faves from the early 90s), Ming Tsai, Rose Levy Beranbaum. Tom Colicchio and Mark Bittman share space on my shelf with Rick Bayless, Frank Stitt, Paco Torreblanco. Madhur Jaffrey hangs out with the folks from the Moosewood Lodge, and Nigella is chums with Jamie. I even have a Wiccan or two on the shelf, but they are kept in check by the trusty knights of King Arthur’s round table (see, I told you I don’t hate King Arthur). Shirley Corriher and Alton Brown talk science in the corner while Sylvia Weinstock and Tombi Peck discuss the finer points of making gumpaste flowers. Over there by the window are all the ladies from the Junior League. A little cookbook from the inn where we got married hangs out with them. Even Emeril is there, but I think he’s a little drunk and bitter. I told Vincent not to make him any more martinis.
Right now, they are quiet like birds in covered cages. I might not cook from them much anymore, but they are there for inspiration, for reading in the evenings, for reminding me that I am never alone in the kitchen. I carry the collective wisdom of cooks who have come before me. Some of their secrets were freely given; some I had to pry out of reluctant jaws. For me, though, I don’t have secrets to keep. I have knowledge to share. I don’t know it all, but I do know rather a lot, thanks in no small part to my boxed up friends. And when I remove them from their boxes and replace them on their shelves, I expect that they will sing.