I fondly recall driving to Laguna Hills as a child to visit my father’s cousin, Teta Ivka, and watching as she effortlessly prepared dinner in her small condo kitchen. Mostly I remember the bookshelf in her kitchen. I envied that bookshelf. It was about six feet tall and about three or four feet wide and contained nothing but cookbooks. I vowed that one day I, too, would have a collection such as hers, not merely for the recipes but for the sheer beauty of the books themselves – the photographs, stories, the inspiration to create. If you ask my husband, he would tell you that I already have such a collection, but I beg to differ.
At that time, I must have had no more than ten or so cookbooks in addition to magazine subscriptions to both Bon Appetit and Gourmet, as well as a few Fine Cooking magazines. As time progressed though, I slowly started adding one interesting book after another as I perused various bookstores. I would find myself in front of the cookbook section of a bookstore grabbing book after book and instinctively flipping to the back to take a look at the dessert recipes (why are desserts listed last?) since my preference was, and will always be, baking. If there were plenty of pretty photos and interesting recipes, I would purchase the book. That was back in the 80s and early 90s when physical bookstores were the only way to purchase books. Nowadays, I take advantage of the Internet and purchase almost all of my books online - merely for the cost savings (which means I can buy more books), but I still love the physical bookstore and hope that they will not become obsolete. There is just something about being able to wander the aisles and to hold the book in your hands and flip through the pages.
There was a period of over ten years during which I seemed to have lost an interest in both cooking and baking. My cookbooks stayed in plastic storage boxes, never to be taken out after each move to another place of residence, and food became a means to an end. I also stopped visiting bookstores and rarely purchased any cookbooks or magazines (one could say I'm making up for that now). For the most part, I found cooking burdensome - particularly when I had no idea what to make with the ingredients I had on hand and thinking that you had to follow a recipe to the letter. My interest in taking the time to prepare food waned as did any desire to spend any significant time in the kitchen. It was only recently that I’ve rediscovered my love of being back in the kitchen...of cooking for the pleasure of it, rather than for mere survival, and experimenting with various ingredients and techniques which is leading to a much larger collection of my own recipes which I hope to one day develop into a cookbook. My children are at a perfect age to start helping and learning how to prepare healthy meals, including the fun and tasty desserts.
In the past year, I’ve spent many hours poring over reader reviews and deciding on the next new cookbook to purchase. In general, I tend to shy away from the current trends, preferring books that contain recipes which will stand the test of time. During that initial research, I’ve come to discover many talented individuals through their blogs and cookbooks and have recently added a list of my favorites here in the sidebar - a list which will no doubt be expanding as my renewed interest in the kitchen is brought on by the inspiration that abounds.
While I was writing this post, I couldn't help but buy a few more books. Among them are Tamar Adler's book An Everlasting Meal - a translation of M. F. K. Fisher's book How to Cook a Wolf for the modern age, and Pam Anderson's Cook without a Book: Meatless Meals: Recipes and Techniques for Part-Time and Full-Time Vegetarians.
In the end, it’s not so much the quantity of books I’m looking to acquire as much as the ability to learn to use anything I happen to have on hand in order to create healthy and tasty meals for my family. Nurturing our children’s budding tastes at such a young age, involving them in the kitchen, and teaching them to be self-sufficient is one of the best gifts we can give them.
"Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working" ~ Pablo Picasso