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26 December 2011

The Joy of Reading Cookbooks

I have found myself reading cookbooks for the last two weeks.  Some of the recipes I am considering are new but most are along the lines of my favorite holiday treats.  My cookbooks are international: American, British, Dutch, South American, Italian, Japanese...these are books I look at and cook from regularly.  I also have a folder full of scraps of papers, printouts and notes on backs of envelopes.  This year's menu includes truffled honey, pheasant and a traditional English Christmas cake with a Chilean twist.

Honestly though, I find great pleasure in just reading recipes and letting my foodie imagination run (directly to my expanding waist line).  Sometimes recipes bring back memories the way only tastes and smells do.  Photographs don't capture a moment the way the menu does.  The last few years, my daughter has been in charge of designing and printing the menu for our guests.  I keep a copy for myself; it is one of the few ways I can re-experience, to a certain extent, meals past.  Food, like music is ephemeral, easy to get wrong and nearly impossible to reproduce when perfect.

Books, especially cook books, can build character over time as you experience and develop your own tastes.  Sometimes, I spend more time reminiscing than looking for a recipe.  I love books that tell me a story because I have experienced something akin; the old cliche: "I can relate to it."  But, this preference is by nature limiting. I do not want to experience the horrors of an addiction (regardless of how entertaining the book is) and I cannot experience Middle Earth outside the books.  Cook books, on the other hand, are by definition manuals of a most personal kind.  These adventures are meant to be experienced, savored and shared.  As your own character grows and, I hope, your palate, cook books offer not only nourishment but love, adventure, risk (ever made an hollandaise?), sex, laughter and even tragedy (when the souffl√© drops).  Moreover, these manuals engage so many senses even if only in your imagination.  A risotto prepared with champagne and truffles is from the moment you scan the ingredients already a promise of a life lived without limits; the moment you taste it, a promise fulfilled and in your own home.

I have received cook books as gifts and bought my own.  I enjoy them like I do Murakami.  I read them from beginning to end fascinated with the imagination and magic available to us mortals.  Cook books can bring back to life your grandmother and her wonderful soups.  And if your childhood was not so blessed, cook books are the manuals to a blessed future.

Paradise is not only peace and pleasant harps in the background but smells and textures too.  Ever had lamb in a rose petal curry?  Cook books are the manuals to heaven on Earth, provided, of course, you cook with love. 

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