Monday, May 7, 2007
I love to cook. And considering the incredible variety of cookbooks on the market (as well as fantastic magazines like Delicious) it is clear that I am not alone.
What do I look for in a good cookbook? It should never be too big, or attempt to cram too much information in using fine print. These books are nearly impossible to use, don't tend to have interesting pictures or stories, and probably won't get used as often. The recipes should never be too exotic as to be impossible to find. The recipes should ALWAYS work.
I'll share a personal story about a kind of cookbook that I love. At one point several years ago I was undergoing some major changes in my life, and was staying overnight in the house of my sister-in-law (who happens to be an excellent cook and presents dishes in immaculate ways I will never have the energy or creativity to manage).
I kept waking up what seemed like every few minutes with what felt like terrible anxiety attacks. I could feel them coming on as I was asleep, and woke up terrified each time. The last one was so bad that I didn't dare try to return to sleep straight away. I got up, trying not to disturb anyone, had a shower and got dressed (at 2am), and went out into their living room to try to find something to read. If you have ever tried to do this in a strange house where you don't even know where the light switches are, you will understand that it is a challenge! There on the bench-top amongst a pile of cookbooks was a cookbook by the Two Fat Ladies.
I loved the pictures in this book, and I especially loved the stories both about them and about their food. I had never watched their television show, so I was fascinated - my God, those women have some incredible anecdotes! It calmed me down and distracted me to the point where I managed to return to bed and sleep the rest of the night, possibly dreaming of a couple of middle-aged overweight women chasing pheasants through the countryside, with an old-fashioned hunting rifle in one hand and a pound of butter in the other. (This has never happened to me again. The panic attacks, not the dream!)
I imagine that the connection between stories and good food is much older and deeper than the current trend of celebrity chef cookbooks, and that is probably one reason why we enjoy these books so much. The family gathering around a great feed where we all feel loved, understood and share our lives is something that is important in most cultures, and holds great emotional value to many of us.
If we can't have the old-fashioned feasts any more, we can at least enjoy good recipes and good anecdotes, as well as learning a thing or two from people whose backgrounds are wonderfully different to our own.