Saturday, January 6, 2018

Cookbooks again

Up at a reasonable hour to make a latte, then climbed back under the covers to read A Tuner of Silences, the book club novel about a kid in Mozambique hiding from war with his family of men. Made it to 106 and it's not a long book. It moves along but doesn't enchant so far.

I got up and made pastry for pie from Dorie Greenspan's Baking book, the one with 2.5 sticks of butter and 1/3 cup veg shortening for which I substitute leaf lard. Then I got out of the flannel nightie, took a shower, and dressed before caramelizing apples and adding some Dulce de Leche to them being short on heavy cream (1/2 cup needed). The recipe for the tart from The Lut├ęce Cookbook has you bake the crust on a cookie sheet by itself, cool and then add the caramelized apples which have been coated stovetop and then baked for ten minutes in the oven. All this is arranged atop the crust which hopefully still will be crisp by dinnertime.

Scanning about in Eat Your Books - I do love that website which I joined when it was Beta and free - I think they charge thirty bucks a year, perhaps more for an ad-free Premium membership, but it is well worth it. Every time I seek a recipe usually from one of my cookbooks (around 600 of which I have listed in my account and most are indexed, or from a popular blog (for instance, they have over 500 recipes from David Lebovitz website and over a thousand of Mark Bittman's recipes from his Minimalist days nad 80-some other blogs). Magazine recipes are indexed, too, including December 2017 issues. By indexed I mean the recipes are listed with page numbers for mags. For all, they include a shopping list of non-pantry items needed to make the dish. They do not include the actual recipe with specific amounts because they would run into conflict with copyrights. But you can use the phone app while at Safeway and see that you need scallops, saffron spinach and heavy cream for Bay Scallops with Spinach and Saffron Cream from James Peterson's cookbook and take it all home to start cooking. Or if you subscribe to a CSA, just put in "Jerusalem artichokes" to find 140 recipes in my owned books. And notes from other cooks, even photos. They have a running blog  plus notices of new cookbooks, errata from publishers on errors  (Sweet from Ottolenghi is rife with them). So Twenty-First Century all this assist for the cook, don't you think?  If only the site cooked.

Then I drifted back in time to my first honeymoon in the mid-Sixties when we were staying at a college friend's parents' home in Palo Alto, CA. They had offered lodging on our drive south to LA and we were sleeping in the den or rec room. I can't imagine now why I was reading at any time that night, but I remember finding stacks of Gourmet Magazine on the bookshelves and I was besotted by an affection that would far outlive that marriage. I pored through back issues and by the time we got home, I too was a subscriber. I continued my subscription for the next forty-five years with only a few hiatuses. Of course, being me, I tried to save all of the issues but more rational minds prevailed in our peripatetic life and now I have only three volumes of past years: 1985 and 1987, and a garage sale treasure, 1947. I rarely look at them but get the same reassurance and cooking enthusiasm when I do drag them out recalling the time I was seduced into making rose petal jam or beef wellington.

And I started thinking about John Thorne of Simple Cooking and found a review of his work here from Sandy Ebner: https://changesevenmag.com/2016/11/15/why-food-writing-matters-a-profile-of-john-thorne-by-sandy-ebner/

Much like Bourdain, part of Thorne’s appeal is that he seems so much like the rest of us. His recipes are for food that people really eat, not what they might want to eat but probably never will. Ironically, he doesn’t think of himself as a great cook, but neither does he consider that a shortcoming. In one of his best-known quotes he says, “You don’t have to be a good cook, or even aspire to be one, to be an interested cook.” That he’s interested is obvious.

I too am an "interested cook" even with the aspiring beef wellington and became interested in Thorne's passions for supermarket finds like Campbell's Pepper Pot Soup from Mexico, or his unique ideas on midnight snacks, or toast, or pine nuts. His voice convinces and gives it to his readers straight. He is also significantly to blame for my cookbook addiction because of his tantalizing reviews and sales of his own culinary book excesses. It's been two years since I received Newsletter SC95. I am ready to hear from him and Matt Thorne, his co-conspirator and a little worried about their well being.

We lost a great antiquarian book dealer this week, Louis Collins, who died of a heart attack at 77. I worked for him briefly before I moved on to the Library Answer Line. He was a genius bookseller with the right combination of memory and anecdote as he plied extensive travels in search of elusive volumes, the most memorable of which I saw was the rare edition David Roberts bound volume of Middle East sketches which I posted to a buyer in the UK.

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