Friday, June 24, 2016


In the early 1980's, when I was managing a large Doubleday bookshop in a mall in Northern California, Mr. Nelson Doubleday himself paid us a visit over the holidays. I am not sure if it was Christmas or perhaps some gift-giving event like Mother's Day, but a new edition of the Joy of Cooking had come out and we were loaded with them. An endcap in the cookbook section was devoted to the fifty or so copies on display with some promo placards. On the shelf, the only other such offering was a copy or two of the Doubleday Cookbook, a similar but not so popular compendium of cooking. Mr. Doubleday had a titan-worthy fit and called the head office to order one hundred copies of the Doubleday Cookbook shipped to us and to the twenty other Doubleday Book Shops by overnight delivery so we could replace the Joy copies with "his" cookbook. But the customers did not want the Doubleday Cookbook. They wanted the Joy of  Cooking. Eventually, we had to send back copies or store them until he reappeared. It was such a misguided effort. He might have gotten publicists and media folk to give him equal time and interviews to create demand but that was not his way. I don't think we sold more than three or four copies of the
Doubleday Cookbook all year although it is a good overall recipe book. It could use an updated cover I thought at the time, and sure enough, by 1990, it had a colorful illustrated jacket as the The New Doubleday Cookbook was published.

So here off the top of my head are my ten favorite cookbooks of the hundreds I own. I do so little cooking these days, you'd think I was working full-time.

Julia Child's The Way to Cook
Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash
Plenty and Jerusalem (two volumes counted as one)- Ottolenghi
The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser
Gourmet Today Cookbook by Ruth Reichl
The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan
Essential Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy
The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy
Classical Turkish Cooking by Ayla E. Algar
Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax

Vegetarian Cooking by Deborah Madison
The Food of Portugal by Jean Anderson
Lulu's Provencal Table by Richard Olney
The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert
Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells
Time-Life Good Cook Series
Lost Recipes by Marion Cunningham
A Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

The Ottolenghi books are the only new titles I have embraced as his recipes are popular among so many of my friends. My Asian cookbooks are well represented on the shelf, but almost never used, as with the Hungarian, German, Polish and Greek cookbooks. Then I have the single topic collections on soups, cookies, cakes, pies, meat, zucchini, bread, preserving. James Beard is a favorite with the other cook in my household. John Thorne's books like Simple Cooking and Outlaw Cook are favorites to browse, as is Alan Davidson, M F K Fisher or Elizabeth David. Then I have lots of antiquarian cookbooks which are fun to leaf through like Bettina's Cakes and Cookies or Charleston Receipts but which I have never cooked from. Some serious shelf weeding is in order but as soon as I start, I am lost in browsing. Stay tuned for progress reports. Think of the shelf space which could be freed, she said persuasively.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

This Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Too Shall PassThis Too Shall Pass by Milena Busquets
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a short, languid novel of the narrator's sadness and ennui in a seaside town in her ancestral summer. After her mother's death, she is stunned by grief using drugs, sex and alcohol to cope as she looks back at memories of her mother, her boyfriends, her two ex-husbands, while contemplating mortality. The author offers some lovely passages: "Nacho belongs to the summer just like the boating trips do, or the naps in the hammock, or the freshly baked bread we buy straight from the oven on our way home after being out all night, kneaded by the arms of drowsy men who watch us devour it with sad eyes." Or "I could describe each and every corner of my mother's house. I know and remember the changing colors of the mahogany shelves where she kept her books, from mahogany to garnet and finally black according to the time of day and when dusk fell. I know the exact temperature of my father's hands, like bread fresh out of the oven, and in a snap I could draw you the half-empty glass of red wine he always kept in the kitchen."

I could smell the Med at Cadaques and the fresh bread. Not much happens, little plot, but moments and musings, yet I wanted to pick the book up every evening and be back in Spain. Maybe it has a Catalonian sensibility, the painful loss she feels, the distanced lovers, her two young sons, close friendships with women, the warmth of the sun, the sleeplessness. Who is the narrator once she is no longer a daughter? "I will never be seen through your eyes again," she says in the imaginary conversation with her belated mother which threads through the book.

"A seductive voice" says the back of the book, a "summery, sexy , cool," "one of the most elegant books you'll read" declares the French paper. So the seductive elegance enticed me enough to finish the book in a day or two.

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