I almost never buy cookbooks. Don’t act so shocked.
I am a child of a computer generation. Actually, I am a little older than THAT generation, but when I need inspiration, I turn to my favorite foodie bloggers. When my storage bin of ideas is more like an empty tin, my trusty food bloggers fill it right back up. But that isn’t the only reason. My kitchen is small and I don’t have storage space for tons of books. Plus, let’s face it – a good cook book is expensive. No matter the author, no matter the celebrity chef, no matter how many times I see the ad, I almost never succumb. I don’t fall in love with a cook book often. I play hard to get. In short, a cook book has to earn a place in my heart before it earns a space on my shelf.
Buying a cook is like finding a husband. I like to think it will be one worth holding onto. One who will love me for who I am (or not) and who I can still take home to Mom. In our family, the litmus test of cook books is Joy of Cooking, which is a generational gem in my family. I’m constantly on the look out for its shelf companion and measuring all books by its very high bar. If the Joy of Cooking reflects the evolution of a kitchen’s cooking, the cook book I seek is one of our generation. Our time. I want a cook book of quality and both timeless and reflective of the times. Something with beautiful tactile pages and even illustrations and/or photos. If the cook book is right, I’ll add the other senses of smell and sound (as in the crashing of pans).
Like a warrior, I entered the battle field of Barnes and Noble last week. Armed with well-oiled cynicism I dared the cooking section to catch my skeptical eye. With expectant disappointment, I sat down in a cozy chair with several suitors. Immediately after opening the yellow cover, it pulled me in. Maybe it was the guy sitting next to me was generating all kinds of sounds all of which I was trying to ignore, but there I was, turning pages. Imagining my kitchen once again filled with the smell of home made herbs. Each page turned with wonder, I got excited about cooking tonight. Marching to the cash register, I hoped that my new found twitterpation would last once I got it home. Taking a book home from the book store is sort of like going on a second date: you just hope its as good as the first.
You’d think I just discovered the next great chef, wouldn’t you? By my next revelation, you’ll see that I am also not a trend-setter. Its 2010 and I just purchased one of the biggest cook books of 2007. HEY! I still have shoes from then too, so now you know all my dirty little secrets.
But my new cook book was as captivating in my own house as it had been at the book store. For almost all of us, eating seasonal and with the freshest ingredients is a way of life. Now. It wasn’t so long ago that even foodies weren’t so inspired by Farmer’s Markets and only the fringe in 12-month growing areas – or those with Whole Foods in a 20 mile radius – were eating organic. (Remember when Whole Foods wasn’t everywhere?). Today you can find organic food at Costco! Schools and other industrial food sources are even feeling the pressure to start cooking with whole, natural food. No doubt, we’re in the midst of a food revolution, and not just of Jamie Oliver’s making. We are past the “trend” stage and into the “lifestyle” stage. There were chefs many years ago who started this drumbeat, who began this trend turned lifestyle. So its with this retrospective and appreciation for the real trendsetters that I finally purchased Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food.
For someone who loves nothing better than a well roasted chicken, Alice is my kind of girl. Her mantra is simple. Her food is uncomplicated. She doesn’t spend a bunch of time advocating wild cooking accoutrement, she’s a wood spoon kind of chef. She uses fresh ingredients and gives tips for a well-stocked pantry. Most importantly, the food within shows she has the confidence and respect to let good quality food shine on its own. I felt like I’d stumbled across a life long friend.
For their timeliness and yet their reflection of food during our time, Alice and her cook book have earned a place in my kitchen and on my bookshelf. Actually, her food has always had a place in my kitchen, but its also nice to have her sitting there next to Joy of Cooking.