Cookbook Catharsis

January 27, 2004

Cookbook Catharsis

I have a picture in my head of looking through cookbooks with my older son Eli, from when he was about 1 1/2 years old. Back then, we lived in the shepherd’s cottage at HillStead. Our house was an old one that was built with the kitchen on the second floor, since the first floor was originally used as a work area. The kitchen had salmon colored walls, that I had toned down when we moved in, by sponging off-white onto them. They looked almost like they were some kind of brocade. There were two windows that looked across our driveway at the large old empty barns and out over the 150 acre property. I could stand in the kitchen, making dinner, watch the sun going down, and occaisionally even see deer in the fields. It was a kitchen with a view like no other I had known. Sun was always streaming in, making it a great place to be.

I had a small bookshelf for my cookbook collection. It was two shelves about 3 feet wide. It easily held all of my books back then. I used to sit on the floor in front of it and look through and read the books, savoring the recipes and making plans of which ones to try next. It was something I did on almost a daily basis. My son was used to watching me and sitting with me in the sunny area there on the floor near the heater, which made it warm and inviting, even in the winter. I will always have a picture in my head, of sitting there with my little toddler. He has on denim overalls, and a white turtleneck, head bent down, his mop of fine hair gilded in the sunlight, studiously thumbing through one of my Silver Palate cookbooks.

My collection has grown over the years and it is now about 100 books, if not more. They are all sorts from beautifully photographed ones, to well worn and used ones, little silly ones, old ones passed on from others and quite a few little community cookbooks. I have quite a number of books on single types of food: pasta, fondue, ice cream, pizza, bread, and even venison. The way our kitchen is laid out, there is only room for about 10 cookbooks there. The rest are relegated to a back room and have been overflowing the shelves they are on for quite some time. The books are jammed in and even some stacked horizontally above that. The ones that are in current use get to stay on a small bit of counter near the kitchen. I know they all wait for a chance to be one of the chosen ones to sit there for a bit, while I explore them, before they are sent back to their crowded shelves again.

Shelves groaning from being far too crowded, and me being tired of the messiness of it all, I decided that I need to get rid of some cookbooks that I don’t use. So there I sat, in front of the shelves, cross-legged on the floor as I am always so inclined to do. Knowing full well that I don’t use all of the books I found in front of me, but also having a hard time parting with them. I wanted to keep only the ones I really wanted and needed, ones that were truly useful to me.

Where would I start? I began with the ‘easy’ ones… off the shelf came the really old booklets about honey and cuts of meat, and things I really didn’t need. That wasn’t too hard, so next I moved on to little ones that I had looked through, but never cooked anything at all from their pages. Then on to ones that weren’t that great that I had cooked maybe one or two things from, but weren’t even inspiring enough to pour through the way I like to do. Eventually, I had more than 35 books that were in the box to go. It felt like I had made progress! Two large boxes were filled.

There is breathing room on the shelves. I still need to work more on it, and make some of the harder choices, but this was a good start at letting go. I need to do the rest slowly, carefully and make sure I have no regrets. I want to have my shelves filled with only the ones I really want. I need to make better choices, and choose wisely as to what to keep, and for the future, which ones to purchase. I will go into my forties with my eyes wider open, and the things around me will be only those that I really hold most dear. I will learn to let go of things that don’t ‘feed’ my soul.

Here are a few recipes that have been culled from the pages of books that were deemed no longer worthy and sent off. It is always good to save one or two recipes from something.

Beer Dip

This is a recipe from a weird little cookbook that I was sent as a promo from a cookbook publisher. Threw out the cookbook as it was a family cookbook- a family I didn’t know. Most of the recipes were comepletly uninteresting, but this one sounded good.

2 – 8 oz packages cream cheese
2 cups finely shredded cheddar
4 oz. beer
1 pkt. Hidden Valley Ranch mix

Mix together all ingredients and refrigerate overnight before serving. Best served with Tostitos or pretzels.

Pecan Crusted Catfish

This is from a book called Marinades, Rubs, and Pastes. I have simplified it a little bit here. Easy and very good. Try serving it with some okra!

soak in buttermilk:
1/2-2/3 lb catfish fillets

mix together:
1/2 cup crushed roasted pecans
2/3 cup ground yellow cornmeal
1 tsp grated lemon zest

Coat the fish in this mixture. Fry fillets in peanut oil over medium-high for 8-10 minutes per side.

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