Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two Books, Two Stories

As you know, dear readers, I am something of a…collector always seems like such a cold and scientific word…an accumulator of cookbooks. Sometimes I go out looking for something; sometimes a book just appears and I have to get it, especially if it is on my wish list or is something that I have been wanting to get – for whatever reason – for some time. As you know I am picky, but then I will succumb to any book if I get a good vibe from it, whether I have much experience with the food itself or not.

The newest editions to the library are above – Chez Panisse may be a long way from Clapham but as I was kindly taken there once in my youth (by a realtor who was dealing with my mom in getting our house in Berkeley on the market & sold, back in ’81) I have never forgotten how good the food was, even though it was pizza & cider and perhaps some salad, it was so good it must have imprinted upon me in some deep way. Thus when I came across the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook I had to get it, just in order to be reminded that the pizza was from a wood-burning oven and how good the French cider was…many Chez Panisse books are out there, I suspect, that sit beautifully on the shelf but never get used; I am going to try to make something from this, even if it’s just a side dish, to see if I can create some of the Berkeley magic right here.

Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry is a whole other story. I am moving tentatively (very tentatively) into trying out Mediterranean food, beyond Italy, beyond Sicily even; and this book looks like the right place to start (yes I do have the Claudia Roden book as well – so I can contrast & compare, of course). It is awesomely pretty, for one thing, and on a grey day like today the light and heat radiating from the book are enough to inspire me. But there is something else too; in buying this book I feel as if I have freed myself, and that is in part due to the fact that I got it somewhere I not only didn’t expect to find it, but in a chain of shops that ordinarily I avoid. I avoid it for a good reason, and have done so for over a year, but my gut instinct told me to go in and look, and there it was, sitting there patiently waiting, or so I like to think, for me. A cook’s relationship with any given book has to be a good one, or else the book will be ignored and the cook will remain ignorant of whatever wisdom it can provide. Mediterranean food is some of the oldest in the world, and that is why I am interested in it (of course I am following Elizabeth David’s main interests too – French, Italian, Mediterranean…more imprinting, I think) and I have not seen this book anywhere else, at any price. That I was forgiving and then rewarded shows how the cookbook gods, if there are any, wanted me to find that book; that it is a gorgeous and inspiring one is also moving, in a way.

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