An Autobiography in Cookbooks
As I remember, my mom rarely cooked from a recipe, a skill I did not inherit. It’s not unlike being unable to read music, but then sitting down at the piano and sounding like Thelonius Monk. She did have a collection of cookbooks, however. A red Betty Crocker binder from her college home-ec class which was illustrated with step-by-step photos and line drawings of beaming homemakers in flared skirts carrying perfect pies and roasted turkeys; Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, et al and a slim volume called Cooking for Two. The author’s name is lost now to my personal history – but it had a delicious, creamy and comforting scalloped potato recipe with and Parmesan cheese and ham.
Of course she also had The Joy of Cooking – which probably resides in more households than any other cookbook. (It’s been in print since 1936 – 1931 if you count the privately published first version – and has sold some 18 million copies.) When I flew from the Ohio nest I took a copy with me and often prepared the Curried Rice recipe not only because it was simple and delicious, but because my mom had made it often and its warm, spicy fragrance as it baked reminded me of home. The ladies Rombauer cautioned that initially there would “be a great preponderance of liquid,” but that during the one and a half hour baking time, the liquid would cook away resulting in a creamy, lightly curried dish of yellowed rice, bell peppers and onions. At the time, I considered it a very exotic dish. The battered condition of my edition tells the story of how far it and I have traveled over the years.
After a brief time in Cleveland’s Little Italy (where I lived mostly on pepperoni rolls and pizza) I drove west to northern California for a few months. Very little cooking happened during that time. A car accident and a desultory job search were the impetus to find another place to live and heading back east with no particular destination in mind, I ended up in Boulder, Colorado. Driving on I-36 near dusk down into the small college town with the slate blue Flatirons spread out along the horizon, I felt immediately that I was in the right place. And it was the right place for the next five years. It was in Boulder that I first ate Nepalese food and discovered Thai satay with peanut sauce. I began my cookbook-buying habit there as well, acquiring The New Moosewood Cookbook and the Colorado Cache Cookbook and its companions, Crème de Colorado and Colorado Collage, all publications of the Junior League of Denver. The Colorado cookbooks are heavy on meat and cheese and sugar and that’s just what felt right at the time – cold winters and snow sports (though neither a skier nor hiker was I at the time) went hand in hand with stews and roasts and rich sweets. I bought a huge cast iron Dutch oven and set about making pot roasts and various kinds of chili.Continued on the next page