As I mentioned back in my Caesar Salad post, my first cookbook was The New York Times Cookbook, a mighty doorstop-sized tome. I was about 22 when I bought it, and I immediately knew I was in over my head. I could only tackle the simplest of recipes (I believe cucumber salad was my first victory, and even that was a challenge). Mostly I would just refer to it casually in conversation, you know, like, “My New York Times Cookbook says the right figs make all the difference.” I am sure everyone was quite impressed.
My second cookbook was a complete 180. Bob Blumer’s The Surreal Gourmet was filled with recipes and language I could easily understand, and it provided me with the Caesar salad recipe I still use to this day. I’m pretty sure I made every single thing in that book. It was my own Julie and Julia (Dawn and Bob), minus the fame and fortune and advanced skill level.
We got married in 1993, back when Prodigy was everyone’s internet server of choice. There was no Google, and Food Network was still in its infancy. In other words, cookbooks were still relevant. And boy, did I love them. My cookbook collection grew exponentially each year. I dreamed of a kitchen with a dedicated cookbook shelf to display all of my babies.
One day while looking through the Pottery Barn catalog, I saw black ledges hung on a kitchen wall displaying cookbooks, sort of like artwork. I had a big, blank space on my kitchen wall, and I just knew it was meant to be filled with my cookbooks. The problem was that many of my favorite cookbooks were rather well-loved, Velveteen Rabbit style: ripped, food stained, and generally disgusting. Definitely not artwork. I had a few acceptable, non-disgusting cookbooks, but not enough to fill a wall, so I went online and ordered a vast array of bargain cookbooks based solely on their size, shape and cover art, and these served to fill in the blank spaces. I thought I was quite clever.
The problem was that the Pottery Barn ledges were ridiculously expensive, considering it was a simple black painted piece of wood, and probably cheap wood at that. Ed jumped in with the words I hear quite often, “Oh, I can make that!” And he’s right, the man can make anything. ANYTHING. We’ve all heard of the time value of money, but what about the money value of time? This is my number one rebuttal to Ed’s, “Oh, I can make that!” We compromised and bought the cheap Target knock-offs. Let me share with you just a couple of the horrible reviews of these ledges:
This shelf is flawed in design; the mounting structure does not lie flush with the actual shelf, and the shelf overhangs by about 2 millimeters– doesn’t sound like a lot, but IT WILL KEEP THE SHELF FROM EVER HANGING ON YOUR WALL. However, before you realize this, you’ll have dug several holes in your wall– or six, precisely, if you’re me. And then you’ll find that for all your hard work, painstaking leveling, perfect placement…. [……] wall shelf will NOT CONNECT WITH THE MOUNTING BAR. DO NOT BUY THIS. TARGET: YOU OWE ME A NEW WALL. MINE IS MARRED BECAUSE I TRUSTED YOU. MAKE THIS RIGHT
DO NOT BUY THIS SHELF. I work in contracting and never saw such a poorly made piece of [junk] in my life. This is by far, the worst buy I have ever had from target. The directions are incomplete and inaccurate and the bracket and shelf will never come together, despite your best efforts. Wasted [$$] on two of these things. TARGET PLEASE DISCONTINUE THIS PRODUCT.
But thank God I am married to Superman; not only can he build anything, he can also FIX anything. Needless to say, he had his work cut out for him. He was right, he definitely should have just built them from the get-go. Sometimes I’m wrong.
I have not purchased a cookbook for several years, thank you, Internet, but I still do appreciate a good cookbook. My cousin Linda recently recommended a fun, quirky, retro book called Square Meals by Jane and Michael Stern, and it’s a must for any cookbook collector. Cousin Linda says the kugel recipe is fabulous, and once I’m done de-carbifying, I plan to try it. The recipes — many of which contain gelatin — are both hilarious and historically accurate. All I know is that Square Meals will be an invaluable reference for me when I host my next Mad Men party.
These days, the cookbook has to be pretty special for me to consider it, but I do hope to add to my collection over the years. If there is any “must have” cookbook in your collection, please let me know. There is always room on the shelf for one more.