Among my many collections - heart-shaped rocks, vintage table linens, scraps of bubblewrap (they can be reused, people!) and flower vases in the shape of heads — my accumulation of cookbooks may reign supreme. Curling up with a morning coffee and a scrumptious food tome of recipes and fare can be deeply satisfying, especially when the dishes are accompanied by the stories or anecdotes that inspired them. When I read a cookbook, to me it is no different than a novel. I start from the beginning and become absorbed within the story of someone’s kitchen, never missing a chef’s note or an ingredient. It’s a ritual that is part curiosity and part comfort that can only be found through the nurturing solace of food.
I prefer to cook unfussy dishes that are more soul soothing than snap worthy, but when it comes to my cookbook obsession, how often I will put the pages to use when I am at the stove is of no matter, as I do not treasure them for their utility alone. Some books in my collection have added only a single recipe to my repertoire and others are dotted with dozens of sticky flags, the pages splashed with syrupy evidence from the preparations of countless celebrations. I cherish cookbooks mostly for the joyous opportunities that they represent — homemade gestures of love, sharing a table, coming together, celebrating life.
While planning the menu for a large family dinner at my home, I recently came across an old cookbook that my grandmother had given to me shortly after I graduated college. Covered in the same pink and violet floral wallpaper that decorated her kitchen, as all of “Loni’s” cookbooks were, her 1965 second printing of “The Blessings of Food and Flowers,” had originally been compiled as a synagogue fundraiser, the mid-century heirloom describing itself as, “The most prized recipes of members of the Sisterhood.”
The plastic spiral binding disintegrated long ago, but it is still easy to get lost within the volume’s pages, the dishes and entertaining tips a window into a bygone era. The options are neither fancy nor complex, like beef stroganov and “Tanta Betty’s Chicken in the Pot.” Offerings like cottage cheese jello salad are no longer de rigueur and others, like deviled tongue, should probably be left to the archives. When it came to grocery lists, sherry was clearly essential to a well-stocked pantry. Proper recipe format was abandoned for what presumably appeared on the handwritten recipe cards of inherited tradition or were dictated like familiar instructions recited from friend to friend over a rotary phone. “Have fish dealer roll sole around salmon,” begins Mrs. Bases’ recipe titled “Sole and Salmon Rolls.” Some of the notes are cinematic in the Mad Men era images they now evoke. Mrs. Louis A. Jaskow’s recipe for “College Punch” consists of three types of fruit juice, four cups of sugar and eight bottles of wine. It serves 100. I would like to have been invited to one of Mrs. Jaskow’s parties.
The potato puffs that I baked in homage were ultimately less inspiring than the evening I spent immersed in the kitchens of women I will never know, but I went to bed that night with an unusual sense of calm, imagining that our current volatile world was momentarily replaced for a simpler time, at least within my home. Both cooking and the written word can have that effect.
The fantasy renovation plans for the Barn House (more on that another time) include a kitchen library, complete with floor to ceiling shelves dedicated to the food alters that are currently stacked around my home, an antique ladder to add some culinary drama and a cozy reading nook to soothe my soul. Below are my most recent additions to those shelves.
Try them. You'll like them.
I have really been missing L.A., particularly our friends who are family, Pacific ocean views and farm to table living. We recently had the most delicious meal overlooking the ocean on the pier at Malibu Farm and one of the first things that I did when I returned to New York was order their name Malibu Farm cookbook.
I love enjoying a taste of favorite restaurants or places once I return to my own kitchen. There is something about the sensory experience of food that can take you back to a place you love. I'm crazy about this cookbook. It reminds me of the California farmers markets, driving along the ocean and eating fresh, quality food. I am begging you to try the recipe for potatoes. They are so easy and so delicious and excellent for a crowd. My kids (and I) cannot get enough. Plus, I sometimes substitute the parsley with rosemary, which I pull right from the Barnhouse garden. A potato farmer I am unfortunately not.
A cookbook that motivates a run for the post-its is my favorite kind. But this one quickly became so overcome by sticky flags in my in excitement for the dinner parties and family meals the pages might choreograph, simply bookmarking the table of contents might have made more sense.
I am forever drawn to stunning food photography, something that may come as a suprise to those familiar with my less than professional insta captures of kitchen adventures which, despite my best efforts, never seem to give my baked goods the culinary credit they deserve. Johnny Miller’s skilled photography in Cook Beautiful is, on the other hand, distinctly fresh, bright and inviting. Plus, I personally love when every recipe is accompanied by an image, offering an immediate understanding of the delight I’m working towards.
Through her popular blog Eye-Swoon.com and its namesake instagram, Calderone captures an artful lifestyle that while stunning and inspiring is significantly more picture perfect than the one I often share, so when it came to Cook Beautiful, I was a bit daunted by the expectation. And, just as the title suggests, the dishes do look beautiful — but they are absolutely unfussy in preparation. Calderone’s recipes are simple and savory, with unintimidating ingredients and notes that rely on simple touches to elevate the experience.
I began with the chicken paillard and romaine salad with lemon-pecorino vinaigrette for a post-soccer, mid-week dinner and my family’s only objection was that I didn’t make enough. Seriously. Everyone was complaining. Calderone’s simple tip of spreading out the long romaine leaves on a large platter rather than chopping them in a bowl really did make the dish appear so much more luxurious, while actually saving me time. Organized by the seasons, the short ribs, my family decided, were a must on the first cold night of the year, prompting a long and cozy candlelit dinner and the fireplace’s inaugural welcome.
When it comes to entertaining Calderone encourages using unexpected vessels for vases, picking branches from the garden when the season does not bare flowers and combining a curated balance of vintage and new. I could style tablescapes all day, and in my life as an editor, I have happily whiled away the hours designing many, so those that inspire encourage me to keep up my habit as a collector and throw a dinner party stat.
Needless to say, I woke up with this cookbook in my bed the morning after it arrived.
I always appreciate a cookbook that is an amalgamation of recipes from many cooks -- their own family favorites, heritages, homes and journeys coming together, creating a universal experience that is singular to food, despite the individual dishes being so inherinently different. And myriad the meals are in Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook, where founders Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu share “Recipes and Stories from 100+ of the most creative and inspiring women in food today.”
Elisabeth Prueitt, co-owner and pastry chef of San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, had me at “hazelnut” in her chocolate torte, which will be my next go at gluten-free baking. I need to try my hand at the Bunueolos Pelanchon (Mexican fritters), which were contributed by Bertha Gonzalez Nieves, co-founder of Casa Dragones, as well as the escarole and cannellini bean soup with polenta slices by farmer and fashion editor Laura Ferrara.
But Joan Tishgart’s noodle kugel shared by Sierra Tishgart, Senior Editor of New York Magazine’s Grub Street, is on my short list. I like to think of myself as a noodle kugel connoisseur and on Jewish holidays I rotate between the recipes my two grandmothers passed down. Every kugel differs vastly in makeup and every family’s is considered sacred. (My thoughts on the inclusion of raisins, for instance, are for a different post.) Tishgart’s calls for cream cheese, evaporated milk and sour cream, three ingredients that are not in my Grandma Mimi’s grated apple-laden version or the cottage cheese and butter soaked casserole passed down by Loni, my maternal grandmother for whom GC is named. Basically, I need to taste what happens when cream cheese and egg noodles get involved.
Also, you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but this one is pretty in pink canvas — so I’m making an exception.
I love the creativity and even artistry that can come from designing a chic and welcoming tablescape. Some holidays I stick to a color scheme and at other times its a mash-up of pattern and hues. But even when I try to establish a particular theme, I am ultimately drawn to mixing things up, matching rustic with ultra-modern and quirky with classics. The thrill of collecting is the fantasy of future meals in the making.
Here are a few of my favorites as of late for preparing dishes and setting the mood. XOXO