Saturday, January 30, 2021

Cookbooks are lifestyle guides

 I think I already said this before, but it’s still true.

And to be clear, there’s a point in many people’s lives where those are necessary. If you’re a young adult and you weren’t taught how to cook, cookbooks can be, if not a lifesaver, a big money saver. Or maybe you’re someone who’d really like to try a different kind of cuisine – Indian, Korean, Greek – and you’ve never cooked anything like it. Then, yes, cookbooks can be a big help, many times even more so than videos.

But these conditions do not apply to me anymore, and what I’ve found in the many cookbooks I’ve read over the last three decades (and more – I read cookbooks at a very early age) is that while there is much instruction, there is also a good bit of food writing, and more than a fair share of “this is how you do it properly.” Think Martha Stewart, but also, in her own way, think Nigella Lawson. Really, all of them. In the last few years I started to feel like cookbooks were putting me in a straight jacket, not showing me new opportunities. I think what finally set me off was an author – someone who was writing in his thirties – admonishing me about how to cook beans, as if those were the most difficult things in the world to cook and if I didn’t do it just so they pretty much wouldn’t be worth eating.

I think I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m tired of people talking to me like that about anything, which makes it hard to read a lot of blogs, but that’s another story.

Before the tidying a few days ago, I went through my collection of cookbooks and got rid of over half of them. I would have gotten rid of more, but my husband has sentimental attachments to six of them, one I received as a gift from my sister (the author was a next door neighbor), and another is a book I use very frequently (forgive me for not having already internalized how to make kimchi). That feels right. I also copied, over the course of a few years, recipes into a beautiful notebook my oldest daughter bought me as a present several years ago. Oh right – I also already know how to cook.

And speaking of blogs: around the time of the bookshelf tidying I also tidied my blog reader. I have one blog about food justice and one blog about foraging, and that’s it for anything related to food. Thank goodness I already got rid of Instagram, because otherwise there would be no escape, from food or lifestyle guidance.

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