Cookbooks: sublimations of a gross biological function

From one point of view, eating is disgusting.  Think about the praying mantis eating the helpless salamander on the giant screen complete with amplified sounds of crunching.  Lest you think that humans are more elegant, consider tourists in Maine, cracking open lobsters and sucking juice out of those little tiny legs.  Yikes!

We could continue with an exploration of digestion and what follows… but I digress.

And we need to eat.   So… our ancestors developed ways of making the eating experience more pleasant.  In the stone age, cooking was invented.   In the renaissance, chefs in the kitchens of the palazzi of the Medici, raised cooking to an art.  And finally, in America, the pinnacle of the eating experience was achieved, the chocolate chip cookie.  If I could live on chocolate chip cookies, I would.  But one must stay healthy.

How does one convert a plant or a chicken into something worth eating?  It isn’t easy and what isn’t easy deserves a book written about it.  Ergo sum…  the cookbook.

Here’s my favorite cookbooks, listed from the most conservative to the most spiritual.

The bible is of course The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker.  It is in its 75th anniversary addition.  It is accurate.  The recipes are tried and true.  You need to have it.  Everything is in there.

How to Cook Everything-Simple Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman is another everything-you-need-to-know-is-in-there-cookbook.  Mark Bittman writes the “minimalist” column in the New York Times cooking section and his recipes are wonderful.  They taste good and are easy to make.  The first sections of the book on what to buy for your kitchen and techniques of cooking are great.

The Vegetarian Epicure, volumes 1 and 2 by Anna Thomas set the standard for vegetarian cooking in the 1970’s and the book is still a best seller in the cookbook world for good reason.  The recipes work.

The Kripalu Cookbook by Atma Jo Ann Levitt is a miracle.  Talk about great recipes.  My own mother who raised me on meatloaf and grilled cheeses raved about the food at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA.  I’m not sure she noticed that it was all vegetarian and yes, she really went there.  When recipes are this good, eating is a divine experience.

Tomato Blessings and Radish Teachings by Edward Espe Brown is a true spiritual journey.   Mr. Brown founded Green’s restaurant in San Francisco, is an ordained Buddhist Monk and wrote the famous Tassajara Bread Book which reintroduced homemade bread to America 25 years ago and the famous Green’s Cook Book.  What a resume!  While the Green’s Cook Book is all about gourmet vegetarianism with complex and amazing recipes, Tomato Blessings… is about what Mr. Brown cooks in his own home.  Very simple recipes.  Tomato Blessings is much more than a cookbook.  It is a read, not just a hunt-for-recipes book.  He explains the Zen approach to eating and cooking.  “If you really chewed a potato chip, you wouldn’t eat very many of them” was a concept I really enjoyed.  This man waxes eloquent on how to wash rice.  Oh my God!  I loved that book and I made at least half the recipes.

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