Friday, August 8, 2008

Treasures on the Bookshelf

I am happiest in a kitchen and surrounded by books. That's why my glorious kitchen features about 20 feet of bookshelf space around the perimeter, and since the shelves are near the top of 12-foot ceilings, they are thoroughly cleaned just a few times a year. August is proving too hot to do much outside, so indoor projects, like the dreaded dusting of the bookshelves, are taking over.

As far as I can tell from my perch on the ladder, there are two benefits to this semi-annual project: I can artfully rearrange my collection of pottery and find a few cookbooks that I'd forgotten about. Today's high-altitude adventure yielded a few lost treasures:

1. Chez Panisse Cooking by Alice Waters and Paul Bertolli. I have no idea how I acquired this book. It has a red remainder mark on the top edge, so I'm comforted that I didn't pay full price. I've only glanced through this book before and find the hand-tinted photographs disturbing and the glossy heavyweight paper off-putting. The style of the book seems more appropriate for a coffee table book, although the format is too narrow for the book to lay open at any double-page spread. Here at the height of summer produce, I'm willing to give the recipes a try, after all, Waters and Bertolli are supposedly genius cooks, not book designers.

2. Taste of Summer by Diane Rossen Worthington. I bought this book on a bookstore customer's strong recommendation. She was a gourmet cook and was stunned, absolutely shocked that I didn't own a copy of Taste of Summer. To be honest, I look through this book each summer and vow to make something, anything. The pictures are sumptuous and the recipes appear to be clearly written. I scan the recipes and kick out ideas for grilling (not my thing), recipes featuring tomatillos (couldn't begin to tell you where I'd find those fresh), and lobster (no room in the budget since gas is $4 a gallon). I'll look in next week's CSA bag and see if I can make anything fit.

3. The Summer Book by Susan Branch. This is more my idea of a cozy cookbook to curl up on the sofa with. I've had mixed results with Branch's recipes, but I always enjoy reading her books. The pages are like illuminated manuscripts, each recipe crafted and embellished with poetry, calligraphy and whimsical drawings. A blueberry and apple pie recipe caught my eye. I may have to give that a try during the last days of what is turning out to be an excellent blueberry season.

4. Dori Sanders' Country Cooking. I pull this book from the shelf every so often, mainly because Sanders is one of my all-time favorite novelists. My 10-year old daughter read Clover this summer and declared it one of the best books she's ever read. Sanders writes her books at her family's peach stand in Filbert, SC. I can't say we shared the same red clay childhood, but she writes about a place and people that I remember with affection.

5. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison is a big surprise. Not just because it's about 700 pages and can be employed as an effective weapon if one is desperate. Just leaving this book open on the counter is a joy. The fresh tomatoes and green beans and onions in this week's CSA bag were made into a ragout, using Madison's recipe. It's the kind of book that makes me want to cook and cook and cook. And eat and eat and eat.

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