Old man, cook at your life

Cookbook row, post-puppy.

Cookbook row, post-puppy.

They say the cookbook industry is booming, despite sluggish sales elsewhere in publishing and the fact that the Internet is positively bubbling over with recipes. Why do people buy a single book when they can find infinite recipes for free online? The same reason you read newspapers rather than get your news from Twitter, except instead of rumours of celebrity deaths you have someone who thinks guava gravy is a good idea.

In our house, we haven’t purchased a new cookbook in years. The most recent books that didn’t just somehow appear (because, believe it or not, that happens sometimes) are Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook and Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites, copyright 1995 and 1996 respectively. This was around the time we were flirting with the notion of being partial vegetarians, until we remembered that we had children.

There’s a chickpea-mushroom curry in the Veg Times that I turn to now and then, and the Moosewood has a recipe for chili burgers marked with a note: “Good, but might as well make burritos.” Otherwise, these books sit with others on a floor-level kitchen shelf, untouched except for the occasional de-furring.

We own a mid-seventies edition of The Joy of Cooking, which, by modern standards, reads like an automotive manual. The J of C also displays a strange fixation for aspic. No one cares about aspic anymore, unless it’s for punning purposes.

At some point we inherited an old Larousse (1961) and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). These are the War and Peace and Ulysses of home gastronomy: they look good on the shelf but remain unread. If you ever pass out on our kitchen floor, though, you’ll surely be impressed.

I refer to our thick New Good Housekeeping Cookbook for basic meat cooking times and temperatures, as well as for my go-to pancake recipe. When Deb makes the pancakes, on the other hand, she looks to the Better Homes & Gardens New Junior Cookbook, which, copyright 1979, is far from new. We also differ on the correct way to slice an avocado, and yet we remain married.

We get our three-bean salad recipe out of the classic Moosewood Cookbook and a lime-ginger chicken with salsa from a thin paperback book of chicken recipes. Then there’s the chaotic binder of recipe cards, photocopies, and loose pages torn from Canadian Living and newspapers – disorganized, spilling out, half of them never tried and just taking up room. When these recipes say that preparation time is 15 minutes, we need to add an extra 5 simply to find the right sheet.

Our most-worn book, though, is The New Basics (1989), which Deb and I acquired when we first moved to Montreal, though we bought it in Ottawa. It’s funny that I remember that. This is where you’ll find our salsa and guacamole recipes, that beef marinade the kids like, our couscous and tabbouleh recipes, a pasta sauce we refer to in our house as simply “the artichoke sauce” and a few other favourites.

The pages in this paperback edition are curled and stained. The dog tore the spine off it when she was a puppy, another example of why putting books at floor level is a bad idea. The covers are long gone, some of the pages are ripped, and this week, the spine finally split in half.

We’ve loved this book, probably because it was one of our first, and it made us feel like grown-ups. I remember actually reading it. Reading a cookbook! Because that’s what grown-ups do, right? I don’t remember smoking a pipe while reading it, but it’s possible.

And yet, as much as we’ve loved The New Basics, we’ve never once attempted Asparagus Arugula Frittata, Risotto Primavera, Cajun Meat Loaf or even Nutty Quinoa Salad before Nutty Quinoa Salad was cool.

And chances are we won’t, and not just because of my personal vendetta against quinoa.

Our recipes become a metaphor for our lives. We start out excitedly exploring, sampling this and that, discovering our tastes and dislikes. We make notes and add variations, we even venture out on our own. But, with the exception of the occasional foray into the new, we eventually tend to stick with the stand-bys, even when they become worn. We come to realize that we’re happy with what we have and that there are only so many things you can do with breasts.

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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51 Responses to Old man, cook at your life

  1. franhunne4u says:

    Oh yeah, cookbooks … if you get me started on those, you could as well hand me your blog over 😛
    I love cookbooks – like everyone. I cook with friends once a month and we usually try a new recipe, so it’s good I have a large collection to choose from. Still some books, like in your household, have become our favourites – usually the ones named something like Food fast, Quick kitchen or something like that. We are not even lazy, but hungry. Cannot wait for long preparation times to finish.
    And for desserts we prefer the ones with chocolate recipes inside. From the Chocolate lover’s cookbook a friend of mine brought back from Australia to some bigger or smaller ones I bought myself. Those books do not rest in my kitchen, though. Even though this is a cat-household and my cats respect books!
    And I got “binders full”, yes …

    • rossmurray1 says:

      “We are not even lazy, but hungry.” That’s great!

      • franhunne4u says:

        That makes a big difference in the motivation to cook fast! The one says we cannot be bothered – that is where you would normally go into a restaurant or order a delivery service. The other says, we cannot wait to get something into our empty stomachs. So not too complicated meals with too long cooking times.

  2. Paul says:

    Ha! Your last line made me laugh out loud Ross. Too funny. A few notes: 1) some of those vintage cookbooks could be valuable, maybe a trip to Pawnathon Canada (for your US readers that is Canada’s version of Pawn Stars) would find you a much richer man. 2) As a bachelor, I find your diet most exotic and worldly. Surviving on beans and cheese sandwiches (not together – although , come to think of it that may be interesting) the sound of chickpea-mushroom curry and artichoke sauce (again, not together) is downright tantalizing. 3)Where would you be without Deb? Take note of the number of times you refer to her in terms of your culinary explorations. Being Deb-free, I’m afraid my range is much more limited. I needa find me a “Deb”. Of course, I don’t have an oven where I board so my options with breasts is somewhat limited – would that be a problem with my meeting women do you think? .

    Oh, thanks or the visit and comments over on my guest post Ross, much appreciated.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      It’s important to remind myself often where I’d be if I were Deb-free.

      Glad you’re writing, Paul. You’re a natural storyteller with tons of anecdotes.

  3. Letizia says:

    So what IS the correct way to slice an avocado? 🙂

  4. peachyteachy says:

    You may recall that Moosewood and I have a love-hate relationship, leaning strongly to the hate side. http://peachyteachy.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/some-burgers-should-never-be-made/
    I wish that the dog would break that spine.

  5. I don’t just buy cookbooks for the recipes. I like the pictures, too. There’s nothing like a close-up of a big juicy roast chicken lounging in a pan, surrounded by golden potatoes, stuffing oozing out its backside!

  6. We have the overstuffed folder too, but it’s almost too tragic to use anymore. The datelines on those old newspaper and magazine recipes kill the appetite!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Too tragic: too true. I know what you mean. I look at the dates and go, “Hey, remember when they put recipes in newspapers? Remember when there were newspapers?”

  7. OH MY GOD! YOU MENTIONED ASPIC! I have a 70’s J of C and I have always noticed an over abundance of aspic-related recipes.. Aspic Oxtail…yummy…

  8. So true- but I love reading cook books. When my son was really little, preschool age, he & I would pour thru a huge colorful recipe book and he loved to read the titles and hear me read the ingredients – I think that book taught him to count and put him on the path of never-ending-eating 🙂 I don’t regret it though. I have my favo(u)rite go-to recipes for things. But the best ones are the ones in your head that don’t require any paper. I do have a skinny cookie recipe booklet that has been a better cookbook friend than most of the books…so you never know where you’ll find your life’s recipes. My favorite baking book Rosie’s Bakery All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed, No-Holds-Barred Baking Book by Judy Rosenberg. Best cheesecake recipe EVER.

    I wonder if the Joy of Sex has aspic recipes too?

  9. Nic says:


  10. goldfish says:

    I own a mid-seventies edition of The Joy of Cooking, too. My mother bequeathed it to me when I moved out of the nest. I also have Good Housekeeping, Betty Crocker and Better Homes & Gardens fare. Yet, mostly I cook from hand-written recipes on index cards refined and honed through generations like a book of voodoo spells with illegible, smeared notes here and there like, “Aunt Doris says don’t use too much eau de muskrat.”

  11. I like to find something good and then cook it until everyone is sick of it. Right now it is slow roasted tomatoes…mmmmmm. My cookbooks are like my record collection, I never use them, but can’t part with them. I love the Ulysses reference, I’d read a stream-of-consciousness cookbook.

  12. Too much is made of food. I’ve never understood the obsession, although it’s a popular one. There used to be (maybe there still is?) a website called Hungry Girl. I was always put off by the image. To me, it sounds like a woman with an insatiable appetite that can never be satisfied. She’s constantly on the prowl for something to stuff her face with because, after all, she’s the Hungry Girl.

    Veg Times sounds like a big book of punishment, which is exactly how a child sees it. Draw your own conclusions. Kale is the new aspic. Next month it’ll be something else. Dill weed, perhaps. Of course you’re happy with what you have! That’s why they call it comfort food.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I’m loving the imagery in the comments today: “big book of punishment.”

      As I write this, I’m stuffing my face with box-mix brownies. Comfort and joy.

  13. ” We come to realize that we’re happy with what we have and that there are only so many things you can do with breasts.” you are a master of the perfect segue from poignant to witty in the blink of an eye. Well done.

  14. ksbeth says:

    yeh, and i’ve yet to see a betty crocker’s best of the breast cookbook, so we have to go with what we have.

  15. essbee14 says:

    Our cookbooks are mostly kitchen decoration. I also just realized that many of the cookbooks I have are gifts. Almost like my family and friends were subtly hinting at something…but what? Also, whatever artichoke sauce entails, it sounds delish!

  16. buntymcc says:

    We were suffering through internet interruptus (he who will remain nameless cut the wrong wire off the side of the house…) and I had my new CSA (community supported agriculture) box to plan around. The 6 feet of cookbooks at floor level (no dog) had nada on Kale or Kohlrabi – not Moosewood (2 of), BH&G, my clippings box, Diet for a Small Planet, nor Delia Smith (I could go on…) So I guess I need to buy a 2014 cookbook! No, Bell to the rescue ($100 later.) The cookbook would have been cheaper.

  17. Ned's Blog says:

    I was a was a chef for 10 years and never gave in to the incredible pressure to use aspic. I consider this one of my most important culinary achievements. You can read all about it in my new book, “Kiss My Aspics.”

  18. Pingback: Angel Food Cake | The Zombies Ate My Brains

  19. benzeknees says:

    I have 4 Company’s Coming cookbooks I have been lugging around for years. Each book probably only has 1 recipe I ever use, but I love the possibilities of all the other recipes. That’s what I think of them as – possibilities. Maybe someday!
    I also have the original little book we were given in Grade 7 Home Ec where I learned how to make Tuna Chip Casserole because it has the cook temps & times for every type of meat, in case I forget.

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