I have recently set up office in the attic- a quiet space with big windows, plenty of light, little distractions and access to a good, sturdy chair. It's where I write, answer emails and make business plans. I decided it was time to make the move when it became evident that the living room, despite its great big table and close proximity to the kitchen (my lab and sanctuary), just wasn't cutting it anymore.
It was a good choice, especially because the attic is where I keep all my cookbooks, and for some reason, being around them, is proving to be a very inspiring journey down memory lane. There are times when I pull up a chair next to the bookcases, pick up a book I had forgotten about and suddenly remember why and where I bought it. It brings back good memories to open a book and find little notes, shopping lists or even stains left behind as proof of my kitchen adventures. If you asked me which of these cookbooks was my favorite, I'd probably have a very hard time giving you an answer because they're all very special. To me, they are so much more than just recipe collections bound with fancy covers. They are mementos of times and places in my life. I'd like to share a few random ones with you today and tell you why I love them so much.
The first one is a sweet, Dutch book I was lucky enough to find in an antique shop. Its title is Gastvrouw zijn is een kunst, which basically translates to "Being a Hostess is an Art". The book breathes vintage elegance with its fine, French-style pen drawings and black and white photos of artfully set tables, proper utensils and tableware. It discusses things like serving a good apéritif (different types of sherries, port, madeira, marsala and vermouth are discussed), planning ahead so that you actually have very little cooking to do when guests arrive (an ossobuco is recommended, served with a 1953 Châteauneuf-du-Pape), what kind of party to have when, choosing the right wines at the right temperatures and serving them in the right glasses and even making sure that as a hostess we look our best (the hairdresser should never be seen as a luxury but as a necessity).
I admit, the book is from 1960, but I remember having a good chuckle the first time I read it and realized just how old-fashioned I am when it comes to entertaining. Yes, I do serve six course dinners complete with matching wines and it goes without saying that I most certainly welcome my guests in my rather uncomfortable but oh-so pretty high heels!
The second book is just a little more modern and is one of the first books I bought after I came back from the Lot-et-Garonne the first time I visited and knew that I was destined to live there. Goose Fat and Garlic, Recipes from South-West France, is a temptingly written book by Jeanne Strang, who at the time of publication, had been living in the area for over forty years. It's one of those cookbooks that makes up for its lack of photographs with its beautiful, mouthwatering writing. After reading just a few pages, I wanted to either run into the kitchen and cook or just hop in the car and drive south. Classic recipes that represent the rustic kitchen and culinary bounty of the region are brought to life with warm stories of local places and people. I absolutely adore the gutsy style of this kitchen and to me this book is proof that one can never have too much duck or truffles!
The next book is (not taking into consideration Mastering the Art of French Cooking), my gourmet bible. It was the first book I bought when I decided to trade a career in art research for one in food. I was fresh out of university and knew that food was my passion and that inspiring people to cook with love and taste with pleasure would become my career. Culinary Artistry has been praised by many chefs. It includes lists of foods and explains how flavors work together so that you can compose a perfectly harmonius meal. There are recipes, menus and lists of must-have ingredients shared by respected chefs. It's more than just inspiration, it's a handbook for creating magic!
Last but certainly not least, is The Complete Farmhouse Kitchen. The book is one of those extremely lovable, old-school cookery books with recipes for things like homemade sausages, pig's head brawn and old-fashioned spice bread. It reads like a comfy blanket and thick socks and the recipes, although somewhat dated, are still very suitable for the modern cook. The book was part of a cooking show which aired on Yorkshire Television in the early 70's. The recipes, more than 1000, were collected from all over the UK so you'll find recipes for traditional English food such as yorkshire pudding, cornish pasties and lemon curd.
These are just four special books I suddenly came across today. Just like them, there are so many more which have unfortunately been forgotten for longer than I intended and are now eagerly waiting to be rediscovered. I hope to share more of them with you in future posts. What a treat to be able to work amidst this wonderful collection!