Counsel and Old Cookbooks

grandmas cookbookI find relaxation in the kitchen. As odd as it sounds, there is something completely therapeutic about putting together an elaborate meal for me. Thankfully, my family doesn’t selfishly look forward to those moments of high stress in my life with knife and fork in hand. That said, when the sounds of appliances whirling and the aromatic smells of dishes in the oven begin wafting through the house in the wee hours, you can be assured everyone will be up, dressed and ready for breakfast. And that Mom will get an extra hug or two of reassurance, for they know the world rests heavy on my shoulders that day.

It is our silent support system…and for us it works.

But for as much as I love to cook and find the rhythm of beating eggs and the precision of measuring, cutting and baking a momentary release of the weights of the day, it is the recipes that I often find equally comforting. I love old cookbooks. I love the beautiful bindings of tomes from decades ago, when one weighty book was sufficient to guide a young bride through her first years of marriage. It offered advice on everything from cooking, to how to set a proper table, to childcare and guidance on the care and keeping of her home. I am intrigued by the collections of civic groups, churches and the like; who share not only their local recipes, but the stories of local legends, lore and favorite sites I one day may want to visit. I love the modern-day books, as much a coffee table photography book as it is a collection of recipes, with beautiful shots that will never resemble dishes that I produce.

I am inspired by the dishes, the ingredient combinations and the stories often shared behind the dishes. Most importantly, I love to find old cookbooks that have been lovingly used. Pages stained and splattered, silently confessing to the favorite recipes simply by how worn and broken down the binding is; naturally opening to those time-tested, favorite recipes. Even more amazing to find are the notes and comments left behind, sharing adjustments to recipes, dates of when dishes were prepared and suggestions on accompaniments to make the meal complete. That is heaven to me!

Years ago, I stumbled upon an estate sale in an exclusive neighborhood of Capitol Heights. The home was gorgeous; tastefully decorated by a gentleman who had incredible taste for fine art, furniture and exotic textiles. Every room was more spectacular than the rest and I quickly realized that I was way out of my financial league. Enjoying the self-guided tour nonetheless, I ended up in the basement of the home, where a secondary kitchen was located. It was clear that the homeowner had been an aspiring catering chef and this was his true domicile.

Unlike the rest of the house, it was a true work space and design for function, not style. Everything was intended to support a cook in the height of his work and no attention was given to design; it was all about the craft of cooking. I noted some boxes full of books in a corner, and I quickly found myself drawn to them. As I explored the collection, a world of love for cooking was at my feet. From the well-worn pages, hand-written notes, newspaper clippings of recipes and restaurant reviews, etc., that caught his eye fell out. I found notebooks of his party menus — all in beautiful script — saved and marked to ensure future parties were properly planned and favorite guests’ dishes were thoughtfully remembered. Recipes, tablescapes, thank you notes; it was years of his passion for cooking all bundled up into boxes. I found an endearing love letter to cooking; someone else’s passion and shared kitchen therapy. There was absolutely nothing else in the house I wanted; I bought the entire priceless collection for $50.

I love my time in the kitchen and feel privileged to know that I share a bond with an exquisite gentleman who had a similar passion to mine. In those old books are sage advice and wisdom — and not all is about cooking and entertaining. It is about taking time to explore your passions. Making sure you have an outlet for the stress in life that comes from time to time. Counsel that we all need to have secret places we can go – real or in our minds – that allow us to break away from the worlds we’ve built up and allow our true selves to be live and breathe.

Stress will come. But to have an outrageous life, we have to embrace the stress, work through it and know we will be stronger, wiser and more resilient on the other side. I love this life! And, I think, today is a great day to bake something beautiful!

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