Those of you who have been meditating in a Tibetan monastery may have missed the fact that I recently had a recipe published in the Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook.
The book is lovely… glossy pages and all.
As usual, I shall attempt to keep it in pristine condition.
I’m not certain why I do it.
I’m like that with all my books. Mon mari knows better than to bend a corner to mark his place. That’s what book marks are for.
I have been known, upon the return of a mishandled book loaned to a friend, to buy a replacement for it. I have paperbacks that I’ve owned for twenty years and reread ten or twenty times that still would get a ‘good’ rating on Amazon Marketplace.
That should be different with cookbooks. Cookbooks should be for using, making notes about what worked, what didn’t and what to change.
A favorite aunt, who loved to cook, died a few years ago. I got her cookbooks.
I’m not sure which gives me more pleasure: paging through her old cookbooks, some of them dating from the ’40’s, or reading all the notes and bits she left behind.
She had a habit that I could never emulate.
She put things in her books; not just the cookbooks, but all of her books.
- Other recipes, of course,
- Obituaries of friends, announcements of weddings and births
- Letters from friends and family, including from my mother to her
- Scraps of articles she found interesting, from the newspaper or a favorite magazine
- Copies of old utility bills, cancelled checks, etc. (why in a cookbook?)
- And my favorite – something one rarely sees today: pressed flowers.
I have to turn the pages of these books carefully, lest a perfect violet, pressed 50 years ago, drop out and be damaged.
As careful as she was with the flowers, she was ruthless with the recipes.
Lines are drawn through ingredients she didn’t like or didn’t think worked. Notes were written in the margins with a better way (or her preferred way) of doing something.
It’s like being a child again, sitting in her kitchen and listening to her as she bustled about, baking bread, making pies and jams… always something bubbling on the stove and perfuming the house.
She was an old-fashioned farmwife and no meal was complete without freshly baked bread and a pie still warm from the oven.
She would have liked this stew: simple, winter vegetables, slowly simmered with chunks of beef.
And, yes, she was known to have a little nip of sherry now and then…..
Beef and Root Vegetable Stew
24oz (750gr) beef stew meat
4 tbs flour
1 1/2 tbs paprika
3 medium carrots
1 small rutabaga (swede)
3 ribs celery
2 cloves garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tbs tomato paste
3 bay leaves (laurel)
2 cups (16oz, 500ml) beef stock/broth
1/2 cup sherry or red wine
1 tbs cornstarch (maizena) dissolved in 2 tbs beef stock (if needed)
The beef: Cut beef into 1 1/2″ (4cm) pieces. Put flour and paprika into a plastic food bag and mix well. Add beef, close bag and toss well to coat thoroughly. Heat oil in a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef and brown on all sides. Mince garlic, add and sauté 1 minute. Add broth, sherry, tomato paste, herbs, and stir well to scrape up any browned bits. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, or simmer very slowly for several hours. Start the vegetables an hour before dinner.
The vegetables: Peel shallots and leave whole. Peel rutabaga and cut into large chunks, about, 3/4″ (2cm) cubes. Peel or scrape carrots, cut into 2 inch (5cm) lengths, then quarter the long way. Cut celery in half the long way, then into 2″ (5cm) lengths. Quarter the potatoes the long way then cut in half or thirds depending on size. Put potatoes into a bowl of water to prevent discoloring. Add shallots, rutabaga, carrots, celery to beef. Stir well, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and add to stew. Simmer 30 minutes longer, until vegetables are tender.
To finish: If desired, for a thicker gravy, dissolve cornstarch in beef stock. Uncover, increase heat and remove bay leaves. Add cornstarch and stir until sauce is thickened. Serve directly from pot or ladle into serving bowl.
How do you treat your books?
Do you treat your cookbooks differently?
Are they works of art or tools of a working art?
I will now admit to the copious use of post-it notes. I often put a large one inside the front cover to write on.
I still can’t bring myself to actually write on a page, though…. Not even in pencil.