Food for thought

We 21st-century Americans celebrate our capacity for assimilating new ideas and techniques.  We upgrade phones at the drop of a hat, endlessly tweak our Facebook pages, and investigate any number of eco-friendly home improvements.  Adaptability, flexibility, innovation–these are our watchwords.  Just don’t go switching raspberries for strawberries in Aunt Bertha’s Thanksgiving jello salad, and God forbid you should try to have a festive extended-family meal without (fill in the blank with your clan’s most time-honored dish)!

During the holidays, food signifies fulfillment of two needs–affection and stability.  That’s a fact, as is the realization that all those modern technologies encroach on time formerly spent planning and executing the Significant Seasonal Meal.  Each approaching Thanksgiving or Christmas finds me a little more desperate for rock-solid yet inspired culinary advice.

So, I turned to my fellow library staffers for recommendations.  What, I asked, is your #1 cookbook?  The nominees:

  • Betty Crocker Cookbook:  named multiple times, this classic offers “favorite comfort foods”, instructions for novices: cuts of meat, freezing, etc, convenient looseleaf format, and lots and lots of color illustrations
  • Six Spices: A Simple Concept of Indian Cooking by Neeta Saluja: “helps you master the basics”
  • Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course:  “my cooking bible at home in England”
  • America’s Test Kitchen books and DVDs:  “everything about cooking from the best appliances and cookware to improving recipes”
  • The Joy of Cooking:  “I like the older version more than the current one”; also named by more than one respondent
  • New Best Recipe:  “old favorites that have been tested for taste, texture, dependability”
  • Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food by Jessica Seinfeld
  • The Food Network website
  • The “small holiday recipe brochure–I think from Borden–that I picked up at the grocery checkout several years ago”:  “I’ve even preserved each page in a plastic sleeve”.

As in our other pursuits, when it comes to cooking we retain our appreciation for the traditional sources as we test-drive evolving ones.  No wonder our celebrative repasts carry so much emotional weight; they are microcosms for the challenge we face in navigating a changing world while preserving our identities.

With apologies to The Serenity Prayer, here’s what guided my choice of menu items for this Thanksgiving:  courage to adapt a couple of family favorites to slightly more healthful versions, and wisdom to not monkey around with the buttermilk pie recipe.


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