Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Cookbook Reader

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin this week.

I’ve written in the past how much I love my job and how rewarding it is to work with the public. In addition, I’ve told our readers how much pride I have to work in such a beautiful building in the Town of Norwood. I’ve shared stories about attending Literary Lunches with the 6th graders at the Coakley Middle School and reading to children in the public schools during Read Across America week each spring. I’ve written about programs that we give at the library including our frequent film series, author nights, book discussions, Scrabble and Music Sundays. One of the joys of my job is encouraging our staff to offer these rich and diverse programs to adults and children in Norwood. These are some of our “finest hours” at the library and it gives us great pride to fill the Children’s Room or the Simoni Community Room.

I’ve also shared with you that one of the best parts of my job is ordering books for the non-fiction collection. As a non-fiction reader myself, I love to find out which books are coming out in future months. I like to keep you informed and I write about these in our eNews updates and post them to our website so that you can request them early from the library.

And that’s exactly how I’ve become a cookbook reader. I’ve loved cooking since I was a young adult and I’ve relied on friends, relatives, magazines or newspapers for their suggestions. I’ve collected my own library of cookbooks, purchased on whims or given to me as gifts. But it was only when I began to choose them for our library that I decided to make sure that my choices have been good ones. It’s my job to read cookbooks. Someone has to do it and I love it.

That’s how I discovered the “Beat This! Cookbook” by Ann Hodgman with a foreword by Elizabeth Berg. Berg herself loves reading and writing fiction (“Range of Motion” and “Year of Pleasures” are two of her many books) but when she has asked by National Public Radio to recommend a book, Berg chose Hodgman’s book. On that recommendation, I decided to bring newly-published “Beat This!” on vacation last week.

Was I hooked! I was halfway through reading the book on our first night away. Hodgman was a way of describing her choice of recipe, her enjoyment of the finished product and her family history that is quite simply delicious. She adds some of her advice in large quotations throughout the book and even those are fun to re-read.

“Chili is further proof of my rule that every recipe is better if you add sausage or bacon.”

Or “It’s so much more fun to bite into something triangular than something rectangular.”

Or how about “I try not to feel too embarrassed about relying on a convenience food during a major national holiday.”

I had already brought ingredients to cook for my household for nearly the entire week so when I finished the book on the beach I didn’t quite get to make any of the recipes in Hodgman’s book. However, I will be trying some of Hodgman’s recipes soon. “Pure, Rich, Great Caramels” and “Strawberry Gelato” sounded yummy to me.

Another book I took along on vacation was “At Elizabeth David’s Table: Classic Recipes and Timeless Kitchen Wisdom.” It is wonderfully entertaining and enlightening. Renowned food writer Ruth Reichl wrote the preface to the book and she describes chef David’s personality in and out of the kitchen. Included in the cookbook are Elizabeth David’s (1913-1992) chatty introduction to each recipe and the instructions are written in a knowledgeable go-to-it style. Try “Stewed White Beans” or “Chicken Baked with Green Pepper and Cinnamon Butter.”

I brought “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals” by Maria Speck and “Jekka’s Herb Cookbook” by Jekka McVicar for inspiration. They aren’t quite as irresistible to read but they are wonderful cookbooks full of healthy, delicious recipes.

This summer my husband and I chose to rent a former B&B to house our large brood which included our grandson, our grown children, their spouses or partners and friends for our week at the Cape. As our son-in-law put it, there were an “obscene amount of bathrooms.” One of the other great features was a spacious gourmet kitchen fit for our family of foodies.

I discovered that the owner had written her own cookbook. Tucked on a shelf in the bright, sunny kitchen was “Sleep On It” by Carol Gordon. It is a collection of recipes meant to be made the night or day before so that the host or hostess (in this case, bed-and-breakfast owner) can sleep in until at least 6 a.m. In fact, the subtitle of Ms. Gordon’s book is “Prepare Delicious Meals the Night Before that You Can Pop in the Oven the Next Day!” We had fun reading that cookbook and trying some of the easy appetizer recipes on our hungry, sunwashed crowd.

One of the best values at your library in Norwood is expensive non-fiction books like cookbooks that you can borrow, browse and read bits and pieces without purchasing them. If you can’t resist having them in on your own bedside table or kitchen counter you can always find them at a bookstore. But we have a wonderful cookbook collection that grows larger each month and we love to share it with you. Be sure to visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website, www.norwoodlibrary.org.