03 September 2009

Lining the Shelves

This weekend marks the six-year anniversary of when we officially moved in to our little abode north of Greenlake. Part of the reason that we bought a house in the first place, so goes the joke between my husband and I, was so that we'd never have to move again. All the sorting, packing, lifting, re-sorting, unpacking -- it's just too much.

Especially when one has an overflowing heap of kitchen gadgets, place-settings for three average-size families, and enough cookbooks to start a small food-only themed library.

As books go, I've always loved keeping them around. Scan the multitude of shelves in our house and you'll find remnants from school days (journalism and history text books intermingling with Dickens and Plato), legions of photo-rich travel guides, biographies in homage to many of our favorite bands (I count at least 4 on The Who alone), an entire shelf dedicated to writing and reference books for our home-office, and scores of tattered, trendy novels, flaunting their pool-side warp.

But it's the cookbooks that get me really riled up. When we remodeled our dainty kitchen a few years back, a built-in to house the cookbooks was a critical piece of the design (that and the built-in wine rack, but I digress...).

Today, those three dedicated shelves on the corner by the stove are tightly lined with colorful cooking guides of all shapes and sizes.

I try to keep some semblance of order to them, grouping like with like. Retro pie books (2) sit together on the top shelf next to a host of breakfast guides adjacent to the Spanish tapas book I picked up in Seville which rests alongside a leather-bound gentleman's cocktail guide from Restoration Hardware. (Ok, so it's possible the order doesn't make all that much sense.)

The next shelf down rests my go-to collection: The first-ever cookbook I received at approximately age 6 (which I still consult when making apple crisp). A bound collection of my family's best recipes (Every Christmas, mom adds to this collection, typing the best finds from that year and printing up copies for each of us to insert to our binder. It's hands-down the best gift every holiday.). The best vegetarian cookbook I've ever found, given to me by my college roommate during the first year we shared an apartment. Of course, Joy of Cooking.

The bottom shelf houses the over-sized gems: a hardbound copy of Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef, signed by the chap himself (swoon!); the Zuni Cafe book I've read cover-to-cover but haven't yet attempted to cook from; the hefty Vegetable "bible" my aunt gave me when I announced my vegetarianism; a profoundly detailed Baking Illustrated guide from the geniuses at Cook's Illustrated magazine (actually a gift to my husband, the baker, but I peek at it!); Cafe Flora's own tome; and a well-loved Sunset Cook Book for Entertaining from 1968 that contains my secret sangria recipe (guess the secret's out). I haven't even begun to tell you about the scores of Food + Wine magazines stashed beneath our bed.

Sometimes I sit, cross-legged on the linoleum floor, in front of the shelf and gaze at them, occasionally pulling out a book or two to flip through for inspiration. Or I just look at the pictures and imagine the feasts I could make. Or I reminisce about the memories -- where I first tasted a dish, where I picked up the book, the smell of that pie baking in the oven. And sometimes, like today, I begin leafing through the shelves, selecting a book here, a book there, piling one atop each other on the floor next to me until it's nearly half my seated height.

Today's stated goal was to devise a menu for a Monday-night dinner party, in belated observance of a dear friend's birthday. It's turned into me sitting amongst towers of books from all eras, lustily thumbing through the pages, dog-earing corners and sticking in tufts of scrap paper as a reminder. I can't imagine a better way to savor the morning. I'm so glad to have lugged all of these books around with me, all these years.


  1. So jealous of your signed Jamie Oliver cookbook! Did you get to meet him in person somewhere?

  2. Yes, Jamie did a book-signing at Macy's a handful of years ago. It was worth the hour+ wait in line to meet him! He called me "love." Sigh. (I'm sure he called every woman in that line the same thing, but it made me swoon!)