I’ll never forget my eldest daughter’s first word other than “mama”.  My mother worked in bookshop at the time and when we entered the door she looked about in wonder.  “Book!  Book!  Book!”  At 9 months old she knew them well.  I read to her morning, noon and night and when she nursed I read my own books.  Today she is still a reader and her most prized possessions line her bookshelves.

My mom is also a book lover and like me, she enjoys the escape and possibilities.  There is always a wish list on Amazon, gift certificates for holidays and books tucked into care packages.

So many possibilities…

Years ago when we moved to Holland, few possessions went with us.  With a meager weight allowance for relocation we left all but the essentials behind.  Discovering the English section at the library, consisting of one bookcase, felt like locating treasure and I must have read at least half of the volumes on offer.  We were excited when we stumbled upon books we could read at flea market stalls and scarcity made them precious.

I feel dismay when I notice the half-empty shelves at the library and see the collection diminishing.  Patrons are more likely to be surfing the internet than borrowing books and the library may be building up the collection of e-books due to popular demand.  I understand scarce resources and hard decisions, but miss exploring the aisles and coming home with a stack of books.  For 6 weeks I can learn about anything, and return the book so that someone else can do the same.  I like the ideas contained in books, and love the idea of circulation to keep the knowledge flowing.

“A Walk Across America” inspired me to walk from LA to DC.  When I was expecting babies and made the unusual choice to give birth at home, authors like Sheila Kitzinger and Janet Balaskas shared their wisdom and became trusted guides.  When I moved to Europe, the Internet was not what it is today and reading books was my way of preparing for the unknown.  Reading with my children awakened imagination and made new friends come to life.  Students loved it when I rewarded good behavior with stories and even “did the voices.”

Someone once said I was an open book.  Somehow “you’re a charged e-reader” doesn’t have the same ring.  Long live writers, readers, learners and books.

From My Bookshelf: Cooking Classics

Some weeks I use a meal planning program to map out every night’s menu and develop a shopping list and life is easy.  Other times I let spontaneity take over and I’ll buy something from the farmers market and figure out how to use it later or look in my fridge, Google a few ingredients and see what recipes come up in the search.  In either case, getting to the point where I can confidently whip up something on the fly came years of knowledge stemming from a handful of cooking classics that are still on my shelf.  The following are more than books – they have guided me and shaped my cooking style over the years and their recipes have become a part of the fabric of our family memories.  Online blogs, websites and databases are definitely a great development and some may argue that books have become obsolete, but don’t forget the well-loved classics that have helped many lifetime cooks like me.  Call me old school, but inscriptions,  flour and torn pages are all part of the experience and stains are like clues on a treasure map.  The more you find, the better the recipe in most cases.

Joy of Cooking

Even Julia loved it! Well-worn copies from the library of Julia Child

Joy of Cooking (1985 edition by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker)

I am constantly surprised by the breadth and depth of this all-inclusive volume.  With hundreds of recipes, thorough and simple-to-understand instructions and many favorite basics, the Joy of Cooking is a must have.  My copy is falling apart at the seams and its pages carry the stains of many haphazardly joyful cooking experiences.  I’ve often thought that the only thing missing was nice photographs, so a recent series of JOC books that focus on a particular area (breakfast, soups, vegetarian, etc.) and feature full-color photography might be worth checking out.

American Wholefoods Cuisine (by Nikki Goldbeck and David Goldbeck)

I discovered this cookbook when working at a natural foods cooperative and authors Nikki and David taught me use new and unfamiliar ingredients to build a new repertoire of favorites.  Life has come full circle and I find myself referring to this cookbook again to support a whole foods lifestyle.

Sunset Easy Basics for Good Cooking (1982 edition by Janet Johnson Nix)

This book was a gift from my grandmother, and the front page bears the inscription “To my dear granddaughter, hoping this book will help a bit in your ‘domestic’ interests”.  Well, it did and this book is still a good reference for dishes such as basic bread, quiche, pancakes, crepes, apple crisp, soups, salad dressings  and many others.  The 1987 edition by Jerry Anne Di Vecchio was updated to include more low-fat recipes and this book features “how-to” photos illustrating technique for those new to a recipe or cooking in general.

Eater’s Choice (1987 edition by Dr. Ron Goor and Nancy Goor)

Unfortunately, high cholesterol seems to run in our families.  This book was helpful when I became aware of this health issue and my ability to control it to some extent and lose weight by making healthier food choices.  Good basics and simple ingredients form the basis of the Goors’ recipes and I appreciate the simple, clear directions.  I haven’t looked into the newer editions but would recommend their books for those interested in a lifetime of health.