March 28, 2006

Tag - I'm it!

A meme! I got tagged!

I realize that there are those of you out there groaning... ANOTHER meme. But not me. Like many of the other relative newcomers, I've been watching memes circulate and thinking "I want to do that... that looks like fun." So now that I've been 'tagged', I feel like I'm now a member of the food blogging community (like Tea, I still can't say 'blogsphere' with a straight face). But thanks to Tea, I'm no longer a wall flower in this community, I'm one of the "cool kids". And even better, it's not just any meme... I get to wax poetic about... my cookbook collection!

How many cookbooks do you own?

In the scheme of things, I guess I have more than some, but clearly not as many as others among us. I haven't counted recently, but I think I'm still in double-digits. I've got a run of the Cooking Light Annuals, a reflection of my long term relationship with that publication and the lessons it's taught me that I don't have to sacrifice taste and complexity for a healthier lifestyle. I've got books from places I've visited (Chicago... New York...), restaurants I've eaten (Greens... Va de Vi...), cuisines & techniques I want to try at home (sushi... fondue...), chefs and other foodies I admire (Alton Brown... David Rosengarten... Ted Allen), gifts from friends and loved ones that reflect our shared passion for good food.

I have occasional guilt feelings (usually corresponding with hitting the 'add to cart' button on or pulling out my credit card at Barnes & Noble) that if I never buy another cookbook, I won't run out of recipes to try. But like any other good library, there are just titles that MUST be a part of a good cookbook collection. I address the 'must haves' in my personal collection in detail in question #5... but each book on my shelf holds a space in my heart... whether I've prepared one recipe from it or 100. So the next time I find myself conflicted over the purchase of a new cookbook, I'll find it fills a hole in my collection I didn't realize I had and I'll pull out my credit card. Addicted? Who's addicted?

Which is the cookbook you bought most recently??

I've probably been "into food" since I graduated from bottle to fork. My parents would certainly attest that I've always been "picky" about it. And some of my fondest childhood memories surround following my father and his friends around his kitchen. John brought out the food lover in me, and one of our most treasured activities became picking a new neighborhood and going 'menu browsing'. It was menu browsing that we discovered Kelly Degala.

Shortly after I moved to the east-er east bay, we found ourselves wandering downtown Walnut Creek in search of the ubiquitous "something different." We passed one Italian restaurant after another (some of which we later discovered were quite good) before stopping in front of the newly open Ono Maze. It was a turning point in our relationship -- with each other and absolutely with food. For the better part of two years, we found ourselves like Norm and Cliff of Cheers fame (though younger and better looking) returning to Ono Maze at least once a month for OUR version of comfort food. A native of Hawaii with genealogical and culinary roots in the Philippines, Kelly expanded our culinary horizons. He introduced us to his own unique "east meets west" cuisine, teaching me that among other things, that my aversion to seafood mixed with tomatoes is unfounded -- at least in some cases. He's the first man I wasn't pursuing romantically that got me to try something I otherwise might have dismissed as "not something I'd enjoy".

Time moves on, especially in the restaurant industry. Ono Maze is no more, but the east bay hasn't lost Kelly. For those of you locals who live under a rock, Kelly's now the busy Executive Chef at Va de Vi Bistro & Wine Bar, where he delights diners with collection of international small plates designed to encourage exploration and experimentation. The menu varies with the season and what's in and fresh, but we've found favorites in the grilled hawaiian mahi-mahi served with thai red curry sauce, the ahi tempura roll with wasabi-orange cream and ponzu, the seared miso marinated alaskan black cod, and the organic grass fed hanger steak. This isn't your father's "fusion cuisine".

And since the Va de Vi cookbook came out in December, I can ponder making these delights at home! I can proudly say this cookbook isn't JUST for show... John's already tried his hand at the thai curry sauce with much success. And this summer when we have more time in the kitchen, we've flagged several others for when we're feeling adventurous. We'll keep you posted...

Which is the cookbook you read most recently?

Does my "to read" pile count? In an effort to eat healthier and try new fruits and vegetables, I recently subscribed to a regional community supported agriculture program and now find myself with the aforementioned interesting fruits and vegetables to add to my menus. I'm now on a constant search for recipes and storage tips. Enter my most recent acquisition: The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook, which also promises to show me how to choose the best of the best from our bevy of local farmer's markets. It will surely quit raining SOMEDAY and we'll be making that weekly pilgrimage again. Amazon delivers Friday so this is in the queue as weekend reading. Again, we'll report back...

Name and describe 5 cookbooks that mean the most to you.

The first four are relative no-brainers. Ms. Madison, Misters Bittman and Brown, and the team at Cooking Light each deliver their own encyclopedic take on all things edible. Regardless of my mood, I know I can find a winning recipe in any of these volumes.

Madison's simple Shredded Salad of Many Greens has converted many vegetable phobes, including John's "I don't eat anything green" brother in law. And I know I can turn to her for a delicious fruit-based dessert using whatever I found irresistible at the farmer's market last weekend.

We've brined Thanksgiving turkey, prepared the Christmas roast beast and served up Easter shrimp cocktail appetizers "the AB way", and his 6 pantry ingredient Haste Makes Paste is the rub of choice for just about every cut of meat we throw on the grill in the summer.

While I've never prepared one of Bittman's recipes, I use his book as my first stop food encyclopedia. How do I trim artichokes? What are my options for the fish I just found at Whole Foods? I use his recipes as the foundation upon which I add my own creative flair.

And the Complete Cooking Light offers me healthy-but-tasty options for those everyday meals where I don't want to sacrifice flavor for the sake of heart-health.

My final indispensable reference in the kitchen has no name at all... it's known in my family as "the blue binder". The blue binder was my father's creation... a discarded classroom binder into which he added recipes passed on from family and friends. Many of them handwritten. The blue binder was a sacred resident of my father's kitchen. I begged, pleaded and cajoled, but I couldn't get more than photocopies out of it in my initial forays out of the nest into "foreign kitchens." A year after dad's death, knee deep in a remodel project to create the kitchen of my dreams, mom decided I was a worthy custodian of the blue binder. My next project is to get its contents digitized, so my grandmother's handwritten notes on the perfect pie crust survive into future generations. Until I get that done I rarely refer to the actual binder; I've converted most of the recipes I use to MasterCook. But it's comforting to know that as I make Aunt Phyllis' penuche, Grandma Kate's parker house rolls, Aunt Lena's touthlach, or Mo's persimmon bread, I've got their thoughts, in their handwriting... their legacies live on in my 21st century kitchen.

Now, for who to tag... I understand there is a lot of spirited debate about whether memes are cool or the blog version of a chain letter. But -- with the understanding that this is an invitation to share their thoughts and not a command performance, I plan to tag Sarah and her Delicious Life, Tzi at Amuse Bouche Musings and Beth with her Zen approach to foodism. To the extent they're interested in participating, I'm looking forward to learning where they find inspiration.


Ivonne said...

Great response!

I'm really looking forward to buying the farmer's market cookbook. I had the good fortune to visite the Ferry building on a trip to San Francisco last summer and I loved it!

Tea said...

This is great! And how lucky of you to have that family binder. I have no family recipes and wish those traditions had been preserved.