All went well for several months during which time I would visit the place occasionally to pick up mail and move items to my new place – mostly clothes, work-related stuff and some important papers.
The pride and joy of my former abode was its cookbook library: a room I had specifically designed to hold the 1,200 or so cookbooks I had accumulated during my almost 40 years as a member of Canada’s food media. Many of those – 18, to be exact – were spent as food editor/columnist for this country’s largest newspaper the Toronto Star where I received review copies of cookbooks on a regular basis.
With a yen to emulate that bodacious British TV cook Nigella Lawson, who often flips through books languidly searching for recipes in her elegant room assigned specifically for this, I relished the way I’d meticulously organized my library in sections: by country, region, ethnicity, vegetarian, single subjects, Jewish, vintage (an early edition of Mrs. Beeton, four editions of the Joy of Cooking etc.), grilling, TV chefs – and on it goes.
Let me explain how important cookbooks are to me.
You know that question: If your house was on fire, what would you run back, braving the life-threatening hazards that accompany such an event, to retrieve?
My answer is clear and requires no thought: My family photos, many of which include pictures of my mother’s relatives murdered in Eastern Europe during the holocaust; as many of my vintage coats and dresses as I could carry; the slim file folder containing her favourite recipes given to me by my mother on my 21st birthday, and treasured tomes like the two Julia Child cookbooks signed for me by my dear late friend and mentor.
Luckily, I keep those two cherished books close to my side at all times along with 100 or so other “go-to” cookbooks that reside in my kitchen.
Those few shelves also hold the three books I’ve penned: Best Recipes Under the Sun (from my stint as food editor for the Toronto Sun during the ’80s); The Best of Food (a collection of favorite dishes from my years at the Toronto Star published in 1995), and Dish, a collection of my most popular Toronto Star columns and their accompanying recipes. Only the latter is still in print – see the home page of this site for details.
Also in my kitchen are books by local food maven Bonnie Stern; the huge volume of multi-tested recipes from Cook’s Illustrated magazine called The New Best Recipe; books by Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa); The Bon Appetit Cookbook; Julia Child’s The Way to Cook; books by Giada de Laurentiis, Nigella Lawson, the folks at Chez Panisse, Mario Batali and the unstoppable Jamie Oliver, among others.
‘Twas thanks to that gorgeous, Mockney-talking British TV chef and prolific producer of cookbooks that I eventually twigged to the fact that something was amiss with my cookbook library. Looking for an early Naked Chef book from his early days, I noticed it was missing. And so the story of intrigue, suspense and betrayal began to unfold.
Moving my library from one house to another was one mean feat as box upon box was brought to my new home. Unpacked on to shelves built by my man-friend Ross, the books had definitely diminished. In a nutshell, many of them were not there – absent, gone, missing in action.
Among them: Jane Brody’s books on healthy eating; Sheila Lukins’s books penned after her Silver Palate days; baking books by Rose Levey Beranbaum and Alice Medrich; Canadian books by the likes of Rose Murray, Elizabeth Baird, Anne Lindsay and Michael Smith.
My initial reaction to this was confusion. When what had happened sank in, that quickly morphed into rage. I soon discovered that items of houseware were also nowhere to be found – a stockpot, food mill etc. etc.
I’ve calmed down now and am busy replacing key books with the help of Alison Fryer, my buddy and longtime manager of Toronto’s trusty Cookbook Store.
Making lemonade from lemons, I’ve learned a few valuable lessons. Think before you commit what seems like a generous act. Be careful whom you trust. Be business-like in dealings that involve your possessions, especially prized ones.
As for cookbooks, I am in the process of stamping my name in them. And there’s been a discovery, that although even seemingly obscure books have come in handy for reference during my long career as a food writer/broadcaster and still do, I may not need as many. In other words, this experience has made me assess how many and which books I really need.
For more on this, watch for an upcoming blog on my chat with Alison Fryer about all this.
Meanwhile, here’s a recipe from an author whose books I was forced to replace and who appealed to someone’s sweet tooth!
Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust
New York ace baker and prolific cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum is a guru to those in her field. Popular with professional chefs and home bakers alike, she is a stickler for detail. Baking is one area of cooking where this is crucial – a tablespoon more of less of baking powder can mean success or failure. Talking of which, she specifies “non-aluminium” baking powder in her recipes (available at some health food store) as she claims the regular stuff gives a bitter taste. I used the standard stuff for this, with fine results.
Ms. Beranbaum specifies that the butter be frozen. Mine was chilled (straight from the fridge) and worked well.
Beranbaum says this is her favourite pastry recipe. I feel the need to add a warning: It works like a charm and is wondrously easy to handle, then roll out. However, when baked, it is delicate – almost cakey – and will leak if a liquid filling or raw fruit is used in the pie or tart. I have the burnt pan to prove it after using raw apples!
However, this recipe is great for a free-form tart filled with roasted apples and a custard layer between it and the fruit.
4 oz/125 g (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut in chunks
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
3 oz/85 g (1/3 cup) cream cheese
2 tbsp whipping (35%) cream
2 tsp cider vinegar
In food processor, blend together flour, salt adn baking powder. Add cream cheese; process until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add butter; pulse until peanut size. Add cream and vinegar; pulse until mixture clumps to form dough.
Scrape dough on to lightly floured work surface; shape with hands into flat disc. Cover in plastic wrap; chill about 45 minutes before using.
Makes enough for 1 large one-crust, deep-dish or free-form pie.