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Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

I like it whenever I find some little, relatively inexpensive way to make a tiny part of my life just a bit more “together”. This doesn’t happen often, but the other day I found an opportunity in my kitchen. I decided to upgrade my cooking life by getting a ring-bound copy of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I still have my 1981 paperback copy that I bought right after I broke up with my ex-wife, and by now it’s pretty beat up, all crumbly and yellow-y with pages falling out. My X introduced me to the New Cookbook while we were married, and I built up a lasting relationship with it over the 3 years or so when we were together. It pretty much had all the basics; how-to’s on bread, cookies, soups, pasta, veggies, main dishes, the works. I spent a lot of quality time with it in the tiny little kitchen to our apartment, its narrow pages forced open on the kitchen table by a can of beans or whatever else was handy, peering down at it as to figure out “what’s next”.

Eventually the wife left me and took with her the New Cookbook paperback, so I quickly found another copy for myself in a local bookstore. And thus the happy relationship continued over the years, even as I took my vegetarianism more and more seriously. I no longer had use for a big chunk of the NCB, but still found myself needing the rest of it quite frequently. It was nice to know that I didn’t have to memorize how much water goes with a half cup of rice, or how much milk is needed for a small stack of pancakes — it was right there on-call in the NCB.

So, after 30 years, I decided to upgrade to the ring-bound edition and retire the old veteran. Now I could lay the binder flat on the kitchen table and flip thru the pages easily, without tearing the binding and loosening pages while trying to hold the book open at a particular page. So I went on Amazon and found a “like new” copy of the 2010 version for just $5 plus $4 shipping, and it showed up at my doorstep yesterday. This was great timing, as I was just about to mix up my annual batch of basil pesto after doing some harvesting from my mini-garden next to the driveway. So I opened the binder on the table and went to the index, searching for the “pasta with pesto” entry.

Hmmm. Something seemed wrong. There was an entry for “penne and chicken with pesto”, so I checked it out, figuring that I could ignore the chicken part and just focus on the ingredients that went into the basil sauce. I leafed to the page, noticing all the pretty pictures and attractive page layout in the new version, quite a contrast to the “nothing but recipes” format of the old paperback. Lots of pics of tuna casseroles, big cuts of grilled meat, salami salads — not exactly very comforting to my vegetarian sensibilities. But then I reached the penne with pesto recipe and was in for a real shock — it calls for “one 7 ounce container purchased basil pesto”.

PURCHASED??!!?? What the heck!!! — this is a cookbook, and it’s supposed to tell you how to make sauces, not purchase them!! Like my old 1981 paperback version does.

Sorry, but I’m getting old and I need things to hang on to. This isn’t the same cookbook that I shared so much of my better years in the kitchen with. It’s a cookbook for modern times. Like most people getting old, I think that modern times aren’t as good as the old ones. I see that Better World Books has a 1982 hardcover version that they will send for $3.50 (shipping cost only). I’m going with that. Maybe it would be better to leave Better Homes altogether and just go with The Joy of Cooking — the other great basic cookbook of America, perhaps a bit more cosmopolitan (NCB always did have a quaint mid-western flavor to it, with classics like egg-sausage casserole and ham hodgepodge). But then again, from a quick look at the index of JOC, their pesto recipe calls for anchovies.

Nope, I’m sticking with the past. FYI, here are shots of the old and the new.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:26 pm      

  1. Jim, I have the same two cookbooks sitting on the shelf in my kitchen. They are old, but they really are good when it comes to having a question about cooking. For instance, what to put in this or that I might be making, an idea for a recipe, etc. (Do have to admit that my real cooking days are over.) I tend to use recipes (once in a while I still do some actual cooking–I plead old age again) as ideas for what to put in whatever it is I am making, then I change things around, add, subtrsct ingredients, etc. I see recipies as simply jumping off point for whatever it is I have in mind to make.

    Well, I guess the NEW version of these cookbooks follows the “semi-home made” lady from the Food Channel whose idea (and I can’t say it’s that bad) is: Buy stuff from the store, change it around by adding this or that, and viola! a “semi-home made” recipe. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — August 17, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

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