We're moving house in a few weeks. This will be our 16th move and I believe I can say with a certain amount of authority it doesn't get any easier. Nonetheless, we are viewing this chore positively, as an opportunity to pare down, lighten up, downsize.
That's what we tell ourselves anyway. In reality when I look at the amount of stuff we'll be giving and/or throwing away I can't help but feel we really haven't risen to the occasion. Cookbooks, for instance. I have a stack of just 15 giveaways -- out of hundreds. Logic tells me that cookbooks should be like clothes - if they haven't seen the light of day in more than a year they're out the door. Given the amount of cooking I do (much less than when I wasn't writing about food, ironically enough) there's no way in Hades I could use all of my books in a year. Yet for whatever reason I can't bear to part with most of them.
I thought it would be an interesting exercise to list the titles now sitting on our dining room table, ready to find new homes with friends or in a trash can. I don't dislike any of these books; my tossing them out is not a commentary on either their authors or their content. I only know I won't miss them. Many fellow food bloggers have written about their favorite cookbooks. Here's a list of of ones that I can do without:
Baking in America and Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts I used to bake a lot, but now my cake pans lie unused, my cookie sheets bereft. I use the oven more for warming plates than I do for making anything sweet. I bought the first book a couple years ago, and I've only cracked it a couple times, never used it once. My mom gave me Heatter's book when I was at uni. It's well-used, and I topped off some memorable meals with its creations. But I'm not sentimental. I loved it then, but I couldn't care less about it now. Out it goes.
If I do get the urge to bake I've got this book, which is probably one of the most overlooked baking tomes out there, perhaps because its author died much too young some years ago. I've made countless desserts from it - cakes, cookies, pies, tarts, compotes, puddings, you name it - and they've all been of 'that's the best I've ever tasted' quality. It's all the baking book I need. But I've also got this one just in case I want to whip up something sweetly exotic.
The Minimalist Cooks at Home Who doesn't love Mark Bittman's columns in the New York Times Wednesday Dining Section? I always read them but I rarely cook from them. Same with this book. Buh-bye.
The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook This might be the first cookbook I ever owned. It's mammoth, a sort of Chinese cooking newbie's bible. I never took to it, preferring instead Kenneth Lo's Encyclopedia of Chinese Cooking (which I rarely cook from now but do use for reference). We eat a fair amount of Chinese around here and these days I'm mostly using two Sichuan cookbooks. The latter is relatively unknown, but its recipes are quite authentic (if confusingly written). It was given to me by my future mother-in-law shortly after Dave and I returned to the US from Chengdu, where we taught English in the 80s - a very good omen for future in-law relations, I think.
Kitchen Conversations I like the idea of this book: recipes accompanied by discussions of how different flavors and ingredients work together, and input from a sommelier (the author's son) on pairing wine with the dishes. When we moved to the San Fran Bay Area in 1990 I bought the author's first book and cooked from it extensively - like, cover to cover - and I still think it's fantastic. But I just couldn't get that excited about this one.
Simply Tuscan, Food of Southern Italy, Italian Farmhouse Cookbook My bookshelves hold almost as many Italian as Asian cookbooks, so I probably should have forced myself to part with more than three. These have sat untouched for too many years. My go-to for Italian (besides, of course, Marcella Hazan) is anything by Lynne Rosetto Kaspar, whom many readers (in the US, at least) know from NPR's Splendid Table. I was cooking from her books before she became a radio star; The Italian Country Table is probably the most oil and sauce-splattered book in my entire collection, and The Splendid Table (about Emilia-Romagna, not the radio show of the same name) combines history and recipes to great effect.
Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin and The Paris Cookbook Though I loved Loomis' memoir of living and cooking in a French town my affection for a few other French or French-ish cookbooks left little room in my kitchen for her cookbook. It looks like a good one, but I only cook so much French; I know I'll never get to it. As for The Paris Cookbook well, what can I say? I've never been to the City of Lights (gasp! yes, it's true) and many of the recipes are just too rarified for either my palate or my humble kitchen.
Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine What was I thinking? I've never baked bread. And I don't even own a bread machine. (But I'm hanging onto a couple other bread books. You know, just in case.)
Paula Wolfert's World of Foods Wolfert is a true culinary anthropologist. I am totally in awe of what she does, have all of her other books, and at least read, if not cook from, them pretty often. But this collection of unrelated recipes I really don't need, so I'm chucking it.
Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, & Calzone I don't make pizza, calzone, or pasta. If I decide to, I've got a gzillion other books I can consult (see Italian entry above).
Japanese Cooking and Practical Japanese Cooking Japanese food is a fave but cooking it isn't. I do hotpots, noodles, miso soup, and that's about it. These titles have been idling on my shelves for perhaps a decade. Shame on me. Let them belong to someone who will pay them some attention. (I'm keeping this one though. Who knows, I may get inspired one of these days.)
And a reprieve: Glorious Foods of Greece sat at the top of my pile last night, but I rescued it this morning. I've cooked from it maybe once, and recently bought this book which is now my Greek food bible. But Glorious Foods includes recipes for so many interesting and little-known regional specialties that I want to hang onto it just in case we ever go to Greece - it would serve as a great guide book.
What cookbook(s) could you do without?