Whittling Away: Cook Books

It starts with running my finger across the 30 cookbooks, each focusing on a niche fad or flavor. Most of them healthy, most of them vegetarian. Many of them have tabs in them, pieces of paper sticking out as makeshift bookmarks, marking favorite recipes. Some are falling apart, while a few haven’t so much as been thumbed through, save for checking for a recipe among its pages before, defeated, placing it back in its hole on the shelf.

Some are even zines, like Please Don’t Feed The Bears (I have multiple issues), a young adult favorite of mine that’s full of metal playlists, vegan comfort food, beer brewing tips, and witty illustrations of personal stories. The author, Brad Misanthopic, lived just a few hours outside Pittsburgh and rereading these zines now, I can see why he was so depressed, the grey blanket that sat over him as he pondered the cows in the neighboring fields, because I feel it too. It’s why I’m leaving this dank nest (I was living in New Mexico when I first collected these zines, where the sun shines even when it’s snowing). Some of them are my own vegan cookzines (Eat Yer Veggies), full of recipes and poetry, none of which is probably any good but I haven’t read them in a long time.

It’s easy to pull out the ones I’m confident I won’t ever use, because I haven’t ever used them, been inspired by them, or thought, “I should go grocery shopping and buy more than trail mix this week, so that I can make that thing I saw in that book.” The book on party foods, for example, or stews. Throw them in the pile. The Voluptuous Vegan, which I’ve taken with me around the country, is falling apart, missing pages, and I’m fairly certain some of the bizarre and hard to find ingredients aren’t even for sale anymore. In the pile.

The more difficult ones, I lose sleep over. The New Mexico cookbook I bought at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico during a writer’s retreat, that stays. The bicycle racer cookbook, full of foods that can be made in a van on a hot plate, that are nourishing and filling, that stays. The ones in between, though, those are the hard decisions. The beautiful photos, lovely narratives, interesting flavor combinations. The internet can provide so much, but it so rarely provides this. Slowly, over the course of days and weeks, I’ll try to find the time, energy, and patience to pull something from those pages, see how it comes out, if I need that book.

The answer, of course, is no. I don’t need it. But that’s the hard answer to a soft palated question I’m relearning how to ask.


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