A HOME-MADE COOKBOOK
My first year in college, my friend Sari and I made cookbooks for Christmas for everyone we knew. She’s Jewish and used to live in Albuquerque, so she contributed recipes for Aunt Gladys’ Noodle Kugel and Enchiladas con Crema. I am now, as then, a lapsed Unitarian from California with no ethnic cooking traditions, so what I brought to the project were my mother’s family dinners and the desserts of my grandmother on my father’s side, a demon for homemade sweets.
My parents both cooked. Irving was a throw-it-over-your-shoulder-into-the-pan kind of guy, whomping up eggs or stir-frying whatever he scrounged from the icebox. His recipes are harder to reproduce, except for the pies. My mother, Toni, leveled every half-teaspoon of baking soda with the back of a knife and followed recipes to the letter.
Sari and I copied out our recipes by hand, since this was long ago when computers were the size of refrigerators and desk-top publishing hadn’t been thought up yet. She was heading for design school to become an architect, and her writing was stylized but friendly. Mine was legible, but not beautiful. We added quotes about food from Bob Dylan songs and cartoons clipped from The New Yorker, and got the books xeroxed and spiral-bound for about a dollar apiece. I’m still a little unclear as to how a photo of Boston’s ice hockey team, the Bruins, made the cover.
After college I traveled a lot and lived in tiny apartments. For decades my stuff was in storage and I didn’t even vaguely remember having created this book. But one day I found it, and have never looked back. By now my copy is a fairly ratty little volume: one corner singed off and quite a few anonymous brown stains. But it’s wonderful returning to all the family dishes I had forgotten. They’re either very low-fat, like Mediterranean Baked Fish — which has to be an old Weight Watcher’s recipe from one of my mom’s dieting phases — or the complete opposite (this was the ‘60s, before health was invented), like Cheese and Onion Pie, which includes Jarlsberg, butter, Ritz Crackers for the crust (crushed and mixed with butter) and many eggs. Also lots of onion, cooked very slowly in… butter. It’s so good I have to bring the recipe to potlucks because everybody asks for it.
My brothers and sister got the original, but that was 39 years ago. Even if they don’t make the insanely fattening dishes very often, an occasional sensory reminder of our childhood might be comforting. So I’m going to produce a new edition for Xmas this year, adding in some of my current favorites, like Cioppino and Caviar Pie.
This time around I’m putting Mom on the cover. She’s been gone ten years. It’s a photo from 1971: in the kitchen in her old blue apron with the perennial dish towel over her shoulder, one finger in her mouth to taste what she’s cooking, looking right at us, and smiling.