I love cookbooks.
I love to read them, learn from them, cook from them and ponder what life must’ve been like for the families who ate the meals that originated from the recipes. Cookbooks for me are a magic form of social and cultural history, informed by geography, family dynamics, individual personalities and memories.
Since receiving my first cookbooks as birthday presents each year from the age of 13, I have been collecting them and writing down treasured recipes of family, friends, and neighbors, which means I now own hundreds (thousands?) of cookbooks, recipes, and clippings from all over the world.
With that understanding, when I pondered the question: What are the books that have inspired you the most – the first two books to cross my mind were my very favorite cookbooks that really launched my passion for all things cooking-related:
Grand Marnier-Apricot Stuffing
1 1/2 cups Grand Marnier (or Triple Sec or frozen OJ concentrate)
turkey liver and heart ( extremely optional)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 lb bulk pork sausage
1 lb herb stuffing mix (Pepperidge Farms works great)
1 cup slivered almonds
2 cups rich chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
salt & freshly ground black pepper
2. Melt ½ cup of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery and onion and saute for 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.
3. In the same skillet, cook the sausage, crumbling it with a fork, until it’s no longer pink. Remove from heat and add to the celery & onion mixture.
4. Add the stuffing mix, apricots with the liquid, the almonds (and the optional giblets.) Stir to combine.
5. Heat the remaining 1/2 cup butter and chicken stock just until the butter melts. Pour over the stuffing mixture and add the remaining 1/2 cup of Grand Marnier. Stir well to moisten the stuffing, adding the thyme, salt and pepper to taste.
6. Bake stuffing in a large buttered casserole at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes.
7. If you insist, you’ll have enough to stuff a 21-24 pound bird with a small extra casserole on the side.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring the pan
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.
2. Cream the butter in a mixing bowl and add the sugar gradually; beat until light and fluffy.
3. Sift the flour and add to the butter mixture. Stir just enough to blend. Add the lemon juice and vanilla; stir well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 1 hour. (*NOTE: After 30 minutes, cover the cake closely with aluminum foil.)
5. When the cake is done, cool in its pan on a cake rack for 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely.
I don’t actually remember learning how to read.
It seemed like a talent I was born knowing how to do from a young age and I naturally increased those abilities at a pretty fast pace before starting school at the ripe old age of 4.
On my first day of Kindergarten, I was placed at a round table with a tent card labeled, The Phonics Station. My teacher introduced to the ‘Letter People’ and then indoctrinated us to what would become the bane of my school life: worksheets.
As my teacher’s melodic voice recited the directions, I remember thinking that the “S” was a Snake that looked exactly like the Cheshire Cat from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.
Despite being instructed to start at the beginning of the alphabet, the boy next to me decided to spell out his entire name with the letters. The two other children opposite us immediately followed his incorrect direction. I raised my hand, looked around and didn’t see the teacher. So I got up and went over to my cubby and pulled out the brand new book my grandmother had given me earlier in the morning: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She challenged me to read it quickly since a new tv series was starting based on the books.
So I went back to “Letter People Land” and started to read my book while the boy next to me settled into a repetitive etching exercise on his worksheet, “A is for Achoo”, punctuated with a physical sneeze at the end of each sentence.
The other two kids decided it was much more fun to smear the paste on the table and use it as a creative canvas to express themselves with the balance of the ‘Letter People’. I was happy to be transported through the pages of my book from the noisy, stuffy 1970s classroom to the wide open prairie lands of America a century earlier as it was being settled by brave families like the Ingalls’.
Suddenly I felt the book being snatched out of my hands by the teacher. I wanted desperately to tattle on the other 3 children for not following her directions, but I couldn’t as she peppered me with questions around where I got the book and why wasn’t I filling out the worksheet. Hot, crocodile tears exploded from my eyes with a blood-curdling scream as I grabbed the book from her, then bolted out the classroom door and down the hall as fast as my little legs could carry me.
As I sprinted past the classrooms, I was still crying and starting to work out my escape plan to get home home but then everything came to an abrupt halt when I got caught in the stairway and couldn’t open the locked door. I dejectedly sat on a stair, wiping my tears with the back of my wrist. I studied the cover of the Little House book, remembering how only minutes earlier it had transformed from pages into a virtual time machine, transporting me a century earlier to an exciting, different place with a new family. I heard the rapid ‘clackity-clack’ of my teacher’s heels as she briskly walked down the hall and pushed open the heavy door to find me feeling sorry for myself on the stairs.
She quietly sat next to me, offering me a kleenex and, as I blew my nose, she asked if I wanted to read the book instead of do the worksheets. I nodded and we slowly walked back the classroom. Halfway down the hall, we paused as she turned to me and asked if I would read a page from the story out loud. Excitedly, I started the story from the beginning for her, reading word-perfect and using different voices for Ma and Pa and their daughters. My teacher clapped her approval and we returned to the classroom.
By the end of my first week at school, I had finished Little House in the Big Woods and started a series of placement tests. Within a month I was ‘skipped’ as a 4-year old from Miss Shane’s Kindergarten into Mrs. Cooper’s 1st/2nd grade combo classroom. I read the entire Little House series that year, forever linking the plot twists from Laura’s life with my own. Her stories and journals inspired me to start writing about my own life.
Through journaling, I have learned how to shape smart questions and seek the answers to satisfy my intellectual curiosity. The books I’ve chosen as my ten most inspirational are those that have stayed with me as essential companions to my life’s journey.
Over the next week, I will dedicate a daily post to a pair of selections on my list, explaining why each one inspired me.
Check back on Monday for the first installment or sign-up to receive an email whenever I post an update.
Did you catch the book meme gently floating through Facebook over the summer?
“List 10 Books That Have Stayed With You”Don’t take too long. Don’t think too hard. Not necessarily even great literature, just stories that affected you in some way.
The Data Scientists at Facebook designed an interesting experiment to understand how the lists were being shared and what (if any) titles friends had in common on the lists as well as the titles that appeared most frequently on everyone’s list.
They analyzed more than 130,000 status updates in the last 2 weeks of August that matched the popular meme. Stripping the identifying data, they looked for common strings between the nodes (shown right as circles).
As for the demographics of the data sample, 63% were from the U.S. and women outnumbered men 3:1. The average age was 37.
And there’s where it gets a little strange for me. These Gen X ladies put the Harry Potter series on their own Top 10 lists most frequently with The Lord of the Rings Series in at #3 and The Hobbit at #4. Ahead of Pride and Prejudice at #5 and The Great Gatsby at #10...which seemed strange to me. You know, as a Gen Xer who named her adorable dog and constant companion, Mr Darcy. Not Snape. Or Legolas.
So here’s my theory.
For those Gen X ladies like me who have actually read the entire Harry Potter book series (*spoiler alert*) will know they were already period pieces upon publication, because while Harry Potter is 11 in Sorcerer‘s Stone he was born in 1980, meaning the book takes place in 1991, despite being published in 1997. And that means that Harry Potter is a) a member of Generation X and b) 34 years old now, which explains all the love from the Gen X ladies. Boom.
- The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling (appeared in 21.08 percent of all statuses)
- To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (14.48 percent)
- The Lord of the Rings series, J.R.R. Tolkien (13.86 percent)
- The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (7.48 percent)
- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (7.28 percent)
- The Holy Bible (7.21 percent)
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (5.97 percent)
- The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins (5.82 percent)
- Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (5.70 percent)
- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (5.61 percent)
- 1984, George Orwell (5.37 percent)
- Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (5.26 percent)
- Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte (5.23 percent)
- The Stand, Stephen King (5.11 percent)
- Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (4.95 percent)
- A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle (4.38 percent)
- The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood (4.27 percent)
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (4.05 percent)
- The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho (4.01 percent)
- Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery (3.95 percent)