My husband and I call ourselves minimalists, which is really an aspirational title when you can consider that we have an almost two-year-old and thus possess an almost two-year-old’s shit ton of stuff. We are open to having another child, which means that we also have most of the clothes and toys and gear that our kid has outgrown. Beyond that, I don’t have a ton of clothes. I don’t even have a proper chest of drawers. I don’t collect shoes or purses or sunglasses or watches. As much as I’ve come to love cooking, I actually lack some of the essentials, like a slotted spoon; however, I cannot and will not resist a practical looking or sounding cookbook. The stack in the image above doesn’t include all of the cookbooks I’ve donated in the past, like the big red Betty Crocker binder or all of the vegetarian books from a phase in the early 2000s. Also not pictured: the FitMenCook and Food Network apps I use frequently as well as all of the battered recipe printouts from sites like Eat Yourself Skinny and What’s Gaby Cooking.
My most recent purchase was Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which sounded very useful indeed. I love the early chapter about setting up one’s kitchen and how he introduces the basics, e.g., everything you need to know about cooking eggs and their various stages.
My coworker gifted me the most recent addition to my collection, a wonderful tome from 1955, Cooking Magic.
I began my current job three months ago, a week after my family moved to Philadelphia. It couldn’t be more different from my last company. It’s a non-profit and the office is actually a four story row home. The salary is different, the bonus is non-existent and I share an office with one other woman, though I will likely be moving to my own office with a door and a window, likely by the end of the year. I have a key to the side door and a code to disable the alarm. My walk to work is three minutes and I pass a tree that smells of honeysuckle along the way. I received no fewer than five hugs in my first eight weeks there. Of the 19 employees in the company, four of them are men. Four. All of this is a far cry from the NYC private equity firm at which I worked for 11 years and its slick, all-glass high rise office and all-male management team and its cubicles.
Enter Tim, a father of grown children with a fantastic personality. He sits down next to you and asks one question and 20 minutes passes in a blink. I always envy folks with those personalities and inevitably plant myself next to them at social gatherings as though some of that conversational magic will rub off on me. My husband’s an extrovert. My best friend’s an extrovert. Needless to say, I liked Tim immediately.
I went into Tim’s office last week to have him sign a letter. While he reviewed it, I saw these ancient books on his shelf.
“What are these cookbooks?”
“Have a look. They were my mother’s. She had to send away for them.”
“These are amazing.”
I stared at the pages with their comical, dated graphics and the recipes that called for two sticks of butter. The good old days.
“My mom cooked for nine of us. Three meals. Every day. She loved it. It was her therapy.”
“She had two miscarriages, too. It could’ve been eleven.”
“She was constantly buying groceries. She couldn’t keep food in the house with all of those people. There were five boys. She finally got a second refrigerator. And my dad was always entertaining so we were her guinea pigs. She would try things out on us. There were always people in the house living with us. Some stray my mom had taken in.”
“Aren’t those fun? You don’t see cookbooks like that anymore. Do you cook?”
“I do but I follow recipes. It’s not intuitive for me but I love the process. I read cookbooks before I go to sleep at night.”
“Me too! We all cook. My sister’s a chef. My brother runs a catering company. A lot of us ended up in the food business.”
I’m sure Tim expertly shifted the conversation to my family and me because suddenly we were in the middle of talking about how we liked Philadelphia and how we were settling in and where I’m from and how my mom died when I was in high school.
“After college, I moved to London and then to New York because -”
“Because there was no home to return to.”
I left Tim’s office feeling like a million bucks. He called me the next day.
“Can you come in, please?”
I walked into Tim’s office. He pushed one of the cookbooks across his desk to me.
“I’d like you to have this one.”
“It’s just sitting on a shelf here. I know you’ll enjoy it. My mom would want you to have it, too. It’s a little piece of her.”
I thanked him profusely and he handed me a box of tissues because tears welled up in my eyes.
“Some weekend reading. Don’t let your daughter get her hands on it.”
“Can I hug you? We didn’t hug at my last office.”
“Of course. We’re family now.”