Culinary Worlds

After two weeks in a town where the loudest background noise is the murmuring of Ten-Mile Creek, New York City is a shock to the system. Rumbling concrete trucks, sirens, car horns, a thousand cell phone conversations and games of Pokemon Go. This is Midtown.

Downtown, near The Strand, things are calmer. The streets around Cooper Union were almost deserted when Sal and I were there. Maybe because it was Tuesday afternoon and the sun was relentless. I don’t know. We still ate ramen at Momofuku to mark our anniversary and then entered the cool book-smell of The Strand to spend hours combing the shelves.

I was delighted to spot Polpo, a cookbook we’d all swooned over at LongHouse. And, despite the fact that I’m on unpaid leave from work, I got the thing. Its beautiful binding, clear writing, and gorgeous photos beckoned. Polpo is the most expensive cookbook I’ve ever purchased. Before LongHouse, I would have smiled at it and placed it back in its spot on the shelf.

During the two weeks at LongHouse, we talked quite a bit about the cookbooks we own. Some people admitted to owning cookbooks just because they were beautiful objects. Conversely, Claire mentioned her workhorses: old Betty Crocker and Pillsbury cookbooks with new bindings. When Becca brought Polpo over one day, borrowed from one of Molly’s neighbors, we oo’ed and ah’ed over it. With its slightly washed-out photos and straightforward stable of crostini recipes, here was a luxe cookbook a person might actually use. Not only that, the introduction to the whole thing–I usually find cookbook introductions pat and rushed–is thoughtful and beautifully written.

Knowing what I know now about what it takes to make a cookbook, a good cookbook with replicable recipes, I have a newfound appreciation for them as works of hybrid literature. A cookbook is possibility–a culinary world in your hands, a world as one chef sees it.

To go from first flipping through Polpo in the quiet of Molly’s living room to holding it in my hands in The Strand, jostled by other customers was a treat, already like finding an old friend.

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