I owe my marriage to polenta.
That’s a story in itself, but the truth is that many of our best memories — of life, love, fun, family — are centered around food. Many of us have our grandmother’s Joy of Cooking or Fanny Farmer held together with duct tape and elastic bands. And while we are getting more and more of our recipes online, there is nothing like a beautiful cookbook for true inspiration.
Library cookbooks mean you can’t scribble in the margins, and we’d rather you kept them well away from flying batter, but that little inconvenience is assuaged by sheer variety. We try to get the out-of-the-box cookbooks in addition to the standards; a local cookbook reviewer has become a regular donor as well, so our collection is fresh, contemporary, and mouth-watering.
Summer is barbecue time, and if you’ve got a hot grill we’ve got sizzling recipes in books such as Bob Rainford’s Born to Grill. Why slap on a beef burger when you could whip up a grilled Malaysian satay with peanut sauce, or blackened salmon with maple glaze?
The Urban Picnic by John Burns and Elisabeth Caton offers everything you ever wanted to know about alfresco dining with menu suggestions such as the “Hipnic,” a vegetarian answer to all those barbecue ribs and things. They even suggest wine and music pairings — in this case, an aromatic Alsatian white to go with that bocconcini salad, with Elvis Costello crooning in the background. My kind of picnic.
Other great cookbooks include the oh-so-beautiful Pure Vegan, the guilt-free Ocean Wise seafood collection, and A Taste of Canada: a culinary journal, which takes us from BC’s strawberry rhubarb tarts to a Newfoundland seafood pot pie, with a little regional history peppered about.
Specialty cookbooks abound for those who prefer gluten free, dairy-free, allergy-free, or heartsmart. The whole hundred-mile diet thing has us thinking about sourcing our ingredients close to home, and we can do the same with our cookbooks.
Nelson author and cook Olindo Chiocca offers Dinner wit da Dons, a dangerous but delicious pairing of mobster profiles with minestrone. A gentler collection is Trail Cooks Italian! a Trail Library fundraiser and community favourite. And Nelson writer and reviewer Geraldine Hartman’s Not Just for Vegetarians is a well-deserved Best Books Award finalist that offers “I can’t believe it’s not turkey” gravy for the unconverted.
Folks have learned to identify great recipes with notable cooks — Bonnie, Stern, Jamie Oliver, James Barber — and notable restaurants, such as the Moosewood cookbooks. But we don’t have to go so far afield for inspiration when we have the Whitewater Cooks series by Shelley Adams, which owes its origins to Whitewater’s Fresh Tracks Café. The Summit Salad is to die for.
Other great local restaurant inspired cookbooks include the Island Lake Lodge cookbook from our Fernie neighbours, and the unpretentious but hilarious Recipes and Rapscallions from the Apple Tree Restaurant in New Denver.
Of course, that brings us around to the fabulous Seasonings: a year of local flavor in words and recipes. A collaboration with the Kootenay Country Store Cooperative and library fundraiser, it’s a compilation of recipes and writing from the kitchens and keyboards of your friends and neighbours. How hundred-mile is that?
Sigrid Shepard’s Green Goddess Dressing and Francyne Laliberte’s Book Garden Tomato Pie with Cyndi Sand-Eveland’s ode to basil and Jane Byers’s poem to raspberry pancakes — oh my! During July and August, we’ve put Seasonings at 30 per cent off (this price at the library and Co-op only), so stock up for Christmas now, and benefit the library while you’re at it.
What is it about a man who can make polenta? Or even knows what polenta is? I can’t say for sure, but I can tell you that food is one way to a gal’s heart (or a guy’s), and the library is a great place to start.
Anne DeGrace is the adult services coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Her column runs every other Friday.