In my first novel, my main character Bea is "between men" as she puts it, happily single, and finds solace in cooking--maybe too much. Her cousin and a friend imply that perhaps food has become a substitute for other sorts of fulfillment:
"Bea's hopeless." Marie gestured to me in the manner of a lazy hitchhiker. "She takes cookbooks to bed, you know." "I do not!" My volume rose in direct proportion to the lie. I did take cookbooks to bed. They didn't hog the covers, snore, or leave their underwear on the floor. And in the end, they afforded me lots more pleasure.
Though my heroine and I have little in common (she's younger and has better legs) we do share this one little habit. I just love curling up with a good cookbook. I browse library sales in search of them, and the older the volume the better. My pride and joy is my sixty year old Betty Crocker, followed closely by my 1964 Joy of Cooking. I also have a 1959 Pillsbury Best of the Bake-Off collection whose flyleaf features lots of ladies in black cat's-eye glasses standing in front of appliances the color of Easter eggs. My modern favorites include the seminal Silver Palate Cookbook and Queen Julia's The French Chef. I also have more Italian cookbooks than anyone would ever need, including two in Italian. The language, that is. And the voices in these cookbooks, like those of my favorite authors, are familiar and comforting. Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins make me feel as though I can throw the coolest party ever. Marion Rombauer's scholarly references and scientific formality help me believe in the power of culinary chemistry, and the possibility of perfection. And where would any of us be without Julia, full of warm encouragement and quick laughter, who let us drop the chicken and add the butter? But the real secret to my pleasure in cookbooks is no secret at all: in the pages of cookbooks, everything turns out right in the end. The cake rises. The flavors meld. The meat is tender and the risotto creamy. The reality, of course, is quite different. (Witness my epic Christmas Eve 2010 Lasagna Fail.) But cookbooks, just like my favorite comfort reads, always give me the happy ending I crave--even if life doesn't.
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