A Cook's Bookshelf
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what is “a cook’s bookshelf”?

A friend recently stood in the middle of the kitchen and exclaimed: “Wait – these are all cookbooks?”

Swivelling in place, he took in the numerous bookshelves and stacks, seemingly seeing a new book with every turn. He seemed surprised enough; I didn’t mention that this is just the kitchen. Books – cooking and otherwise – have free and full reign over the whole flat.

Bookstack 1.jpeg

precariously but preciously positioned on the skinny shelf

There are currently three book stacks on either side of the bed, another on my desk chair, two on the desk. There are piles in corners. On (and under) coffee tables. Hiding in the wine rack. There are little ones perched on scrappy-thin surfaces. Big ones squatting, happily, waiting. New ones, old ones, all jostled up next to each other, brimming with beautiful ideas, flavours and places.

Cookbooks are windows into other worlds. They show you how people eat on the other side of the planet. How they ate in the past. How I want to eat in the future. They tell stories, and show places. They’re made by people with passion. With a hunger for life. They give you the tools to feed those you love, to nourish yourself, and think bigger than you ever did before.

In short: cookbooks are my not-so-secret love, and I have the tomes to prove my devotion. Taking it all in, some might call it an obsession, but I call it adoration. And there are so many more to discover! Incidentally, I recently read that Diana Henry – one of my favourite food writers by far – has around 4,000 cookbooks in her collection. Turning slightly pale on hearing this, J muttered: “You know that’s not a challenge, right?”

Right…

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Chez Panisse Desserts is a recent acquisition, hence its top of the pile placement

But it is a lovely reminder that there are culinary kindred spirits out there in the world. Ones that pick up cookbooks and read them like novels, just as I do. That can’t pass by a bookshop without sneaking a peek to see what books might be waiting, what new recipes might be tucked inside. That get transported with each and every turn of the page.

When we moved to Glasgow and were packing up our London place, J bravely suggested that maybe this would be a good time to thin the herd; let the best, the boldest, the tastiest survive.

And I thought about it – I really did. Cross my heart. But this was back when my cookbook collection had only just burst from countertop to its own bookshelf. Today? Nah. He’d need a small vehicle just to transport them to a charity shop. And the assistance of several passersby to pry my outraged form from our front door, much like a cat halfway up a pair of curtains. Thankfully, however, the topic hasn’t come up again (seriously). J has, as many of you know, the patience of a saint. I think it helps that he’s my Taster-in-Chief and is invested in my cooking.

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the ‘under the coffee table’ contingent

But I digress. I actually did get rid of some. Two, in fact – I gave them back to my dad, who’d kindly lent them to me months earlier. Although, it probably should be mentioned that I’ve since visited my parents’ and somehow those two cookbooks made it back to Scotland with me.

Speaking of Scotland: my cookbook compulsion has come into its own here. In much the same way as I’ve noticed in other parts of my life, being here has been a boon. For example: my pace of life is deliciously slower and sans-commute; J and I work from home together every day; and there are now three meals (plus snacks) that I can play around with in my kitchen.

Sometimes moving to a new city is about necessity. Sometimes it’s about a desperate search for something else. For us, it was both. J needed to be here for his career, and I needed a change. A new adventure. But the one year we’d planned to stay has come and gone, and we’re still here. In our lovely little flat, with its mismatched tiles and huge windows, that are just now coming back into their own with the reappearance of the sun.

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2 proud camels guarding this stack

Living here has changed so much more than just the size of the removal van we’ll eventually need when we leave. When you make a leap of faith, you obviously don’t know what awaits you on the other side. But I’d do it again – in a heartbeat – if only for the cookbooks.

Today, the arrival of the postman now involves banter. From my reading spot –  whichever that may be in our cosy wee flat – I can hear J and the postman laughing about the delivery of yet another tome. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure our postman gets a great Christmas present this year; the amount of books he’s brought to my door so far would have broken a lesser man, for sure. And my compulsion shows no signs of abating. Poor guy.

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some bedtime reading

Which brings me to A Cook’s Bookshelf, where I’ll be cooking from my books, chatting about them, and generally revelling in their splendour for all and sundry to read.

And, obviously, if you have any suggestions for any additions to the Bookshelf, please, please, don’t be shy. Tell me in the comments below.

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