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Cooking and Cookbooks

I love to cook as much as I love to eat. During my farming days, meat was kept in a large dedicated chest freezer until a particular craving struck. My favorite meal was roast pork, and before the meat was done, I had usually picked off about half of the crusty fat squares and devoured them.

Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, 2nd Edition; 1956; photo by Sheila Velazquez 

I’m no longer butchering, but I still love my meat. A small chest freezer is a recent purchase that filled up in no time with the sales and buy one, get one free offers at the local markets. Add to that the bags of peppers and other produce from my raised beds. Amazing what you can do with a small space.

Speaking of space, the freezer is in the bathroom. It wouldn’t fit in the kitchenette, and I didn’t particularly want to hear it humming anywhere else. However, the space between the sink and the toilet is three feet, plenty wide enough for the seven cubic ft. freezer. Some were skeptical at the idea of putting food in the bathroom, but I was quick to point out that mine is likely much cleaner than most garages or basements where freezers are typically kept.

Today I’m making soup, a combination of store-bought bones and meat and home-grown vegetables. The carrots are miniatures that did not do as well in containers as they would have in the ground. I’m trying to decide whether to add barley or orzo or fat noodles. Maybe I’ll climb up on the step stool and get the pasta maker from the top shelf. When I was cooking for six, I had no gadgets. Now I have them all but barely enough room to put them or reason to use them. I decide on barley. Much easier.

A hearty Autumn vegetable and beef soup; photo by Sheila Velazquez

I don’t often use cookbooks anymore, although I have kept my favorites. My first, “Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book,” is held together with duct tape. My daughter asked me to watch for a copy when I went to tag sales, and I did find one in somewhat better condition for her. The photo shows the recipe she often used when she was a young cook, for cream puffs. On the opposite page is my favorite gingerbread recipe. Between the two of us, we made quite a mess of it. 

When I was a young bride, I had a Waring blender that came with a little recipe booklet. My favorites in it were potato pancakes and popovers, both timesavers when compared with traditional methods. That booklet literally disintegrated. While I was living in Bozeman, MT, I visited Second Hand Rose, the thrift shop in the basement of the senior center where I found an unused copy of the identical booklet for $.25. It was a glorious find.

My daughter collects antique and vintage cookbooks, and my youngest son, the trained chef, will take any good cookbook. When he fled Katrina’s wrath, his biggest fear was for the collection he had high on shelves in his New Orleans apartment. Between them, they will relieve me of my own hoard as I am able to part with them. I’m not quite there yet.

Sheila Velazquez is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 print newspapers and magazines, including Grit, New Woman, the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register, the San Antonio Express-News and Bay Area Parent. Her awards include two from the Society of Professional Journalists for a syndicated column. Sheila has contributed to online websites, including commondreams.org and dissidentvoice.org. She served as contributing editor of Organic Producer magazine and wrote biographical material for reference collections that include “Contemporary Authors,” the “Encyclopedia of International Biography” and “Notable Sports Figures.” Feel free to send her an e-mail.

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