Monday, February 23, 2015

When a cookbook is more than a book of recipes

As a child in Osaka, Japan, I loved illustrated books from our international school's library. Not only were the pictures works of art (especially for me since I couldn't draw anything but a stick figure), but the aroma of the pages grabbed my senses. Musty, a little on the mildew side, damp---to me that scent was adventure. To this day, I associate the smell of musty bookstores, libraries, and book pages with the joy of escaping into beautiful and wild lands. I'm six again, learning to read. I'm ten, on the train heading home from school, a Bobbsey Twins book in my hands.

So when Carl showed me his cookbook, The Modern Family Cookbook, I loved it immediately for its musty smell. Of course, the fact that he uses it to bring great dishes and desserts to our table is equally important to me.

But upon further observation, this cookbook entices me for other reasons. It is a piece of American history. It's a legacy, a document of what our culture around the kitchen and table used to be.

The first edition came out in 1942. That was a time period when women dominated the kitchen whether they wanted to or not. The author, Meta Given, provides pages of advice, including The Cook's Creed, found near the first half of the book. These five pointers stress how the woman is to do an outstanding job at making meals. To assist her, every month she has a weekly meal guide, using seasonal foods for "thrifty balanced menus". Each recipe found in the guide is numbered.

For breakfast on a Monday in February, stewed dried peaches and soft cooked eggs are recommended. Coffee for adults and milk for the children. On a following morning, cocoa is part of the breakfast menu for children. On a Friday in December, "luncheon" is to be carrot souffle and watermelon pickles. The dessert (after every lunch something sweet is to be served) is "inexpensive fruitcake", which from the recipe looks like a typical Christmas fruitcake with cherries, candied citron, and pitted dates.

The mother of the house was clearly responsible for her family's welfare as well as nutrition. She was to abide by The Meal Planner's Creed: "The health of my family is in my care; therefore---
I will spare no effort in planning the right kinds of food in the right amounts.
Spending the food dollar for maximum value is my job, therefore---
I will choose from the variously priced foods to save money without sacrificing health.
My family's enjoyment of food is my responsibility; therefore---
I will increase their pleasure by planning for variety---for flavorful dishes, for attractive color, for appetizing combinations.
My family's health, security and pleasure depend on my skill in planning meals; therefore---
I will treat my job with the respect that is due it.

When I was writing my World War Two novel, Under the Silk Hibiscus, I slipped the cookbook into my story. The aunt in my novel uses it to make food for her niece and nephews. She's a lover of cookies and bakes oatmeal raisin cookies. Since all my novels hold recipes in the back, I include this cookie recipe in Under the Silk Hibiscus so all can enjoy it.

Cookbook language changes over time. Women have allowed men in the kitchen and men are proving to be just as skilled with creating meatloaves, chocolate cakes, and souffles. But a cookie recipe that was delicious back in 1942 is still tasty today. It is timeless, as is wanting to share it with your family. To me that falls under the "I will spare no effort in planning the right kinds of food in the right amounts." Two cookies after dinner? Four? Seven? Meta doesn't tell me, but I'm thinking since both the enjoyment and the pleasure are "my" responsibilities, the more the merrier!

Under the Silk Hibiscus, with the oatmeal raisin cookie recipe, is available today for just $1.99 on Kindle.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Keeping up with keeping up

You know how it can be. We start things and then we start more things and then we forget (especially if you are over 49) and then we're trying to remember what we started, and then we are circling around to try to keep up with what we think we remember starting.

If the above sounds confusing, welcome to my world!

And my senior class said I was highly organized!

I have three blogs---this one, Writing the Heartache and Broken Psalms. Three blogs for a woman who would do much better if she only had one. However, each of my blogs serve different purposes, so I have all of them. Well, it all made sense when I created each one.

This year, one of my resolutions is to spend more time at my Writing the Heartache blog. I want to encourage readers and writers to send me some posts for guest postings there. This blog deals with just what its name suggests---grief and writing. I'm a huge advocate for writing through hardship; to borrow a line from Alice Walker, "Writing saved me."

So please hop over to Writing the Heartache, give it some love. I'd be so happy if you would follow it. Consider sending me a post or two about how you have found writing through grief and loss to be a healing practice for you. Here's the link.