My cooking experience was very minimal prior to getting married in my early 20’s. Sure I made some cakes and brownies but I don’t know if I ever made a complete meal. Sounds a bit crazy. Despite being an inexperienced cook, I did know a lot of basics because I watched my mother in the kitchen who cooked everyday. Her cooking style was influenced by her mother. Some of my favorite recipes are the ones that came from my mother and grandmother.
From what my mother told me, she too never cooked before she was married, so the apple does not fall far from the tree. However, she did make one thing before she was married, the infamous Happy Day Cake. This cake has withstood the test of time despite being made fun of. I’m sure no one laughed at its name in former years.
My first cookbook was recipes from my mother and grandmother but my first real cookbook was Good Housekeeping which I received as a gift at my bridal shower. It was a basic cookbook with more recipes than one could ever need, but it was a tremendous source of information, especially since the internet was not at our literal fingertips at the time.
So much of what we learn is through observation, whether intentional or unintentional.
My next influencer was my mother-in-law. There were a few recipes that I needed to learn in order to carry on the Italian kitchen. She taught me how to make tomato sauce. Some may call it gravy but for the most part, it was sauce. It’s not complicated, which makes it a staple in my arsenal of recipes, albeit a small arsenal, and if made with fresh tomatoes instead of canned it is like sweet goodness that you could almost pour in a glass and drink.
Staples Influenced by two cultures: Norwegian and Italian
Butter and Olive Oil
Coffee and Wine
After I had my first child, I started planning parties in our home. Whether it was a baby dedication, birthday party or a holiday, I started each event by looking through cookbooks and creating a menu. I was a working mom so organization was key. I loved to peruse cookbooks, write down lists of ingredients for each recipe, jot page numbers as a reference, and then organize my workload by number of days prior to the event. In the early 90’s my friend Diane gave me a cookbook called: The Silver Palate. This became my next favorite cookbook and one that I still use for certain recipes. I love their pate brisee piecrust, quiches became part of a brunch menu and pecan squares are always a nice sweet-gooey treat.
By the time I had my third child we were in our second home. I became very good friends with my neighbor Nanci, and it is because of that connection we ended up in North Carolina. Nanci gave me a fabulous cookbook called: Celebrations. I love this cookbook and it was most useful as a young party planner because it was organized by holidays or events in a complete calendar year. It started with the New Year’s Eve and went to Christmas with anniversary parties and Valentine dinners and so much more in between. The book gave you the whole menu from appetizers to dessert and what dishes could be made ahead of time. It also gave wine suggestions to go along with the meal. This book allowed me to step up my game because it gave some excellent suggestions and encouraged me to try different dishes and food options.
As I progressed in my cooking abilities, Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, was a must. My friend Ruth was the main influence of Ina. Ruth is an Ina fan and an excellent cook. So the Barefoot Contessa made its way to my kitchen. I have cookbooks of hers that I bought, Ruth bought for me as a gift and I have borrowed a bunch of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks from Nanci (mentioned above). These books have found a new-temporary home on our library shelves and referred to often. Whenever she wants them back, she knows where to find them. Just a sidebar, this is the same Nanci that has a blog called: pursuinghealthandhappiness.com. Check it out, if you need some encouragement-especially if you have a chronic illness.
My friend Maureen bought me a beautiful cookbook called Root To Leaf, a southern-season related book since I moved to North Carolina, and has images that read like a picture book. But most of cookbooks have been purchased by my daughter Sarah. She has always loved books and just like the others mentioned above, I think one finds great pleasure in cookbooks. It offers a sense of home and the kitchen is usually the most adored room. It is where love is expressed in a way that is different than other forms of love.
I recently made a meal and posted some photos on my Instagram account @midnightsund, from my most favorite cookbook called
Wild North Country by Nevada Berg.
It’s a beautifully illustrated and written book loaded with native Norwegian recipes and traditions and the pictures ooze with beauty. I have already made several recipes and I will continue to try new ones and repeat ones that I love, like meatballs and beer-infused mussels.
Books of all types influence us in many ways but cookbooks allow you to extend the journey from page to table for you and loved ones to enjoy.