I have to admit I have a bit of an addiction – to collecting cookbooks. I find that reading cookbooks can sometimes take me away from the stress and aggravations that surround me. I really enjoy community cookbooks because they offer insights into how people in different parts of the country cook and entertain.
There are also certain patterns I’ve noticed. Older cookbooks tend to be a bit more regional. I’ve noticed that since the 1990s many community cookbooks are a bit more generic and less regional. You’re as likely to find recipes for Asian dishes in a Texas community cookbook as you are to find barbecue recipes. The late 1960s-1980s offered community cookbooks filled with “dump & pour” recipes relying on convenience foods.
Some community cookbooks are filled with information about the community such as sites of interest or historical tidbits. Others offer blurbs by the recipe’s contributor that give some info about where or how it originated. Some of the recipes are very down-home style whiles others are more sophisticated or gourmet.
One of my favorite collections is called America’s Best Recipes. This collection was published annually by Oxmoor House from 1988-2003. It collected what the editors considered the best recipes from various community cookbooks submitted for consideration. McIlhenny Tabasco also sponsored annual awards from 1990 to 2009 for the best community cookbooks from each region and the top three nationwide. They also had a Hall of Fame where the best selling community cookbooks of all time are memorialized (this list includes such classics as Savannah Style, Charleston Receipts and Pirate’s Pantry).
Reading these community cookbooks gives me a sense of connection to the people who created these recipes. Across time and space I can make their recipes and keep their memory alive. It makes me feel like a bit of a food historian. This is important to me because the women in my family were not very domesticated (I may have mentioned this before). We don’t have family recipes that were handed down. My ancestress’ primary mode of feeding the family was very plain, inexpensive and filling and tended to involved some type of convenience food. We might not have gone hungry but no one was clamoring for those recipes.
Food is a spiritual medium for connecting with our family, our past and those who have gone before. It’s interesting and enlightening to learn why certain dishes developed the way they did or why certain foods were popular in specific regions. In recent years America is losing some of its regional diversity. In some ways this is very good but when it comes to food I think it means some of each region’s unique foodways might be lost. So read a community cookbook today and connect with the past; keep those memories alive in spirit and honor their contributions.
It was on this day in 1986 that my brother Tom was killed. He was 15 years old at the time and it was a devastating loss for my family. We all still miss him every day. So I wanted to take a moment and consider how I can continue to honor his memory.
This is a story about Tom published in New York Magazine in October 1982
And this was written by the same author after Tom was killed
The King of Stones in this deck is a wolf. My brother Tom would have loved that. He was an animal lover and always seemed to have a menagerie of pets. I have always had a fondness for wolves too. They are such beautiful, wild, untamed creatures. They operate in a pack and care for each other. Despite the fact that they have been hunted almost to extinction by humans they manage to hang on. If it’s now popular to be a woman who runs with the wolves, my brother was a boy who ran with the wolves.
Tom was unique, quirky and in many ways quite fearless. The older he got the more independent he became. He was never one to go with the crowd. I remember a time when Tom told his closet friend that he wouldn’t hang out with him anymore if he kept doing drugs. Tom didn’t care if his friend got mad, Tom also had a wicked sense of humor. He once set up a dummy figure on our sofa so that it looked like an uncle who had recently died. He then waiting until one of us entered the living room and fell into his trap. Of course it was me and I can still hear his chuckle at my shriek.
Although Tom was only 16 when he was killed and the pain was incredible, I would never trade those 16 years for anything. Tom wasn’t perfect. He had a fierce temper and, like most teenage boys, rather challenged hygiene but he was good-hearted, caring, and funny. He loved hockey and was a die-hard NY Rangers fan. he loved people but I think he loved animals more. He was a wonderful and wacky storyteller who could make up laugh without even trying.
I think to honor his memory, the King of Stones is telling me to maintain a connection to the wild – both in the world and in myself. I need to go out into the woods and howl at the moon – whether literally or figuratively. I need to honor my pack and keep those connections alive. And I need to always keep Tom in my heart. He was part of our pack and we still mourn his loss.
How amazingly appropriate that I drew this card on Memorial Day! The card is full of violent imagery – blood cover axe heads, disembodied limbs, brilliant, vivid primary colors and wooden staves explode off the card. There is a cross hovering in the air that speaks of sacrifice and dying in order to be reborn. The first reaction I had when seeing this card is that it looks like a war scene. On Memorial Day nothing could feel more right in response to my question.
So I want to honor all those who have sacrificed their lives in defense of this country. Whether I believed in the reasons behind the wars or not these people died. The rightness or wrongness of the politics behind the battles is irrelevant. My family has had several ancestors who served in the military but many did not see action. Of those only one of those was actually killed in battle on D-Day and is buried in France.
I think in this day and age, when so much of war craft is driven by technology, we lose sight of the human cost of war. With the attention on drone strikes and bombs that can be delivered from a distance like a video game, it can be easy to forget there are actual troops on the ground who are in constant danger. How much more difficult does everything become when the people we claim to be helping resent us and work against us? I’m not taking any sides in that issue I simply want to take some time to acknowledge the sacrifices made by those soldiers who have died in service to this country.
Today is more than just an official day off from work. It is a day to take some time and remember those who died in war; those who sacrificed everything in defense of this country. We can call them heroes but that won’t bring them back. We should never lose sight of just how ugly and brutal war is and that there is always a human cost regardless of which side wins. I want to honor and remember those who serve and maybe pour some wine for those who will never come home.