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Reading Cookbooks

A friend recently asked for some good, gluten-free recipes, since she will shortly have a real kitchen to cook in, and when I realized how much I enjoyed going through my recipes, I was reminded of the first time I’d heard of someone enjoying reading cookbooks. It was in the late summer of 2004 when I was visiting my friends David and Fiona in Ireland, and one morning David and I were in the kitchen chatting about books. At some point I asked what Fiona liked to read for fun (as opposed to for her work as a professor). He answered that one thing she found really enjoyable and relaxing was reading cookbooks.

I didn’t say anything about it at the time, but I remember being completely baffled by the concept. This was about a year and a half after I’d finished losing weight, and while my relationship with food was better, I was only just starting to think about cooking more. The only cookbooks I had at the time, though, were Betty Crocker, a small vegetarian cookbook, and a compilation of recipes by my paternal grandmother’s side of the family, the Bickfords – whom, it must be said, were not the healthiest of eaters.

At the time, not having access to many other types of recipes, I found that going through cookbooks was actually quite depressing. All these things that I couldn’t eat, either because they were too high calorie or included cheese or both, and many that I wasn’t that interested in because they were just too fatty or greasy or sugary. It highlighted the fact that my relationship with food at that point was still somewhat antagonistic. Where was the fun in that?

As time passed, though, that began to change. I was exposed to different types of recipes and foods through friends, my book group, and church, but more than that, the way I thought about food began to change. I realized that I was limiting myself by thinking that all recipes fell into the categories of things I couldn’t or shouldn’t eat, and that food itself was not the enemy. Quite the opposite, since it’s something I do need to survive.

And so I began to experiment, branching out a little in my habits and routines. That was when I suddenly understood the joy of reading cookbooks and going through recipes. Opening before me were whole new possibilities of food, combinations and flavors and textures I had never considered, much of which could be done in a healthy way. I didn’t have to just eat raw vegetables, or the same type of stir-fry or soup, all the time.

It may seem strange to say that this was exciting, but it was. It made food a source of pleasure again, instead of just a collection of calories and fats and carbohydrates and proteins that I had to be conscious of. I began to take delight in cooking, and the Farmer’s Market suddenly seemed as enticing as the penny candy store of my childhood once had. Who would have thought? Certainly not I, but I’m glad of it all the same.

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