Favorite Cookbooks: Rachel Cole Recipe
A favorite cookbook list by Rachel Cole, a friend of mine, and program director of 18 Reasons, Bi-Rite Market's innovative not-for-profit community center focused on engaging San Francisco residents through art and food.
I've been looking forward to running this list for quite some time. Rachel and I met a few years back when she was working toward her Master's degree in Holistic Health Education. At the time she was interested in learning about some of the work I was doing, and I was happy to let her help me as she worked toward her degree.
Let me start by saying, Rachel is no slouch. She's involved in a wide range of things, but I'd say the over-arching thread that seems to run through much of what she does is planning events that bring people to the table to reconnect with food, themselves, and each other. She's the program director of 18 Reasons, Bi-Rite Market's not-for-profit community center focused on engaging San Francisco residents through art and food. She created Edible San Francisco Magazine's Edible Pursuit (which was a total blast, btw). And (way back) formed a community potluck series, called Grub, which inspired people of all ages to get back into the kitchen and break bread with their neighbors.
Thanks for taking the time to share this list Rachel, I'm looking forward to attending a good number of your events this year :)
RACHEL'S COOKING STYLE (in her own words):
My cooking style is simple, intuitive, and seasonal. I was raised in a family that loved two things above all else: cooking & books. We had shelves full of cookbooks and my parents would give my sister and me a new cookbook each holiday season, signed not from Santa Claus, but "From: Julia Child". And yet while I love cookbooks and find them tremendous sources of inspiration, I honestly can't remember the last time I followed a recipe.
I have a bent towards whole foods, but I'm no purist, and above all I believe in cooking whatever it is I am craving. The ingredients we have here in the Bay Area are so wonderful they don't require much fuss (but yes, we do more than put figs on a plate). I eat meat, but not much, and I rarely cook it myself. Cooking and eating vegetarian just suits me. It doesn't take much more than a warm bowl of dal, Massa rice, and caramelized vegetables to make me happy.
Like many people I have limited time to cook. When I was in grad school, most of my classes were at night, and so I mastered the brown-bag meal. I'm just as busy these days, and I've had to perfect the art of "home from work/low-blood sugar/feed me now" cooking. I live on my own and while I'd like to say I spend as much time and care cooking food for myself as I do when feeding friends, it's not so. When it's just me, I choose simple fare made with great ingredients and minimal steps...and leftovers are my best friend.
I find I am happiest when I get to cook for and with others. This past Thanksgiving was a perfect example; I was invited to a friend's house for the dinner and only asked to bring one dish...I showed up with five: an arugula, persimmon, walnut salad, blue cornmeal sage muffins, orange sugar-cube buttermilk biscuits, a citrus, red onion, olive salad, and a blood-orange marmalade tart. Note to self: feed others more often.
RACHEL'S FAVORITE COOKBOOKS:
I moved into my current apartment in November of 2008; life got busy and I didn't unpack the last boxes until late January. Those boxes contained my cookbooks and unpacking them was like being reunited with some of my closest friends. Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Joy of Cooking: This is the first stop -- often referred to as the Bible and rightly so. I think it should be mandatory reading in schools. I've read it cover to cover several times and am always amazed to learn something new. It includes everything from directions for table setting to a butcher's anatomy of a pig. Oh, and it has one of my favorite words to say, "Cockaigne," which appears in the name of recipes that were favorites of the Rombauer and Becker families. Of course this book is as far from food porn as you can get, and maybe that's part of why I like it. It's full of simple, time-tested recipes that don't need to be in a glossy centerfold to be good.
- Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: This book gives The Joy of Cooking a run for its money when it comes to being a go-to resource. It was popular in my house growing up and the sticky-fingerprinted margins of my own copy are evidence of its treasured place in my kitchen. I love recipes that are written for people who don't use recipes. Deborah Madison's guides to improvising a good vegetable broth, salad, or sandwich are reason enough for every cook to own this gem of a book.
- Fanny at Chez Panisse: My sister and I were encouraged to cook from a very young age and this was one of my first cookbooks. I have vivid memories of making cucumber raita, pasta with parsley and garlic, and "vanilla snow" all on my own. I remember sitting at the kitchen table for long periods, staring at the beautiful Ann Arnold illustrations. It seems as if Alice has always been in my life. My sister, now a chef, had a Chez Panisse poster on her bedroom wall, although we were 3,000 miles from the landmark restaurant. Almost 15 years after I first started to cook from this book, I moved to Berkeley and ended up working at Café Fanny, occasionally serving food to Alice and the real Fanny. The list of great children's cookbooks is short, and this one is head and shoulders above everything else I've seen. I wish every young cook could have a copy.
- The Gourmet Cookbook: The back cover of this cookbook quotes Ruth Reichl saying "Our goal was to give you every recipe you would ever need." I can't say that this book has every recipe I'd ever need -- that's a pretty ambitious goal -- but I would call it a valuable and much-loved resource. Plus, I am enamored with Ruth. She is the one person I would most want to dine with, meet, and interview. Having her cookbook in my kitchen is a little like having her watching over me at my stove.
- Full Moon Feast: In a world often beaten down by the anti-fat, anti-meat mob, Jessica made it safe, and sensible to begin to incorporate some of these foods into our diet without guilt (and unlike Mr. Atkins she's a big proponent of carbohydrates too). In this book, Jessica reminds us the importance of reconnecting with natural rhythms of our world through the kitchen. Many of the books I am drawn to allow a window into someone else's personal journey to nourishment, and that is true of this book. Having just received a Harsch fermentation crock for Christmas this year, I'm eager to finally give her Slow Kraut recipe a go.
- The Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics: My first thought when I saw this book on the shelf at a used bookstore was that some teen fashion magazine probably published it. But there's a reason they say "don't judge a book by it's cover" because it turned out to be a wonderful introduction to macrobiotic eating and cooking, a topic that had always mystified me. Jessica's writing is vibrant, funny and she communicates this approach to eating (and life) in an accessible, straightforward way. Books like hers represent my eclectic approach to eating. I love brown rice as much as I love brownies. There is room for it all and this book is a great resource for finding balance.
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: I hope Mr. Bittman won't be offended when I say that I expected not to like this cookbook. I just felt like there wasn't much left to say on the subject. Did we really need another book to help us make beans and rice? Well, apparently we did. This book is a success in large part because it goes way beyond beans and rice, and because it's designed in an uncommonly user-friendly way. The recipes are written so that beginner cooks and advanced cooks can both utilize them. They provide solid guidance, but also lots of options and variations for making a dish yours while reminding you that a recipe is just a starting place. One of hidden gems of this compendium is the recipe for Tofu Croutons, which, if you live in the Bay Area, are terrific when made with Hodo Soy Beanery's tofu.
- Super Natural Cooking: You had to know that Super Natural Cooking would be on my list, right? I'm including it not because this is Heidi's site, or because I completed one of my graduate internships in her kitchen, but because this is an exceptional book, like no other I've seen. For those of us who like nothing more than to surround ourselves with cookbooks, to stack them high on our nightstand and curl up in bed to read them cover-to-cover, Heidi's book is tops. It is infused with beauty, cover to cover, because Heidi has impeccable style and chose to raise the bar on cookbook design. It is full of whimsical (Animal Crackers), inspired (Savory Amaranth Soufflé), and delicious (Otsu) recipes. Her food is sexy and unapologetically good for you.
- The Big Sur Bakery: A Year in the Life of a Restaurant - This is my newest cookbook, purchased on my first visit to Big Sur. I admit that it's rare that I buy cookbooks anymore. A book has to say something new, bring fresh energy to my kitchen, and have recipes that are both practical and inspiring if it wants to keep company with me. This book does all that and more. I love it because it has recipes like Hazelnut Flan with Roasted Cherries (who wouldn't want to make and eat that?!). I love how the chapters are organized by season, the way I cook. I love that it gives a glimpse into a restaurant's BOH (back of the house) world that so rarely gets its due. And I love it because the incomparable Sara Remington took the photographs -- I find it hard to resist any book that has been brought to life by Sara's camera.
Photos of Rachel and Rachel's apartment by Bart Nagel.
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Thank you so much for the introduction! A woman after my own heart. Inspiring to hear what people are up to around me (in Northern California).
Great post. Would love to have the recipes for the 5 dishes that were taken to Thanksgiving! All sound tantalizing. Any chance of that????
Thank you Rachel for sharing, and Heidi for posting! Rachel's cooking style bit resonated so much with me, especially the "home from work/low-blood sugar/feed me now" feeling competing with a real love for whole foods and delicious meals. And while many of her fave cookbooks are ones I also know and love, I'm going to rush out now for a new one--I saw a copy of The Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics at my local used bookstore the other day, and I hope it's still there!
Ah, the pleasure of new cook books. I saw Rustica in Waterstones in Piccadilly (the best cook book selection in London) and I resolved to resist the immediate temptation to buy it. The next day I was in a lovely independent bookshop on Broadway Market (the best London food market now that Borough is totally overrun) and realised I had to have it. Not because of the photos and graphics, but because it combines my Spanish food enthusiasms - there's a whole chapter on Jamon and another on Catalan classics - with some interesting stories and completely tempting recipes. I'm supposed to be writing a book about Bolognese food so it is a fatal distraction.
What a neat list of cookbooks. It strikes me as kind of odd that she'd say "I honestly can't remember the last time I followed a recipe", as it's almost an "anti-recipe" statement; but maybe she meant that she was SO experienced now that she doesn't need the formulas anymore. I think recipes are important and should be followed as written at least once (usually the first time), then it can be used for reference or a starting point for variations after that. Some fine recipes are based on the interaction of simple flavors, and if a cook does the "mad chemist" routine in their kitchen every time the recipe is cooked and adds or changes ingredients, that cook may miss the "fine and simple" flavors the recipe writer was trying to share. More is not always better, any more than substitutions are always the best choice.
Heidi, I am so glad that I found your site, and the article about Rachel is wonderful! I too have a large cookbook library, but somehow I have missed the ones Rachel mentions! I am going to order two a month as a special treat to myself, until I have all of them in the article! I can hardly wait for the first two to arrive! Heidi, my first order will include "Super Natural Cooking"!
Great post, Heidi....fabulous cookbook choices...these are some of my favorites, as well! Enjoy your weekend.
Awesome cookbook selections! A few of my favorites and a few new ones to check out. I frequent a macrobiotic restaurant here in NYC and know a little about it, but am eager to learn more. Will definitely check out the Hip Chicks Guide.
Great profile & cookbook selections. I just met Rachel last week at an 18 Reasons event. She is so calm in spite of the many pots she has going on the stove...
Very nice, Rachel! My favorite line is about Heidi: Her food is sexy and unapologetically good for you. So true, and so important to remember that 'sexy' and 'good for you' are not necessarily opposites. Both of you are an inspiration!
Rachel, I knew there had to be more reasons why I always felt a connection to you. I also gave my daughter the Fanny book growing up, and it is more stained than any other cookbook we own. The day I drove her up to Berkeley, before we lived here, so we could eat at the restaurant, I remember her looking around for all the characters in the story, then asking the waiter where Michele, the pizza maker, was? It was a very sweet moment. Love that you didn't forget the BS book on your list-the Bakery's book is indeed beautiful; just to have their recipe for brown-butter apricot bars, I think it is, is reason enough. -Best, Nani
Wow. Great post! I love you both! Heidi: its been a long time since I've met you, but I still feel a tremendous connection, and love your words as much as ever. Rachel: I still long for the day that we actually get to 'break bread' together, instead of just running into each other around town (our styles and way of thinking about food are so similar, its uncanny). Kudos to you both!
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is truly a gem among my cookbook collection as well. Bittman's falafel recipe and variations on tahini are some of the best I've found.
How is it I have 3 children and 300 cookbooks (understatement, actually) and have missed this Fanny gem? Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention!
At some point my pantry shelf dedicated to books overfloweth, and my wife put me on a strict "no new cookbooks unless it's absolutely necessary" order. So, to get around that, I'm picking up cookbooks that read like memoirs, such as "Eat Me" by Kenny Shopsin, "The Gift of Southern Cooking" by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, and Pat Conroy's eponymous offering. Great stories in all three.
Wonderful post and gorgeous pic. I love this line: "I have a bent towards whole foods, but I'm no purist, and above all I believe in cooking whatever it is I am craving." That about sums it up for me, too! Thanks for the great list--I will investigate some of those lovely cookbooks.
Thank you Rachel and Heidi. I also live on my own and often struggle with caring for myself as well as I care for guests! I am going to print up the list of cookbooks Rachel counts among her favorites. The recipe that can be enjoyed and then re-enjoyed the following days is always most popular with me. I am also trying to get better about freezing smaller portions of vegetables from my garden and other foods. This blog is a great resource for eating healthy - alone or with family and friends. xo
I just got your cookbook 'super natural cooking' in the mail the other day. love it. :)
I LOVE Fanny and Chez Panisse (I bought a copy for my niece last year, but it never made it out of my kitchen!), and Full Moon Feast-- that one really changed the way that I thought about cooking. I bought Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions several years ago, but it wasn't until I read Full Moon Feast that I was really hooked into that style of cooking, and now I'm really into it!
Thanks for sharing your list with us! There are a couple there that I don't have and will certainly go in search of!
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