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I like cookbooks. Okay, that’s not exactly true. I love cookbooks. I buy them (from the bookstore, websites, yard sales). I borrow them (from the library, from friends, from people I’ve just met). I haven’t as yet stolen any, but there have been times when I have come dangerously close. My husband says I read cookbooks like he would a novel, “only longer and with more expression.”
He’s right. What can I say?
The cover is what gets me right away. An absolutely luscious looking dish—of soup, salad, pasta, or dessert—sits on the cover, and the words above the image which announce “10 Minute Dinners” or “Soups and Salads in the Blink of an Eye” or “No Fuss, No Fat Desserts” (yeah, right!). With a front cover like that, what can I do but get the recipe book? I mean, the thing is practically screaming to be picked up.
When I get home after snagging my latest cookbook, I head straight to what my daughter calls a “Thinking Chair” (inspired by her latest, favorite TV show) and settle down with the book. I then proceed to read it—with minor interruptions for the daily chores of life—from cover to cover. Yes, I mean “cover to cover.” I read every single word on the front cover, and then open the book and read the inside front blurb. I turn to the back and read the author bio. Back to the front again, to read the foreword, the introduction, and the table of contents, recipe by recipe, page number by page number. I want to know every single detail about how the book was conceived, written, and published. A lot of cookbooks come with little descriptions and anecdotes at the beginning of each chapter, or even each recipe. I love them! I picture the author, or her (it could be a “his” of course, but I hate writing “his or her” all the time, so I’ll just stick to the one, if you don’t mind) grandmother, or even her great aunt’s husband’s cousin cooking their special recipes in their own special kitchens, and I’m transported to another time and place.
When I finally get to the recipes themselves, I’ve already been transported and am picturing the perfect kitchen: long expanses of scrubbed stone countertops, a gleaming, spotless stove, baskets of just picked fruits and vegetables, a fully stocked pantry—organized alphabetically, of course—a huge kitchen window looking onto a beautifully laid out vegetable garden, and music playing softly in the background. As I look closely at the accompanying picture—something I have avoided doing until just this moment—I see myself, poised and elegant, picking up a perfect purple eggplant from a basket and with the deft, sure strokes of a chef’s knife slice it into perfect circles. When I’m done cooking, there it is: the perfect dish, carefully arranged on my best china, resting on the antique lace tablecloth that has been in my family for generations. The kitchen is spotless, not a spoon in the sink (I’ve already done the dishes, I suppose), not a hair out of place, I’m as cool and elegant as ever …
Then the clock strikes and reminds me of the time. I have exactly three minutes before my daughter wakes up from her nap, 45 minutes before my gym class starts, and less than two hours before dinner time. I flip frantically through “Meals for Every Occasion,” looking for something appropriate. I find one that might work. I race to the kitchen and start pulling things out, then realize that I don’t have at least four of the ingredients. I put the book back on the counter, after moving this morning’s mug of coffee, a half-eaten peanut butter sandwich, last week’s coupons, and yesterday’s Wall Street Journal.
Time for plan B.
I’m on autopilot as I chop onions—after wiping the peanut butter and jelly off the knife first—and fresh ginger. I sauté them lightly in a little oil and dump in the washed lentils and a block of frozen spinach. I pour in some vegetable stock and leave it to cook, as my daughter begins climbing up my leg demanding her snack. In a few minutes, she’s sitting in her highchair, happily making a mess of her banana, the pot of lentils and spinach is bubbling away on the stove, and I’m slicing tomatoes and cucumber for salad. The rice cooker is all set with rice, water, and spices, ready to be switched on the minute I get back from the gym. Later, while my husband sets the table, I’ll add salt and spices to the palak dal, pull the salad and yogurt out of the fridge, and we’ll be ready to eat. A perfectly balanced vegetarian meal.
I look around: the counter is cluttered with a million things, the sink is overflowing, my hair is a mess, and yes, I’m sure that’s a spot of oil on my t-shirt. The music in the background is my daughter singing, “I love you, you love me.”
This is it. My perfect kitchen. I couldn’t ask for more.
Sumana Kasturi is a freelance writer who probably has a bunch of amazing talents. Unfortunately, keeping the kitchen counters clutter-free isn’t one of them.