The Joy of Cookbooks

I’m into porn. Cookbook porn. It’s a terrible habit.

cookbook pornI have the basics: Betty, Julia, Fanny. I have the stuff that’s a little off: Nigella, Bobby, even a Canadian named Laura.

Then there are the extremes: Silver Palate, Babycakes, Death By Chocolate.

It’s a guilty pleasure. I savor each cookbook as it arrives in the mail or is delicately pulled from a shopping bag. I slowly turn the pages and read the list of ingredients for each recipe, mentally ticking off my grocery list, “yes, that’s in the kitchen; no, that would be hard to find around here.” My eyes wander down to the instructions, evaluating the difficulty of each step. Easy? Advanced? Time consuming?

And then, there are the pictures. Full page photographs with tight shots of finished recipes with nary a crumb askew. Food stylists are worth their weight in gold: the light tips off the peaks of meringue topping, the margarita pizza is silky smooth and never slimy, the nuances of double chocolate brownies are presented as riches beyond measure.

Oh, my.

Truth be told: I’m a lousy cook. I am known (as in, this is an often told family joke) for my Crockpot Lasagna.

When I first married my husband, he insisted on being the cook in the family. He’s a chemist and enjoys the process of combining various elements. He also hates doing dishes. I hate doing dishes, too, and thought if I share the cooking responsibilities I can expect to share the cleaning responsibilities. I found a recipe somewhere, I’ve long since repressed where, for Crockpot Lasagna. I showed it to Jeff and said I would like to try making it. He looked dubious. I insisted.

Jeff was the first to get home from work that day. When I arrived, he reiterated his skepticism and said what was in the crockpot didn’t look so good. My eyes narrowed. I accused him of attempting to avoid dish duty. Jeff beat a hasty retreat.

I ladled the lasagna into bowls. It didn’t look like Ina Garten’s, that was certain. I set out the silverware and we dug in. I looked at Jeff. Some of the noodles were raw, others were limp. The “sauce” tasted like tepid mushroom gravy with bits of tomato. The beef was bland and slightly grey.

Jeff took a second bite, then a third. I put down my fork as I watched him plunge ahead. “This is dreadful.”

“It’s not so bad. Really.” God bless him, Jeff was a newly married man. I’d like to say that we sent out for pizza that night, but Crockpot Lasagna was so awful it ruined our appetites.

These days I stick to my imagination: I’m Betty Crocker in a shirtwaist, Julia Child in Paris, Fanny Farmer… with fudge. Anything’s possible. Except for Crockpot Lasagna.