Cookbook Recs

The Cookbooks of Our Lives

A breakup leaves Senior Editor James Ross Gardner with a Joy-less home.

By James Ross Gardner February 18, 2010

Not everybody cooks, but everybody has a cookbook: The one you hid from your mom so she wouldn’t make that dreaded carrotloaf for supper, the one your grandpa splattered with flapjack batter that Sunday morning when your parents left him to babysit.

In this series, Seattle Met staff share the cookbooks that have shaped their lives. First Betty Crocker helped Arts Editor Laura Dannen keep her relationship balanced. Then Style Editor Laura Cassidy shared some rare finds. This week, senior editor James Ross Gardner sees his future in a single saucepan.

I barely noticed their existence until they were gone—out the door one crisp January afternoon along with the couch, shelves, the wide-screen TV. The collection had included the Moosewood Cookbook, Rachael Ray’s Classic 30-Minute Meals, and the Joy of Cooking. My girlfriend kept the books in a drawer, but they emerged nightly to fulfill a pact we made five years earlier: I cleaned the kitchen and dishes and she, because she loved it, cooked.

I had never enjoyed food more. Elaborate bean salads from Moosewood. A roasted chicken smothered in garlic from Joy. Tomato, spinach, and potato soup, pita bread tacos, or grilled mushroom and cheese sandwiches from Rachael Ray. Sometimes she read out loud, theatrically, from Joy of Cooking—performing a hilarious parody of Julia Child, as if Julia Child had been from the Caribbean, which my girlfriend was.

I didn’t love doing the dishes, but I had next to no culinary skills, which was an ongoing joke between us. Once, as a gag gift she bought me A Cookbook for a Man Who Probably Only Owns One Saucepan.

Watching her experiment with a new recipe, listening to the clatter of pans, then sitting down with her to eat—it was my favorite part of every day.

Then something happened. Jobs with unpredictable hours happened. Grad school happened. We made different new friends in a new city. This city. We were rarely home at the same time. Finally we decided, tearfully, that we weren’t going to be in the same home at all. I felt guilty. Take anything, I said. Anything you want. Then I made sure I wasn’t there when it all went away.

I returned to the half empty apartment after seeing a movie. The film’s main character was born an old man and became younger with time, regressing until he was a baby, an infant reliant on others. Things have to change. The hollow apartment echoed back my words.

I surveyed the kitchen. In the drawer below the one that had held the cookbooks there was a single item. A saucepan. I had a lot of work to do.

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