My New Cookbook Shelf

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Let’s pretend that I have a boyfriend (or partner or whatever it is you prefer I call him, you touchy readers you) named Craig and let’s pretend that Craig, one day last year, bought a designer bookshelf from H.D. Buttercup in Culver City. The bookshelf, in this story, was so heavy you couldn’t lift it and so important to Craig that it remained in our bedroom, virtually empty, for a year. We’d talk about the things we might put on it (“What about a vase?” “No, I hate vases,” Craig might reply) but never actually put anything on it except the one time I put a bunch of my favorite paperbacks on the top shelf and they looked incredibly feeble and minuscule in this giant bookcase. “You know,” I may have said, if this story were real, which–to be honest–it is, “what would look really good on it?” “What?” “Cookbooks.”

Craig wasn’t convinced, the subject was dropped, and the bookshelf remained empty until this past week when we moved from Franklin Village to Atwater Village and Craig complained about my vast cookbook collection (“complained” is too gentle a word; “ranted” is more like it”) and I began a campaign to put this vast collection in the only place it made sense: his precious bookshelf. Which would otherwise still be empty. Which would fit perfectly in our new kitchen next to the refrigerator. Which was designed, almost perfectly, to hold cookbooks.

After careful and merciless campaigning, I won out. The shelf was placed next to the fridge yesterday afternoon by movers who, undoubtedly, marveled at my ingenuity. “What a marvelous place for a cookbook shelf!” they probably said to themselves. “Now we have to go move a piano.”

The kitchen, at the end of the day yesterday, was a shambles…with boxes spilling over.

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A more sensible man would’ve started by unpacking the kitchen first and designing the bookshelf later. I am not a sensible man. This morning I woke up and it was time to put this shelf together.

So here’s what I did: I unpacked all my cookbooks. There were piles upon piles. I studied them all and considered my last strategy which was to put Italian cookbooks with Italian cookbooks, French cookbooks with French cookbooks, etc. That strategy was kind of boring to me.

So here’s what I came up with: the shelf that was eye level (2nd from the top)? That would be for MVP cookbooks. The books that I love the most and use the most often. Here, then, is the shelf that resulted (with a stack of smaller MVP books in front).

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We’re talking the biggies here: Zuni Cafe, All About Braising, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, April Bloomfield’s book with the dead pig on the cover. These are the books I reach for again and again. They’re the best. This shelf makes a lot of sense and goes from tallest books, on the left, to shortest books on the right.

So what goes on the top shelf? Shouldn’t that be the MVP shelf?

No, no!

The top shelf is for curiosity cookbooks.

“Come again?”

Curiosity cookbooks…meaning books that are either: beautiful or fascinating or beautiful and fascinating or just plain quirky. Check it out.

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So we’re talking: the Coco Book, the Momofuku book, The Fat Duck Cookbook, The Anita Bryant Cookbook (that’s what’s on top of that little stack). These are the books that start conversations, that people will want to pull from when they come over to hang out in the kitchen. Some of them are definitely books I will cook from (Burma, Around My French Table) others are just to thumb through (The Two Fat Ladies Cookbook, The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook) but all of them are fun, interesting, and among the most unique in my collection. That’s why they’re there.

Let’s talk about what’s on the tippy top: the TOMES.

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That’s the Keller collection (minus French Laundry which I stupidly sold to the Strand many moons ago) and A Day at El Bulli which we were given as a gift when we ate there, also many moons ago.

Now on to the 3rd shelf, the one below the MVP shelf. This is basically the “everything else” shelf which shouldn’t be a source of shame for anyone who happens to be on the “everything else” shelf. These are books that I still love and cook from; if I didn’t love and cook from these books, they would’ve gone out with the last batch of books I sold to a used book store. These just aren’t MVP books. Maybe some of them will move up in the next year. We’ll see.

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As for the pile in front, those are all food memoirs with recipes. The rest of my food books (that’s a separate box of my Trillins, Steingartens, etc.) still have to be dealt with.

So what’s on the bottom shelf? On the left: dessert/baking books and on the right assorted specialty books.

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On the left you have everything from Desserts By Pierre Herme to Martha Stewart’s Pies and Tarts and on the right you have books on canning, cheese-making, etc. The pile in front is just a random assortment of specialty books.

And thus a bookshelf that had no purpose, that had no meaning to its existence is now flourishing in our new kitchen. Even Craig (who hasn’t seen it yet) will have to admit that this shelf has finally come into its own, its a small child who’s grown up to become a nuclear physicist. Except instead of doing nuclear physics, it’s storing cookbooks in our kitchen.

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