MY 1994 NEW YEAR'S resolution - to break loose from serious menu ruts by planning further ahead - has already led to more time at a favorite activity: paging through cookbooks. I'm browsing through the tried and true, and also borrowing new ones from the library.
If you take nothing else away from this column, let it be a recommendation to visit the cookbook section of your public library. I was dumbstruck by the sheer numbers of books when I first saw the Austin library collection. Three entire rows, floor to ceiling, were devoted to the subject of food.
One shelf contained nothing but chocolate cookbooks (although I did see one on vanilla hiding in that section). Another half-shelf boasted garlic cookbooks. Chinese cooking textbooks, French cuisine guides, one-minute meals, Weight Watchers tips, a sausage cookbook, a cactus cookbook, Cooking for the Hyperactive Child, Cooking With a Grain of Salt, and Bland But Grand caught my eye, as did the clincher, Who Needs a Cookbook? Obviously, a lot of us do.
On a recent visit, I sat and reread two books that have long influenced how I think about food: Laurel's Kitchen, by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, and Bronwen Godfrey (Bantam Books and Nilgiri Press, 1976) and Diet for a Small Planet, by Frances Moore Lappé (Ballantine Books, 1971).
The first is worth reading just for the introduction, which is the chronicle of a friendship between a gifted cook and a novice vegetarian. Spiritual values and goals, creating community, nutritional discussions, and practical cooking advice are all present in this book. The sentence that won me completely was this: "Laurel is the only vegetarian cook I know whose food can manage to taste just like your mother's or grandmother's."