Last weekend, on facebook, I promised you a peek at the bookshelves in my kitchen.

That’s right, I said, BOOKSHELVES IN MY KITCHEN.

Yes, I have all-caps feelings about the bookshelves in my kitchen. I don’t care all that much about granite countertops or stainlesss steel appliances, but I love having a built-in bookcase for my cookbooks.

Here are three of the books I reach for most often in that room … (p.s. you can see an actual glimpse of my kitchen bookshelves on instagram).

 

books

 

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila is my kind of cookbook. Lovely, big photographs, fun personal introductions before each recipe, everything tasty, nothing too hard.

Plus, it’s inspiring, never shaming. This isn’t a book to make you feel guilty for buying your sandwich bread. More a book that nudges you to say, “Why wouldn’t I at least try making this if it tastes so good and takes so little extra time?”

At least, that’s the voice I hear as I flip these pages.

Also, despite what you might imagine after reading the subtitle, these are not gimicky recipes. This is good, basic, family food: yes, there are recipes for chocolate peanut butter cups and toaster pastries, but there are also crackers, pasta sauce, and breads. You can learn how (and why) to make your own applesauce, yogurt, and canned tomatoes. I even adopted her granola recipe. Apparently, granola is better with lots of cinnamon and a dash of almond extract.

From the vanilla ice cream to the vanilla extract, this is one of my favorite cookbooks.

Fold down this page. You are going to want to come back to this recipe a lot. If you are going to ditch one packaged thing from your pantry, I suggest the cereal box. – Alana Chernila

One of the biggest changes my family has made in our eating in the past two years is to add fermented foods to our diets. And while stomach bugs and the flu and various colds run rampant through all our friends and neighbors, for two winters in a row, these bugs have mostly passed us by. I no longer spend my winters moving from sore throat to nasty cough and back again, and when my children do get sick, they almost always bounce back quickly.

Fermented foods have been a major part of the human diet around the world for thousands of years, but, in the past 50-100 years, we Americans have stopped consuming them almost entirely. There is growing evidence that we should rethink that.

And don’t let the word fermented frighten you off. I’m talking about yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, the soda-like drink my kids can’t get enough of. So, nothing nasty, everything delicious and tangy.

Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin is a good place to start. Again, great photographs, helpful explanations, easy step-by-steps. I used his guidelines for making pickles with last summer’s cucumbers, and we are still enjoying them.

Here’s another reason to check out this book: unless you can purchase raw pickled goods from your Amish neighbors (ahem), then you have to make this stuff on your own. The heat-treated pickles on the supermarket shelf have had all of their living, immune-enhancing ingredients cooked out of them in the name of food safety. One exception is kombucha. Buy it from Whole Foods to see if you like it, but one glance at the pricetag and you’ll understand why I make my own.

When we make our own food, we regain some control over our lives – especially at a time in history when many of us feel at the mercy of events, governments, corporations, and industrial food producers. – Alex Lewin

Here is a book to watch out for in the second-hand shops: The Fun of Cooking by Jill Krementz. As a child, I checked this one out of the school library so many times, my parents finally bought me my own copy. I literally loved it to bits.

This is a book for kids by kids (from really little ones to teenagers). The recipes are good and diverse, but the real treat for me has always been the stories. This is a book with an urban/New York bent, and I loved imagining a world where kids my own age might hop on the subway to pick up ingredients for the dinner they’d make before Mom arrived home from work. So, pretty much the opposite of my life then.

It’s quite possible that my city-living dreams began with this book.

And dreams can be passed down. This year, my daughter made the teddy-bear bread for her teacher, just like I used to do.

Last year we had a baby-sitter named Jean Williams who taught me how to make teddy bear bread. I always make two of them so I can give one away to a friend.  – Jessica, age ten

Tell me, do you keep books in the kitchen?

 

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