Several months ago, during a lunch break from my job downtown, I visited one of LA’s Best New Places: The Last Bookstore.
This block-long, multi-story mecca features new and used books on the spacious ground floor, along with records, posters and a few aisles of DVDs. Upstairs, the tone shifts from industrial, open-space, slightly steam punk to through-the-looking-glass funky. Works of art, many featuring actual books or pieces of books or random machinery that has absolutely nothing to do with books, dot the cluttered scape. Shelves curve, create grottos and abruptly stand in your path. Rooms lead to hallways, which lead to more rooms. Some sections are organized by color, others by loose themes probably known by only two employees and the most diehard visitors. On this upper floor, everything costs one dollar. That’s either giddy-making or horrifying, depending on my mood and current nostalgia level for the publishing world and printed word.
As I stood in one section of the upstairs and actually took a moment to focus on some of the titles around me, I noticed a shelf of old cookbooks. Nothing appealed—there were lots of soup compendiums from now-defunct imprints, ladies’ auxiliary collections with spiral bindings, a grilling manual. But then, lo and behold, what was there on the end of the shelf but The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken.
“Check it out!” I yelled to my friends. “I grew up with this book!”
Indeed I did, which is funny because my mom actually loves to cook and taught me to go and do likewise at a very young age.
I think I was nine when I first spotted The I Hate to Cook Book in her kitchen collection. Perhaps the name stood out to me—or it was lying on the counter after she’d referred to it for a meal. The cover features an illustration of a dismayed, large-eyed young woman in an oversize chef’s toque. I instantly wanted to read it.
The table of contents establishes Bracken’s mood and wit. It includes:
- The Leftover (or, Every Family Needs a Dog)
- Potluck Suppers (or, How to Bring the Water for the Lemonade)
- Company’s Coming (or, Your Back’s to the Wall)
And, my favorite: Household Hints (or, What to Do When Your Churn Paddle Sticks).
This segues very nicely into her perfect introduction. “Some women, it is said, like to cook. This book is not for them.” I loved her direct, dismissive tone. “This book is for those of us who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking. This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day.”
This had absolutely nothing to do with my childhood reality—childbearing? taxes? a martini?—and yet I was completely hooked. Whenever I felt like plopping on the couch and reading something before doing my homework, I grabbed Bracken’s paperback.
So here I am, thirty-plus years later. I’ve made it through childbirth. I’ve paid my taxes year after year.
I can’t wait to see if any of these recipes are actually good.