Sunday, 6 September 2015

Confessions Of An Addict

Sweat builds on my brow as my heart rate elevates. The shame of succumbing yet again is palpable as I weigh the consequences. The human mind is capable of justifying even the lowliest acts, I should know. An image of my husband's pursed lips and disapproving frown flashes in my mind for only but a moment. As I lift the cookbook from its place on the shelf, Heston's quizzical face and glossy bald head are looking back at me, I proceed to the checkout and I know that disapproval from those we hold dear is the price an addict will pay. We all have our vices, my name is Tenele and I'm a cookbook addict.

A cookbook is not merely a collection of recipes it is a portal. A portal that can transport the reader through space and time to tastes unknown, cultures yet to be experienced and connections with people and nations separated by vast oceans. As I look over my collection I see history and present day coming together. Elizabeth David and Julia Child some of the original cooks and travellers who transported evocative cuisines across oceans to their homelands are just as relevant today as their modern counterparts Rick Stein and Jaime Oliver. Julia's Beef Bourguignon graced the dinner tables of America's elite in 1963 and the recipe still stands the test of time even in today's food obsessed culture.

Not all cookbooks are gems in the sense that you will have a transformative cooking experience. Whilst some vintage and retro cookbooks are treasures, others less so. My Golden Circle Tropical Recipe Book harks to a time when canned food was king, fruit set in jelly was the height of sophistication and if it wasn't baked in a bundt you could just forget about it. The 1967 Woman's Day advertisement promised a book that would delight new brides and "mothers who know best" but in reality features food so far beyond kitsch that any attempt at a description would not do this book justice. Tinned sweet and sour sauce poured over suspicious, flavourless lumps of meat, hard-boiled eggs with faces and pineapple, pineapple, pineapple with everything. This book is more a travesty than a home economics triumph but sits in my collection as a reminder of how far we have come since the days of aspics and onion soup dips. And before you question, yes I have cooked from it and yes the results can be labelled a food crime.

Misses aside, cooks and chefs from all over the globe have taken me on journeys to their worlds all through their recipes and writings. David Thompson the tamer of Thai cuisine has single handedly brought the mouth numbing fires of Thai curries right to my doorstep. At times whilst buried deep in a recipe, hand scraping the fleshy innards of a coconut or pounding my own curry paste I forget myself, my surroundings and reality slip away for a moment and life takes on a new meaning. I am one with those of distant lands.

Modern day cookbooks with their larger than life glossy photos and tantilising tales of the exotic are as much about the anthropological study as they are about the recipes, possibly more so. Take Bree Hutchins' in depth study aptly titled 'Hidden Kitchens of Sri Lanka'. As I read about this far away land with its swaying palms and lively markets it strikes me, many of the recipes in this book contain ingredients virtually unobtainable here in Australia and despite this I read on enthralled by a culture so different from my own. The story of the market stall holder who spends only a handful of hours sleeping each night and the rest of his day commuting to and from and running his street food stall in Colombo or the man who spends most of his days separated from his family in order to protect his field of vegetables from vermin and poachers just to feed his family leave me heart broken. This book connects me with these people and their stories and then cooking their recipes is the next level, it is intimate to share in the food of another person.

This is the power of the cookbook. As I look over my over growing collection I see a link. No longer am I limited by geographical distance, the world's flavors, wonders and stories are all there right in front of me. I can cook up vibrant Vietnamese salads with Luke Nguyen, steaming hot Argentinian Empanadas with Enrique Zanoni, tart and tangy Filipino food with Yasmin Newman or rich buttery French fare with Richard Olney. I am only limited by my ability and the more I cook with the masters the more I grow and learn and so begins the cycle. Buying, reading, cooking, eating the secrets to my fulfilled life.

If admission of a problem is the first step to redemption or release from addiction then let it be heard here and now, I'm fine... Really I am.

Originally posted on Sunday, 6 September 2015 by


  1. A wonderful piece of writing! With love from a fellow cookbook addict!

  2. Thanks so much for reading, much appreciated and I can tell you the cookbook addiction is only getting worse.

  3. Such a good bit of writing, you go girl! So deserved an award :) x

    1. Thanks Chrissy you are a gem. To put that into context for other readers I won second place in a narrative writing competition with this piece. Yay!