Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nancy & Sheila

So sorry to read in the Chronicle today that cookbook author Sheila Lukins had passed away at only 66. You can keep your Julia Child; for me it was Ms. Lukins and her co-author Julee Russo, with The New Basics Cookbook, that led me from a diet of cheese fries and Diet Coke in college to a grown up palate.

When I moved to Germany to start my first post college job, I had my whole life in two duffel bags, and you can bet that 3 lbs. of my luggage was taken up by my inspirational new cookbook. During the two years I lived there I cooked my way from one end of that red and white book to the other, in my tiny galley kitchen, and along the way cooked my way into adulthood.

From Sage Butter Pasta to Chicken Kiev to Anadama Bread, Lukins' recipes were easy enough for me to fudge together from German ingredients (for instance no vanilla extract, just vanilla sugar in that country) and sophisticated enough to let me think I had really become a cosmopolitan career gal. Even while working my tusch off at my job and living alone, the New Basics made it seem worthwhile to prepare and cook real meals for myself.

Later when I moved from Munich to Phoenix, the dogeared cookbook came along for the ride. It was a good decision, as there was a nebulous period during which my now-husband and I were kind of dating, kind of not. It was easy to bridge the awkwardness with invitations to come over for some Lemon Ginger Chicken or Pear and Blue Cheese salad, because Andrew was as hungry and broke as he was charming and smart. He usually brought his roommate Joe (who ended up being best man at our wedding) - during the one stormy period of our early courtship when we broke up for 48 hours, it was Joe who lamented "But what about ME? What am I going to eat?"

Now that we have two kids and full lives, I sometimes feel like all my cooking skill and inspiration has vanished, replaced by whatever Trader Giotto frozen dish is in the freezer. But reading about Sheila Lukins reminds me that there was a time when I read cookbooks for sport, sought out mache, and could whip up a batch of polenta without even consulting the cookbook. I think, in her honor, I will make up some homemade mac and cheese and blow the girls' minds - and maybe mine too.

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