the incredible cookbook collection

A few years after my college graduation, a mentor and dear friend asked me to help her with an amazing project. An extremely large cookbook collection had been donated to the University of Minnesota and I would be part of the team to catalog it. I remember packing books into boxes, transporting those boxes to the Food Science library at the St. Paul campus, then unpacking the books onto library shelves. The books, magazines, and recipe pamphlets (remember those?) came from St. Paul native Doris Kirschner.

Kirschner clipped recipes and collected cookbooks obsessively. She enjoyed cooking, but a diagnosis of lupus kept her in bed much of her adult life. This gave her opportunity to delve into her 5000+ cookbooks, research recipes, and plan menus. When her illness was in remission, she cooked these meals in one of her two kitchens. (A practicing Jew, she kept a dedicated Kosher kitchen.) Her vast collection includes her handwritten menus, which document that the Kirschner family could go four months without repeating a main dish. Wowza.

What brought this to mind again was learning about the Kirschner Collection Blog. Megan Kocher, library liaison to the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota Libraries, is keeper of this collection. The cookbook library is open to the public, but Kocher has a front-row seat to the 1300+ books currently on these shelves. She shares her favorite discoveries with all who read her posts. Besides filling in details on Kirschner, Kocher writes about and photographs many of the pamphlets, cookbooks, and–of course–recipes she finds. Some are contemporary (Apple-Oat Pancakes with Cheddar Cheese from Deborah Madison’s Local Favorites); others have more history (Breast of Chicken with Curry Dumplings from one of six Playboy cookbooks in the collection).

I remember meeting Kirschner back in 1995 (she died in 2001) and she struck me as an incredibly focused woman. She had one great passion in life–feeding her family; her tools were recipes. It’s a gift to future generations that these cookbooks have been saved and are available to the public. Even if you don’t live locally, you can share this collection by keeping tabs on Megan Kocher’s discoveries.

where the cookbooks live

family moments: popovers, pizza, frozen yogurt

Family time–while lovely in theory–can be rough in practice. I remember taking the girls to our community pjs and Santa event when they were 4ish and maybe just 9 months. By the time we got two pajama-clad girls into the car, everyone was mad at each other. It had been stressful getting the girls ready and I remember wondering if it was even worth it to go. No one was feeling festive–we were crabby and it probably would have been better to just stay home and put everyone (mom and dad included) to bed. But we had planned to see Santa with the girls that night and we were forging ahead. The night was mostly a disaster. Too crowded, too noisy, too late at night, and both girls cried just looking at Santa. Despite these disasters (and there have been many), we continue pursuing those perfect and ideal family moments.

Today, we hit the jackpot. A downtown library was showing a children’s film fest, so we took the girls. My husband, a library junkie, hit the stacks while the girls and I enjoyed five subtitled foreign film shorts. I took a quick walk through cookbooks and found entire shelves devoted to bourbon and other spirits (more about bourbon later). We bought a few books at the Friends of the Library bookstore, then walked over to Macy’s for a great lunch at the tony Oak Grill. We enjoyed a piece of history and some solidly good food: First, Oak Grill’s classic popovers. Then the girls slurped down their chicken veggie soup. I had the same soup with a Meditterranean-ish salad. My husband had a chicken stir-fry. Driving home, I realized we’d had a perfectly lovely morning. No one fought, we didn’t get lost, everyone was happy about the restaurant choice. Somehow we got that ideal family moment. It had just happened. When we left the house that morning, we had no plan outside of hitting the film fest. Everything else just followed.

Tonight I took my 9-year-old to the senior fashion show at a local University. She was wide-eyed as the models strutted the runway and it was fun to support one of her interests. Wandering to Dinkytown after the show, we had wonderfully greasy pizza at Mesa and then played Connect-4 after building frozen yogurt sundaes at Chilly Billy’s.

Will cherish today’s memories as they don’t come around often enough. Will also (try to) remember that forcing these family moments doesn’t make them happen; more often than not, it backfires. Expecting Norman Rockwell-worthy moments is overly optimistic and in the end, usually leads to disappointment and frustration. Tonight, my recipe for that perfect family moment is to pay attention so I can grab on and appreciate when things go right.