Probably the best thing about elementary school, besides a daily snack of soda crackers and swigs of room temperature milk from mini-cartons, were the monthly distributions of Scholastic Book orders. Everything about the orders was exciting; the ink smell rising off of the soft colorful paper, the synopsis of each title, and the anticipation that perhaps this month my mother might allow me to order one or two or three of those mysterious and wonderful manuscripts.
We placed our orders by the due date, order forms scrawled in our very best cursive, tucked into envelopes jingling with pennies and dimes. Then the agonizing wait began. When would the big box of books arrive? How many torturous weeks would we wait? Finally, delivery day came, and our teacher set the heavy box aside, not opening the treasures until a few minutes before the final bell rang. One by one, she'd call our names and place the stacks in our trembling hands, and the frenzy and thrill carried us into discovery and awe, until the next order forms made their rounds and the whole extraordinary process began again.
My very first cookbooks are relics from those Scholastic days, when paper was important, when books were substantial and valuable. Now, my cookbook collection easily contains hundreds, likely thousands, of volumes. Yet, I often find myself using the same five or six books for recipes and inspiration, and some of those texts suffer from battle wounds that demonstrate our feisty relationships.
On the inside cover of my tattered Peanuts Cook Book, my sister carefully printed her name and address (Yes, I admit that jealousy prompted me to steal this copy from her when we were kids.) and the key to her rating system. Tested recipes that received one star were judged to be good, two stars meant very good, etc. My sister was a tough assessor, as none of the recipes received more than a single star. I take that as proof that she doesn't miss this little gem and its instructions for Frieda's French Toast, and Franklin's Jam Tarts.
My name is printed in large capital letters with black permanent marker on first page of Peanuts Lunch Bag Cook Book. Over the years I've made quite a few of the sandwiches and snack recipes from these pages, but wasn't as clever as my sister to create a rating system. The recipes are a little more complicated than the first volume, which of course means that I had more kitchen potential than my older sister. Bragging rights?