When the landlady at the first apartment I lived in with my sister in Chicago told us she was selling the old grey stone and it was time for us to move on, I was excited about the prospect of something new and different. That is, until I discovered what moving really meant. For me, it turned out to be primarily about books. Once they were out in the open for all the world to see, it seemed I might qualify as a true hoarder.

Even I was astonished at what I had amassed, thinking that if only I had space enough, bookshelves enough, the books would seem nothing more than a substantial, and quite normal, library. When one pursues literature as a course of study, both undergraduate and grad, the book-mania is to be understood.

I wasn’t sure where to begin on the purge—an expertise I’ve now become quite adept at—and the first round was woefully sparse. I dropped my first bags off at the Salvation Army with the dramatic sense that a part of me was now gone.

Perhaps it was the fact that the move we made was only a few blocks away, on the same street no less, that gave me the sense that I wasn’t moving that many books. Or anticipating the beautiful bookshelves built specially in the new condo to house both of our collections—my sister too is a book hound. In fact, she predated and eventually inspired me in the love of a good book, as she spent hours as a little kid reading The Count of Monte Christo or an endless supply of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books.

Once we landed in the new place and got all of the heavy lifting out of the way, it was time for the much-anticipated moment of filling the bookshelves. We decided to lay them all out in stacks on the floor, to see what was what, and that was when it became painfully, hysterically obvious that we could house only a fraction of what was there. And if we wanted to keep the rest, it was going to involve the price tag of the largest storage unit available at the Lock-Up.

All I can say is that time does heal, because between those first deeply-felt couple of bags given away before the move and now, I had acquired more of a tough-guy approach to my things. Thank the good Lord for the double-bagged, handled Treasure Island grocery bags. No fewer than twenty of those bad boys, each carrying 20 to 30 books, processed out of the condo that day.

What I found most fascinating about the book amputation was that not a single cookbook was sent packing. In Chicago, it was with those cookbooks that I had continued the apprenticeship begun at home in the kitchens of my mother and Sittos and aunts. This schooling was woefully missing from my life in the city. The books helped me perfect the dishes I’d always known, but more importantly they opened my mind to new Lebanese recipes. Without them I might never have known tahini sauce or radish salad or za’atar-olive oil dip.

Up north here in my little writing room, I finally bought a bookshelf to play host to the stacks that were accumulating all over the house. Nothing like having the family return for the summer to get a girl to rein it in. The books are all cookbooks and many of them have traveled with me from Michigan to Chicago to San Francisco and back to Michigan. A moveable feast. What serendipity then that a spectacular new book should arrive quite literally as I was writing this post, a first edition of M.F.K. Fisher’s Here Let Us Feast. It came from Rebecca, one of my culinary school dear ones who is a tremendous collector of good books. For her, it’s building a kind of culinary history. For me, the books are not only a feast to be had wherever you are, but also like what my nephew’s blankie (or, more accurately, “blank”) is to him: a comfort, one of those things that softens the day with their familiarity, their closeness, their sense of home.

Radish & Arugula salad
 
Try the salad aside or atop your mujadara, or with grilled meats like lamb shish kebab.
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 3 cups baby arugula
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 tablespoons Vidalia onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder
Instructions
  1. Mix the arugula, radishes, and onion in a salad bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice over top. Pour the olive oil over all. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Toss gently. Feast. Then have a little more.

 

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