It could be said that I have a “thing” for cookbooks, a bit of a collection, perhaps. Possibly, an obsession.

Thus, I find treasure in the most unlikely of places. While out for a bike ride last weekend, I popped into a garage sale. One block over. I was about to cruise by when I spotted the hosts, a man and a woman a decade or so older than me. Experience tells me these are the best garage sales.

It was late morning and there wasn’t much left. Then I spotted them – a collection of small cookbooks. Canadian Living. From the early 1990s. My heart sang. I clutched them to my chest. “Canadian Living,” I whispered. “Canadian Living.”

My mom taught me to bake, but Canadian Living taught me to cook. It taught me about nutrition and meal planning and sometimes little tricks. When you are cooking seven days a week for a family of ravenous wolves, Canadian Living saved my bacon.

The wolves were mostly kind, would eat dishes plain and exotic. They tried vegetables they’d never seen before, developed a palate for spices and learned that fish and seafood need not be bland. In all the years I worked month-by-month through the seasonal recipes, there were maybe three recipes that it was suggested I might accidentally lose.

The eight little books now absorbing the beat of my heart were given out with magazine subscriptions some years ago. They were sorted by one-dish meals, easy chicken dishes, great desserts, cooking for company, vegetables and salads, soups and starters. Likely I had every one of these recipes squirreled away in a binder, but here they were organized and easy to find. I knew there were some of them in my very, very small recipe collection, but I wanted them all. Duplicates I’d foist on…somebody.

My preference in recipe books is to purchase them used. Good cooks write notes. You’ll see ingredient adjustments, change-up suggestions or serving sizes, ie “Dad, three portions.” You’ll know the great recipes by pages with a slight wrinkle from water, a fingerprint or a tear in the page.

I did a quick flip through the eight teeny tiny books that will take up so little space in my home they will be invisible.

Notes! Handwritten notes!

My fellow cyclist gave me a look that suggested I better not ever mention cleaning out the garage. “Canadian Living,” I said.

“Oh!” He reached into his pocket. “How much?”

The older couple was eyeing this exchange, a bit of a grin on each face.

“These are ‘Canadian Living,’” I said to the woman. “Are you sure? You’re sure you want to get rid of them?”

She shook out a plastic bag.

“Let me have a look,” said the man. He flicked the pages. Glanced at the pictures. Handed them back. Clearly bemused.

“I get all of my recipes online now,” she said.

Oh, my beating heart. You have to read so, so many comments to find out anything with online recipes and you can’t see the wrinkles and the dog-eared pages. Oh, woe!

As I turned to leave, I glanced again at her books. What was that buried beneath?

“You should take that Wish Book,” she said.

A momentary hesitation. A second really.

The urge was there. The desire to rip off the plastic covering, to huddle beneath a blanket, to dream of wishes come true.

But I continued on my way. Clearly, a book of that size and heft would consume too much space.


P.S. I’m still on the hunt for an original “Moosewood” cookbook. Just saying…if you ever see one…