I have been recently tagged for two memes, both with cookbooks and cooking on the mind. For ease of reading, and to preserve my already scattered brain, I've combined the two (my apologies if this violates some esteemed meme rule that I'm not aware of).

First off, the Cook Next Door meme, thoughtfully created by Nicky and Oliver over at the gorgeous site Delicious Days, and brought to my attention by Reid of 'Ono Kine Grindz.

What's your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?

It wasn’t entirely on my own, but I remember a batch of cookies I made with my great-aunt when I was about six or younger. I told her that we had made chocolate cookies in school, and that they were tasty. I then proceeded to tell her the recipe — as per the memory of a six year old. In her support of my budding interest, she helped me gather my ingredients and supervised as I mixed, dumped and sampled the project. Please note, measuring was not involved. Nor were eggs, I don’t think. I remember the cookies were hard as a rock and would not come off the sheet, but my aunt patiently pried them off and declared them delicious. I’m amazed she didn’t chip a tooth.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?

This is a very tough one to answer. From my youth, I’d have to say the women in my life: my mother, my grandmother and my best friend’s mother next door. From my mother I learned to be fearless with food, to eat from street vendors and happily get my fingers stuck into a mess. From my grandmother, I learned about comfort, foods that had history to her, and how to make the perfect scrambled eggs. From the lady next door, I learned to love all things Italian (a cuisine far removed from my own Anglo-Indian palate); veal scallopini, hearty pastas and Easter breads.

Today, my food influences are evolving. My father, who was always one for culinary improvisation, has taken over a lot of the cooking at my parents house. From him, I’ve learned the exacting art to sandwich making, how to perfect roast beef, and how to look at tried and true ingredients with a fresh perspective. I’m also more influenced by the foods and tastes of my friends, picking and choosing elements of cuisines to add to my own repertoire.

Do you have an old photo as "evidence" of an early exposure to the culinary world?

I don’t have one here, but I will get back to you.

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?

Not a dish per se, but attempting some of the tried-and-true recipes family recipes terrifies me. My family is not one to write things down often, preferring the “bit of this, dash of that” method. For example, my father has told me his keema recipe a million times, but I never can get the taste right — it never tastes like home. Maybe I need to make it with him, or maybe I need to make it more often. Or maybe I should just keep eating at their house.

I used to be terrified of roasting chicken; making sure it was properly cooked so that I did not inadvertently poison a loved one. After perfecting my method (and finally buying a meat thermometer) I am cured.

What are your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?

The chef’s knife my parents gave me for Christmas years ago — so many years ago, that I cannot remember the year. It was my first real chef’s knife, all my own. Admittedly, I knicked my palm when I took it out (how’s that for a Christmas morning memory), but now it is an extension of my arm when I’m cooking. Since then I’ve received a lovely full set of professional knives, but I still go back to my first love. There is something about it’s weight and balance that simply feels right in my hand.

Biggest disappointment?

Besides the Henkels herb contraption Michele mentioned, I would have to say my double bladed mezzaluna from Williams-Sonoma. It is a thing of beauty, really, but too bad it is not nearly sharp enough. It turns herbs into a sodden mass wedged between the blades.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else does.

Cilantro in my tuna salad — is that weird? That is the way my father made it when I was growing up, and so it is the only way I really enjoy it. Full of finely minced onions and lots of pepper, too. It is worth the bad breath for the taste of my Dad’s tuna salad.

When I was little, all the kids loved my mother’s peanut butter sandwiches. She was known for making the best sandwiches in the neighborhood. Her secret? Butter and peanut butter on the bread. Sounds like cardiac suicide, but I’m telling you, it was tasty. I think it was the saltiness of the butter that worked against the sweetness of the peanuts. Honestly, years later, I’ll run into someone from my childhood and they’ll mention my mother’s sandwiches. Every once in a while, I still crave them.

What are the three edibles or dishes you simply don't want to live without?

I do not know if this fits the “dish” criteria, but my favorite meals are ones when we head to the market, basket in hand, and visit our favorite purveyors. We come home laden with cheeses, breads, some cured meats and simply sit down and feast. I have a heartfelt passion for these afternoons.

Masala dosas, wrapped in banana leaves, from street vendors in India. Or really, my mom's dosas. These thin crêpes, filled with spiced potatoes and peas, have always been a favorite of mine. I remember on a train trip when I was about eight, all I wanted was a dosa. At the next station, my father gestured someone over to the window and ordered. With lightning speed, the man assembled my treat and passed it over. I greedily tore open the leaf, tore off a bit of dosa, scooped up the potatoes and shoved my fist into my mouth. Then I started to cry. It seems the man had put some firey green chili chutney onto the dosa without my father noticing. If that didn’t turn me off of them, then it must be love.

A hot cup of tea with condensed milk, like my mom makes when I am sick or sad.

Any question you missed in this meme that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!

Your favorite ice-cream.
Mango-peach frozen yogurt in a waffle cone from a place in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, or pretty much anything chocolate.

You will definitely never eat...

I don’t know if I can really say never, but I'm not chomping at the bit to try natto — after all the accounts I’ve read, I’ve not come across a report of anyone falling in love at first bite. The consistency throws me off a bit.

Your own signature dish...

I wish it was more complicated, but really, probably a simple pavlova. They are loved by my family, and are frequently requested.

And now, a Cookbook meme courtesy of a tag by Michele — I’m unsure of its origin (please feel free to enlighten me).

How many cookbooks do I own?

Is lots an acceptable answer? I have got a bookcase full here, but there are also the books I have leant out and the books I sentimentally have claimed from my family’s collection (even if they are not aware of my designs as of yet). I also have an addiction to food magazines, with some kept in their own little dividers, and others pillaged for recipes and recompiled in recipe binders. I’m quite particular about my binders, and recently overhauled the whole system. Yes, I have issues.

The last cookbook I bought?

The Instant Cook by Donna Hay. I have a few of her books, and snapped up a copy of her latest about a month ago. I admire the simplicity of her presentations and the variety of her tastes.

The last food book I read?

I’ve recently returned to Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I have owned the book for a while, but I picked it up again. I love how immersed they are in the culture and heritage of the foods they explore. Evocative and appetizing, this book is a feast for the eyes, taste buds and the soul.

Five cookbooks that hold a place in my heart?

Instead of answering this question, I have given myself a little assignment. For the month of July (after I post my Taste Canada entry) I will explore five of my favorite cookbooks, taking a week or so for each. I have not selected the five, so I’ll be surprised along with all of you at the results.

Both these memes are already highly popular, and so many of the people I had planned on tagging have already participated. If you would like to be tagged, please let me know in the comments section.

Tag! Catherine, from the lovely Food Musings has been tagged to participate in either (or both) memes listed here. Let's show her some love!