One of the things about having an obsessive personality is you get really o-b-s-e-s-s-e-d when you love something. When Prison Break first started, I promoted the series to anyone who would listen. I’d rave about Wentworth Miller and how genius the plot was (season one, remember?) and I’d spread the love. After I read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Nifenegger, I insisted my friends read the book. Any time anyone asked me for a book suggestion, I’d grab them by the shoulders, stare in their eyes and say, “The Time Traveler’s Wife. You. Need. To. Read. It.”

Well, you get the gist.

My unyielding obsession these days is with baking and cooking. Admittedly, I’ve always been pretty crazy about it. For my 21st birthday, I asked my father for my very own KitchenAid whilst my other girlfriends asked for jewellery or handbags. At 22, I saved up to splurge on a variety of pots and pans from the Jamie Oliver for Tefal range, a Global knife block and some Microplane graters (side note: Microplane graters-can’t live without them!). Majority of my expenses for 2009 was on cake decorating tools: piping tips, piping bags, gumpaste tools, gel paste colouring, stamens, books on cake decorating, and various types of cutters. I got more excited about heading to the cake supply store than hitting up a shopping mall.

Like I said, obsessed.

You know how people flip through magazines when they’re bored? Others curl up with a novel before bed. My father loses himself in news sites for hours, catching up on the latest happenings in the world. I have girlfriends who spend hours reading makeup blogs and watching makeup tutorials on YouTube.

Me? I read about food.

My latest obsessions.

The book right at the top of the pile is something I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now, The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman. It was simply impossible to track this book down in KL. Most of the Borders outlets didn’t have them, and only one MPH outlet had them in stock. It provides amazing insight to life inside The Culinary Institute of America as a student. It is nothing short of amazing and although I’ve said time and again that I’m more inclined towards pastry arts, Ruhlman’s experience as an undercover student in the CIA has me itching to sign up for the AOS in Culinary Arts as well. I’ve always respected chefs but this brought it to a whole new level. To read about how they think about food, how kitchens are run, the on-your-toes quick thinking required, the crazy hours, the mostly eccentric chefs that lead the kitchens and classrooms… I actually really want that. Some people said the book scared them off wanting to attend culinary school but this got me excited and dying to go. In fact, it’s so good that I hunted down Ruhlman’s following two books, The Soul of a Chef and The Reach of a Chef: Professional Cooks in the Age of Celebrity.

I got the hefty Mastering the Art and Craft: Baking & Pastry book by the Culinary Institute of America a few months back. It’s like a baking textbook. This is going to sound so nerdy, but I love reading it for the technical side of baking that people don’t think about. The Bakers’ Percentage, ingredient identification, the different types of flours and their uses, different types of chocolate and the different percentages of cocoa in them and how they’re used for different types of desserts, gluten development in bread doughs, the various types of cake mixing methods, the different types of meringue and buttercream, etc. It’s 902 pages (excluding the appendices) of education. It has many, many recipes in there but they’re targeted towards the professional baker so making one of these recipes could produce four cakes instead of just the one you’d want. I look at it as a reference book and insight into what it is professional pastry chefs are capable of, although I am certain it is but a meager portion of their full proficiency. It’s definitely something to strive towards.

The two “Essential” cookbooks I own were both bought, strangely enough, on sale. I got The Essential Baking Cookbook in Melbourne from the discount bookstore Andrew’s Bookshop and it was so thick and informative that I thought they priced it wrong. Then I found The Essential Dessert Cookbook in KL for RM27.90 which is crazy cheap. A novel costs around RM65 here and these “Essential” cookbooks are chock-full of recipes of every single kind of baked good you can imagine and they’re pretty good recipes too. My favourite is their “What Went Wrong?” section with pictures of what Perfect, Overcooked, Undercooked, and Undermixed goods look like. It’s fucking awesome, is what it is. They have the basic recipes for everything. I have a pretty huge stack of cookbooks (it’s a bit of an addiction, to be honest) and chefs like putting their own spin on things but I like to know exactly what their spin is. So I head towards an “Essential” cookbook and get enlightened on the basics first. I’m a firm believer of learning to walk before you run, especially when it comes to baking. It never pays to be too ambitious especially if you can’t even master the fundamentals.

If you ever see the Essential cookbooks in store, snag a copy.

Seriously tabbed.

I would like to think that I take great care with my cookbooks, and in a way I do treasure them, but they do get worn and used. I stick tabs on the recipes I want to try (as you can see, there are plenty!). My favourite roast chicken recipe in Kylie Kwong’s Heart and Soul is stained with some of said chicken’s gravy. Most of my books have flour and sugar somewhere between the pages. And all of them are tabbed to a certain degree. Okay, fine, they’re usually tabbed to death. Whenever I buy a new cookbook, I pore over it for hours. I read ingredient lists, the methods and I tab the ones I am dying to make. I’ve since moved on to colour-coded tabbing (more systematic!), which I didn’t get to apply to The Essential Baking Cookbook. Now they’re separated into, “TRY ASAP!” and “Looks interesting!”

I don’t limit the feeding of my obsession to just books, though. The Internet has been one of my greatest resources and source of inspiration. I recently added lots of links to the side of Hey, Sugar! so check them out if you want. Michael Ruhlman (author of the first book mentioned) runs a blog as well, and there are some other interesting blogs that I’ve recently discovered and they’re unlike most food blogs I’ve seen. I can’t pick a favourite but check the links out and you’ll see what I mean. They’ve definitely changed the way I think about food; and I’m sure they will you, too.