What’s cookin’

cookbooksI love cookbooks. I like to page through them, reading the recipes, mentally putting them together to figure out if something will work. I like the background stories that some of them include, and I imagine what it must have been like the first time that steaming dish made its way to the table. Mostly I like the way yet another assemblage of words–not prose, not poetry, not carefully crafted essays–can make the neurons fire in my brain to conjure pictures and flavors and smells. [Oh, how I love words and their power.]

Lately, though, I notice my cookbooks gathering dust. Never fear, I’m still feeding my family, but unless I’m reaching for a specific recipe that resides in the pages of my collection, I find myself reaching for my phone or my iPad to search the internet for inspiration.

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that.

My approach is the same; I read through a recipe to assess it. I compare several different options. I imagine the outcome. It just feels so…impersonal. I miss holding the pages and smelling the paper, not to mention the fact that the screen on my phone gets pretty nasty from my internet cooking forays.

Still, it has its benefits. I have access to more resources than I could ever fit into my kitchen. I get the benefit of others’ reviews and commentary. [Note: ALWAYS read the commentary.] My cuisine choices are no longer limited by that which sits on my shelf. The world is really and truly at my fingertips.

As much as I love my hard copies and hope that paper cookbook publishing won’t fade away, on the whole, I think I’m far better off in this brave new world. I think we all are, actually, and two reasons stand out to me in particular:

  1. Accessibility. Anyone can find just about anything with an internet connection (free at most libraries for those who don’t have it at home). No longer are we limited by resources, e.g. how many/which cookbooks we can afford, what’s available in local stores, whom we know who can help.
  2. Competition. As a pretty firm believer in the corrections of the free market, I have to believe that increased accessibility and the corresponding increase in options will positively impact the quality of all. While things may look different in the end, I believe that survival of the fittest will make the winners–whatever they may be–far better than the original offering. I just have to be open-minded and keep a broad perspective.

It’s cookbooks for me, but it may be something else for you–I think the lesson is universal. Still, if you borrow one of my cookbooks, please don’t forget to return it!

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The key ingredient

I don’t watch much TV, but occasionally I’ll flip to the Food Network to gratify my inner foodie. My kids watch along with me (they’re kids; they’ll watch anything), and the three of us particularly enjoy a show called Chopped.

The show features four generally unknown chefs who compete for a $10,000 prize by concocting various courses from mystery ingredients packed into a basket. With three courses and three rounds, one chef is eliminated (“chopped”) at the end of each, leaving the last one standing to collect the prize. The concept is simple enough, but the execution is tough. The ingredients in the baskets never go together, and often they make no sense at all.

Being evil geniuses, my kids have decided this exercise should be undertaken at home–on me. From time to time, they’ll decide it’s Chopped night at our house and proceed to fill our picnic basket with wacky items from which I am required to create a meal in a given amount of time. For example, one basket contained blackberries, honey, baby arugula, and Sprite. Sometimes I succeed (a sweet and savory crepe duo), and sometimes I fail miserably (peanut/tomato/rice noodle blob). Either way, I’ve had to look at the ingredients differently in order to find a creative solution. Sprite, after all, isn’t just for drinking.

My days are generally like those baskets. The things packed into them mostly make sense and I can put them in some kind of order to move forward. There’s always something, though, that throws me a curve. Good or bad, it forces me to rearrange everything to make room for it. It changes the whole character and nature of my day–just as one ingredient can change the whole character of a dish.

The only way to make those ingredients work is to change the way I look at all the others. I guess there’s a lesson in everything.