Of Cookbooks and New Year's Resolutions
I've never been much good at keeping my New Year's resolutions. But there's one resolution in particular that I've made year after year and broken - rather blithely too, I may add - as many times.
I must, I must buy less cookbooks.
Year after year, it's not so much newfound virtuous intent that spurs me to make that doomed resolution. More like the fear that one fine day in the not-too-distant future those poor particleboard shelves whose load bearing capacity I constantly (and foolhardily) test will finally give way.
Buy another bookcase? Sadly, no can do. As it is, we're virtually walking tippy toe through corridors. Much to my dismay, there's simply no more space to shoehorn in another bookcase.
Besides, it will simply fill in double quick time, thus forcing one to come to grips with the reality that one has issues beyond just being spatially-challenged. The official designated cookbook-shoring stacked-two deep bookshelves aside, there're the sprawling stacks on my bedside table, in my study, on the kitchen counter. These stacks...these stacks have taken on a life of their own. What really started off as a way to disguise new cookbook purchases so the shelves don't look quite so crammed have grown higgledy piggledy squatter style into densely populated semi-permanent settlements.
At some point a couple of years back after the 500-book mark was passed, I stopped keeping tabs. Frankly, I am afraid to know. To put a number on it would be to quantify, to put a face to, the magnitude of my problem. Were I to cook a 5-course meal for lunch and dinner respectively everyday without ever cooking a single recipe twice, I'm going to have to live (and cook) till I'm 113 and then some to truthfully claim to have made some inroads into cooking through those books, let's not even speak of amortization.
So this year, rather than lie to myself and vow to buy less cookbooks, I've resolved instead to become a more discriminating cookbook shopper. Gone are the days (and bookshelf realty) that I can buy a cookbook on a whim, for whatever idiosyncratic reason. Henceforth, a book must possess several merits and not just one before I'll bring it home with me. Chiefly:
Form Is it attractive? Do I love the cover/photography/illustrations/food styling/prop styling/typography/layout/design/authorial voice?
Function Are there at least a handful of recipes I am keen to cook from? Would I like to learn more about the cuisine/ingredient/technique that's the subject of the book? Are the instructions written clearly? Are too many of the recipes tricky to attempt because they call for hard-to-find ingredients and/or esoteric equipment? If book in question is another book on well-represented subjects (eg. chocolate or bread or French or Italian or how to poach an egg/truss a chicken/de-bone a trotter), does it excessively replicate ground already comprehensively (and better) covered in material I currently own?
A cookbook should boast of at least 2 attributes (ideally one from each category) before I'll call it mine. It's hardly a tall order, but I am hoping the act of simply pausing to consider the place a said book has in one's collection will go a long way towards keeping profligate purchasing in check.
Wish me luck!