I know there are people who actually use cookbooks, and I wish I were one of them. I have a few that I bought with the intention of memorizing and cooking every recipe: there’s a Nigella Lawson cookbook for spring and summer flavors that I found at a used bookstore, a thin tome of Julia Child’s cooking wisdom (Julia provides maxims for being comfortable cooking without a recipe) that I salvaged from a pile of books a friend was throwing away, a collection of recipes from the old TBS series Dinner & A Movie (I have actually made “Rolling in the Dough” Pretzels, which are soft pretzels shaped like dollar signs).
And then there’s the Bible of my small collection, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, that sits open on a bookstand on my kitchen counter, as though I’m in the habit of opening to a random recipe and cooking from it on a regular basis. It’s always opened to the viandes (meats) section, but only because that’s the halfway point in the book, which allows it to rest comfortably on the stand.
The most I’ve done with any of my cookbooks is flip through them like glossy magazines, poring over all the ingredients and steps and pictures. When I want to cook something—those blissful moments when I’ve met the sublime criteria of having both energy and money—I usually find recipes in the Saveur and New York Times Cooking newsletters. They make it easy to search for a recipe by ingredient, to read comments from other amateur cooks about how they made a particular recipe work for them (“I only added 1/4c of olive oil to the pesto mixture, since anchovies already have a lot of oil”).
The New York Times even designed its website to provide cooks with a virtual recipe “Recipe Box” to store all the recipes they want to try. My recipe box has 600 saved recipes, and thus far I’ve made about 20. The cooking newsletter lands in my inbox 5 times a week, and it’s not uncommon for me to have already saved each suggested recipe. It truly feeds my worst internet habit: bookmarking things for later.
I subscribe to a lot of cooking newsletters. There’s America’s Test Kitchen, Saveur, Food.com, Tasting Table, Spoon University, Hemsley & Hemsley, Jamie Oliver, the Splendid Table, the Food Network. I used to leave these emails unopened and move them to the Recipes folder in my inbox, thinking that seeing their bolded subject lines would encourage me to open them and start cooking. No such luck. I mean, I’m someone who has more than 3,000 unopened emails of articles and videos I need to consume that I’ve even starred to ensure that I do it, so I don’t know why I think this same method will get me to start cooking all the recipes I’m sent via email.
I’m still learning how to cook, learning how much of this or that should be added to a dish and to use my five senses to create a masterpiece. Right now, I need recipes to inspire me. Otherwise, I resort to eggs and toast and sometimes avocado. I do believe that eggs are the perfect food, and when they’re scrambled with mayonnaise (a trick from Alton Brown) I really crave them. But when I want to make myself a proper dinner, I end up doing a Google search and just writing down the recipes I find on index cards. Like everything else I love (books, movies, music, podcasts), there are too many recipes to consume. I have what I like to call consumption anxiety.
The trouble with cookbooks is that you have to take time to read them to know what’s inside them. And like all the articles and newsletters in my inbox that I want to read but save for later, I’m waiting for an optimal moment to sit down with a cookbook and really take it in—you can’t just jump in and start preparing a recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking! (Have you seen the size of it?) Of course, the day somehow always passes me by before I get the chance to break open a cookbook.
But at least the small collection of cookbooks that sit on my kitchen bookshelf give the impression that I’m a more sophisticated cook.
Scrambled eggs and toast for dinner.