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Last year, after donating a few cookbooks from my collection and moving many more across the country, I made a new year’s resolution: if I didn’t cook at least one new recipe from a book by the end of 2017, I’d have to get rid of it. There’s going to be quite a purge in a few weeks if I don’t get cracking.
I have a standard routine when I get a new cookbook, which involves using Post-It flags to mark the pages of recipes I’d like to prepare for fabulous dinner parties, revolutionary potlucks, and therapeutic Sunday afternoons.
In reality, I usually cook the first couple of recipes that catch my eye and will keep well for lunches. If they’re good, those pages become butter and sauce-splattered standbys, but there’s still no guarantee I’ll move beyond them. In fact, I probably won’t. Instead, when I do have an impromptu dinner guest or potluck invitation, I go back to the recipes that have already proven predictably delicious and relatively easy to prepare.
Upon reflection, I realize I treat my cookbook shelf a bit like my colleague Corinne Purtill views her Pocket reading list: a place for marking and storing my aspirations.
As Corinne wrote, in a bittersweet and beautiful essay about reading and mortality, “We are imperfect judges of our future selves’ desires.” For that reason, it can be amusing to go back and see what I once flagged. How adorably ambitious of me to think I’d braise cardamom-curry lamb when visitors descended, instead of automatically opening Genius Recipes to Barbara Kafka’s simple roast chicken.
My resolution has been partially successful. Mostly, it forced me to venture beyond my favorite recipes, to justify keeping the books I couldn’t bear to part with. My love for Mina Stone’s fried eggs (yes, just fried eggs) and cabbage salad made me try her chocolate-flecked banana bread (worth it), just as my worship of Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace cookies made me bake her chocolate chippers, instead of old favorites from The Silver Palate or Tate’s.
My resolution didn’t make me have more dinner parties, but the year isn’t over yet. And when it is, like Corinne, I may just hold on to a few of those books with flagged recipes yet uncooked—small indicators of optimism about days and meals ahead.
If you want to buy someone (or yourself) a cookbook
Annaliese Griffin has some tips from the people who write them—the venerable Christopher Kimball, Cathy Erway, and Food52’s Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. All impressive cookbook writers in their own right, the four widely agreed upon titles including The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, The Silver Palate Cookbook, and anything by Yotam Ottolenghi.
They also shared tips for assessing whether you should get your recipient a copy of, say, the new Cherry Bombe cookbook (One please!) or Erway’s The Food of Taiwan (Also, yes). All—even Kimball, the former editor of Cook’s Illustrated—agreed great photography adds a lot, as do meaty headnotes that tell readers why a recipe is relevant. When it comes to introducing home cooks to ethnic cuisines, the authors emphasized authenticity and accessibility. And don’t be afraid to go vintage. One of the best gifts I’ve received was a 1963 edition of the McCall’s Cookbook—one that Annaliese is holding onto too.
Or, you could just make your own
Here’s a fun exercise: What would go in your personal cookbook—a “best of” compilation of your favorite go-to recipes? Mine would include the aforementioned Greek fried eggs and World Peace Cookies, as well as my Aunt Dianne’s marinated shrimp, David Tanis’s borscht, an adaptation of this chard salad, and countless more cookies (and cocktails). Put all those food Instagrams to work!
You could use a service like Blurb or Shutterfly to produce a pile of your homemade cookbooks as gifts. Or, for a one-off, just hand-write your recipes in the pages of a beautiful blank book. I received one of these last year, and it’s among my prized possessions.
Amaro, amari, amore
As T Magazine noted last week, bitter flavors are having a moment. ”In an age of ready pleasures,” wrote Hannah Goldfield, “choosing something difficult and unlikable is an announcement of sophistication.”
This might be why every cocktail list, bar, and liquor store seems to offer an ever-growing variety of the sweet, herbal liqueurs known as amaro (Italian for bitter). Or, it might just be because amari (that’s the plural) can balance out a boozy cocktail, provide an aperitif a bit of backbone, or finish off a meal. Annaliese Griffin wrote a primer on how to choose and use an amaro in all the aforementioned fashions, plus provided a formula for concocting your own cocktails.
An adjustable recipe for bittersweet cocktails
Mix 2 oz spirit (vodka is neutral, gin, whiskey, and rum have more going on) with 3/4 oz citrus juice (lemon, lime, or grapefruit), and 3/4 oz amaro—adjust and garnish to taste!
As Annaliese writes, amari make great components for practicing your cocktail-building skills. Though to be honest, I haven’t ventured far from the Sharky since Thanksgiving.
“Claire is made of both silk and steel,” wrote Sarah Todd this week, of Robin Wright’s character, Claire Underwood, in House of Cards. Wright will take the lead for the final season of the show, now that the actor who plays her onscreen husband, Kevin Spacey, has been suspended following a rash of sexual assault allegations.
As Sarah wrote, this puts her in a class of women who deserved top billing before the #MeToo movement cleared the stage for them, along with Christiane Amanpour, who will take over on an interim basis for Charlie Rose, and Argentinian photographer Paola Kudacki, who re-shot Elle’s January cover, after Hearst magazines finally cut ties with Terry Richardson. (Also, I would add, the women on the cover of Time’s “Person of the Year” issue for their roles as “silence breakers” about sexual harassment.)
Noël Duan notes that January’s Elle cover features Zoë Kravitz—the only woman of color to costar in the critically-acclaimed HBO series Big Little Lies, one of the brightest spots in entertainment this year. I hope that after such a triumph, we’ll see more movies and shows with multiple strong female characters, because damn, they’re just so good to watch.
PS: The Crown returns!
Speaking of strong female leads, The Crown is back for a second season on Netflix today. Quartzy’s David Kaufman attests that it rules the royal dramas, not only for Claire Foy’s portrayal of an eager young queen, “stymied and distracted by the toxic masculinity that seeks to define (and often derails) her early reign,” but also for its lush visual production.