The MetaCookbook Challenge

Yesterday, my friend Corrine said to me, “So, you’re not a foodie anymore?” It was only half a question. When I asked what in the world she was talking about, she pointed out that the posts on this blog these days are often about beer, less so about food. She’s not wrong, but the food stuff isn’t going away entirely.

Bill and I launched this blog back in June 2010 to be a mutual project of cooking out of our many1 cookbooks. After a great start in 2010 for cooking and blogging, this space nearly died in 2011 and in 2012 came back sputtering, then roaring, back, but with a rather different focus. We launched a new (and substantially more attractive) design, by Angelique Weger, showcasing this new focus in 0ctober 2012.

Needless to say, it’s been a long time and a surprisingly long road. We didn’t expect, when we started this blog, that it’d eventually become more my thing than Bill’s. I’d still love to have him blogging more (because, seriously, he’s hysterical and informative), but we’ll see. It’s funny how things change.

Another change, the biggest one, is that there aren’t a lot of Challenge Recipes being posted anymore. There’s a variety of reasons for this, and I don’t particularly want to get into them right now, but I know it leaves people asking what happened to the challenge that launched the blog?

Bill, at this point, thinks it’s over. Cancelled. He’s fair to think so. I’m sure many of you have figured the same thing. (See Corrine’s comment above, for example.)

But, here’s the funny thing. Every time he comments on that, it makes me squirm. I’m not really ready to give up, but I also don’t really want to do the same thing. It’s been a tension that I’ve struggled to solve for awhile. I’ve finally made some decisions, and I figure I should share them with those who are curious.

I’m going to keep cooking my way through my cookbooks. I’m still, for all that I have improved vastly, not a great cook. I still have a lot to learn, especially in the realms of improvisation in the kitchen and putting together an actual meal (main + side dishes) vs roasting a butternut squash and calling it dinner.2

So, I’m going to keep with the cooking my ~2500 recipes. I just won’t post many of them. Some, I will. Probably not many more from Mr. Bittman’s cookbooks, as most of what’s already there is from those books.

Once a month, near the end, I’ll post a list of each recipe I’ve cooked that month. This will be more for me to keep track of how many I’ve done than anything else, though I suspect I can also get a sense of how much cooking at home I’m doing from that. I’m not sure if such a list would be interesting to you guys. Please let me know either way in the comments.

I’ve purged some cookbooks and gained, via gifts, some cookbooks between when this blog started and now. What I’ve found through these books is that I don’t have quite the breadth of styles and cuisines and techniques that I’d like. I’d like more on, say, Mexican food. I’d love Charcuterie. The difference, though, is that I can use a book on Mexican cooking now, and Charcuterie would be difficult to use well in an apartment.

So, the rule about not buying cookbooks until I’ve cooked ~2500 recipes is changing. Relaxing a bit, really. I’m giving myself an upper bound, rather than a strict “no” on purchasing. I currently have ~43 cookbooks. Until I’ve cooked my way through that ~2500 recipes (which may never happen), I will never own more than 50 cookbooks, and any cookbook that’s under consideration for purchase (not putting on a wish list – anything can go on a wishlist) has to be reasonable for my current life situation. So, for example, I have three Thai cookbooks. No more of those. I have zero Mexican cookbooks, so maybe I can purchase one of those. I’d love to own Charcuterie, but I actually won’t be able to make most of the recipes while living in an apartment. So, it stays on the wish list.

The limit on cookbooks includes gifts, as you can imagine. So you all can, if you’re feeling sadistic, flood me with new books to get me to that upper limit without my having to purchase any. But 50 is the limit, so if three of you decide to send me 7 books each, I will find myself giving away ~14 books, either new or old.

Some may see these changes as a cop-out; I don’t know. I see it as accepting that I’ve actually learned a lot about what my cooking style is like, and what cookbooks I actually use are like. I see that there are holes in my small collection that I’d like filling, and there may be duplicates that are excessive. (We have three Thai cookbooks and have maybe made two Thai recipes, for crying out loud.)

In the end, the challenge started as a response to impulse purchasing and a lack of cooking. The last three years have really taught me how to evaluate a cookbook for my life, and have helped me increase my desire and ability to cook. So, the restrictions aren’t as necessary anymore. I keep on because I like a challenge, and because it’s not unreasonable to say that any one life only needs so many things within a category. I’m not a cookbook collector, and I don’t want to wake up one day and found I’ve become one. Hundreds of cookbooks to sift through is not my idea of a good time, honestly. So, I’ll keep it to 50.

Over the next ten days, I’ll spend some time updating the books list. There’s some more to do, and I’ll keep at it until it’s accurate. Soon, I’ll put up a post that has everything I remember having cooked from before July until the end of July. After that, the updates will be monthly. We’ll see how many times I embarrass myself with a post that says, “Sooooo…. I didn’t cook any recipes out of my collection this month…”

I’m hoping not to put up that post too often. Using my books is still probably the best way I have to learn more in the kitchen. Plus, I’d love to actually see that we set ourselves up to make 2500 recipes, and we actually did it. There’ll be something to be said for that day.

And with that, I’m getting in the kitchen. I have a marinara sauce to make.

fn1. Okay, the truth is that we do NOT have “many” cookbooks, relative to a lot of people I have met on and offline. However, it felt like just tons of cookbooks when we started. I also probably live in smaller places than many of these folks, so my ~45 cookbooks take up plenty of space, possibly in proportion to the 600 cookbooks that one woman owned, but probably not as much, proportionally, as the one who owns 1500…

fn2. This does NOT mean I won’t still do this from time to time, or similar things. Just means I’d like to learn how to work on timing and planning a full meal.