When one of my favorite NPR producers emailed me last month to say that, due to budget constraints, NPR would not be running the cookbook roundup this summer, I was terribly sad. The summer cookbook roundup has been a happy tradition here – a parade of festive, partying, grilling, beach-loving books that are publishers’ last hurrah before the slow months of July and August. Now, it seemed, there would be no cocktails and grilled clams and corn fritters and lobster rolls. (And NPR wouldn’t be the only one facing budget constraints.)
But then I thought, what’s to stop summer cookbook roundup from happening anyway? I’ve got the cookbooks. I’ve got a blog. I’ve got a cookbook-rating app. And am I, or am I not, a full-time cookbook reviewer? So I decided I’d run it right here, on the Wednesday before Memorial Day – that’s May 22nd. Save the date! And for those who have the CookShelf app, you’ll be able to see my picks first of all, when the app refreshes late Tuesday night.
So stay tuned, folks. Cookbook roundup may be nothing but a jumble of Alpha-Bits right now. But in five short days, you’ll have the summer’s best cookbook picks on your screen and at your fingertips.
It’s Wednesday, which means that new titles have been added to CookShelf! If you click on “Just added!” in the main menu, you can see which cookbooks caught my eye this week – and how they did in the ratings.
In addition to the new titles, CookShelf has two brand-new filters. You’ll find them right at the top in the menu:
Great for new graduates! Cookbooks make a terrific gift for those just heading out on their own. But which ones will really help? CookShelf has a list of almost two dozen grad-friendly cookbooks to choose from – check it out.
2013 Beard Award winners: The “Oscars of the food world” were announced last week, and many of the cookbooks honored can be found on CookShelf. (That doesn’t mean I agreed with every one of the awards. ) Read my reviews of 2013′s Beard winners – and decide for yourself whether you should add them to your collection!
To see these features, make sure you have the latest version (the App Store will prompt you if you have the old one) and say Yes! when CookShelf offers you “updated content”. If you’re downloading for the first time, everything will be right there waiting for you.
Actually, it’s not called “Mom’s Secret Stash” – that’s just what I call it. The story has a more NPR-appropriate title: “Try a Do-It-Yourself Mothers’ Day” . The idea here is that sometimes the best person to come up with a delicious treat for Mom on her special day is…Mom. I’m not saying you shouldn’t accept, enjoy, and appreciate the pancakes in bed, the crayon cards, the champagne at brunch – if you are so lucky as to get those. I’m just pointing out that there’s no harm in doing a little bit of the spoiling yourself.
By the way, some of your loved ones will want to get you a cookbook for Mother’s Day. So as to avoid getting stuck with some random grilling book you hate, direct them to CookShelf, the cookbook-rating app, now available for iPhone/iPad or Android devices. On it, you can read about many of the recipes and cookbooks featured in this story, including this incredible matzo candy from Susan Feniger’s Street Food.
When a chef accustomed to working in restaurant kitchens writes a book, there is one hazard. And when a book is published in a US edition after being converted from its metric original, there is another. Orient Express illustrates the perils of both, while still having much to offer the adventurous cook. These are palate-goosing, spine-tingling recipes, and some of them are fast. But the unforthcoming instruction style and erratic measures may have you pulling your hair out before all is said and done.
The real question, of course, is: has “Orient Express” been loaded onto CookShelf, the cookbook-rating app? Can I read your reviews on my iPhone/iPad or Android device? Why yes, it has! And yes, you can! This Wednesday and just about every Wednesday, CookShelf gets updated with new material, so be sure to accept all updates when they are offered to get the latest cookbook news.
My good friend Monica Bhide put up a feature about CookShelf this morning which reminded me of how CookShelf got started, and so I wrote a little story about it for her site – you can read it there, following her post (and enter for a CookShelf giveaway!).
The short version is that it all began at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference in the middle of February, when a snowstorm almost brought the city to a halt and we all were scrambling around in the slush and kind of wishing we were on a beach somewhere. I had gone with no particular plan other than to see friends, speak on a panel, meet a few new faces. But talking with those friends forced an idea to take form, and before long I was forming what-ifs in my mind…as in what if I developed a cookbook-rating system? What if I wrote an app? What if I worked really really hard and got it out by Mother’s Day?
I’ve learned that those what-ifs tend to lead to unforeseen consequences. Previous what-ifs have included: What if I agreed to run down Central Park South in an evening gown and heels after a horse-drawn carriage while playing a saxophone? What if I tried to make the apple cake my mom made when I was little? What if I tried to write my own personal ad just for fun? The first got me $100 and a really amazing pastrami sandwich. The second led eventually, with many twists and turns, to A Spoonful of Promises. The third led to my husband, two kids, and this whole crazy make-it-up-as-you-go life in New England.
Not all my what-ifs have turned out so great. What if I do a backflip off of the edge of this swimming pool? What if we tried to make our own funnel cake (this at age 6, with my sister)? What if I take this scenic detour to Vermont, the one with all the “Moose Crossing” signs? What if I balance this 4-pound strawberry-rhubarb pie on a spatula while transferring it to the cooling rack?
So far, what have the what-if’s I asked 12 weeks ago in a midtown hotel while the snow fell all around us led to? Well, firstly, 12 weeks of the hardest work I’ve done in my life – early mornings and late nights, with much leaning on the husband that other what-if brought me 15 years ago. Secondly, much greater mental clarity in the evaluation of cookbooks. Thirdly, increased speed and fluency in writing (what happens when you make yourself produce 200 words at a time in 10-minute intervals). And lastly, the CookShelf app itself – this curious, shiny hybrid of authorship and convenience, produced by a person who 12 weeks ago barely knew what an app was - and still doesn’t have a smartphone.
I never really can say, even afterward, whether any particular what-if was a game changer or a goose chase. And there are probably better ways to live your life than chasing down one thing you don’t know after another. There are probably lots of people – and maybe they’re right – who believe Why bother! is a much more sensible reply to life’s conundrums than What if?
But I’m still going to keep asking.
It’s 11 days till Mother’s Day, which means you still have time to order and ship a cookbook to give someone special. Need some recommendations? Sure you do! You’ll find them on CookShelf, my new cookbook-rating app. Download it here!
When you’ve got it, click on the upper left corner menu and scroll down to “Mother’s Day gifts!” Voilà! a whole list of charming, whimsical, great-value books that will endear you even more to the person who already loves you best. (for more about Mother’s Day, check out my post on Eat Your Books.)
Somehow, in all the excitement of the “Surprise! Apple’s approved your app!” launch of CookShelf last Friday, I never quite round to doing a formal announcement here on the website.
So… CookShelf, my cookbook-rating app (and the project which took over my life for the last 2.5 months), is now available for iPhone and iPad for a mere piffling $2.99. And Android users? Never fear! CookShelf will be coming to you next week.