I love this time of year, and not just because of the cool air and the glowing woodstove. No, what’s special about early November is that it’s Holiday Roundup season, when I get to pick the top 10 cookbooks of the year for NPR. (I also do the Boston Globe’s roundup, which tends to vary a bit more in number and in theme.)
From the moment I send out the deadline for submissions, the circus begins. Within 24 hours, SWAT teams of FedEx and UPS agents are showing up with boxes which thunk heavily, one by one, onto my doorstep. I grab a box cutter and start opening, piling, and sorting on the kitchen floor. I’m always a little choked up when I see these stacks of riches–the hard work of thousands of cooks, authors, teachers, writers, and editors– piled up in tangible form.
But then the hard work begins: testing. I get books all year, and some have been short-listed from the moment of their first, compelling recipe test. But now is the time for me to pull out all the Post-its (I halve them with a paper cutter to double the yield) and start flagging everything in sight.
Although I know I won’t be able to test every book, or even just the most representative recipe from each, I do my best to try a wide selection. Every night, we eat something completely different. A typical week from last year (I keep a database to keep track of these): calamari pasta; gigot à la Provençal, brisket with ginger, orange, and tomato; chard walnut lasagna; noodle kugel; potato-turnip purée, South Indian vegetable curry. I do a lot more baking, so the dessert cookbooks can get their audition, too.
In fact, November roundup testing is almost exclusively responsible for those 10 winter pounds I have to sweat off in the garden 6 months later. (At the peak of testing, the treadmill is usually covered with cookbooks too!) But I’m not complaining. I know I’m lucky to be a cookbook reviewer, and my family’s lucky I am, too.