Turning over a new leaf
Eat Your Books is giving new life to underused cook books.
This week I indexed all the recipes in my cookbooks. “Get a life,” you might say. Fair enough, but the Virgo in me feels smugly satisfied with my efforts. Took about an hour from start to finish to establish a search engine for the recipes in 90% or so of my 300-odd cookbooks. And I didn’t have to touch even one of my books to do it.
My organisational coup was thanks to “Eat Your Books”, a US-based website that’s been on my radar for a while. You sign up — it’s $2.50 a month or $25 a year — and then create your own virtual bookshelf. I sat on a stool in front of my real-life bookshelves and, as Annabel Crabb shared lunch with Penny Wong in the background, studied my cookbooks’ spines and input one title at a time into the site’s library “catalogue”. If a book is in the EYB library, it’s a simple click of “+Bookshelf” to add it to your own virtual shelf. EYB’s “library” of 97,000 or so books favours American titles — some of my cookbooks of English origin aren’t there — but Australian publications are well-represented.
The sad fact is, I’ve been increasingly turning away from my cookbooks. Like the subjects in my colleague Joel Meares’ recent article on cookbooks, I’ve been using the internet far more often than books when I’m in search of a recipe. When I’m tired and hungry, poring through cookbooks feels more chore than pleasure. So I go online. To Google Bookmarks, where I have a stash of hundreds of recipes, or Foodily.com, which, when you key in an ingredient you want to use, returns recipes sourced from reputable (mainly American) online publications and blogs, including stalwart Epicurious and the Food Network, and blogs such as Orangette and Steamy Kitchen.
But now I can have the best of both worlds. So let’s say that my recalcitrant garden gives me a surplus of passionfruit (in my dreams) … I enter passionfruit in the search field of “My Bookshelf” on EYB and the site will search the thousands of recipes in my books for any that call for passionfruit. Up pop my options: among them, a Mango and Passionfruit Trifle in my copy of Neil Perry’s Good Food and Sorbet aux fruits de la passion (passionfruit sorbet) in Larousse Gastronomique. Or maybe I’ve picked up some chicken from the butcher on the way home: a search of “chicken” will tell me that in Hot Food Cool Jazz (a title by Jill Dupleix, Terry Durack and Chinta Ria’s Simon Goh), there’s a recipe for Ayam ria, or chicken and vegetable stir-fry. Or, if I want to be old-fashioned, I could do the Chicken Marsala recipe in my ancient copy of The Australian Women’s Weekly Italian Cooking Class Cookbook.
EYB doesn’t give the full recipe, just the key ingredients, so you still need to turn to your real-life bookshelf once you’ve identified the recipe you want to cook, but nevertheless it’s a brilliant way to blow the dust off your cookbooks. Now I just have to find a Virgo-ish way of dealing with the messy pile of clipped recipes cluttering my kitchen bench.