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Oct 16, 2007 04:38 PM

Choosing Cookbook of Month

So here I am posting on "Site Talk" per request.

First, I admit that I didn't look at the message at the top of the Home Cooking Board about COM re choosing the COM, and so don't know if the link to the suggestion thread is given in that message. If it is, maybe the info could be at the beginning of the post so folks would notice it more. Or in all caps.

I did look over the long suggestion thread and again wonder if it could be lodged at the beginning of the Home Cooking Board as is the choice of COM message. I think it should certainly be replaced every so often, since we could have suggestions from 1957 if we kept it up long enough....well, maybe that's an exaggeration, but you catch my drift.

I'd volunteer to do cookbook of the month, but I think I may be thought of as too thorny for the job. I do, however, certainly have some extra time these days and would be glad to volunteer.

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  1. I’m pleased, oakJoan, that you’ve opened the discussion on the Site Talk forum. Cookbook of the Month has now been operational for more than a year and I do think it’s time for those of us who participate to talk with each other about whether or not it’s working for us.

    First, I see that the thread asking for six months worth of suggestions has now been made a sticky on the Home Cooking page. Thanks, Chowhound Team.

    I’ve just begun to cull some statistics from my tenure and I’ve been surprised at what I’m seeing. Of the eleven people who voted for Vegetable Harvest, only three participated in the actual discussion. I know we’re only halfway through the month, but of the thirteen people who asked for a Julia Child month, only two have participated. Since its initiation, Cookbook of the Month has been a democracy and everyone gets an equal vote. But perhaps that’s not fair. Perhaps those who contribute should have more influence on the choice than those who don’t. And if so, how is that to be arranged?

    I think there may be a sense among some that the organizer finagles the vote for personal preferences. I only wish that were so. So far, at least, not one of my personal favorites has won out. I often wish I were voting rather than counting. As it’s now set up, the organizer has some prerogatives in selecting the choices, but none in determining the outcome. Yet we seem to have reached a point where those who don’t contribute determine the Cookbook of the Month and I don’t think that’s what any of us want. The question is, how do we change it so that all can contribute, all votes are equal, yet those who are most enthusiastic and most likely to add to the discussion have their voices heard?

    I think now, before a new volunteer takes over, would be a good time to work out some of these issues. What do you think? Do you want Cookbook of the Month to continue? What changes would like to see? How can we make it work best for you?

    12 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      The first question I have is, are people participating - i.e, cooking - but not posting? I think that would be an interesting thing to know, but is perhaps unknowable, unless people post here. It would also be interesting to hear if people choose not to participate because the book they voted for wasn't chosen.

      If I don't think I'm going to participate in a COM, I usually chime in and say so on the voting thread, FWIW. I still have lots of cooking I want to do from Goin's book, and also hope to keep working my way through Julia in November, so I didn't vote for November. I checked, and it looks like I've participated in 6/14 COMs, though I usually continued cooking from those books (other than my nemesis, Vegetable Harvest!) after the month is over, and continue to post about it on the threads. Not sure if I voted on some of those threads or not, though I think I did on some. Sometimes logistics just get in the way of participating for a particular month.

      I have wondered recently if it might make more sense to do a cookbook for two months, rather than one.

      Thanks to all organizers of this - past and present!

      1. re: MMRuth

        I have the best of intentions and then simply run out of time. I have a 2 year old and am chronically short on sleep, so intended projects get dropped. I would really like to focus some effort on COM, however.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I have bought the books that sound interesting and cooked from them, but given a busy work schedule and other commitments, I find that I don't tend to get very far into the book before the month is over. (this is particularly true for the books that tend to be more labor intensive, like Sunday Suppers at Luques).

          I also enjoy reading the posts from people who have cooked from the COM and deciding what I am going to make based on those responses (and, better yet, pictures). So, I tend to be behind the 8-ball for this reason as well, since my recipe choices are more reactive.

          1. re: MMRuth

            I'm new and voted for Julia this month but here in Boston the 80 degree weekends killed my interest - I was going to make her potato gratin and would have posted.
            Same weather pattern threw me off with Vegetable Harvest, which I still have from the library. I did post about the dip I made using chickpeas and the basil pesto from the pantry section and I still have chicken stock in the freezer, which I made following Patricia Wells' recipe but didn't post as we have yet to use it. The peppers I roasted for the soup I was going to make got used up in pasta dishes. Maybe a month isn't long enough or perhaps if a particular recipe was chosen as the recipe of the week, people like me would have less time to sit on the couch and read the cookbook and would have to stop fantasizing and start cooking. I too have limited free time and tend to over shop and under cook as it is.

          2. re: JoanN

            Great discussion thread for the COM.

            Re: People voting but not contributing - I have to admit that's something I noticed too. I especially noticed it with the overwhelming votes for Edna Lewis, yet hardly anyone cooked from it. The same with Vegetable Harvest. I find that if the people who vote aren't even interested in contributing to the COM, it's disappointing, especially so when books I would have loved to delve into were outvoted (for example, Penelope Casas' Foods & Wines of Spain vs Vegetable Harvest; Frank Stitt vs. Lewis).

            1. re: Rubee

              I'm guilty of voting from both Edna Lewis and Vegetable Harvest and not participating, and my issue (and maybe this is true for others?) was library availablility: I thought that there were plenty of Edna Lewis volumes in my library system, and requested one even before I voted, and yet never got my hands on the book, and it was a similar situation with Vegetable Harvest. For Edna I should have just gone out and gotten a used book, but I didn't realize what was going to happen until the month was almost over, but with Vegetable Harvest, since it was new and pricey (and since no one posting about it seemed to love it that much) I didn't end up getting it. That's one of the reasons that I voted for Silver Palate for next month, since I know that I have the book and it will be easier to cook from it.

              1. re: JasmineG

                Thanks for that insight about availability JasmineG, good point!

                1. re: Rubee

                  Maybe it makes sense to vote two months ahead of time, to give people more time to locate the books?

                  1. re: MMRuth

                    In some instances even two months wouldn't be enough. I'm *still* on the waiting list for Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet, which I put on reserve in early January of this year.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      I'm not sure if I'd want that, though, because I find that once the voting is done for a book, I get all excited about it, and want to cook for it THEN, and I feel like I'd forget all about it if we voted that much in advance. But that might help solve the availability issue...I just don't know what the right solution is. I also think that one reason that there hasn't been a lot of cooking so far for Ms. J.C. is because of weather -- I know that East Coasters were talking about how hot it was and how they didn't feel like making fall kinds of foods, so I think that weather may be a culprit.

                    2. re: Rubee

                      If I am serious enough to do COM I want to buy the book rather than borrow it (I'd end up owning it by the time all the late fees piled up) but I have to keep the expenditure w/in reason. If I can't get the book at a discount or used I don't participate in voting. For me cost and availibility are a huge factor in my participation.

                2. re: JoanN

                  I've been a sometime participant of the book of the month -- I think I posted most on Sunday Suppers and Arabesque. Over the months, I've noticed that books that are more innovative or new, or which fit more into people's contemporary methods of cooking, get more participation than some of the more "old school" books -- certainly Arabesque, Sunday Suppers at Lucques and the Zuni Cafe Cookbook were successful, as were the months with Leite's Culinaria and Marcella Hazan.

                  For myself, I've pretty much gotten every book from the library during the months when they were done -- even if I haven't posted that particular month. The Edna Lewis book was intereresting to read, but it did not really fit into how I cook. The barbeque book this summer wasn't really up my alley, and I have to confess to not being a fan of Nigella Lawson. However, even in the months where I don't contribute myself, I *do* read the posts from those who do participate. And simply having the impetus from the monthly selection to check out the book of the month has been fun and educational, even if I don't cook from that particular book.

                  Personally, I'm surprised at how few postings we've gotten on Julia Child. Granted, the month is only half-over, but given the popularity of the Julie/Julia project, I thought more people would give Julia Child a go (especially after the success of the Marcella Hazan month).

                  I think the Book of the Month project is for the most part working, and I hope we keep it going. I too prefer that we keep it to one book per month -- only doing six books per year seems a little limiting, especially if one isn't "into" that particular book.

                  Perhaps we should go back and reflect on the months that inspired more posts than others as guidance for the future? Also, while I understand the rationale for having a "six month" plan for voting, perhaps it would be better to bring back a monthly open book thread before narrowing down the vote to a couple of books for that particular month.

                  Finally, I very much appreciate the efforts of the organizers -- thank you all!

                3. Thanks for volunteering, oakjoan. Why don't you e-mail me at joan1 AT mindspring DOT com and we can talk about it.

                  1. I wonder if you might count votes of anyone who has actually participated in, say, the most recently completed CotM project, or one of the last 3, as double the weight of people who have not? That would allow new people to come in and influence the voting in favour of things they might be interested in, while still allowing the people who are actually participating more of a say. Of course, it significantly increases the difficulty of tallying the votes, since you'd have to go check each voter's participation using site search which would be time consuming. Though, you could require that they do that work themselves, and include a link to at least one participatory post in the previous CotM threads that was made during the month that the project was active, in order to claim their double vote.

                    Please note that this comment is entirely one from me as a hound who has been interested in the CotM project and tempted to vote on several occasions but who has never actually participated, and not any kind of official statement from me in my role as Community Manager.

                    1. Thanks for opening up the discussion, oakjoan. It's extremely interesting to me.

                      I think it may be a combination of things that JoanN, MMRuth and you have stated. Personally, I love the concept of COM. But, as the projects has progressed, I get "bogged" down in previous cookbooks. I know that I am always a couple of weeks behind - sometimes I get the book late, sometimes I'm still cooking from the previous month's book, sometimes I can't let go of an older book.

                      I also suspect that people are reading and cooking from the books and may not be posting about it. I also tend to get behind in my posting and then do a number of posts at once. Personal schedules may also hinder participation in a book at any given time.

                      With the exception of this month, I think that I've cooked at least once thing from each cookbook/author. I thing it's amazing, that out of the year + cookbooks/authors, I've only disliked one book (Vegetable Harvest) and even in that book, I found at least one redeeming recipe (potato salad with spring onions). This project has expanded my cooking repetoire and forced me to try things that I normally wouldn't cook (Mexican).

                      The only reason why I haven't been cooked from a JC book is because I have been too busy to sit down and look through my library book. I'm back to my old habit of looking in the fridge and throwing something together. I miss the structure of planning a meal and hope to get back to it soon. Ok, I may have initially ordered a perceived JC book (Baking with Julia) but realized that it was not a JC book. (I did make these kicka$$ mocha chocolate cookies though...). I suspect once November hits, I'll be posting about JC recipes. I've also greatly enjoyed the posts about her recipes.

                      I personally like MMRuth's suggestion about going through a cookbook every two months. My only hesitation is that I may get complacent (oh, it's two months, I'll play with these other recipes instead and lo and behold, I won't have cooked anything from that book.)

                      Lastly, I like Jacquilynne's suggestion about weights of the votes. I think having voters link to a post from the previous month's books. I do get a bit peeved when posters have extremely vocal criticisms about COM or the process or the selection and then never post about their winning book.

                      Just my half a cents worth of thoughts.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: beetlebug

                        I forgot to mention in my earlier post that participating in this has been eye opening for me, and I've tried so many dishes that I wouldn't have otherwise - especially from HSSS. Also, Goin's book has really changed how I think about cooking, in a good way - I love her use of textures and how she calls for seasoning proteins ahead of time. And, so far, cooking from (and reading) JC's MAFC has taught me a lot about classic French preparations.

                        I tend to get very gung ho at the beginning of the month, and then my interest sometimes tapers off. As with beetlebug, Vegetable Harvest was the only book that I don't think I'll be using much, but the prune/pear compote was a real winner and I've now made it several times - a keeper, and worth having discovered it. I'll have to check out that potato salad!

                        1. re: MMRuth

                          For me - Both Zuni and Sunday Suppers have really changed the way I cook. If anything, both books have forced me to plan ahead to maximize the flavors of the protein. And, it's not as if it's extra labor, it's just salting/herbing the ______ a few days before hand and then cooking it. But, wow, those flavors sure pop. Zuni started this for me, but Sunday Suppers really slammed it home.

                          I also insanely love All About Braising. It's going to be braising season soon and I can't wait.

                          It is so hard to balance using a loved, but not often made recipe to trying something completely new. Of course, there is also the excitement of discoverying or re-discovering a cookbook.

                      2. I'm someone that posted alot on some books, and less on others. I haven't had time the last few months and the book selections weren't on for me, so . . . no worries about that, but I hope if we weight the votes based on participation that we count the whole year. I'd like to encourage people (like me, heh) to come back to the project even if they've been out-voted or away for three months.

                        I hope we keep going with one book per month since that allows for "down" months when you don't like the selection, or are more enamored with a previous month's book. I'm bookmarking alot of the COM threads for future use even when I'm not participating in the discussion or even using that book that month.

                        I've certainly used threads for reference and not logged a "me too" comment. I do check out the months I don't actively participate in, and maybe see something new to explore. If I ever cook from Julia Child, I'll stop over here first!

                        Thanks to everyone who's made COM happen, both organizers and regular contributors!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: pitu

                          "I hope we keep going with one book per month since that allows for "down" months when you don't like the selection, or are more enamored with a previous month's book."

                          Good point.

                          1. re: MMRuth

                            I totally agree with pitu's statement about keeping the COM to one month. I find that if I don't like the selection, I get antsy even waiting for one month to pass...two months would be torture....well, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but you catch my drift.

                            1. re: oakjoan

                              I do! I'd be divorced if I'd cooked from Vegetable Harvest for two months, lol.