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Apr 11, 2010 09:18 PM

Thoughts about future of Cookbook of the Month

I've recently talked with a couple of people who are or have been regular participants in COTM about the fact that it's not had much participation - nominations, votes on nominated books, or reports - so far this calendar year. We thought it might make sense to open a discussion about the future direction it should take, or if people want to see it continue.

I don't know what the reason(s) for the fall off in participation is. The books selected, people being too busy or fatigued by the concept, or...?

I'm initiating this discussion because I've comitted to coordinating COTM for the next four months, but this is an endeavor that's about members of the community doing something collaborative because they've enjoyed it, so whatever they collectively decide, goes.

One person I spoke with suggested the possibility of a three- or six -month hiatus, if people might feel recharged for the project at that point.

Regardless of what happens to COTM, A) It's been a pretty amazing three-and-a-half-year project so far that has introduced many of us to some terrific cookbooks, and B) We should make sure Chow will keep the COTM Archive Page up so we can continue to easily find and use the threads generated.

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  1. I loosely follow COTM discussions (I rarely vote since I know I probably won't live up to the responsibility of following up - smile) I think there is some fatigue of the concept. Those monthly votes seem to come closer and closer together lately!

    I think a hiatus might be a very good idea. Or perhaps longer between books (though that runs the risk of having people completely tune out for awhile if a book is chosen that they truely aren't interested in)

    1. What's the difference whether 10 or 100 people participate in a COTM discussion? The people who do participate may be fewer but are just as involved. I am out of the country and unable to participate until the fall, but I still read all the posts avidly and makes notes about things I'd like to try based on the wonderful comments that the participants write. Maybe there is some fatigue for some posters, but isn't Chowhound a fairly dynamic site with members entering and leaving all the time? I'm one of the worst offenders when it comes to suggesting new cookbooks, but perhaps choosing more "classic" books for a few months would encourage more posts since it is likely that more people might already have these books, already cook from them, and wouldn't have to purchase them or borrow them from the library. I, for one, still miss the DCOTM, and I would be really sorry to see this one fade away as well.

      3 Replies
      1. re: roxlet

        It might not matter to the participants if there are 10 or 100, and that's great for them, but later if I'm reading a discussion in which only 10 people have participated I have less of a sense of how much trust I can put in the opinions.

        1. re: rustic

          Really? That would assume that many people report on the same recipes, which doesn't seem to be the case usually. And why wouldn't you trust an individual's result anyway? It seems to me that an opinion is an opinion, which you have to make a leap of faith to trust one way or another.

        2. re: roxlet

          Personally, I think the difference is that it's a lot of work for the coordinator. Someone steps up to volunteer because they enjoy it and think they are doing a good thing for the community, only to discover that people aren't very engaged. And once you step up, you're locked in for six months.

          I've never been a coordinator, but I would be bummed out if I spent my precious time and energy coordinating COTM and got the kind of participation we've had lately. We all only have so many hours in a day.


        3. I do not participate (because of a 4 and 6 year old) but read and enjoy the threads all the time and buy some of the books. Just wanted you to know that there may be more like me.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Siobhan

            I just started participating this month. The book I nominated for April was chosen! I'm having lots of fun w it. Hope it stays.

            1. re: Siobhan

              I'm the same.....lurking in the background. Interested but not committed. Definitely enjoy reading the posts though.

              1. re: Siobhan

                count me in here as well. I don't formally participate but read the postings and sometimes cook from the books but not in the way I would like to. Kind of a challenge for me these days but I just wanted to let everyone know who participates/organizes/posts that their effort is appreciated and read with interest!

              2. I probably shouldn't comment because I never really participate in the COTM ~~ I do read it at times however ~~ It does seems that by the time a book is nominated, and voted on hardly two weeks goes by and it's time to start the process all over again not leaving much time for participants to "get into" the current book...With Spring here, and summer not far away, when folks will be out of school, vacations, gardens, etc,. etc. etc. I suggest you cut back to every other month..This will allow for more time for everyone to get involved in the current book...This fall, when outside activities slow down, and if the interest is there you can go back to the monthly COTM.......HTH


                3 Replies
                1. re: Uncle Bob

                  I'm with Uncle Bob in that it may be better to do each book for two months - even in the fall, because even though things may "slow down" there are lots of holidays, soccer games, putting up the harvest, etc. to keep many busy.

                  It's very hard to tell how many people are actually participating if they don't post about what they made and their results. (Hint, hint Shaebones and the many others that did vote for it.)

                  One thing that may keep people from posting in general are all those who deride cooks for critisizing a recipe when they have made so many changes. And, more specifically, with the current COTM (Bittman) so many things are so basic that it doesn't really feel like "his" recipe but "everyman's" recipes. But there is still room for evaluation. Are the directions clear? How are quantities specified?

                  1. re: clamscasino

                    "even in the fall, because even though things may "slow down" there are lots of holidays, soccer games, putting up the harvest, etc. to keep many busy".

                    Good points!!

                    1. re: clamscasino

                      Ok, I got the hint. I made the Cotriade on page 71 that was mentioned earlier. I found it extremely bland. After dousing w s and p it turned out ok...but don't think I'll make it again.

                  2. I stopped participating the month that Ottolenghi was chosen. I couldn't get the book and live in a split level where the computer isn't on the same level as the kitchen. The idea of spending time perusing recipes, then printing them out to cook from had very little appeal to me. I think I made one recipe that month, and am not sure if I even posted about it?

                    I know that month generated some controversy, but I feel strongly that the cookbook chosen should be available to the majority of hounds. I also feel that it should be available to those who get them from the library and may not have a computer at home. (Though probably the majority of us do on that last count.) I just want COTM to be as inclusive of people in all kinds of financial situations as possible.

                    It may be silly of me, but I just fell out of the habit of looking at the threads that month. This, despite having enjoyed it for a good while prior. I guess I was that turned off. I know that exclusivity wasn't an intended consequence of the nominators, but I'm being honest. I'd like to promise to participate more in the future. But, honestly, I haven't liked Bittman's book, which is this month's COTM. I probably won't cook from it--his recipes are too simple on flavors for me.

                    So, I guess I can promise this: I will make a point of looking at COTM threads in the future, and will participate when moved. I would hate to see it die, though going into summer, would fully expect it to hibernate a bit, at least in the northern hemisphere.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: amyzan

                      But Ottolenghi was one of the most successful months in terms of participation and discussion. :-)

                      My view is that people participate when they are truly inspired by the book - for example, Ottolenghi, the Vietnamese cookbooks and Fuchsia Dunlop. Maybe there just aren't that many cookbooks like that out there?

                      Personally, I haven't participated that much recently due to a holiday, the fact that I'm not interested in buying the Bittman (and most of the time that's the only way I can participate, being in the UK) and because I found Mexican challenging due to a lack of experience with the cuisine and difficulty in sourcing ingredients. I certainly still read a lot of the posts though, and have been encouraged to try my hand at the Kennedy as a result.

                      I'm torn about the two month thing. On the one hand, I think it's a good idea. On the other, I don't like the thought of two months of a book I don't have and can't get hold of. I do also find it frustrating when people vote for a book, and then don't participate (not a dig, I'm probably guilty of that myself!).

                      1. re: greedygirl

                        Ottolenghi had a lot of passionate endorsements, and I recognize I was in the minority. It's not unlike me to go against the mainstream. I also have food allergies, so find that I can't always make a recipe as written, which apparently irks the heck out of some fellow hounds! I'm just recounting my personal experience. It was Ottolenghi that turned me.

                        1. re: greedygirl

                          I LOVE COTM. It has brought me so much joy, given me so much more knowledge of other cuisines and just plain good cooking ability. Sure, not every book appeals to me, and if it doesn't, I either skip it, or try maybe one or two recipes if I can get it from the library. Not every book can appeal to every person.

                          For me the past couple of months were tough for cooking. Like some of the others posting here, I have a young child (turning 4 next week), and between sick days and snow days, I spent a lot less time in the kitchen. And then of course there is travel - we went away twice in March. But even though Bittman wasn't my book of choice, I happen to have it, and I have dug in and tried a few things.

                          I also love looking at old threads. Helps me find something new to try in a book I may have just gotten, or intrigues me into buying another book (maybe that part I don't need so much!). It also helps me remember old favorites that I might have forgotten.

                          If saving COTM means having to go to it lasting 2 months, then ok. But I'm happy with it the way it is. I agree with the previous poster who said that it isn't the number of people participating that makes it worthwhile. I think there is real passion for it among some of us.

                          1. re: LulusMom

                            I read the old threads all the time once I have a chance to use the book also.

                        2. re: amyzan


                          Amyzan: you bring up some good points, especially the one about choosing a book that's available for everyone. Although I pushed for Ottolenghi to be COTM and find that the book is among my all-time faves, I agree that one of the criteria used should be how available a book is. Most of us don't have (or don't wish) to spend big bucks on fancy books, especially before we've tried them. In its defense, Ottolenghi had a huge number of recipes online.

                          However, I think we should make it a rule that the COTM must be available from a library or have many recipes online. I also think that online recipes should be included as part of each COTM even if those recipes are NOT in the book.

                          I do love Bittman, but many of his recipes are for basic dishes. There's not a lot of excitement in How to Cook Everything. I don't agree with shaebones about the cotriade. I loved the potatoes, fish and bacon and it's one of my regular standbys, but chaque un a son gout, eh?

                          1. re: oakjoan

                            Yeah, I respect Bittman for making cooking simpler for noncooks and beginners. He's just not for me, as you say.

                          2. re: amyzan

                            I love COTM but my participation also dwindled when Ottolenghi was chosen. After that, it seemed to me, that many of the books chosen or suggested, were books that were difficult for many hounds to access - either libraries didn't have them, or the waiting lists were too long or that they were books that weren't offered in the states. The Rose Bakery cookbook is another example that jumps to mind. Because of this, it seemed to me that COTM became a bit more elitist since the books weren't available to the majority of hounds.

                            While it may have appeared that Ottolenghi had many active threads, the question is, were there as many diverse posters for Ottolenghi as there was for the Vietnamese books or the Dunlop books? My impression, and it's only my impression because I am way too lazy to go back and count, is that the people who posted, posted a lot because they love the book, but there weren't as many HC hounds who did.

                            When COTM started, everyone made a point of suggesting books that were easily accessible to the majority of hounds. Moreover, we had huge success with the books that were first suggested because it was a new project and they were amazing cookbooks (Hazan, ABB, Zuni, Lucques). And because everyone was so enthusiastic over the books, the threads definitely took on a life of their own. It's awesome to see old COTM threads pop up, even after 3 years.

                            There have always been ebbs and flows with COTM. Part of it is scheduling, part of it is availability of ingredients and part of it just may be because if there is a "dud" month (Vegetable Harvest), it's harder to become enthused after some lackluster meals.

                            COTM has changed my cooking life and expanded my cooking skills. And, more importantly, it's opened my cooking world and expanded it into other people's kitchens, techniques and ingredients.

                            I don't know what the answer is, but I would miss COTM if it were gone.

                            1. re: beetlebug

                              One last comment, I'm also in a place where I just don't feel like posting. I have a number of posts from the Prudhomme book as well some revists from other cookbooks. I do have to post on Prudhomme because I'm holding the library book until I do. Motivation to post has been l-o-w.

                              1. re: beetlebug

                                The problem with Rose Bakery is that, after a long time--maybe a year-- of the book being hard to get (even through Amazon) and being off the table for discussion, is that there was a sudden last minute surge of support for it on the last day of nominations based on some improved availability on Amazon. There was little or no discussion about it because it came up at the last minute: there was just a flurry of "me too's" in the nominations.

                                There was no other book that month that people seemed that excited about, so it won the voting, too.

                                But virtually no one stepped in until after the book had won the voting to say they didn't have access to it.

                                It was really a freak last minute, bizarre thing that it won, and people just didn't have enough time to speak up during nominations and say that their libraries didn't have it.