Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Retro cool?

How long does it take for something to go from being perceived as trendy, to becoming dated (and maybe even a little bit cheesy) to becoming retro cool, or even just plain cool again? Does it depend upon the intrinsic qualities of the item, or is the mere passage of time sufficient to invest the desired mystique?

Is twenty years long enough for the cycle?

I hope, over the course of this month, to answer some of these deep philosophical questions…through the medium of the latest round of the Cookbook Challenge.

Because this month’s selection, published at the height of late ‘80s cheesitude, and with the goofy graphic design and recipes from half-forgotten celebrities to prove it, is the late, great ("Not the face!") Dom DeLuise’s Eat This…It’ll Make You Feel Better!

Full disclosure: when this came up as my selection for the month, I seriously considered cheating. I was really hoping for one of the beguiling Australian cookbooks I have bought over the past few months but not yet dipped into properly, or maybe something that would help me produce some hearty winter veggie food. This seemed so…unhip.

But, if I’m going to be absolutely honest, I also have to disclose that I bought this cookbook for myself, when I was starting to focus on cooking, because I was hoping to get hold of some quantified versions of southern Italian classics (as opposed to my mother and grandmother’s method: “Throw this stuff in a pot. No, I don’t know exactly how much. Cook it until it looks done. It’ll be delicious.” Which of course it always is—when they do it). And if you’re looking for hearty, filling, minimally meaty fare, southern Italian cucina povera isn’t a bad place to start.

So, what have you got in your cookbook collection that you’re maybe a little embarrassed to own up to? Wouldn’t you like to take the Cookbook Challenge this month and find out if it’s worth its bookshelf real estate?

A quick refresher on how the Cookbook Challenge works:

1. Count up the number of cookbooks you have. (Include magazines, clipping binders, electronic folders—whatever you’ve got that you want to explore further.)
2. When you’ve got a total, pick a number between one and that total. (Better yet, if you can, have someone else do it for you, to ensure that it’s really random.)
3. Count through your cookbooks until you get to that number, and pull out the randomly selected cookbook, magazine, folder, etc. (You could also pull names out of a hat if you want to really get serious, but this is quicker.)
4. Commit to cooking at least one new recipe from that resource in the next month. Five, if you want to really challenge yourself.
5. Tell about what you discovered—send me an email, post about it yourself, comment here. Did you discover a new favorite? Or is this cookbook just a pretty face with nothing in it you can see yourself cooking?

As for me, I’m going back to the ‘80s, and will report on what I find in the kitchen there. I will not, however, be coming back wearing skinny jeans, an oversized top, and a giant belt, even if everyone else suddenly thinks this is a good idea again. I’ve already been there once, and once was enough.

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