T. Susan Chang

T. Susan Chang regularly writes about food and reviews cookbooks for The Boston Globe, NPR.org and the cookbook-indexing website Eat Your Books. She's the author of A Spoonful of Promises: Recipes and Stories From a Well-Tempered Table (Lyons Press, 2011). Her app, CookShelf, features reviews and recommendations for the latest cookbooks, and is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Visit her blog, Cookbooks for Dinner, to find out more.

Sous vide. Not that long ago, it sounded so exotic — or, at least, so French. It was a phrase that belonged in restaurants, amid white tablecloths and flower arrangements and hushed conversations. Alternatively, it was a word that belonged to the modernist kitchens just beyond the swinging doors — kitchens filled with gleaming dehydrators and transglutaminase "meat glues" and spherification siphons and more.

In first grade, my heart was stolen by Mark, who sat next to me and had an advanced phonics book (which I also craved). Then there were Peter, Eddie, Raja and Michael. These serial crushes continued right on up through my early 20s, at a rate of approximately three a year. Boys. I fell for their incipient mustaches, their bad attitudes and foul mouths, their poor poetry and bass guitars, their careless humor. I saw their swagger for what it was, but I loved it anyway.

As a young woman, I had an attack of nostalgia for a possibly imaginary cookie. It was prompted by a walk up New York's Third Avenue, where I saw in the bakery case of a local delicatessen a stack of small round cookies, covered in the tiny rainbow sprinkles known as nonpareils. Instantly, I was ambushed by a flashback to the tiny Italian pastry shop of the small riverside town just north of Manhattan where I grew up, and where, I felt sure, I had been given star-shaped sprinkle cookies of a similar kind as a reward for my excellent behavior.

"Just throw the whole lemon in the food processor for lemon bars."
"Don't just soak your dried beans — brine them!"
"You don't need a whole day (or two) to make a good sauce."

Some of the things this year's cookbooks said to me as I tested them were downright contrarian. But that's the brilliant thing about cooking in a global, crowdsourced, Web-fueled world: People no longer cook according to some received wisdom handed down by a guy in a white toque. They figure it out as they go along, and if they stumble on a shortcut, it's blogged and shared in no time flat.

The chicks arrived five months ago — eight gray, blond, black and tawny puffballs no bigger than the eggs they'd been hatched from a day earlier. They had a slavishly devoted audience within minutes and names within 24 hours. Every couple of weeks they doubled in size, and over the summer they ballooned from 2 ounces to 7 pounds as we furiously worked to complete their permanent coop.