July 17th, 2017

The internet is sometimes wonderful

Such as yesterday, when I was wearing a silk blouse and eating something with salad dressing on it, and a couple of drops of oil dripped on my blouse. I’d had that blouse for many years and had nursed it along oil-free and stain-free for the entire time. But when a blouse’s number is up, it’s up, and I thought yesterday that moment had come.

I was ready if necessary to bid it a fond and thankful farewell after countless years of selfless service, until I thought to Google “removing oil stain from silk blouse,” and many helpful sites popped up with the same suggestion: after blotting the stain, put a heap of something like talcum powder or cornstarch on it and let it sit for many hours, brush it off, and see what you’re got.

I did it overnight with cornstarch, and lo and behold, in the morning I found that underneath the cornstarch what I had was a blouse without a visible stain. Fabulous, no?

Pre-internet, to deal with a problem like that you had to have foresight and actually buy a book of helpful household hints, and then when the disaster struck you had to find the book and the page with the information.

And prior to that, I guess you had to learn that sort of stuff at your mother’s (or father’s) knee.

Similar changes have gone on with cookbooks, at least for me. I used to be a sucker for cookbooks; almost every time I went to a bookstore (remember bookstores?) I’d browse in the cookbook section and several of them would call to me with their near-irresistible siren songs. I used to even take a cookbook or two along with me on certain long trips where I’d be staying with in-laws or other relatives and I’d be called on to cook.

Now? I still have the best of my cookbooks on a bookshelf, but I only consult them on special occasions or for old favorites that I don’t make often and for which I need a brush-up. Every other recipe I get online.

I guess people still buy cookbooks, but I’m not one of them. Of course, I already have more than enough. But curiosity drove me to research the subject (online, of course!), and it turns out that, although the death of the cookbook had been predicted for several years, cookbooks are still doing very well, thank you very much (the article is from 2016):

“It’s at least just as healthy, if not more of a market,” said [editor] Rotella by phone from Manhattan. He did a quick eyeball estimation of his office. “My shelves are full,” said Rotella, who has long covered the cookbook industry and compares the public’s affection for physical over digital cookbooks to the children’s book market, which actually gained ground in 2015. “There’s just something about an illustrated book.”

It’s true. Just as sometimes I prefer the tactile and visual pleasure of strolling down the aisles and looking at the books in a bookstore, or flipping the pages of a catalogue rather than an online search—so, too, are cookbooks often a treat:

“That great blossoming of so much content was wonderful — until it was totally oppressive and overwhelming and hard to get through. There was no filter; you became the filter,” said [publisher] Jones, who characterized the act of cozying up to a hardback collection of recipes as a sort of retreat from the world of digital noise of voice prompts, bleeping timers and helpful glossaries into a quiet room of focused satisfaction. “It led to an incredible craving for something that was mind-calming, not illuminated. The consumer response was, ‘Wow, I want a physical format to hold in my hand; I want to get off of my screen and silence all the disruptions.’”

Even I—inveterate internet user that I am—want to silence those disruptions now and then and chill out with a book.

20 Responses to “The internet is sometimes wonderful”

  1. Oldflyer Says:

    I wonder if there is anything that you cannot learn to do via You tube videos? Saw an article recently about a woman who had built her own house solely from instructions she found on You tube. Some of the videos have been invaluable resources for my own handyman efforts.

    As far as noise levels; I find the internet restful. I can barely stand TV–except for a few programs–with the incessant yapping back and forth. The only radio I listen to is the classical music channel on my car’s XM. So, I go to the internet. I choose my sites; and if I go to an unfamiliar one and don’t like it; it only takes one key stroke to move on.

    Back to TV. Has anyone noticed that FNC, because of their “fair and balanced” mantra thinks that every discussion has to include a Democrat? Either by choice, or because they cannot get anyone else, it seems to invariably be a Democrat political strategist or operative, who has nothing to contribute beyond canned talking points. As far as I can recall, I have yet to hear a credible argument from any of them. Sorry, FNC. Better things to do.

  2. Griffin Says:

    Sometimes I wonder where exactly we are going with all this. On one hand, I love the ability to find any little piece of information imaginable in seconds but on the other hand I have grave concerns about where other things are going. Where does the Amazon-zation of everything end? Do Amazon, Google and Facebook control everything? because it many ways that is where we are going. And I’m not some conspiracy guy but what happens when we have some kind of major disaster and our digital capabilities are disabled for some period of time? Where do we get our food when all (or almost all) the brick and mortar grocery stores are gone and replaced by Amazon?

    At some point the calls to breakup Amazon and Google will become more serious I think.

  3. expat Says:

    I still have the Betty Crocker cookbook that my aunt gave me when I was about 10, and I still use it for my buttermilk pancakes. I also have the card box filled with recipes from different aunts and friends with their recipes for things like pot pie. I’ve always liked trying different foods, but I’m not willing to give up family traditions. The internet is fine for exploring, but it’s not as good as reading through Mastering the Art of French Cooking to brush up on something you haven’t made in a while.

    Once when I was younger, I decided to try making my own ketchup. I had lots of tomatoes and time to peel and cook them. At the end of hours of simmering, the stuff tasted mediocre. I wished that I had had a recipe from I relative that I had tasted first. I’d never spend that much time on an internet recipe.

  4. Ray Says:

    I discovered this grease and oil stain remover years ago. Works great on clothes.

  5. Gringo Says:

    I also have the card box filled with recipes from different aunts and friends with their recipes for things like pot pie.
    Yes, indeed.

    Hard copy cookbooks have several advantages in the kitchen area. They are more easily read by virtue of being larger than many digital screens. They are more portable. They withstand stains more easily. I recently bought one of Diane Kennedy’s Mexican cooking books for $2 at the local library.

    Cookbooks are more for reading. I do almost all my cooking out of my head.

    The best online recipe I have used is Aunt Flora’s Lebkuchen, courtesy of Neo. Thanks, Neo!

    I have found the Internet quite useful for do-it-yourself repair jobs. I have consulted the Internet- not just YouTube- for repair help on clothing stains, computers, cars, and plumbing.

    I had an unsuccessful two years as a teacher. There are currently a lot of teacher tips web pages on the Internet- certainly a lot more than when I was teaching. I might have done better if I had those resources available. OTOH, my basic problem was that a teacher needs to be a persuader, a salesman of sorts, and the salesman/persuader role did not come easily to me.

  6. huxley Says:

    I decided to upgrade my pressure-cooker-fu and bought an Instant Pot and and an Instant Pot cookbook.

    According to the Instant Pot cookbook I was supposed to throw a buncha beans, onions, garlic, bacon — all raw — into the cooker plus some spices and bring forth a culinary delicacy.

    It was terrible.

    I can cook some pretty mean red beans and rice, New Orleans style, but this wasn’t that.

  7. huxley Says:

    I’m about 80% through the online MIT Calculus 18.01 course.

    It’s pretty amazing. You can watch the same lectures, do the same problem sets, and take the same exams as real MIT students in 2010.

    Of course when you get stuck, as you will, you can’t ask the professor, the TA or the kid sitting next to you. It’s entirely up to you to supply the discipline to do the work. Just watching the lectures won’t make you competent at calculus. Nor will you be X hours closer to a college degree.

    The adage, “Information is power,” is far from adequate.

    Computers and the internet are effin’ amazing, but in the real world human motivation and societal structures are still paramount.

  8. JC Says:

    I coulda told you, but then you wouldn’t know me from Adam until we took our shirts off. I used to tend bar at Valhalla, the Rice University Graduate Association watering hole. Folks would call with off the wall questions, and always get answers. The University LIBRARY would forward the toughies.

  9. Yankee Says:

    I’m not surprised that cookbooks still sell well in bookstores. Many people might find them useful as display, for reasons of status or vanity, whenever inviting people over. Several popular ones in hardcover with dust-jackets add a nice touch to the kitchen.

    It’s like buying fine cookware and dishes when you can afford it. And home decor, cooking, and entertaining have been turned into popular brands by Martha Stewart, Rachael Ray, and others.

  10. AesopFan Says:

    I like to read cookbooks, the more esoteric the better. My favorite, a 42 year old wedding present, is a compilation of recipes by a name-dropping caterer based in Austin Texas (anybody want to try LBJ’s favorite BBQ?) Next best is a compendium of British foods that Lord Peter Wimsey might have consumed.

    to Oldflyer @ July 17th, 2017 at 2:32 pm
    Agree with you on the noise factor – cannot stand to listen to radio or tv anymore, or internet videos of same, and I read transcripts in preference to watching speeches, unless some big furor is raised over the delivery itself. I don’t trust anyone’s commentary to tell me what was actually said.

    to JC @ July 17th, 2017 at 8:31 pm
    I was there when they built Valhalla; one of the lead grad students / carpenters on that project also played Oberon in the Baker Shakespeare play that year. I was an extra in the cast; we put green body paint on Puck and all the scantily clad fairies, who invaded Fondren library after rehearsal one night and scared a passel of weenies off drink for some time afterwards.

  11. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Just did a neighbor’s brakes. There were a couple pins that were slightly different that I didn’t notice until reassembly.
    Five minutes of time on the computer in the garage and we knew which was which.

  12. Gringo Says:

    huxley, what was the name of the pressure cooker cookbook with a disastrous recipe? As I like cookbooks for reading, it would be of interest.
    I have seen some pressure cooker cookbooks that do not agree with my experience in pressure cooking, e.g., how long to cook beans.

  13. Susanamantha Says:

    I have an obsession/addiction, possibly both, and it’s recipe collecting. My mother was a professional cook and my sister and I inherited her love of offering delicious meals to ourselves and others. I have her cookbooks, my own collection (somewhat weaned out now), and thousands of recipe clippings, annotated with improvements or comments. The advent of internet cooking sites spelled doom for me. I have saved thousands in virtual files and thousands in paper files.

    If I live to be 500 I could never begin to cook the ones I have. So, the contents are being sorted into “Cook Later” and “Cook Soon”. The “Cook Soon” file soon gets divided into a separate “Cook Really Soon” file as well.

    Yes, I do cook from my files as well as my loose-leaf notebooks of “favorites”, about 150. And still at 5:00, I wonder, “What’s for dinner tonight?”

  14. DN3 Says:

    I work in a used bookstore. For the longest time we have slowed down taking in cookbooks to a crawl. It is as you write because of the internet. What we have determined is that cookbooks have to be regarded in the same manner as coffee table books – decorative furniture. Not too be used so much as to be seen.

  15. neo-neocon Says:


    I was something like that years ago. I still have several notebooks of recipes, many of which I’ve never made (and never will make at this point). I was VERY into cooking when I was cooking for a family, and also used to have guests with some regularity. Neither are still true, which is easier but makes me a bit sad.

  16. I'm with Decius Says:

    The internet is great if you know exactly what you want to cook; your recipe file will remind you what you’ve cooked before; but a cookbook can inspire and take you in new directions.

  17. Esther Says:

    There are two bookcases of cookbooks framing a big window in my kitchen. It doesn’t seem like much for some reason, when you’re in the room. But whoa, it’s 60 feet!

    I use them all the time, usually several simultaneously, it is interesting to cross reference recipes. How can you not cook with 5 books at a time? How can you have only 1 edition of the Joy, they’re all different? How can you resist the cookbook section at the annual library sale?

    Most of them are vintage, I love the Time Life world history of food, the Larousse, the esscoffier, old frigidaire and molasses pamphlets… I’m also a sucker for new books on Viking and Israeli cuisine — mixed household:-)

    Then there is the file drawer with clippings, the pile of family scrapbooks, and of course, the internet.

    None of my friends cook, everyone I know hates cooking, besides my brothers, for some reason. we text each other recipes, or curiously, photos of the prices of canned fish at the supermarket.

  18. Susanamantha Says:

    The Gallery of Regrettable Food by James Lileks is one cookbook to look at with wonder! The photos of unappetizing food are amazing. It would be a hoot to have a dinner party and serve some of the ugliest food imaginable.

  19. Esther Says:

    That’s a funny book. Though I grew up in the 60’s in New York and never saw any food in real life that looked like that, did you?

    Makes me wonder how people in the future will look back at us.

  20. Amanda Says:

    Appreciated! something similar happened to me while looking for some precautionary steps after when my dog had chocolate last night. I came across a website it was a nice read, If only may want to read it: http://www.petriculture.com/can-dogs-eat-chocolate/

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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