T. Susan Chang

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.