CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- This is the story of how we acquired a copy of a set of $625 cookbooks for $700, and why you should care enough to know what's in it for you and get your hands on a set if you can.
The good news is you can now get it for $473.12.
Along with it comes the opportunity to understand and to enjoy everyday food at home in a way you never thought possible.
When I first heard the buzz about "Modernist Cuisine" issuing out of the media, I had the impression of a techie cookbook with recipes that I don't have the gadgets -- or the bandwidth -- to make work in my life. Lots of science, lots of physics -- and lots and lots of work.
Under my breath, I muttered words like "fetishistic," "stressful," "dandified."
Now touted among food writers as "historic," the six-volume reference work consists of 2,438 pages of instruction on precision cooking. It has 1,600 recipes with 3,500 photographs and illustrations that have been recognized as some of the world's best. Twelve full-time staff were employed; they lost count of the freelancers.
About the time four research cooks and Nathan Myhrvold, the billionaire behind it, and his two co-authors Maxime Bilet and Chris Young had their aprons on in a 1,500-square-foot test kitchen, I was turning 40.
One of my birthday presents was a big cookbook by Heston Blumenthal called "The Fat Duck Cookbook."
The Fat Duck, an elite modernist restaurant in England, is to foodies what the Vatican is to Catholics.
Now 37 percent of my presents benefit the benefactor in some way, and this was one gift I put away fast.
Well, it turns out that the gift giver, a foodie who doesn't cook, was inching me on to a new project.
I'm married to someone who has a lot of good ideas. One of them was a new hobby he had in mind.
The problem -- I came to understand in the fullness of time -- is that fine dining is the way he likes to eat.
The country cookin' problem
The year of "The Fat Duck Cookbook" problem, there was a barbecue at the Governor's Mansion, and I was complaining to a table full of ladies about the costs of kitchens, my so-called kitchen and the amount of time I spend in it, cooking.
I never forgot what one experienced matron said, with a dismissive wave of her hand: "Get over it. You are going to be spending a lot of time in there, so better get a good one" -- at this point she looked directly at my husband -- "and better learn to like it." At which point she looked directly at me.
The way I think about food -- having spent most of my life trying to avoid eating it -- has sullenly, not suddenly, changed.
I had not just fallen off the turnip truck when I met my husband, but I will say that he has taken me to some eye-popping restaurants. He never blinked at the bill or seized control of what I ordered to control the bill. Women notice things like that.
But eventually overcooked eggs became a problem in the marriage.
Actually, overcooking everything became a problem.