On Recipes, Blogging Labor, Tweetability, and the Best, Simplest Chicken Soup You’ve Ever Tasted
That time historian Kevin M. Kruse had an issue with commentary on recipes…about two weeks after journalist Jennifer Wright did.
A coupla weeks ago, I saw a mildly amusing, sorta mean and jarring Tweet fly past in my timeline. It was from columnist and popular historian Jennifer Wright, and was really just a one-off moment. See here.
It got some love.
Not from me; I scrolled on.
A few weeks later, my friend Asha weighed in. She’s one of the co-editors of the online blog Dead Housekeeping, a compendium of how-to tips from people we’ve lost. Over the years, Dead Housekeeping has done a lively traffic in essays intertwined with recipes, so we have opinions.
Here’s what Asha said:
I thought Asha was reacting to Wright’s tweet from back a few weeks ago. But turns out a remarkably similar one had just gone out from another, louder Twitter personality with 150% bigger following than Wright, a historian who likes to argue on the interwebz a bit. I can’t prove he was inspired by Wright, but…it’s kinda awful close, is all I’m saying. And if so, citation, please.
Writer Bryan Washington, adding to evidence that this is becoming a wider meme by claiming he’s seen this complaint from four different sources, weighed in to counter this:
I have an answer for all this clamor and complaint. The first part of this involves me being emotional about the labor of feeding people. The act of preparing food is bound up in stories and time. Why are we impatient with stories? Are we somehow ashamed of time and labor, qualities we pay lip service to with our productivity apps that masquerade as mindfulness and our national mythos devoted to work? On the day to day, there’s little evidence of us honoring the time and work food preparation require. That goes double if it’s unpaid.
Many of us especially don’t want to hear the particulars about how our food is manufactured or transported or made, who makes it, or where the recipe comes from. Is it that we don’t want to be reminded of the work or the feelings or the miles or the lives that went into getting the sugar to our tables and the avocado on our plates?
The many reasons for this boil down to power. Who is making and cataloging the history of most of the food? Whose food was it to begin with? Who wants to know? And who would rather forget?
The person seated has the power, unless the person serving opens their mouth.
Am I making too much of a guacamole recipe? Of the perfect cocktail made with Jamaican rum? Of the sugar in the sugar bowl or the coffee in the cup?
Okay. I’ll accept that.
Except, I won’t. And you shouldn’t either.
Food is brought to the tables on the backs and in the hands of people we ought to just listen to — yes, starting with a blogger who’s probably just trying to make a little cash. If we show respect there, maybe it will take us into wider circles of respect.
“All of human culture, history, and civilization laid unscrolled at his feet, and he had only to step into his kitchen to discover it. No one people or tribe, living in one place on this planet, could produce the endless riches for the palate that he’d just pulled from his refrigerator. He looked around the disheveled room, and he saw in each succulent fruit, each slice of bread, and each grain of rice a fragile, inescapable network of mutuality in which all earthly creatures were codependent, integrated, and tied in a single garment of destiny.”
-“Dr. King’s Refrigerator,” by Charles Johnson
The second part of my answer is more hard-headed. I’m currently taking a pretty fantastic course on content marketing from blogger Jon Morrow, and it turns out that Google’s SEO algorithms have been rebuilt to, in part, favor longer content. That’s because longer content is more likely than short content to be written by humans and to contain decent information.
I mean, don’t we like this? Isn’t that a good thing?
Could this favoritism to long content drive the occasional overwriting and bluster of bloggers? Sure.
Is some of it unreadable? Yep.
Is still more of it pretty wonderful? Absolutely.
So here’s where I part ways with Jennifer Wright — and then, days later, Kevin M. Kruse — I think that stories about food do matter. I don’t mind reading about someone’s life along with my guacamole recipe. Some of it will be clumsy, to be sure, which means I might scroll down or look for a different (ahem, free) recipe. But that’s how a market works.
If you’ve made it this far, I congratulate you. Here is my mom’s one-two punch for almost a week of meals: chicken soup and chicken salad. She got them from her mom, and so on.
Evelyn’s Great Chicken Soup
Take a whole chicken. Make sure the gizzards are out (I have forgotten to do this before; you don’t want to; what a mess).
In a big pot, sautee sliced onions, carrots, and celery at medium-low heat until the onions are translucent.
Put in the chicken and cover with water.
Add a healthy amount of salt — do it the old fashioned way, in the cup of your palm, so it looks more or less like a tablespoonful.
Optional: You can throw in half an unsqueezed lemon to keep the flavor bright. This was not in the original recipe; I discovered it from another cook.
Cover in cold water and bring to a brisk boil once.
Lower the heat (quite low) and simmer for two hours or more.
Add a bit more salt — up to a tablespoon, some cracked pepper too.
Let cool to room temperature with the lid on.
Pull out all the chicken — it should be tender enough to fall apart a bit — and begin systematically pulling away skin and bones, putting meat back in the pot.
Reserve the two juicy breasts for the best chicken salad you will ever eat.
Add salt as needed, refrigerate and skim off some of the fat, but don’t be a zealot about it. A little schmaltz is good for you.
Evelyn’s Also-Great Chicken Salad
Chop up the breasts reserved from the soup.
Chop up only about a quarter onion, very fine, along with celery.
If you’d like, add walnuts or slivered almonds and raisins.
Add a really decent amount of mayonnaise, like maybe two heaping tablespoons at least. When it’s smooth and close to white, there’s your chicken salad.