I don’t like to think of myself as someone who delights in the misfortunes of others. If you inferred my tastes from my favorite movies of all times you might conclude that I’m a sucker for happy endings, good triumphing over evil. And yet there are certain URLs in all the blogosphere that have me clicking my favorites menu like a lab rat pushing a bar in a cage, ever hopeful that there might be a new post today.[i]
Why these sites?
All I can tell you is that I think it has something to do with a certain style of confessional narrative in which my fellow human being struggles and screws up and shows herself to be far more flawed and human than most of us like to admit. She sees the irony—her own actions have created the misfortune, truly, and she is writing about it (and I reading about it) fully aware of what a “first-world problem” it really is—and yet still she rails against the capricious gods who are watching amused and occasionally throwing her extra curve balls for their own enjoyment. For example, for years I’ve been clicking the “maybe today!” button for the blogger known as the Yarn Harlot.[ii] But I don’t think it’s her wandering eye and penchant for yarny infidelity that brings me back day after day, week after week for all these years. I think it’s the yarns she writes—the self-deprecating stories about the scrapes she gets herself in to (and only sometimes out of), mostly knitterly ones but often challenges of a more universal form of human misfortune.[iii] [iv]
But lest you think I am under the mistaken impression that I’ve wandered into a OT knitting convention,[v] this is intended to be submitted as a guest post for the Food Symposium here on OT, and the addiction I really wanted to confess to you today is my OTHER favorite blog, Smitten Kitchen. My husband now refers to Deb Perelman simply as “that Smitten women,” and we have both been truly smitten if not transformed by her pizza dough recipe. Not to mention reintroducing me to the wonders of yeasted breads, launching us down a
heavenly highly caloric path of Parker House rolls and challah and cinnamon buns, oh my.
What is it that keeps me clicking “refresh” hoping against hope that there might have been a new post on her site in the last five minutes? (And, truth be told, then clicking away on the “Surprise Me” link in the side menu to read a couple of random entries out of her multi-year archives when there’s no new post?)[vi]
It’s actually the same sort of narrative itch that brings me back to the Yarn Harlot’s knitting humor, day after day. I don’t keep clicking on “That Smitten Woman’s” URL just for her adaptation of other people’s recipes from near and far. It’s her stories about wrestling new recipes to the ground in her postage-stamp-sized urban kitchen, her toddler and husband going hungry/patiently waiting for sustenance while she is obsessed by recreating a restaurant favorite or romanced away to create a reinvigorated twist on a classic recipe. I’ve been following her blog for only a few years, since my sister-in-law dropped my jaw during a visit by making this homemade rosemary flatbread with this fig-olive tapenade. When pressed for the recipes she casually said they were from her two favorite cooking blogs, and my heart did happy somersaults. (This is the same sister-in-law whom my husband credits with teaching him how to cook way back when, and who is our mutual benchmark for all things gourmet.) Food writing that our family culinary rockstar found worthy of her attention? I was all ears.
Smitten Kitchen also reminds me of my own culinary role model, my cherished father, who infuriated me when I was a teenager in the late 1970s by only starting to plan for our family’s dinner at 3 or 4 in the afternoon — on a school day, mind you, when I had play rehearsal at 7pm — at which point he would sit for an hour or two poring over a half-dozen cookbooks from his enormous collection, comparing recipes and considering options, followed by a trip to the grocery story before he would come home and begin improvising at 5 or 6.[vii]
I seem to have inherited that gene, or at least the cookbook collector one. I’ve inherited my father’s curiosity to find out how five different cooks-who-have-trodden-this-path-before-me combined these flavors or tweaked those proportions to create their own nirvana version of whatever dish I might have started dreaming of. And now I’m not limited to my (ample) cookbook collection, although these days even after I’ve clicked through a dozen or so recipe options online I still sometimes find myself pulling volumes off our kitchen bookshelves and scanning the indexes for comparison versions of the recipe I’m dreaming of.
Mind you, I’ve discovered gorgeous recipes online, both for favorite cocktails from our best date-night haunts. (The Bonal and Rye, for example, or last night’s itch-scratching triumph of finding a recipe online for this delicious Bourbon Renewal.) And surfing the web has brought me all matter of deliciousness, including Zic’s amazing coconut-oil chocolate chip cookies and this seasonal and gorgeous dish that will be making a pre-Thanksgiving appearance this week at our house.
But there’s something about “that Smitten woman” that keeps me coming back, not just for the extraordinary cocoa brownies and fruit crisp bars and Vermontucky Lemonades in the middle of summer but also for the stories, to be a
voyeur guest in her kitchen as she gallops off on yet another culinary adventure filled with wrong turns and mishaps but ultimately triumphing and living to tell the wry tale.
How do you scratch that itch in your own life? Do you have a source you keep coming back to for received wisdom about cooking? Whose food writing out there in the blogosphere keeps you clicking your
lab rat’s pellet bar favorite URL? Please confess your food porn writing predilections in the Comments Section for our collective enjoyment.
[i] The technical term for this is intermittent reinforcement, otherwise known as “hope springs eternal”—if every now and then something good happens when I do X, even if the crummy outweighs the good most of the time now I’ll still keep doing it just in case today’s my lucky day again!
[ii] The Yarn Harlot moniker refers to her characteristic unfaithfulness to whichever knitting project she started yesterday, allowing her head to be turned by any pretty flibbitigibit new yarn that might flirt with her, rather than loving the one she’s with/dancing with the one who brought her/whatever hackneyed phrase you prefer for serial monogamy.
[iii] In fact her latest book gets shelved in the humor rather than the knitting section of the bookstore (as she wrote rather breathlessly “next to David Sedaris and Erma Bombeck and … I’m a little scared I think”) all the while bemoaning what a flop her umteenth book was likely to be. Hint: It was a smashing success.
[iv] Hence my saintly husband’s willingness
to accompany this fangirl to a reading of this non-knitting humor writer’s reading at Powells to have his picture taken floating amidst a sea of knitters
[v] You may laugh at the thought of a knitting convention, as did the Portland Convention Center manager when first showing the Yarn Harlot the facilities for the once and future Sock Summit, but he wasn’t laughing so hard when thousands of sock knitters took over his convention center for a long weekend, complete with a flash mob of knitters in the plaza outside.
[vi] Or better yet, clicking through her “one year ago/two years ago/etc.” curated list of seasonal past years’ favorite posts that I might not have read about yet.
[vii] Which was then followed by my dad taking the resulting dish out of the oven while the chicken was still pink inside and pronouncing it ready-to-eat at 6:45pm, just in time to get me and my sister to rehearsal on time.
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