Learning to cook with stories: the value of recipe blogs

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featured image credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

My lovely one-cup French press

Hello, dear reader ~ I’m finally feeling good enough to fall back into my routine of writing. What the schedule will be… well, we’ll see, I suppose. I’m hesitant on setting anything too concretely, but I will say it’s tentatively back to once a week. Awh, I’m realizing I missed this so much!

Anyway, in just a few updates, I’ve been obsessed with a French press a friend of mine gifted me – isn’t it just so adorable?? I previously only drank instant, but this has seriously rocked my world. The only bad part is that it makes just one cup at a time, so if I want more I’m forced to be diligent and take all the steps in brewing another cup… I know it’s not the most difficult thing, but I’m lazy sometimes! Haha, but in all respects I do love this little French press since it keeps my coffee consumption in check too.

Also, I’ve set a goal to go on a walk everyday – at the minimum just around the block and back – because I feel like I’ve made myself more miserable by not just getting some fresh air. So I mask up, and walk. The only bad part is that I get looks from people (most of them aren’t masked) and sometimes even side-eyed (subtle anti-Asian sentiment in their eyes? Strong maybe) but I keep my head down. Hey, I don’t want trouble, you know?

But I digress… so let’s get onto the topic: online recipe blogs.

This was inspired by when I was scrolling through Twitter, and this Tweet caught my eye:

I love Helen, highly recommend you follow her

As a person who doesn’t have a wide index of recipes herself, I understand why people skim. They “don’t have” time, energy, focus, attention – y’know, they only have bad excuses (for the most part). Because if there’s one thing that school has taught me, it’s that you should never skip the readings – at the very least, skim them.

But even I used to not read them – before college – because I had the same mindset of just wanting to know how it’s done. I didn’t understand why people blogged in general (ahhhhh the irony!) especially when they were beginning their blogs in a way that didn’t seem relevant to their recipe (ahhhhh I feel attacked by my own younger thinking).

Why are they so conversational, just get to what I want, I thought. However, my turning point in actually reading the stories preceding recipes was when I began getting into reading more food publications after entering college, which inevitably led me to blogs – and even then I was still skeptical of their value.

What really caused me to rethink everything was when I lived on my own for the first time my sophomore year. I no longer had the luxury of the school dining halls to pick up meals whenever I needed them, so I cooked – but I only knew of what my parents had made for me. So in my way of trying to find recipes, I stumbled on Just One Cookbook, and my outlook changed.

I don’t remember exactly what recipe I was looking for, but I distinctly remember reading the background of the dish and thinking wow this is really interesting. Nami (or her team of writers, since her site is huge now) usually puts a brief historical and cultural explanation of the dish preceding recipes, similar to how other blogs usually talk describe their process of creating the recipe or sentimental feelings for it, but I think for me, the value of those long entries before recipes didn’t hit me until I actually perceived something of value from it. As in, I previously never read far enough into the entries to find any useful tips because I hated the conversational fluff that preceded it…

Attempt #1 at roasting using the one-pan method with frozen veggies. Chicken, lemon, zucchini and carrots… it looks weird but tasted great!

When I see recipes now, I devour them (pun intended). Some of them were mostly fluff, like I mentioned. The recipe writers wrote the fluff usually so there was more places for inserting the beautiful photos they took of the final product. With others, I did feel like I’ve come away with a greater understanding of the recipe writer’s background, values and always some neat tips or fun facts along the way. (Like how you don’t have to wait for your frozen vegetable to be dethawed, you can just cook them right away!)

Yes, I understand the hilarity that as a storyteller myself that I am learning to cook with stories – hey, stick with what you know, right? – but all this to say that the recipe itself doesn’t matter.

I saw a Twitter exchange a couple weeks ago that I think back to, about how recipe writing isn’t really about the recipe itself, that the authors know their work will inevitably not be looked at, but they do it in the hopes that their readers will inevitably grow their skillset enough to not need them. And this insight shook me, dear reader, because as a blogger and journalist who relies on writing in a way to get their work read, I thought, how could you not want people to continue reading your work?

Attempt #3, with different frozen veggies and seasonings. Super delicious!

Of course, upon further thought I realized that I had taken it too literally and missed the point: once you have the basics of what you know and love to make, you should make them with enough ease to feel comfortable with experimenting.

The more I thought of this, it made sense. Heck, I’m an example of that and I think my cooking skills are still far from anything extraordinary. But I’ve been learning so much more than cooking whenever I read a recipe. Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s a bit of history, cultural fun facts, people’s backgrounds, values and more.

Recipes aren’t just recipes for the sake of being instructions for making food, because for all of them from those created in test kitchens to those handed down for the last few generations, someone took the time, energy and care to put it together. Someone put in effort to record the info so that they could continue to make (or give to others) something people would enjoy. Eventually, it got to you via the wonderous power of the Internet.

It’s another lesson that things about food are very rarely about the food: they’re about the people and everything behind the dish.

Well, that’s it from me today – I’m so happy to be back to writing. The last few pieces for the Daily Emerald I’ve written have been about food, and the more I write the more I hunger for more. These include Eugene’s top three takeout brunch and a list of black-owned eateries. What would you like to read more of from me and this blog? I want to know, because that means I can plan more stuff in store to be what y’all want to read.

Also – the two year birthday of Sik Fan Mei, Ah? is coming soon! What types of celebratory activity should I do?? Leave me a comment or message me on social media to tell me all your ideas!

As always, I hope you all are faring okay and giving yourself a pat on the back for getting through every day. Stay safe, stay well, and keep your head up – better days are hopefully coming soon.

Have you eaten yet? If not, don’t forget to!


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