Food blogging 2.0, stolen recipes, books, movies, drinks, links..
Between a Thanksgiving Eve bash and the following Saturday, we hosted by my count about seventy people, and it was a blast!
For Thanksgiving, we roasted two turkeys (one broken down for oven space), and served, sliced, in pan with warm turkey broth, it was one of our best turkeys. But I have to mention two standout hors d’oeuvres. The amazing and simple mushrooms with Spanish chorizo and the bizarre but delicious baked saltines.
Ann found the cracker recipe in Southern Living after reading the always excellent Gabrielle Hamilton’s NYTimes magazine piece. She just deep fries them and serves them with raw onion and mustard a la McSorely’s in the East Village. The Southern Living recipe though, called Alabama Fire Crackers, combines seasonings, mixed with ranch dressing powder and cups of olive oil. You actually soak saltines in what is basically salad dressing over night and bake before serving. They came out crispy and delicious. Definitely a keeper!
And the amazing mushrooms we discovered at a tapas restaurant in Madrid. Mushrooms tossed in olive oil, garlic, lemon and parsley, and baked with a small chunk of dried Spanish chorizo. So simple and good. (I made them for a live IG Friday Cocktail hour, here, and I’ll try to get a recipe up on my blog soon!
It was the first Thanksgiving in memory that there was hardly any turkey left over!
And to drink…
The following night it was aged eggnog time for Xmas consumption. Always fun. But this year we invited our neighbors, Tripp and Ed, over so that Tripp (a notable biographer) could make his grandmother’s eggnog (recipe circa 1875), which only needs to be made the night before (as opposed to 30 days to a year before as is the case with mine). Live Instagram here.
Here’s the recipe for the aged, and fairly boozy eggnog. Which is funky and complex.
Here’s a great piece by Kenji (does he need a last name? I don’t thinks so) in Serious Eats where he goes in-depth into aged eggnog, Kenji-style, with wildly varying taste test results. Is it worth, he asks?
And here’s Tripp’s Ga-Ga’s Eggnog. Which is fresh and delicious.
With all of us vaccinated and as many boosted as possible, we rejoiced at celebrating this great holiday together. With more holiday to come…
And the winner is…
In the last newsletter I asked readers to name their favorite dish to bring to a Friendsgiving for a chance to win a signed copy of my last cookbook, From Scratch, an exploration of ten staple meals and all that we can learn about cooking from them.
I used a random number generator to select one of the 132 people who commented, and the winner is “SuzyQ,” who wrote:
I like to bring an odd pie, like a sugar cream pie, something no one else will bring and most people haven’t had before.
I love an odd pie! The only problem is, I don’t know which of my subscribers emails is hers. Help, Substack! SuzyQ, if you’re reading, you won! Send me an email so I can get you your book!
The changing nature of food blogs…
David Lebovitz started blogging in 1999, before anyone really knew what blogging was. The blog world was so new he had to figure out how to do all his own coding. Many others food bloggers followed in the early aughts, such as Elise Bauer’s Simply Recipes, Jayden Rae’s Steamy Kitchen, and Deb Pearlman’s Smitten Kitchen. All went on to create great, lucrative business out of their blogs. I believe only Elise did not become a cookbook author. I remember finding and loving Todd Porter and Diane Cu’s White On Rice. Unlike the previous three, who weren’t professionals, Todd and Diane were already professional photographers. And their site went from a standard blog to a conglomeration of all their work (which is gorgeous).
In 2006, I guest blogged on Meg Hourihan’s Megnut (one the first general bloggers, also in 1999). I enjoyed writing in this medium, and I started my own. I loved being able to interact directly with readers. And to watch them interact with each other. I loved being able to write whatever the hell I wanted. I loved sharing personal stories about food and cocktails.
And that’s were things stood when I separated and divorced in 2015, at which point I pretty much stopped blogging. Life was just too much for a while. Happily, I married an amazing woman in 2017 and we formed a new life. By the fall of 2019, I wanted to resume blogging. I wanted to pick up the conversation.
But I couldn’t.
The entire landscape had changed. It was like having visited Mykonos, a paradise, in the 1970s and coming back 30 years later to find it overpriced and jammed with tourists—a real, you-can’t-go-home-again melancholy.
Which is partly why David Lebovitz, a brilliant pastry chef and equally brilliant writer, decided this month to “pivot” from his excellent blog to his Substack newsletter. He explains why in his most recent one:
Writing my newsletter reminds me of when food blogging started before I had to think about all that other stuff. Nowadays bloggers have freestanding studios, fly in photographers, and have teams of techies and recipe developers working on their blogs. I have no problem with any of that and it’s natural that people want to be more professional, but it’s not why I started my blog and not why I got into baking and cooking. Hence the pivot to here, where I can focus on what I love to do.
Couldn’t say it better. Exactly why I’ve loved writing this newsletter every two weeks. David also notes how impossible to keep up with evolving technology.
…[I]t’s easier to write and share on this platform than on my blog where the technology keeps changing I can’t keep up anymore and frankly, I’m more interested in writing and sharing recipes…
Rather than angling for greater and greater SEO. Subscribe to David’s newsletter here. It’s part free, part paid. A move Substack is urging me, and others, to do.
Good luck, David!
Recipe copyrights? Is it time?
A week or so ago, an ex-pat in Oxford, UK, wrote to me to say that in searching for a specific kind of Thanksgiving dressing, she found one on Epicurious, submitted by “RICKLEADEM” six years ago. She then chanced on my blog post about the same kind of dressing/stuffing and saw that my post and recipe (copyrighted btw) were basically cut and pasted onto Epicurious’s site without any mention of me. Perhaps “RICKLEADEM” also had a Grandma Spamer and espoused the use of ratios, but I don’t think so. He published my recipe and headnote verbatim under his own name.
I’m all for sharing. And I’m all for borrowing—I do it all the time. But I always note the source and do so with pleasure. I love giving credit where it’s due. I do not like some random dude posting my recipes. But I have little recourse. I tried grousing about it on twitter, and many defended me (thank you!). But I got no response from Epicurious or its parent company Bon Appetit.
And I saw just how tricky the proposition of maintaining control of original content is when The NYTimes published a long story about recipe theft and plagiarism a few days later.
The law views a recipe merely as a factual list of ingredients and basic steps, according to the piece, rather than as creative expression.
A factual list does not include how important Grandma Spamer’s Thanksgiving stuffing was to me. And I take great care with recipe methods itself, because recipes are very important and the best are filled with nuance and finesse. I addressed this in Ruhlman’s Twenty, in Chapter One, “Think.”
Cooking is an infinitely nuanced series of actions, the outcome of which is dependent on countless variables. What’s the simplest dish you can think of? Let’s say buttered toast. Can you write a perfect recipe for it? There is no exact way to convey how to make buttered toast and account for all variables. The temperature of the butter has a huge impact on the final result, as does the type of bread, how thick it’s cut, and how hot your toaster gets. Because all the variables in cooking can never be accounted for, whether you’re cooking from a book or cooking by instinct, it stands to reason that the most important first step in the kitchen is simply to think, even if all you’re making is buttered toast.
My point here is that to write a great recipe for buttered toast requires creativity and personality, and results should be protected.
What we’re watching…
We continue to be rapt by the amazing actor Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders, about a British gang in post-WWI Birmingham. (All links here are to the movie trailers.)
And we’ve rejoiced at returning to movie theaters, where we saw The French Dispatch, and House of Gucci. And we streamed Spencer.
Spencer, a kind of dreamscape of Lady Di navigating a Royal Family Christmas, is haunting and excellent, with a stellar performance by Kristen Stewart and a great supporting performance by Sally Hawkins.
The French Dispatch, by Wes Anderson (Budapest Hotel, and others). It’s like a movie version of an issue of The New Yorker (though not named as such), comprising several unrelated stories. It begins with a delightful one featuring Owen Wilson riding a bicycle around Paris, but then the movie goes downhill from there. Bill Murray is always a pleasure (he plays the Harold Ross/Willam Shawn role) and it’s got a marquee cast all around, but it stopped making sense midway through, and Ann and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
House of Gucci is high camp in good/bad way, a terrible movie that is somehow great to watch, so I recommend it! Who doesn’t want to watch Pacino, Irons, Lady Gaga, Adam Driver go at it? Be forewarned: the following morning everyone in our loft was walking around talking in fake Italian accents. You will, too.
Oh, and we also watched Last Night In Soho, a weird fantasy that turns into a horror movie. I recommend it and I’m not a fan of horror movies. The movie Passing has great premise—two Black women, friends, reunite, though one of the women has been passing for white—but it’s far too quiet with too many unanswered questions, and dubious and ambiguous climax. It’s beautifully filmed in black and white and has a lovely jazz score, but I’d pass on Passing.
Many films on the horizon we can’t wait to see: West Side Story, Belfast, The Power of The Dog.
And Ann notes,
I am delighted that the baker I was rooting for won The Great British Bake Off. No spoilers here, but I whooped with joy.
What we’re reading…
I’ve just finished Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart, about a group of friends who attempt to ride out the pandemic at a home in the Hudson Valley, a pleasure. Like a British country home farce, though with a very touching end, this is one of the most successful works of art created by the pandemic (Bo Burnham’s Inside is perhaps the best of all the pandemic works). And I’m about to begin, They Both Die In the End, on Ann’s endorsement from last newsletter.
Ann, our typically constant reader, writes:
A week of Thanksgiving shopping, cooking, hosting and reveling cut into my reading time. But I happily listened to Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney as I dashed between grocery stores looking for green beans. And I managed to start Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, but just.
And she noted how good it was listening to the Rooney novel performed by an Irish reader.
Links we’re liking…
Because I’ve been studying savory pies, Ann sent me this link to a celeriac pie from The Guardian. (Really, I think she just wants me to make it for her!)
What is the best novel of the past 125 years? The single best book. The NYTimes narrowed it down to 25. What are your top picks? I chose Charlotte’s Web, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby. Ann differed from me only in her choice of The Grapes of Wrath over Mockingbird.
What you’ve always wanted to know but were afraid to ask: What it takes to be a chef at one of the 80 Benihanas throughout the country. Here are some of their stunts.
From the department of excellent obits, the da Vinci of Cakes, Sylvia Weinstock.
And finally, the most important obituary and life in the arts, Stephen Sondheim, who died the day after Thanksgiving, age 91. He lived a good long life and elevated musical theater as no other. Some have called his work Shakespearian in scope. I can only say that by the time I was ten, I knew all the lyrics to West Side Story by heart (his first Broadway work as a lyricist, age 25) and would sing it alone in my room (most of all “Something’s Coming”). We’ll be seeing Assasins tonight and look forward to Company in the new year. RIP Mr. Sondheim.
Listen to this moving tribute on The Daily, with the superb critic, Jesse Green. “He was completely convinced of the meaningfulness of a life in art,” Green says. “And the loss that we see pouring out now is for that person who says, Yes, devoting yourself to writing or to dancing or to singing or to composing or whatever it is, is a worthwhile life.”
Listen to the excellent Glynis Johns sing one of the greats, a gorgeous lamentation, “Send In the Clowns.” A song written expressly for her (she’s apparently still going strong at age 98!).
But better, and lastly…
Watch the master himself teach this song to a gifted young student.
Stay safe, get boosted and enjoy the holiday season!
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