One of my favorite writing assignments is modeled after the New York Times’ Letter of Recommendation, “celebrations of objects and experiences that have been overlooked or underappreciated.” Students have written about the best topics: Chap Stick, street performers, BBQ potato chips. This is one of a few other assignments intended for writers to pay attention to the little things that are, when we notice, quite big, indeed, and one that students love every single time.
This morning, I was reading a Cod Cakes recipe. I’d opted to do much of the prep work before school because I knew I’d never have enough time to let them chill for 30 minutes this evening when a hungry toddler’s stomach demanded otherwise. What pushed me to that choice, particularly knowing that chopping, browning and forming the cakes would definitely make our attempt to leave the house that much more chaotic?
The reader reviews. While I did not read all 160, I did read what I considered a representative sample. I also read Sam Sifton’s response to someone who lamented that his cod cakes had fallen apart. Sifton insisted they had to be chilled. That was the key.
And because so many people had already made the recipe and rated it highly, I conceded that if I wanted cod cakes with at least a fighting chance to be as good as Sam Sifton’s, well, then, I should make some effort to let them chill in the refrigerator before introducing them to my cast iron skillet later tonight.
Reader reviews about a recipe are a rabbit hole. I now try to read them with a timer in hand. For every recipe I think I want to make, it’s only a moment or two of scrolling before I’m either second-guessing myself, making a list of amendments to the recipe, or high-fiving myself on selecting what seems to be a good meal. I’ve also learned that people write recipe reviews with a couple of intentions: to call something a good recipe only after they’ve made it their own (thereby changing the original recipe, which, then, as it stands, seems that that would change the original recipe and not garner an excellent rating, but, okay, duly noted); to comment on the picture the original recipe posted (and they haven’t made the recipe yet but just wanted to say it looks “delicious”); or to complain: someone tried the recipe and hated it and/or it didn’t work for their child/SO/family. For these reasons, reviews must be read with a bit of levity.
I give about as much consideration to the reviews on a recipe as I do the recipe itself, largely because if a bunch of people are complaining about something, then they’re usually on to something and the truth is somewhere in between. My brilliant colleague, Michelle, and I have similar approaches to reader recipe reviews. We might be enamored with a photograph of something delicious on a plate, but we scroll right past the narrative that accompanies the picture to land ourselves smack in the midst of the reviews. That is where the meat of the recipe is, if you will.
One year ago: #sol16: Holders of Memory
This post is part of the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers, who have created a space for writers and teachers of writers to come together. To learn more about this challenge, click here.