Discover more from The Fresh Letter
I have an unpopular opinion...
Plus the things I'm *actually* eating right now.
How are you? And how about your kitchen? Over here in mine, I’m feeling inspired by a particular piece of food writing—do you already subscribe to From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy? I bet a lot of you do, but if not, yesterday’s edition, On Domestic Writing, really got my wheels turning. She opens with the following:
I realized while writing for Gawker last year about how “recipe developer” became a famous job that I don’t have any allegiance to the recipe developer types as food thinkers, despite ostensibly being a recipe developer myself. I don’t actually want to be a recipe developer; I want to talk about how I cook. I care more about the domestic chronicles of the food bloggers and the essays of folks like Laurie Colwin and the books of Nigel Slater. I don’t want someone to tell me how to create a flavor bomb, someone inspired by restaurant cooking: I want to know how you’re feeding your family on a random Monday, how you’re creating a holiday feast. I want the domestic.
I couldn’t agree more with Kennedy’s sentiment here. Recipe writing has been part of my job for years now, but I have an undeniably conflicted relationship with it. I’ve spent a lot of time processing my jumbled thoughts on the matter—mainly via long conversations with very smart friends (thank you Abigail, Keziah, and Tarn)—and realize my concern is that recipes as they’re written today hinder a cook’s kitchen confidence more than help it.
I know this is likely a really unpopular take, but I kinda hate most modern recipe writing. Let me elaborate.
I know some folks find a lot of comfort in extremely prescriptive kitchen instructions (I get it! I’m a type-A gal who loves a list and a detailed instruction myself). But these days, I see so many recipe writers talking and writing about their food in a “my way or the highway” tone, giving nit picky instructions and if not directly, then passively suggesting that any deviation from their recipe as written will result in complete disaster.
I know there’s been a shift in recent years because I have a few older cookbooks in my collection (one pictured below, published in 1945 and generously loved, used, then gifted to me by the O’Neil family) where instructions assume a certain level of competence in the cook. In The Boston Cooking School Cookbook, a recipe for pudding starts with the phrase “make custard of first 4 ingredients,” assuming the cook’s ability to…make a custard! Nowadays, a recipe for a very similar pudding requires five extremely detailed steps to get the exact same point across.
I’m not sure about you, but honestly, I don’t know exactly how to make a custard off the top of my head (and I went to culinary school!) but Google exists. I trust my ability to figure it out. And if something goes wrong along the way, I know I’ll learn from the experience. It may be convenient to have everything detailed so specifically, but I think recipes like our pudding of today are hampering the home cook’s ability to feel out a kitchen situation and learn from it. And they’re ultimately coming at the cost of a cook’s ability to trust their kitchen instincts and eventually cook without recipes at all.
So, I, like Kennedy, have always gravitated more toward the type of food writing she calls Domestic. I love writing that loosely outlines how you might approach the act of cooking a beautiful, satisfying pot of beans rather than providing “expertly” calibrated measurements for each very specific ingredient that will definitely yield the perfect pot of beans, believe me, I tested this recipe fourteen times and I know it works and it’s exactly how beans should taste every single time, no exceptions.
Or more briefly, I’m enamored with food writing that indicates a level of trust in and respect for the cook’s instincts, rather than recipes written in such a detailed manner that they come across as condescending. (If you want that beautiful, satisfying pot of beans and a whole lot of other gorgeous Domestic food writing, you want An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler.)
So, in an effort to lean more into the type of food writing I actually love, and to share a bit of what’s going on with me in my domestic little life, I want to run you through a couple of the things I’m actually eating these days. No overwrought recipes, just vibes! And hopefully some inspiration for your next lunch, breakfast, or snack.
Various Veggie Sandwiches and Wraps
I know I’ve mentioned it a few times, but friends, I’m carrying a bebe around inside of me! I’m a third through my second trimester and am newly and seriously craving all things fresh and tangy. So most days, when lunch rolls around, I’m whipping up veggie sandwiches and wraps. There are a couple combos that I’ve gravitated toward:
Toasted sourdough, one slice spread with a thick layer of goat cheese, topped with beets, thinly sliced cucumbers, lettuce of choice, and a hearty drizzle of some store-bought balsamic glaze. Salted to taste, of course, then topped off with that second slice of sourdough!
A tortilla with a lot of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced cucumbers, a whole half of an avocado, and thinly sliced romaine tossed in a tangy vinaigrette. I like to sprinkle everything with sea salt then roll the wrap up in foil to prevent any tragic leakage.
More toasted sourdough, one slice spread with store-bought hummus, the other topped with a soft cheese of choice (I’ve used both mozz and goat). Wedged between those slices, I’ll typically add cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce tossed in vinaigrette, and thinly sliced red or orange bell pepper. Plus whatever veggies need using up in the crisper drawer. But the bell pepper makes this one for me, so I never skip it.
The key to all of these options is ample acid. I’m often tossing any lettuce I add to my wrap or sandwich in a little homemade vinaigrette. I make that by pouring equal parts vinegar of choice or lemon juice and olive oil into a Bonne Maman jar, adding a huge dollop of dijon mustard, some maple syrup to taste, plus a big pinch salt, then capping and shaking together.
A Classic Beet and Goat Cheese Salad
You likely know and potentially love this one. It’s a classic for a reason and I can’t get enough of it at the moment. Here’s how I do mine: I usually dress this salad twice, first by tossing my lettuce of choice—often romaine or arugula—in a simple vinaigrette like the one I outlined above. Then, I’ll top that dressed lettuce with thinly sliced, par-cooked beets I find in the veggie section of my grocery store, often near the refrigerated dressings. I add as much crumbled goat cheese as my heart desires, and some store-bought roughly chopped spiced pecans. The second dressing is a store-bought balsamic glaze that I drizzle on liberally. This salad relies very heavily on grocery store helpers, as have most of the things I have enough energy to “cook” these days, and that’s the honest truth!
A Mango Lassi-Inspired Smoothie
Through my entire first trimester, I was reliably able to keep down greek yogurt and fruit and little else. As evinced by the sandwiches and salad above, I’m doing a bit better now, but I still cannot get enough of this smoothie. So, to a blender, I add equal parts frozen mango chunks and greek yogurt—this changes depending on my hunger level of course, but about a cup of each will do the trick most days—I eyeball my milk, adding enough to cover the majority of the yogurt and mango. I always opt for whole, dairy milk, but I fully trust you to do what’s best for you and your digestive system! Finally, if I’ve used an unsweetened yogurt, I add a teaspoon or two (I think!) of granulated sugar, plus, the most important ingredient, a large pinch of salt, to the blender. I blend on high until everything is smooth and frothy and enjoy. I’m drinking one right now.
Alright, we’ve mostly covered it, but before I go, let’s wrap (pun! it’s intended) things up in a bow: can you still expect recipes from me and this newsletter? Yes! I think so. But I’ve always aimed to create a little space on the internet that inspired kitchen confidence, so you can expect that any recipes I write and include here will have that goal in mind. I’m also hoping to share a bit more of my day-to-day (Domestic!) life via The Fresh Letter, so keep an eye out for a bit more of that, and perhaps some changes to the paid model in 2023.
Turns out the little bow we’re wrapping things up in today isn’t super neat, but in short, stay tuned and I cannot wait to share more with you over the next few months. Finally, before I go, I know this format is a little different, so please, feel free to leave any feedback you may have on recipe writing or this newsletter in general— you can shoot me an email directly or let me know via the comments section.