Smokey the Magnificent

Failing the Turing Test since 1986

Food blogs

My word, I’m glad I don’t have a food blog. I just tried out a recipe for one of those magic self-layering custard cakes, and she had seventeen comments. A couple were of the inane but harmless “Ooooh that looks so yummy I just gained 5 pounds!” kind, which annoy me simply because they clutter up the screen when I’m hunting for actual reviews which might tell me something useful, like ‘not enough cocoa’ or ‘despite the purple prose, this is actually a limp, pallid run-of-the-mill biscuit which looks awful without a 70s amber filter’. Incidentally, it’s amazing how few people, even on popular food blogs, actually seem to make the recipes. Look at Pioneer Woman’s comment section sometime – literally thousands of comments, and you can scroll until your finger turns blue past masses of gushing comments without finding a single person who says it tastes, rather than looks, divine. (Or ‘devine’, which is a whole ‘nother aneurysm.)

But it wasn’t those comments which bugged me today. It was the demanding ones which presumed that this poor woman, running a very minor Turkish food blog which was clearly not her day job, was a) equipped and b) willing to cover every possible eventuality and permutation of the recipe, as well as answering basic questions that could be resolved with a three-second trip to Google.

You know the kind. “Would this recipe work with GF flour?” How should she know? It’s not a gluten-free blog. She doesn’t have gluten-free recipes. Even if she did, “GF flour” is a virtually meaningless term; and even if she knew what kind the commenter meant, is it really likely that she’d say “Gosh, dunno!”, dash out and buy some, and whip up a few batches in the kitchen just to see? Come on, people.

Ditto “would this recipe work at high altitude?” Dude, if you live on the Himalayas, figuring out the vagaries of stratospheric cooking is on you. How would she know? If the principles are simple, you should be able to apply them to most recipes. If they’re tricky and recipe-dependent, she’s not gonna be able to answer the question without voyaging to a mountain peak, and expecting her to do that is just nuts.

Or “What kind of sugar do you mean by ‘sugar’?” I’ve seen this one a lot, and while it staggers me a little that people don’t know ‘sugar’ refers to plain old white granulated sugar (or ‘flour’ to plain white flour, if it comes to that), at least I guess it might be somewhat tricky to Google, phrasing-wise. Not so with ‘What’s 110 grams butter???’ which was asked by two people out of the seventeen in panicky, aggrieved tones. Good grief. How is it more efficient to wait for a long-suffering part-time blogger to respond to that, than simply googling ‘convert 110 grams butter into ounces’ (or cups, or sticks, or poods, or whatever the cool kids are using these days)? How?

And I’ve seen worse. People complaining that the recipe didn’t work out and in the next breath proudly admitting that they cut the sugar down to a teaspoon, replaced the butter with applesauce, swapped the chocolate chips for craisins and used egg-replacer. (Actually, it’s almost more aggrieving when they do that and claim it did work. It didn’t. They’ve just acclimatised themselves to believing compost is a dessert.) People piously demanding to change the teaspoon of whiskey in a recipe to orange juice for the sake of their immortal souls, while splashing vanilla essence about without a hint of irony. People demanding that recipes be converted into Imperial, metric, GF, DF, GAPS, sugar-free, nut-free, soy-free and vegan versions as a matter of course. People freaking out because the recipe says to use a 30 cm by 20 cm tin and theirs is 18 cm by 23 cm. People complaining… on baking blogs… about the shocking fact that recipes contain fat and sugar.

I mean, get a grip, people. Putting up a recipe online is a kindness. A free kindness. It does not obligate the author to spend the rest of her natural life hand-holding morons who want to know if using the wrong brand of butter will make their cake explode. Nor to coach them on the basics of metric-to-Imperial, Celsius-to-Fahrenheit or weight-to-volume conversions. Nor to acquire a vast set of arcane culinary knowledge in order to accommodate those who wish to bake in space, on a wood fire, or in a transdimensional rift where the Maillard reaction causes fatal temporal hernias. Still less does it require her to endlessly re-test and tweak the recipe according to her readers’ infinite dietary, religious, ethical and ingredient-availability preferences.

I certainly agree that it’s nice, if you have a food blog, to have a few helpful features – an ingredient conversion feature (or one format bracketed in the ingredients list itself) and a ‘print this recipe’ feature which eliminates the photos and preamble, say. And there are a few excellent bloggers who turn random questions into thoughtful and illuminating posts about food science – Joe Pastry, for instance. And for those looking to made a buck on their blog and become the next Smitten Kitchen, I suppose they can’t afford to wound their precious clientele by telling them to figure it out for themselves. But still. It must annoy them. I know it annoys David Lebovitz – he’s talked about getting frustrated after working very hard to develop a recipe just-so, only to be inundated with “But what if I used X instead of Y?” requests. (And there was that woman who rang him up late at night to tell him that his cookies took a minute longer to cook than his recipe book suggested. Fun.)

I got a taste of it once when I wrote an article for a blog about drafting a dirndl skirt. Everything from people wanting to give me basic sewing lessons to people wanting me to draft a personalised pattern for them. And of course I lost the will to care ten minutes after posting it, and could only stare slack-jawed at the screen wondering why people thought I was their personal unpaid seamstress/designer/tutor.

On the other hand I once had three hundred comments on an article I did about henna, and thoroughly enjoyed answering innumerable questions. But that was some years ago, before I was soured on humanity. Virtual humanity, at any rate; I was soured on actual humanity long before that, thanks to years of making milkshakes for high school girls. (“Can I have a large mega-choc shake, but can you make it with skim milk? Because I’m getting SO fat. You guys, I so am! I’m getting so fat!”) So perhaps it is just curmudgeonliness talking.

On a brighter note, then: Rowan has invented a poem, or chant. It goes like this: “Knock knock! Who’s there? Unofficial Little Bear!” I don’t get it, but I like it.

  1. Talia

    “Actually, it’s almost more aggrieving when they do that and claim it did work. It didn’t. They’ve just acclimatised themselves to believing compost is a dessert.”

    HEAR, HEAR!

  2. Trish

    I sense that this would be a bad time to tell you what I made yesterday. Venting helps, doesn’t it? And there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of curmudgeonly every now and then. She said, glad of the company.

  3. smokering

    You made… a food blog? Well, Heaven grant you patience.

    The custard cake thing was a disappointment, incidentally. Bland and unchocolatey. Which would have been nice to know.

  4. Trish

    No, just an awful lot of substitutions and some compost biscuits.

  5. smokering

    Ah, right.

    To be clear, I don’t disapprove of substituting per se. I substitute stuff all the time – a lot of cookies are better with half brown sugar instead of all white, a cake with water in it is generally better with coffee or juice used instead, and many recipes’ flavourings – vanilla and spices, particularly – are woefully inadequate. Allrecipes has a really good rated-review system, and I find if I choose a top-rated recipe and then implement the generally-agreed-upon substitutions in the top-rated reviews, I will generally end up with a pretty decent product. (Plus on allrecipes you get lambasted for giving a recipe a poor review if you subbed stuff, which pleases me.)

    Can’t get behind compost cookies, though. My feeling is, if you want a cookie have a cookie; if you want to be healthy, have an olive. But then I’ll probably die at forty.