Mark Bittman’s New York Times blog is seductive. Everything in it sounds so easy, so accessible, so fast, that you come to wonder why everyone doesn’t make their own riccotta cheese or fry their own pigs feet. “My God, the American public is so lazy,” you think as you read an article about making your own bread from scratch. “This is so easy!”
And that’s really the point of a lot of food writing – you’re supposed to pick up the new Gourmet and think “I can make my own Moroccan seven course feast from scratch! How hard could it be?”
Sometimes, harder than you think.
Witness example number one: my coworker came home a couple of weeks ago to find her roommate simmering with anger in the kitchen. There were the telltale signs of cooking rage: banging pans, grumbling, swearing at the oven. The roommate confessed that she had just read Mark Bittman’s article on cleaning out your pantry, and was trying her hand at making homemade croutons. Contrary to her expectations, it was neither easy, nor particularly fast—instead, it was taking all night. “God damn you Mark Bittman” was how she summed up the entire experience.
When I heard this story, I was happy to learn that I wasn’t the only one who had suffered from the Bittman Pantry article. Only I fell pray to the stock.
Last weekend I was feeling under the weather, so I decided to make a big pot of chicken soup with rice that Wonk the Plank and I could take for lunch the next week. Remembering Bittman’s adage that making your own quick-simmering stock was much easier and tastier than buying the pre-packaged stuff, I decided to whip up some stock from vegeteble bits and chicken bones that I had lying around.
“Look at me!” I thought to myself as I threw everything into the pot. “Following Mark Bittman’s advice! Making my own stock! I feel like such a bona fide Modern Domestic!”
Except that making weak vegetable stock and using it as the basis for an entire pot of chicken soup is . . . well, when I tasted it all I could think was “why does this soup taste like salty vegetable water?” Even after a couple hours of simmering on the stove and letting the flavors develop, the soup tasted like slightly saltier vegetable water.
Suffice it to say, it was awful. I could barely get Wonk to eat a bowl of the soup for dinner. Wonk has depression-era values when it comes to wasting food, but there was no way that he was taking that soup for lunch all week. “Throw it out,“ said the puritanical Wonk, who will eat two-week old wilting celery sticks just to prove to me that they’re still edible.
But after I had spent two days making the stuff, I couldn’t throw it out. And I didn’t have anything else for lunch. So I spent all week eating water-y, tasteless chicken soup with rice. And all I could think as I ate each watery, faintly vegetable-y bite, was “God damn you Mark Bittman!”