A Cook's Diary

Life as a food blog

My friend Joel is right when he says that Filipinos like to be spoon fed. I only have to look at many of the comments in this blog, and many of the PMs and e-mails that I receive, to realize how well he sums it all up.

WARNING: This is a pretty long post. If you’re a long-time reader, I know you’ll get to the very end. If you’re a new reader, let me assure you that it will be worth your time reading the entire thing. Anyone who doesn’t get beyond the first three of four paragraphs are readers I don’t care to have returning to this blog anyway.

When I first put up a food blog in 2003, commenting was off by default. I just didn’t see the point in turning it on. The recipes were there and all readers had to do was read and take it from there, do their own experiment and that was that. I was just sharing what I cooked.

In my other blog, the one where I had all the politics stuff, commenting was on by default. And the interaction was always on the move, to say the least. Sometimes exciting, sometimes funny, sometimes irritating. But comments kept pouring in, readers would debate, argue, fight, get nasty…

About a year after both blogs first went online, around 2004, I noticed that the food blog was generating four times as much traffic as the political blog. There were some requests to turn commenting on so readers could ask clarifications or just to say thank you. I obliged. I turned commenting on. But comments were rare. I mentioned that to another blogger and I said I just wished that the interaction in the food blog was the same as that in the political blog. And she said, “Eh ano naman ang pagtatalunan dun — kung ilang kamatis ang igigisa (And just what will people debate there — how many tomatoes to sauté)?” She had a point.

Seven years later, I had gotten bored with political blogging, I am very much focused on the food blog, comments are no longer as rare as they used to be but many of the comments in the food posts are not exactly what I hoped they would be. Majority of the comments ask about:

1. if substituting this or that ingredient is okay;
2. whether their ovens, stoves or pans are okay for making certain dishes;
3. where to buy this and that ingredient; and
4. if I have a recipe for this or that, and can I please share it.

Questions like those irritate me. And, most times, it shows in my responses. Neither do I give those readers the answers they expect. Why? Because I am a food blogger — not a fortune teller, not the yellow pages and certainly not a thief.

Let me elaborate.

Substitutes for certain ingredients

When I make a list of ingredients for a dish, it means — quite obviously — that those were what I used. If there are substitutes that I have tried, I say so. If there are alternative cooking methods (like using a pressure cooker or a slow cooker or the microwave), I say so.

When someone asks if substituting this or that ingredient is okay and the substitution is not something I have tried (if I had, it would have been specified in the post), how in the world am I supposed to give an informed answer? And I’ve always wondered at the underlying reason for the questions.

1. Is the reader really just asking for my opinion (which I won’t give because it wouldn’t be an informed opinion)?
2. Is the reader asking for my permission or reassurance?
3. Is the reader looking for someone to point the blame on in case the substitution goes bad (“It’s not my fault — that blogger said it was okay!”).

There are questions about substitutions that are very specific. A reader will mention what he or she (mostly, she) has in her pantry and ask if she can use that instead. This kind of question is found all over the blog. In a single thread, there may be four or five of these and each will mention a different ingredient that he or she wants to substitute.

To be able to give an informed answer to every substitution question, what you’re really asking is for me to try those substitutions myself THEN let you know which work and which don’t. Otherwise, you’re asking me to guess. And I will not because guesswork is for stupid people who want to appear knowledgeable. I don’t know everything and I am honest enough to say it. And I will not give anyone the opportunity to point a finger at me if the substitution fails.

Will I test the substitutions to make an informed answer? You know what? I’m not your personal tester. I cannot customize a recipe to fit into what you have in YOUR kitchen. That’s your job. And I’m not being mean or selfish when I say that. I am paying you a compliment because I am telling you that you’re smart even if you don’t realize it and you should learn to trust your instincts, be adventurous and not feel frustrated when an experiment goes wrong.

Ovens, oven toasters and turbo broilers

There is a question in the baked mac post that my daughters and I still giggle over. The question: Can I bake the baked mac without an oven?

You know, when that question was posted, I wondered if food blogging was really worth the trouble. I wanted to bang my head on the wall. I wanted to never write another recipe again. Well, of course, the frustration passed because I am still blogging, am I not? In short, over time, I just found it amusing.

That question has very close siblings. Twins, triplets, quadruplets. One of the most common: I have an toaster oven, the temperature settings are different (no numbers), can I use it to bake (a cake, cupcakes, the baked mac… the question is scattered all over baking recipes). Whoa. It’s your oven, I’ve never laid eyes on it, I’ve never operated it, how would I know what it can and cannot do?

You want to hear something worse? A reader mentioned an oven model and asked me if it has thermostat control. Okay, I lost my temper.

You know, cooking is as much about getting acquainted with ingredients and learning skills as it is knowing your own equipment. You won’t learn about what your pan or your stove or your oven can do by asking — you have to use them to find out.

Where to buy ingredients

When I come across a rather hard to find ingredient, I write about it and mention where I was able to buy it. And then I would get deluged with question like I live in some-place-about-a-thousand-kilometers-from-yours, where can I buy that in my area? Sheesh, man, I don’t even know what stores there are in your area much less what they sell there.

I’ll give you a very specific example as this is something very recent. And this is actually what triggered this post.

In the ebi tempura recipe, someone asked back in 2010 where I bought dashi powder and I said Landmark at Trinoma. A few days ago, over two years after first where-did-you-buy-dashi-powder question was asked and answered, a totally different reader asked in the same thread, “Aside from landmark where can i buy dashi powder coz i live in san juan.” My reply: “I don’t want to be rude but since it’s your area, and you’re the one looking, you should check out the stores in your area instead of asking me to source the ingredients for you.”

Do you have a recipe for this-or-that, and can you please share it?

Share it how? If I have it, it would be in the blog and all anyone has to do is use the search bar which is on every page of the blog.

And if it is NOT on the blog, there’s a reason — I have not made it. Maybe because I haven’t heard of it yet or maybe because it’s something that I don’t like or something that my family won’t eat. If it’s something I haven’t heard of before, I take the request as a suggestion and food for thought. I Google the name of the dish, if it looks interesting and something we’d like to eat at home, maybe, I’ll make it. And only after making it will I post it on the blog.

Please understand: I share recipes ONLY of dishes that I have cooked. Think of it as a personal endorsement of something I have tried, tested and liked. It’s my form of quality control for the content of the blog. And what I cook depends on what we want to eat and not on what readers request. I will not spend money to cook something requested by a reader knowing that my family would never eat it. It’s my house, it’s my family and it is for them that I cook — what recipes eventually get posted in the blog are results of an attempt to share experiences.

I repeat: every recipe I post here, I have tried, I have documented and I have tweaked for optimum results. I did not just pick up these recipes somewhere and copy-pasted them here so I can have something to post and share to readers. I KNOW that a lot of bloggers do that. I KNOW that many bloggers take photos of cooked dishes from restaurants and post them together with a recipe picked up from somewhere, making it appear that the photo is the direct result of the accompanying recipe. I DON’T DO THAT. And I will never ever share a recipe that I cannot vouch for just to gain a few page views.

So, before asking Do you have a recipe for this-or-that, and can you please share it?, try the search bar first. Can’t find it here? There’s Google.

So this is the part where I repeat the first sentence in this post: My friend Joel is right when he says that Filipinos like to be spoon fed. All the instances I have written about above all point to this glaring truth. They are all variations of the same thing — most Filipino readers want things to be handed to them all prepped up and ready.

Well, I don’t spoon feed. Not because wala kong pakisama (how do you say that in English — no sense of community?) but because I don’t want to reinforce the already infamous perception that we are a lazy people. I am a believer in that saying that if you give a hungry man some fish, he will eat for a day; but if you teach him how to fish, he will have something to eat for the rest of his life.

I am just so very glad that I do have readers who take that philosophy to heart — like Carol B. and Eden, and you can just click on their linked names so you can read their exact words.

The thing is, a recipe is a guide. And I always say this: The ingredients and measurements given are all in accordance with the taste buds of the person who cooked the dish. A person following a recipe must learn to make adjustments to suit his taste. Cooking is not the ability to follow instructions to the dot. It is creating something that you would actually want to eat and enjoy the process. And as with everything else in life, cooking is not something you’ll learn by being a lazy bum who insists that everything be sourced, tested and solved for you by someone else.

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