Sharing much-adapted recipes while giving credit where it is due

Since I'm a rather reluctant cook—producing meals because I or my family need to eat, not from a sense of creative purpose—I have a lopsided relationship to recipes, whether found in a cookbook or online.

Those few recipes that hit the sweet spot of "easy to prepare" yet "delicious to eat" while simultaneously "nutritious and healthful" are, almost literally, treasures. I cherish them. I wouldn't want to live without them.

If I share a recipe on this blog, it's because I find it life altering in its perfection for these needs/wants. I probably won't do this very often.

cookbooks-on-shelf-1.jpg

On the other hand, the search for appropriate recipes is a frustration to a non-cook like me who's just trying to get a meal on the table.

"Easy" and "simple" are often slapped upon a series of steps that I find arduous (lots of chopping), painful (washing lots of vegetables under cold water), disgusting (slimy hands-on handling of meat), or terrifying (flaming cooktop vs. the safety of my nicely enclosed slow cooker or oven.)*

Even seemingly more straightforward tags like "gluten free" are often attached to recipes that abound in other taboo ingredients or inclusions I can't conscientiously allow in my family's diet.

As a parent whose kids have always benefited digestively by avoiding dairy, the addition of a celiac diagnosis for another much-loved family member has compounded the difficulty of satisfying everyone without almost literally poisoning someone else.

Which is to say, I almost never find a recipe that doesn't require a little modification for my purposes. More often, recipes require a lot of changes before I can even attempt them.

All of which brings me, at long last, to my point today.

Bear with me. Really, I'm getting there.

There's a fair amount of angst amongst internet recipe creators about ownership and giving credit where credit is due.

I get it. Attribution is important. It's a laudable goal. I completely support the rights of those who create content to be acknowledged for, and compensated for, their work. I don't steal music. I only post my own mediocre photos (or my husband's much better ones) to this blog.

On the other hand, I also totally get why recipes are not protected by copyright law in the same manner as many other written works.

Here is a really nice explanation of how US copyright law applies to recipes.

A list of ingredients and the basic steps to combine them are too far removed from the tangible reality of what a recipe really is. It's like protecting the rights to a complete assembly instruction manual vs. declaring you own the act of rotating a screwdriver to drive in a screw…

When I use a recipe, it ends up looking like this after a few attempts:

recipe Waffle Gluten Free

Gluten Free Waffle frozen - 1

Resulting waffles, frozen, because I hear people like to look at pictures of food

If I find a recipe online that I'm going to try, I print it out. I'll use it "as is" if it will print on one page. If I'm using a cookbook from the library, I photocopy the required pages for a given recipe.

I need a print out to use while cooking—I've come far too close to destroying my iPad trying to skip this step and use a virtual recipe in the actual kitchen. I've tried for decades to switch to a digital recipe collection, and failed completely at every attempt. I would never subject a library book to my kitchen shenanigans.

Cookbook binder - 1

If I use a recipe and like it, or if it's going to print out on multiple pages or with multiple photos illuminating nothing confusing, I cut and paste the text into an editor.

I'm bound and determined to create a document that formats a recipe how I like to read it.

I'm very text-oriented. I only want a photo if it clarifies a step. Best example: bread dough stages.I find photos of completed dishes superfluous, not inspirational. For my use, pictures are routinely discarded.

I also strip away narrative content because it's a distraction. It might have led me to try a recipe, but I don't need to read that again. I've already been convinced to make the dish. If something seems important, I might move it to the end and add an Author's Note section.

For the past year or so, I've started appending the link to my document when I find a recipe online. It never occurred to me to do that even a few years ago. I wasn't publishing anything, and I'm not the friend people ask for culinary inspiration.

Odds are, if a recipe becomes a part of my life, I'll never want to reference the original source again. Eventually, I will have the essentials of the original recipe as text in my computer, and I will have added many notes, and adjusted many ingredients. I will have made the dish dozens of times, optimizing the process for my skills in my kitchen.

It's a tricky thing to say when the recipe stopped being "the originator's" and became "mine," but I believe that does happen eventually. How would you quantify that shift? Any change at all? 10% changed? 25%? Or in years that have passed? Or oceans and continents crossed?

If I'm this free and loose with a recipe, I can't imagine how much more innovation is introduced by serious cooks.

All of which is to say, excluding acts of outright theft perpetrated by scoundrels who copy and paste content wholesale to their own sites, I think there is room for interpretation about where your content ends and another's begins.

If I post a recipe here, I will make every attempt to accurately state its origins, but I may make mistakes. I may not remember my own source, but I might recall the story of how a dish grew to prominence in my own humble kitchen.

My personal stake in this subject is simply feeding my family nourishing food at a level of effort I can afford to undertake, and keeping track of how I did it.

Sharing a recipe represents my sincere wish to save another person a little effort, perhaps making his or her life better in that moment.

I'm curious to know how this topic resonates with others. Is there more that should be said? Am I wrong if I share a recipe whose origin I don't know?

 

*We can talk about my weird fear of the stove top some other time. My husband assumes I was burned at the stake in a former life. But, seriously, the gas stove is ON FIRE, INSIDE MY HOUSE. How can that be right? Someone should EXTINGUISH that!

Windows, culture & great comforts: how do we learn to share what we take for granted?

The world has gotten so much more interconnected. My tiny blog has been viewed by readers from all over the world. Yet, still, we miss opportunities to share our best ideas about life’s most basic conveniences.

My thoughts today are prompted by windows. Specifically, what I’ve thought of as “German windows” since my first visit to that country in the late 1990’s. A recent internet search tells me they are referred to as “Tilt and Turn” or simply “Tilt Turn” windows in English-speaking markets.

Do Germans even have a special name for this type of window, or is it just “a window” because the technology is expected?

The details of why I love these windows are a little off topic for this post, but they are uniquely functional fenestrations. I was reminded of that fact during a recent stay in a “passive house” (i.e., energy saving construction built using European “green” concepts.) Tilt & Turn windows might solve a challenge in my home, so I went looking for sources in the USA.

My specific home improvement aside, I was left with a renewed frustration about the difficulty of implementing well-tested, obviously useful technology that’s ubiquitous in another country here in my home.

Having traveled, I have some idea of the scope of great ideas for making comfortable homes that have developed around the globe. I’d love to bring some of these innovations back with me. Talk about the ultimate souvenir! But, to do so is almost impossible on a middle class budget.

I learned that this problem exists years ago as a first time homeowner with old steam radiators. An 80 year old unit needed to be replaced, ideally with something much narrower and taller. The existing unit stuck out ten inches past an adjacent doorjamb and into the hall! The plumber swore no such radiator existed for sale in the USA. I wasn’t knowledgeable enough then to realize how limited the repertoire of a standard contractor was (and is.)

I now have a plumber who enjoys learning about cutting edge technologies in his field. He’s taught me a lot about what can be had, domestically, and at what (high!) price. Thanks to him, at least I have options to evaluate for myself.

Scottish castle - 1

Scottish castle that had some fine modern radiators

Way back in 2002, I could have purchased the tall, slim, wall-mounted radiator I’d seen in Scotland, contrary to the old plumber’s thoughts. I couldn’t have afforded the system upgrades necessary to use it in my old house, however.

Our tradespeople frequently learn through mentoring relationships and apprenticeships—a tried and true method, undoubtedly—but it appears that the process precludes much exposure to innovation.

Couldn’t a better job be done in sharing building products and processes, at least between regions with similar climates?

Conservative behavior does make sense when we are talking about a home. For so many, it represents the bulk of his financial resources; the ultimate “investment.” No one wants to spend foolishly when it comes to her nest egg.

The flip side to this, however, is a failure to adopt even simple improvements that save resources over the mid- to long-term. The eventual costs end up staggeringly large. Also, right now, we enjoy less comfort at home.

Until you’ve traveled away from home and experienced life as another culture lives it, it is hard to even identify your own most mundane expectations and prejudices as such. Wearing shoes indoors or not? Various household appliances as luxuries vs. necessities? Local swimming pool, recreation center, or library as nice perk, or indispensable locus of community life?

Because I’ve traveled—and indulged a personal hobby of reading and occasionally obsessing about foreign cultures—I enjoy my daily life more.

I use a Japanese deep soaking tub for arthritis relief. I can’t imagine life anymore without an electric kettle (a habit I picked up in the UK) for preparing my tea. My husband and I share sleep more soundly with bed linens arranged in the German tradition—two separate twin duvets of wildly different warmth/weight on our king sized bed.

Most of these are inexpensive objects easily blended into a typical American home. My tub, for example, is a portable model that fits in my shower stall, something like an overgrown version of child’s wading pool, but it provides more comfort than any Western bath I’ve tried. I’d love to remodel my outdated bathroom someday and include a beautiful, high quality, built-in tub of this type, but that may never be economically feasible.

Also, the most intriguing aspect of the Japanese tub—an integrated heater that keeps a bath at a ready temperature—is not allowed in the USA. I think it is the cultural disconnect between people who wash before they get in to soak (Japanese) vs. the idea that the tub is the bath in which you soap and scrub. Only chemically disinfected hot tubs can be kept hot in America.

All of the previous paragraph is assuming I’ve got a handle on the actual code issues with these heaters, which I may well be misunderstanding. I have no background in the building trades, nor am I a particularly handy homeowner. Here’s more about using an ofuro in the Japanese tradition.

There are real technical reasons these are the hard innovations to incorporate. Building codes are different. Electrical requirements are different. Standards are different.

But, if we don’t know the technology exists to improve our lives, how can we ask for it?Boy Harnessed the Wind book cover photo

Another influence on these thoughts. A book I’m reading about how a boy growing up in Malawi experienced, and learned to work with, technology.

How do we, as interconnected citizens of the world, in constant contact with each other, share the best, most comforting aspects of our lives?

Can we do a better job of getting the word out?

Can we share our greatest comforts?

Are land line phones as archaic as the nuclear family?

My husband and I have a long-running joke that goes back, I think, to our first experience traveling together. Our shorthand for this very long discussion is:

“It’s all about the sharing, and the commitment.”

It began with a difference of opinion (ongoing!) about combining both of our belongings, intermixed, into two shared suitcases vs. packing individual bags. I prefer the former; he prefers the latter.

DH believes this is an entirely biological imperative: I am the female who needs full relationship participation from my mate and maximal expression thereof so I can ensure the successful maturation of our offspring. I’m putting my eggs (wardrobe) in his nest (suitcase), so to speak.

My argument on the subject is that suitcases are regularly lost, and the distribution of at least one full outfit per person in the other bag means less chance of radical inconvenience if a bag goes missing. It is also nice for my loving feelings that we are sharing, which corroborates the commitment.

I’m right about this, of course*, and I follow the same strategy when traveling with my children, so it isn’t all about co-opting DH’s suitcase real estate, but that’s not my main point today.

Moving beyond the travel example, this sort of discussion arises over other daily actions like asking for a bite of his meal (the sharing), or asking him to weigh in on a household decision he might not really care about (the commitment.)

Sharing and commitment are the very nexus of healthy relationships. It’s hard to imagine a family thriving without them.

So what does any of this have to do with the great 19th century innovation of the land line telephone?

For the first time since phones became ubiquitous in the USA, cellular only households now outnumber those with a traditional land line. This is hardly surprising, and there are a number of downsides to this trend that have been covered by major news outlets. The most obvious relate to dispatching emergency services, power outages, and rural or elderly populations who depend heavily on wired phone lines.

Nowhere have I seen mentioned what I’ve found the most personally disruptive feature of a cell phone only culture: it is no longer possible to call a family as a unit. I have to choose an individual to contact, even when my business is with the whole group.

Sometimes, that’s inconvenient: “Hello, neighbors, your garage door is open and the sun’s going down,” or, “I’m driving by and want to drop something off to whomever is at home.”

No, it’s not the end of the world to spray a series of texts or voicemail messages, but it fundamentally ignores the shared nature of a household and its tangible collective purpose.

Sometimes, that’s kind of sad.

Is a family home anything like a collaboration of tenants in common? Should it be?

For individuals who choose co-housing for financial or other reasons, the personal cell phone is a great innovation. Anyone who’s lived in a dorm or otherwise shared a public hall phone knows the benefits of a private device. But is there any advantage gained by a family in the same scenario?

It’s positively quaint to watch an old TV show set at home and see teens racing to answer the communal family phone, or demanding that a sibling conclude a conversation quickly lest an important incoming call be missed. I showed my kids Family Ties last summer, and I marveled at the repetition of that once common scene—now inconceivable—every time.

I don’t mean to romanticize the inconveniences of sharing, but I do question what role the act of frequent sharing has on members of a family. Might these regular points of casual contact mean a more regular chance to check in? I’d guess that it would act in much the same way that sharing any habitual activity leads to better communication between teens and parents simply by providing a low stress opportunity for it to happen.

And then there’s the effect of sharing itself. Parents spend an awful lot of time and energy teaching this vital skill to their young children. Why? Because we want them to grow up into caring adults who treat others well. Participating in a shared family mode of communication means taking part in the functioning of the family itself.

To be clear, I wouldn’t advocate spending twice to have both a cell phone and land line in a scenario where every penny counts. If you have to choose between buying vegetables and having two phones, I vote for the healthy green stuff. If only one phone is in the budget, a mobile phone provides the most flexibility and would be my choice, too.

But for families more like mine—having the privilege to elect music lessons and summer camp, organic food and restaurant meals—the move away from a family phone seems short-sighted. We are constantly bemoaning how hard it is to communicate with our kids while literally cutting the copper lines we used to share.

Shifting more and more experiences from public to private space—personal iPad viewing vs. negotiating the channel of the family room TV, meals on the run vs. around the family table, and, yes, a social life conducted primarily through a tiny handheld computer instead of in the yard or the living room, or even at the mall or the movie theater—every one of these is a vote, intentional or not, for the primacy of the individual experience over a commitment to the family.

These are choices, conscious or not. They are every individual family’s to make, and I don’t presume to know what’s best for yours.

I do, however, hope that I’ve made my point that these are choices best made based upon one’s values, and not by default. It is easy to convince oneself that a situation is made by circumstances and not by choice. Sometimes, its harder to live with the consequences.

 

*This is a joke. I respect my husband’s opinions as he respects mine. We both think we’re right, obviously. But, probably, I am, which is a joke that’s become recursive…