FAQs

Everything you ever wanted to know about SoupAddict and probably some stuff you really don’t care about.


Recipes

Tell me about your recipes.

My recipes have been described, now and then, as being, involved. I don’t take that as an insult.

Although there are some, you’re not going to find a treasure trove of 5-ingredient meals here. It’s not my thing. (At least not right now — I reserve the right to change my mind. :) ) There are tons of blogs out there doing the whole quick-and-easy-week-night-recipes-for-busy-families thing. I support that 100%.

Because, honestly, sometimes the best meal in the entire world is a plate full of pasta, smothered in tomatoey sauce, and topped with cheese. 15 minutes, done. [muah!]

But this blog is a reflection of the kind of cooking I’m passionate about. First and foremost, I love to cook and bake seasonally. And, coupled with the fact that I’m a vegetable gardener, my spring-summer-fall recipes tend to be centered around the fruits from my garden and my weekly visits to the local farmers’ markets. This is how humans were meant to eat, and embracing seasonality and whole foods has opened so many doors for exploration — it’s never boring in the kitchen.

I also talk about my garden. A lot. Not to sound earth-mothery, but our nourishment comes from the land (and that includes the animals we consume — they’re also sustained by the land), not the drive-thru. In my mind, it’s not possible for one to speak knowledgeably about cookery without knowing where our food comes from and how it got here (wherever your “here” happens to be).

I don’t expect everyone to have a garden, so that’s why I talk about mine. You should know what a real, organic, open-pollinated tomato looks like (hint: it’s not the perfectly round, bright red cue balls from the big box grocery stores). You should know that corn is not a vegetable but rather a grain, like wheat. You should know that the world’s most delicious herbs can be grown on your windowsill.

Winter cooking takes a different approach. It’s comfort food season, and I let creativity run wild. Soup takes center stage — which is not to say that soup can’t be served all year long … of course it can — and is filled with warm, earthy ingredients and rich, savory notes.

Beyond that, I love to push flavors to the edge. I love to take simple dishes and rev-up the ingredients with extra oomph. Sometimes the result is a crazy, totally un-thought-out mash-up that comes out so wonderfully it makes me teary-eyed.

Sometimes it’s as simple as drawing out an ingredient’s inherent flavor with an unexpected cooking technique (potato and leek soup becomes pan-fried whole potatoes and caramelized leek soup, resulting in a huge flavor bump. Same ingredients, totally not the same soups).

This may or may not be your thing. That’s okay. But I really hope it *is* your thing, and that you’ll hang around, and see what’s what.

One note about my recipe instructions: whenever you see a 7+ step recipe, before you groan inwardly and head for the Back button, please skim the instructions first. With very few exceptions, my recipes are not complicated — they are doable by everyone. I’m a long-time technical writer, and it’s been drummed into me not to skip details and steps for the sake of brevity.

Rather than just abbreviating instructions down to a mere handful of sentences (which is not at all helpful for beginning cooks – something many well-published cookbook writers tend to forget), I’m always working to refine my approach to discover the balance between detail and brevity — what can be assumed, and what needs to be drawn out.

Can I use your recipe on my blog?

Of course! All I ask is that you give credit to SoupAddict and link back to my post containing the recipe. Remember, food blogging best practices dictate that aside from the list of ingredients, you should talk about the recipe using your own words, including the instructions (which should explain how you made the dish, not how I made it).

 
Can I use your photos on my blog?

You should seek permission before using any of my photos on your site for any reason. I can be reached at soupaddict [at] gmail [dot] com.

 
I prepared your recipe exactly as written, but it didn’t work. What went wrong?

Honestly — and I’m saying this without the slightest bit of snark — I don’t know. Since I’m not in the kitchen cooking with you, it’s impossible to identify where your preparation diverged from mine. Maybe it’s differences in equipment. Maybe “medium” on my stove is more like “medium-low” on yours. Or maybe your preparation was exactly like mine, but you didn’t care for the result even though you were expecting to. It happens.

Every recipe that I create has been prepared at least twice in its final form (so, that doesn’t count all the run-throughs that resulted in repairs or tweaks).

For recipes created by others, I generally prepare them only once, but if they appear on my blog, they worked for me.

Believe me, I understand the frustration of a recipe not coming together. (I stopped using the recipes from the web site of a certain domestic diva because the staff recipes are so frequently just wrong. That happens when development kitchens with professional equipment forget that us mere mortal home cooks do not have heat diffusers for every burner on our stoves.)

Cooking is, in very large part, an act of confidence. The more you practice, the more intuitive you will become — about ingredients, equipment and techniques — and the more confident you’ll be predicting the outcome of a recipe.

 
Can I substitute ingredient X with ingredient Y in your recipe?

The likely answer is, I dunno. But I think you should give it a try! Nothing teaches better than experience, and whether the effort fails or not, you will have learned something.

 
What’s your favorite cookbook?

There’s a lot of really good work being done out there right now. My “favorite” cookbook changes constantly. But, I will, instead, name my favorite cooking-related book: The Flavor Bible. It is a rare day that goes by when I don’t have this book propped open somewhere.

The Flavor Bible is a reference book that takes an ingredient — and it includes thousands of them — and lists all the other ingredients that work perfectly well with it. It’s probably better if you see it in action — the screenshot below of page 54 was taken from Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.

Does basil go well with avocados? Yes! How about crab? Yes! Ginger? Maybe not. (But that doesn’t mean, of course, that you shouldn’t try it.) If you like to create your own recipes, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

One unexpected advantage of this book is that it’s given me a tremendous education on ingredients, far beyond what I anticipated. While I was consciously perusing the book for something that goes with, say, radishes, I was subconsciously absorbing way more information than I thought. I hope that makes sense. To put it another way, I was expecting a sort of Garanimals approach to putting foods together, but what I’ve gotten out of it instead are much more sharply-honed instincts about flavor affinities. And I’m really, really grateful for that.

Buying tip: if you’re looking at the screenshot above wondering, what the heck would I do with that? then this book is probably not for you. At least not yet. There are no recipes; just flavor profiles.

(I purchased this book a couple years ago out of my own pocket — I do not receive compensation from the authors for saying nice things about it. :) (although I do receive a ridiculously teeny tiny commission from Amazon if you click the link above and buy the book). I honestly love this book. But don’t just take my word for it: This book won the 2009 James Beard Book Award for Reference and Scholarship.)


Photography

 
What camera do you use?

I have a Canon Rebel XSi. It’s an older model, and considered an entry level camera, but it fits my needs perfectly. (I’m sure, however, that I would find the Canon 5D to also perfectly fit my needs if I had a few extra g’s lying around.) I use two lenses: a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II (purchased instead of the kit lens), and a Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens. I’d really love to have a 24-70mm f 2.8, but, that’s just not in the budget right now (see above re: g’s).

 
What is your philosophy on lighting?

Being 100% self-taught, my views on lighting have evolved over time, and probably not on a very sensible path.

When I first started photographing food for posts on my blog, the prevailing mantra was natural light, natural light, natural light. I was cool with that, but it took a long time and hundreds of photographs before I mastered (using that term very, very loosely) the natural lighting available in my home. I have a lot of natural light, but very few places near that light to set up a spread, except under the north-facing window in my kitchen, which yields very temperamental lighting.

View any post on this blog in 2010, and you’ll see a consistent theme of lighting and composition. No awarding-winning photos there, but satisfactory to me.

The problem, however, is that I have, at best, a 3 to 4 hour stretch in the early afternoon when the natural light in the kitchen is bright enough for photography. That time constraint severely limits the number of recipes I can photograph for my blog. (And what’s the point of a food blog without photos, right?)

If I want to photograph a batch of brownies and a chicken dish, both would have to be completed within that 3-4 hour time frame, which is well ahead of dinner (so, if I’m serving the chicken with dinner, it would have to be refrigerated and then reheated, for no reason other than it had been photographed two hours earlier).

So, why bother taking photos at all?

If you’re still here, reading this (Hi!), then you probably already know the answer: because food photography is fun. Frustratingly, head-scratchingly, marvelously fun. And once you begin to take better and better photographs, you just don’t want to go back. Yes, I could (and did and, in fact, occasionally still do) photograph dinner under yucky indoor overhead lighting. But those photos always fill me with regret that I didn’t try harder in the moment.

Mid-2011 welcomed a much needed change in perspective. As much as I like natural lighting, I was bored with my repertoire. Black cutting board, black back drop. Same early afternoon lighting. Same time limitations. It was time — past time, in fact — to explore new techniques.

That’s when I learned about a simple studio tabletop lighting kit for photographs taken outside of that early-afternoon time frame.

Compare these two photos (taken between 4 and 6pm on a later October day — about an hour and a half after the optimal natural daylight time):


I have an immense appreciation of this atmospheric, almost overcast light. 101cookbooks.com uses similar lighting to excellent effect. But.

 


Now I’m digging the color saturation I can achieve with studio lighting. I have no doubt that I will evolve away from this set up as well, but for now, I’m savoring the change and the challenge of trying something new. Not to mention the freedom to take photographs any dang time I want.

Mid-2012 update: I’ve found a sweet spot in my house for spring-summer-fall lighting in my north-facing dining room. I always thought this area far too dark for photography, but it not only is not too dark, it’s quite lovely and light enough to snap snaps until dusk. So for now, I’ve packed away the studio light (which I’ll undoubtedly need again in the winter).

 
Where do you buy your styling props?

Oy vey.

In 2011, I went through a serious prop-buying phase and am now the proud owner of more mis-matched plates and bowls than I can count, along with weird, what-was-I-thinking items, like honeycomb-patterned tea cups in mustard yellow.

But here’s the thing: I don’t care for overly-styled food photos. The question of whether salt and pepper shakers make my photos more interesting matters not to me.

The food should speak for itself.

A picture of pasta salad doesn’t need to be laid out in a story. It needs to be positioned attractively, lighted and white-balanced properly, and be in focus. That’s all. Everything else is just distraction.

However, if you want to learn table-scaping from the masters, visit Tartelette, White on Rice Couple and Cannelle et Vanille.

I like these folks for different reasons. Tartlette sometimes leans on the side of being prop heavy, but her single-subject shots are killer. A bowl of eggs. A pan of roasted tomatoes. A plate of radishes.

WORC are loud proponents of the food-styling-should-tell-a-story schtick, but their food pictures (I feel) do anything but. In a good way. In a very good way. When I look at pictures of their recipes, I don’t dream about the salty blue Caribbean or blustery Scottish Highlands or steamy Asian markets. Or develop a mental movie of how that avocado got to that plate. I just want to eat their food. Their photos make me want to take their recipe, cook that recipe, and then eat that food.

Isn’t that why we do this?

Cannelle et Vanilla … well … I like her photo aesthetic for a reason that I can’t quite pinpoint. Prop overload (spoon overload, for cryin’ out loud). Color chaos. Napkin neuroses. And I love it. Love it love it love it. Aran can showcase in-season ingredients like no one else. Hers is the only blogger-produced cookbook I plan on buying in 2012, and I’ll be treating it like a coffee table book.

 

The Blog

What blogging software do you use?

WordPress. WordPress, all the way. This blog began on the free version, at wordpress.com, but I have since moved it to a self-hosted set-up.

 
Who designed your blog?

Good WordPress blogs start with great WordPress themes. When I set up SoupAddict.com back in 2008, I selected a simple theme — Vigilance — that fit my basic requirements and also didn’t require a lot of style sheet manipulation to produce what I wanted.

Years later, when I had specific changes I wanted to make to both the design and the site layout itself, I searched (seemingly endlessly) for a new theme. But I kept coming back to Vigilance. I’m very pleased that I ended up purchasing the Pro version of Vigilance for my blog redesign.

All design graphics on this site (including the SoupAddict logo) were created by me, and I’ve made several code-level changes to the Vigilance theme to create the layout that I wanted. The peeps at The Theme Foundry did an amazing job with the coding of this theme. There hasn’t been a single thing I’ve wanted to do but couldn’t because of a limitation in the theme templates.

I’ve also installed a number of custom plugins and widgets to make the site behave the way I want.

 
Why don’t you show full posts on your rss feed and notification emails? It’s annoying to have to click through to your blog.

Yeah, blame the Interwebs. Content theft is a very real problem, and rss feeds makes it super easy for content scrapers (i.e., thieves) to effortlessly steal entire posts right from the comfort of their own readers. I won’t be a party to that. Your time is valuable to you; my content is valuable to me. Think of your rss feed as a sort of text version of Pinterest: when a picture on Pinterest looks interesting, you click it (you have no choice but to click through – that’s how it works). Same with rss feeds: when the intro to one of my posts sounds interesting, click through. Don’t be surprised as more and more of your rss subscriptions serve only portions of posts: content theft is out of control and is getting harder and harder to shut down.

 
What is your comment policy?

Gosh, it’s so weird to think that a little itty bitty food blog like this one needs such a bureaucratic sounding thing as a “policy” for leaving comments, but, there you have it.

I’m not a full-time blogger — I maintain this dot on the interwebs in my spare time — but make no mistake:  many, many hours of thought and writing and coding and photography and behind-the-stove time are poured into this blog. As such, I feel quite possessive of it.

And when ya’ll take a few minutes out of your day to leave a kind word, thoughtful statement, funny anecdote, or sincere question, it really makes my day.

Seriously.

I’m notified on my phone when a comment is left, so, I might be having a crappy day at the office, and my phone dings, and I dig in to see what’s what, and find a sweet little note … well, that immediately brightens the moment.

But, not everyone uses the comment space for such kind ends. And so, heretoforthwith, is the comment policy:

1.  Thoughtful, relevant comments and questions are always welcome here on SoupAddict.com. I might not respond to every comment that is left, but rest assured that I read and appreciate them.

2.  Civil discourse done with care and respect is also welcome. SoupAddict is a grown-up and can take negative comments directed at this blog’s content or at SoupAddict’s opinions, so long as they are relevant to the topic — IOW, negative comments will not automatically be deleted. I know many bloggers do this to keep their comment sections sparklingly positive, but I do not, as long as there is a thoughtful point to it.

3.  Harsh language, rude behavior, insults, personal attacks, links to content I deem inappropriate, and any manner of spam will not be tolerated. Not one little bit. I am almost always within arm’s reach of an internet-capable device and can, and do, delete such comments immediately and without apology or explanation. Also — and this has been happening more and more recently — I will not tolerate someone doing a drive-by and leaving an insult on recipe that they clearly haven’t tried. I will take honest, constructive criticism from someone who’s tried a recipe, but will not tolerate a troll leaving a snip of unwarranted malice on my blog. I’m sorry you’re having a bad day, but don’t take it out on me. Find a loved one to give you a hug. You’ll feel better.

4.  I recently installed a plugin called “CommentLuv” that allows you to include an optional link to your own most recent blog post below your comment (you’ll need to enter the URL of your blog in order for the post link to appear). This is, essentially, a backlink to your own work — backlinks are good things — and the link will remain active for as long as I have the plugin running. I love the food blogger community, and this a small gesture of goodwill on my part to help link like-minded folks who love cooking, baking, and gardening. And soup!

5.  Include a link to outside content only if you think it’s relevant to the post’s topic. Too many links in one comment gets my spam filter all agitated, and your comment will undoubtedly end up rejected.

6.  Comments left by others are solely their opinions and do not necessarily reflect SoupAddict’s views on any given topic. SoupAddict and all guest contributors are held harmless from any and all comments left on this site.

7.  To sum up, I reserve the right to delete or edit any comment at any time, for any reason. And I reserve the right to change my mind about anything I just said in this here comment policy, at any time, for any reason. But one thing I probably won’t change my mind about is the fact that soup is awesome. Just sayin’.

8.  SoupAddict gets a tad grumpy when thinking about the need for things such as comment policies, so, we’ll just call it a day now, okay? :)