Domestic Failures: Bitten By Bittman

Awful Soup

This soup was truly awful; even Wonk the Plank wanted to throw it out.

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!”



  1. Martha said

    I’ve been had by him too! By this advice “cook rice as you would pasta, in lots of salted water”. Of course, I didn’t realize until it was too late that the holes on my colander were too big and ended up with wet, sloppy rice clogging up my sink. DAMN YOU BITTMAN.

    ps I love your blog! I like reading your recaps of Top Chef even though I’ve never seen it.

    • moderndomestic said

      Martha! How are you!? Really – cook rice in a big thing of water? I’ve always been totally happy with the two parts water to one part rice ratio. Some things just don’t need to be improved.

      I always wonder how people like the Top Chef recaps who don’t watch the show. You should watch it sometime – if only to oggle Fabio and Tom Colicchio.

      I’m so glad you read the blog!

  2. Victoria Leavelle said

    That is hilarious. I actually read that article and thought the same thing. “Hmm, homemade croutons can’t be that hard to make.” And, “well, maybe I’ll get around to making stock of my own one day.” But, thankfully, I haven’t tried. Props to you for giving it a shot, though.

  3. Tony said

    I had no idea MB condones cooking rice like pasta. I have never tried any of his personal recipes myself, but wasn’t under the impression that they didn’t work. Thanks for the heads up 🙂
    btw, I dunno if you’re too traumatized to try your own stock again, but if you’re not, you should try making chicken stock. I make my own chicken stock from a whole chicken and then I use the leftover over-boiled (almost tasteless) chicken meat in a full-of-flavor barley soup that is the best thing since chicken noodle soup. The soup recipe I’ll probably post on my blog at some point, but you should totally give the chicken stock a try if you’re up for it!
    ps. great TC commentary, too.

    • moderndomestic said

      I mean, don’t get me wrong – I love Mark Bittman’s column, but I do think that sometimes his stuff doesn’t work out. I had a friend who had “How To Cook Everything,” and she wasn’t impressed with basic stuff like his pie dough.

      I think I’ll probably be up for making real chicken stock soon. Thanks for the tip. I do find it difficult to force myself to purchase chicken that I’ll just be using for stock (since meat is expensive, and heavy – I carry all my own groceries home), but if I can re-use it in something else that would solve that problem. Let me know when you post your recipe and I’ll try it out.

      Glad you like the TC recaps. I can’t believe it’s almost over.

  4. […] the macaroni is cooking, wash the celery (ideally, it should be aged 2-3 weeks), spread some peanut butter on and stick your ants (raisins) on […]

  5. Angellaa said

    Hmm, very cognitive post.
    Is this theme good unough for the Digg?

  6. […] and celery and trying it.  And now that some reaction to this statement has appeared, here,  here, but especially here, I’m also relieved that other people have pretty much the same reaction […]

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