4. A soup called Roberto
April 19th, 2020
This week I made soup for the people I’m currently living with, and somewhere between chopping kale, draining beans, and scrolling up on an iPad screen with one clean pinky finger, I realised I had a legitimate spring in my step. This might have something to do with the fact that the soup has a first name, but it’s also because of the way its recipe was written.
Much like Yelp reviews, I’m leery of recipes prefaced by 1,500 words of purple pre-amble. Helen Rosner, however, is a terrific writer; I’d read a novel’s worth of her writing to get to a list of ingredients. Her recipe for Roberto originally appeared in the first issue of a newsletter she started in 2016, and my understanding is that it became something of an Instagram sensation earlier this year. I don’t move in the sort of social media circles where soups become hashtags, so it came to me instead via my friend Reina in exchange for my own favourite soup recipe.
What can I say about Roberto? He’s delicious. He’s hearty and filling and obeys Soup Law by somehow managing to be even more delicious reheated the day after making it. But long after finishing the leftovers, I’ve been thinking about Helen Rosner’s original email, which is about more than just sausage and beans. It’s about the recipe as a written form, and about how writing for an audience of one can be a deeply intimate exercise. Rosner wrote Roberto’s recipe for her partner in a style that she knew would speak to the way that he approaches cooking. “The pot will probably look extremely full—don’t worry about that,” it says. “Use the wooden spoon, you’re less likely to burn your mouth”. “Be patient.” (Side-note: May we all be so lucky to find somebody who talks to us, or about us, as lovingly as Rosner does about her partner.)
Whether they consider themselves a writer or not, everybody becomes a stylist when they write something specifically for one person. Whether it’s a recipe or a letter or a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, anything written for somebody you love will have its own specific rhythm and references, all of which say I get you, I got you. Stick with me, kid. Now fetch me a baseball-sized onion.
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