Monday, November 2, 2015

So Much Cooking, by Naomi Kritzer

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During a flu epidemic, the narrator uses her cooking blog to tell the world about how she and her family make do on short rations. (8,196 words; Time: 27m)

Rating: ★★★★★, Award-Worthy

"," by , appeared in Clarkesworld issue 110, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pros: This is the story of how Natalie became a hero. At the start, she's an ordinary housewife with a food blog. The story introduces the severity of the epidemic bit by bit through Natalie's down-played comments, and this serves to make it feel more real and sinister.

So from the very first paragraph we realize that things will get bad and she'll be tested repeatedly.

The easiest tests are the cooking ones. She expertly finds ways to substitute ingredients and keep cooking. She bravely keeps posting the recipes for her readers.

A harder test is what to do with abandoned children. They have limited space and food, and there's a risk of infection, so taking anyone else in is above and beyond the call of duty. "I just didn't ask that many questions when I heard 'twelve' and 'no heat.'" This lady is made of the finest stuff.

From the moment we learn about the rabbits, we suspect they'll be eating one. And maybe even eating the rat. She and her husband have qualms about killing the animals, but when it come down to saving her husband's life, she does what she has to do, with no regrets.

We learn a lot about the narrator's character by the end of the story. When she kills and skins the rabbit to save her husband's life, we have to admire her. It speaks volumes that she sets another snare in the back. She has become another person. Stronger, more capable, able to do what must be done.

And yet she's still the same, sweet, lady we met at the start. She holds a little party (celebrating an act of kindness) and pays special attention to making it fun for the kids. We almost don't notice just how many people she has saved, because she makes so little of it.

When she says, "Tying ribbons around the handles, I knew: this will all come to an end. We'll survive this, and everyone will go home," we believe her. Her transformation is complete, and the story comes to a natural end.

Cons: The only speculative element in the story is a flu that kills 65% of the victims. The story leaves you wanting to know what happened next. And some of the recipes seem to run on a bit long.

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5 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. I agree with the rating. An epidemic that occurs in the near-future is genre enough for me.

    The recipes and food reflect her situation, so it is emphasis in the story, and it is a food blog.

    She starts off with plenty, but cannot obtain 2 basic items when she first starts running out. Then they gradually run out of some types of food, forcing her to substitute ingredients. We then see her eating the bare basics because that is all that is left, and is forced to hunt for fresh meat as the epidemic keeps going.

    As someone who has had to stock up in the event of an emergency (and had time to think about it) the author made a very good choice in what Natalie could not obtain.

    I am also very keen to try the roast chicken recipe in the story.

    1. I have been wondering when someone would report whether the recipes in the story actually work. :-)

  2. I tried the roast chicken recipe on the 1st page of the story. It is really good and easy to do. The potatoes are delicious. This recipe is a keeper. Very good if you are cooking for people who cannot handle certain spices.

    In case anyone wants to know...

    30 minutes preparation time

    I used 2 teaspoons of dried oregano (you may wish to start with 1 1/2 teaspoons and adjust to taste next time)
    I used 1 teaspoon of salt (I will be using 1 1/2 teaspoons next time)
    1/2 cup of water to roast.
    1 average size garlic bulb (this worked for me)
    1 lemon (this worked for me)

    Also, try to ensure all the potatoes have a piece of chicken on top of it. This helps prevent the potatoes from sticking too much. In my own case, it was only the potatoes on the edges with no chicken on top of them that stuck a bit.

    I cook enough to know that a few of the substitutes that are used in the story should work OK if you had to do it that way for whatever reason.

  3. This story got me thinking about what I could be eating if no supplies came in and I had to manage with what I had in the cupboard for a few weeks until supplies did arrive. It is worth reading from just that perspective alone. I will be adjusting what I keep in my emergency kit as a result of this story.

    Most "SF epidemic" stories concentrate on the health workers or scientists fighting the disease or trying to find the cure. Or finding the source of the illness. Very few look at how an ordinary resident with a family manages.

  4. I agree it's award-worthy. It was such an easy read (I never wondered who any characters were or scratched my head over made-up words) that it would be a fine "gateway" story to recommend to non-SFF readers to lure them into reading SFF. :-)