Cooking Your Books

As I have mentioned before, some old acquaintances are startled a lawyer writes speculative fiction, and some new acquaintances are startled a speculative author practised law for many years. Their puzzlement is not utterly without basis: there is some disjunction betwixt the two. But there is one area they are utterly aligned: cooking.

Although the writing styles of law and modern fiction are very different, both jobs favour considering edge-cases: the lawyer to find reasons why a specific case is or is not like cases with particular outcomes; the author to recast the every day in the form of the unusual.

I was reminded of this commonality earlier today. I was reading an article on audience targeting, and came across the following suggestion:

Stop Writing For The Masses

What if you had to cook one dish to feed 10,000 people? By the way, 2,000 of them are vegetarians, 1,800 of them hate the taste of garlic, 750 can’t have salt, and 1,326 of them won’t eat anything with gluten in it. What would the finished product look (or taste) like?

This comparison might appear to be a stretch, but that’s exactly what you are trying to pull off when you try to write to please everyone. When you take out all the spice and all the zest to accommodate all possible tastes, the flavor disappears for everyone. Whatever you do wind up producing that way would be as bland, boring, and unmemorable as the dish above would be. I’d pass on both.

I am not citing the source to spare them embarrassment. If the author or host of the article wishes to be named I am happy to add it.

The immediate reaction of my past and present was to challenge that the meal would be subject to even one of the alleged flaws.

Almost immediately I realised a rice or buckwheat dish (either being gluten-free if not mixed with fillers) would work.

I then spent a few minutes considering flavour balance, and concluded an Arabian-style pilaf could probably meet the other requirements easily.

For this we will need (as you probably don’t wish to cook it for 10,000 people, the quantities are left as an exercise for the reader):

  • saffron threads
  • chopped almonds
  • onion
  • cinnamon
  • lemon zest
  • cumin
  • rice
  • raisins/sultanas
  • dates
  1. Crumble the saffron in a small bowl and cover with hot water.
  2. Dry fry the almonds for about 3 minutes.
  3. Chop and fry the onions for 10-15 minutes on a low heat.
  4. Add the cinnamon, lemon zest, and cumin to the onions and fry for 5 minutes.
  5. Add rice to the spiced onions and fry for 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Add the saffron mixture along with more hot water to cover, to the onions
  7. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the rice is soft.
  8. Chop the dates.
  9. Stir the date pieces and sultanas into the rice mixture.
  10. Serve with a large glass of wine.

I suspect the author of the article would claim the point still stood, and I agree the point about not trying to please everyone is a good one. But how many people would wonder about its validity if they knew it took someone less than 10 minutes to disprove the recipe comparison?

There are many potential insights that could be drawn from this. I am happy to discuss them in the comments.

However, I suspect at least a few of the people who know me well believe the actual reason I wrote this was to share a recipe. Which reveals another possible similarity between lawyers and authors: often the part we enjoy isn’t the part the rest of the world expects.

Do you come up with many of your ideas by challenging an assumption? Do you think the recipe is tasty?


5 thoughts on “Cooking Your Books

  1. I think a more valid point would have been to say that you have 10,000 people from different cultures and you’re try to cook a meal all of them will like.

    For example, we have guys over here on one year placements from China. They hate the food in Norway. I, meanwhile, think it’s okay, but prefer Irish food. The Chinese love to use spices, the Norwegians can’t stand spicy food.

    I agree with the underlying principle the metaphor is trying to demonstrate, anyway. You can’t please everyone. You can please a lot of people if you’re very skilled a la Harry Potter, but some people even hate Harry Potter.


    1. Saying you can’t make a meal everybody loves would work, but there is a gulf between active enjoyment and “bland, boring, and unmemorable”.

      I suspect part of my snark is based on an article about how to find your audience making the sort of sweeping statements that put people who know the area off.


  2. I personally can’t stomach either saffron or cumin, so I won’t be having any.

    I suspect that maintenance work lends itself to the same mindset as law, actually. My concern in my working day is not with the 99 things that are working the way that they should, it is with the 1 that has failed.


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