Monday, August 22, 2011

Recipes: To Share or Not to Share?

For a while, I used to scoff at people who kept their recipes to themselves. Whenever someone asks me what ingredients I used in the dishes I cook up, I promptly scribble down the recipe or simply email or text message it over. A friend of mine once asked me, “How do you make that great chicken dish you served the other night?” I smiled, happy that I can make someone else happy with my culinary concoction. My friend was happy too when I shrugged and told her that life is too short, so why not share the love? I typed up the recipe and emailed her the next morning. A while later, the same friend threw a wonderful dinner with friends. When I asked her about the ingredients of one of the dishes on the dinner table, she smiled coyly and replied, “I can’t tell you.” I frowned and smiled awkwardly, as if I exposed a dark secret. I felt used and taken advantage of. “I gave her my mother’s recipe and she wouldn’t even hint at any ingredient that was in her dish!” I told my husband when I returned home in exasperation. I was so upset that I could not sit down. I knew that it was not personal, but I was hurt! “You know what?” I huffed, standing with my hands on my hips, “I vow never to give anyone any family recipe!” The moment I said that, I felt slightly more calm and at ease. That is, until a very good friend of mine called me up a week ago. “Erzulie! I gave my in-laws what remained of that fabulous salad you brought yesterday night. Do you mind giving me the recipe to your salad dressing?” I cringed, sensing that same feeling of dread in my stomach. Since she is a close friend, I felt that I could afford to be honest to the point of being blunt. “Look honey, I would love to, but I know that recipe will soon make its way to your in-laws’ handful of restaurants. So I'm sorry, I can’t.” It was close to dusk prayer, so I was already tired and grumpy (read: I did not feel like sugarcoating my little speech). Once I said that, my friend grew quiet, “Oh, really?” I sighed, “Yes, really. I had a really bad experience with sharing a recipe and not getting anything in return. I do not want to go down that road again.” Now I am no Martha Stewart but I do have some fantastic family recipes up my sleeve. A part of me feels crappy about being greedy and not dishing them out to anyone who asks especially close friends, but another part of me feels that it is my right (dammit!) to choose what to share and what to keep to myself. I mean if anyone asks me to make my amazing apple pie, it will be my honor to bake the thing. But to share the secrets of how many pinches and sprinkles of what I add to my dishes? That just feels too close for comfort. I guess some people are the same way with where they shop for clothes or jewelry, where they dye their hair or which dermatologist in LA has the best Botox. For me, it starts and ends at the kitchen. Is that such a bad, bad thing?

Chris Isaak - Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing
Three Dog Night - Joy to the World
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Give it a Away

at 9:00 AM


  1. Blogger Delicately Realistic posted at 5:45 AM  
    I know how u feel its annoying when ppl y7nooooon 3ela ingredients.

    But what bugs me more is when u give the recipe they something like 'bs chithi .. eeeee ma yabela shay'

    or worst when u make someone and ppl like and someone says "hatha bs fe kait o kait ma yabela shay"

    thats why i order stuff and keep my cooking for my husband (very rarely) ;p
  2. Blogger Erzulie posted at 1:36 PM  
    DR: i did not care what people said when i told them about the ingredients of whatever it was i cooked. i'm not chef but i also do not do your, for instance, usual, ultra-creamy dessert with chocolate and biscuits. at the end of the day, 9ij ma yabeela shay (ingredients-wise...well, most of the time if you're not cooking something foreign like thai food for example). i'm okay with directing people to recipes online but when it comes to my mother's recipes? i don't know, it feels like i am presenting someone with my nose gene or something...
  3. Blogger 1001Nights posted at 2:00 AM  
    Yes Erzi it IS such a bad, bad thing. Al7een intai 6ayba oo moo na7eesa, you get ONE bad experience and you turn into someone who won't share what ingredients she puts in her food! Ingredients dude! Fil jam3iya you get to see what ingredients are put in things before you even buy them! Ba3dain how do you think your friend felt when you refused to share ingredients for friggin salad dressing!

    You are a decent 6ABEE3IYA woman who is not na7eesa. Don't let weird behavior change the nice things in you. Let it roll off and be who you are - a much much better person than that.

    (p.s. preparing you to accept my asking you for a recipe :p)
  4. Blogger Mrs. Baker posted at 9:06 PM  
    Not such a bad, bad thing AT ALL. I'm with you all the way on this, particularly in Kuwait. Things can get really ugly (as you well and sorely know), especially in terms of business/personal profit from creative theft - in multiple contexts. And once stung, you are forever sore about it. It usually isn't about someone wanting to innocently share in the love that is your original (food) creation as they once did in days of yore, it's about: how can I make myself look clever or make myself $$ out of it. A few years ago at an organic farmers market in the US, I was taking some lovely photographic shots of a vendors beautifully presented baked goods on display for sale. When she asked where I was from and I told her, she insisted that I not use the pictures to steal her ideas to use for profit in Kuwait ( I mean, they really weren't THAT great or original and I never mentioned that I could cook even...)

    In Kuwait it goes overboard. It gets personally cut-throat competitive. It's so exhausting having to constantly defend yourself and fend off sneaky stuff here doesn't it? I had a Kuwait woman relative harass me constantly once for some of my own recipes which I never gave her (she subsequently published a cookbook ..)

    Bottom line: Share pieces of yourself (and your creativity) only with those you trust and love with impunity and without compunction (better to have an open heart and trust first for your own sake). But when someone pulls a sly one on you like dinner party hostess...well, now you know how close to keep her in terms of your friendship don't you? Just redraw and firmly buttress your boundaries.

    BTW, your chicken dish is FABULOUS! :*
  5. Blogger Erzulie posted at 9:55 AM  
    1001: for starters, that chick wasn't the only one who didn't give me the recipe. i had another incident when a girl was obviously trying to change the subject (three times!) whenever i simply started talking about this topic and i had another friend of mine ask me for a recipe and when i gave it to her and asked her for one of her recipes she refused to give it to me! and the recipes that i would like to keep to myself aren't the ones you'd find on the back of the products you buy at the supermarket; they are things that my mother taught me. of course, my mother laughs at me when i tell her that i won't tell anyone about what she taught me but i've been stung so many times that i don't want to give anymore! and yes, at first, i wasn't stingy about recipes (like i said, i used to scoff at people who were so protective of their recipes) but after so many bitter experiences of giving and not getting anything in return, i'm getting a little bit tired of it! huff!

    ms. baker: i couldn't have said it better! that's exactly what i mean. i hope my culinary skills don't backfire when i have you over for dinner :P
  6. Anonymous when sperm meets sperm posted at 5:07 PM  
    "I guess some people are the same way with where they shop for clothes or jewelry, where they dye their hair or which dermatologist in LA has the best Botox."

    Bang on!

    As for you, you are only being human sharing the goodness and spreading the circle of cheer.

    For crying out loud, what is it with some people?! It's only a recipe you were asking your friend to share.

    Isn't the same thing as asking someone to swap their spouse or partner. There would possibly be some issues with that which I totally understand but this is a bit much :)
  7. Blogger Erzulie posted at 2:05 AM  
    sperm: guess everyone has boundaries to what they consider as something precious that is a part of them and who they are. telling someone of a certain recipe you hold true to heart is like giving someone your hair gene because they want a kid that has the same thick hair as you. a little bit of a twisted analogy, but i think you get the picture :P

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