These days there are legions of bloggers, forming a veritable army of individuals tapping dutifully on their keyboards from all around the world. And for those who aren’t blogging, there are still brigades of those tweeting and providing regular status updates on facebook. All of which can seem very much like overkill.
But maybe it isn’t.
I’ve been listening to Bill Bryson’s At Home, in which he traces the development of the modern home back to its 18th and 19th Century origins. Along the way, which at times can be somewhat meandering, he discusses the lives of servants, the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the invention and development of electricity, and the advent of modern gardening.
These short histories are laid out in incredible detail, and offer the reader a first-hand account of life at that time. And there are other moments where Bryson admits that certain facts or circumstances simply “are not known, because no one wrote it down.” In other words, the history of the home and what we know about its development we know because someone bothered to write that stuff down.
Most times, that information was not glamorous. It was, by definition, quotidian. What did a servant do on a day-to-day basis? What was the reaction to the first electric light bulbs? What did people think of tea when it was first introduced?
As these answers are incorporated into the text, I couldn’t help but think that yesterday’s carefully written note in a bedside diary might be today’s status message. “Took fifteen gallons of hot water up two flights of stairs to bath the master of the house. Took fifteen gallons of cold water back down, once the master’s bath was finished.” The proper emoticon for that is a little harder to imagine. As is “liking” such a post, were it to be found on facebook.
Today, bloggers love to post what they’ve eaten, complete with pictures and reviews. Yesterday, that was also true. In one passage, a woman describes her first encounter with tea leaves, as they begin to make their way into England from China. As politely as possible — it is Victorian England after all — she expresses her distaste with the item that her friend has served her. While she could, no doubt, imagine that someone else might like it, she, herself, does not care for bread sprinkled with tea leaves!
It’s impossible to know what insights future historians might cull from today’s army of bloggers and tweeters. But that information — that daily encounter, nightly meal, hourly job — may prove as valuable down the road as yesterday’s diaries were for At Home.
So blog and tweet and update away!
TUSCAN WHITE BEANS
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten’s How Easy is That?
DOWN TIME: Requires overnight soaking
PREP TIME: 20 minutes
COOK TIME: 45 minutes plus 30 minutes
YIELD: Serves 4 to 6
WHAT TO GRAB:
1 pound dried white beans (cannellini beans or great northern)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, the base diced (discard the stalks and fronds)
5 carrots, peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. The night before, soak the beans in a large bowl with water to cover by at least 2 inches.
2. The next day, drain the beans, rinse well, and place them in a large stockpot. Add twice as much water as you have beans. Bring the beans to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes, until the beans are very tender. Skim off any foam that accumulates.
3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel, onions, and carrots, and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Drain the beans, and add them to the vegetables. Add 1 cup of the stock, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until creamy. Stir in the Pecorino, season to taste, and serve hot.