On Snippishness

I don't really like cleaning dishes. (No one is shocked, I know.) Up until last weekend, I had been making scrambled eggs for myself for lunch on the weekends, but this tends to leave a fair bit of egg residue in the pan, and while it's not too hard to get out, it does kind of clog up the sponge and drain, which I find kind of annoying. So last weekend I decided to try poaching them instead.

I had never poached an egg before in my life. (In fact, I'm not even 100% sure I'd even eaten poached eggs before last weekend.) So I did what I'm wont to do under such circumstances, and looked up a recipe online. I found several YouTube tutorials, including this one. And watching that one, I had a funny realization.

At around the 1'18" mark, the host, Jamie Oliver, mentions that some people add vinegar to the poaching water. He makes a vaguely disgusted look at the camera, and says "Really? Why? Yes, it does firm up the egg, but it tastes like vinegar, so I would suggest don't bother.". This instantly reminded me of many of the authorial asides in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, especially the numerous herbs and spices that he brusquely advises readers not to even bother buying pre-ground.

Some people, I'm sure, find this kind of snippish dismissal off-putting. I find it immensely comforting.

In part, this may be because I do it myself. As anyone who's gone to many concerts with me can attest, there are scads of places in the literature where I'll go "Ugh. Why would anyone play it like that instead of this?", often over objectively minor issues. For example: I can't understand why anyone would ever take the middle section of the second movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Folk Song Suite as briskly as this group does. It should be dignified and restrained, a noble dance instead of a frisky one*. I will freely admit that, objectively, this is not that big a deal. It's less than a minute of music, and it's not like a questionable interpretation does anyone meaningful harm, but I still make disapproving noises under my breath whenever I hear a recording that takes that passage fast.

So part of it may just be like-mindedness, recognizing myself in other people and gravitating towards that. But there's more to it, as well.

This kind of snippish dismissal works to establish authority in an informal context without breaking out of a chatty tone. I don't think this is conscious — certainly I've never done it deliberately — but consider what it manages to convey:

First, it tells us that the speaker has a great deal of experience with what they're talking about. Jamie Oliver doesn't need to offer a cautious defense of vinegar-free poaching; he's tried it, he doesn't like it, he says so, he moves on. This radiates the kind of confidence that only comes with spending a great deal of time with something. I've heard lots of arguments against my position on any number of aesthetic things, and I know I can counter all of them to my satisfaction.

More importantly, tho, it tells us that the speaker is passionate. It tells us that the speaker cares deeply enough about the subject to get bees in their bonnet about the smallest details. The video on poaching eggs is my entire exposure to Jamie Oliver, but I have zero doubt whatsoever that he is supremely, consummately passionate about food. And that's really what I'm looking for when I'm looking for expert advice. Because people who are consummately passionate about things usually care about getting those things right, they care enough to get bogged down in the hairsplitting details, to do the painstaking work of sorting thru myriads of open-ended possibilities with enough rigor to form a specific, grounded opinion on all of them. I may not always agree with that opinion (I can't speak to vinegar in the poaching water, but I'm not bothered by pre-ground allspice, sorry Mark.), but at least I know it's coming from a place of having done the homework.

My feelings about music are not rational. I did not sit down one day and decide after calm and considered deliberation to have the deep and overwhelming reactions to this art that I do. (To be honest, that would be a . . . pretty questionable decision.) And yet I have them. Indeed, that's what I mean when I say I'm passionate about music: I mean that I respond to it in an obsessive, irrational, hotwire-to-the-hindbrain way. That's why Jamie Oliver's comments about vinegar made me feel so at home. Passion resonates with me on a very deep level, and that kind of snippish dismissal is a giant flashing sign that passion is at hand.

*While we're on the subject: I also don't understand the attraction to the outer two movements to this suite. Like, the first one is OK, but the last one is so annoying, and doesn't even work that well as a conclusion, it just kind of stops. I get that you need the last one for balance if you play the first, but given how much better the second one is, just play it as a standalone and don't bother with the other two. Anyway . . .