If you watch my Instagram Stories, you probably know that I had a hellish month. A few weeks ago, Portland was hit with “historical” wind and ice storms that downed a bunch of power lines in the city. At some point, over 270,000 households were without power. Our neighborhood lost power for hours at a time on multiple days, with the worst of it being a 36-hour long blackout with no electricity or heat in the freezing weather.
Now I don’t want to be dramatic, but it seemed like our intersection got some of the the worst of it. Multiple live power lines fell around the corner lot of our house. One of these live wires, after dancing around between our parked car and the house, finally got stuck underneath Erlend’s car and ignited it. We had to run out of the house at 5:30AM, underneath some live sparking wires and dangerously cracked tree branches, for fear of the car exploding and the rest of the house catching fire, too. You can read about the whole ordeal in my Instagram Story series about the incident:
But we were lucky. The fire didn’t spread to our house. Erlend, myself, and our cat were all physically safe. And after another day and a half without power and heat, the power company was able to restore our electricity.
After that, we thought the worst was over. However, the following days were a nightmare, too. The car continued to smolder and emit toxic chemicals for the next few days. But that didn’t stop crowds from coming to see it. Many neighbors were actively putting themselves in harm’s way, trying to climb in and on top of the car to take selfies and videos, ignoring and actively tearing down the the caution tape that the firefighters had left up. There was no escaping the stupidity, either—the car and the crowds were right outside my kitchen window! At the worst of it, I ended up chasing people away, crying in the middle of the street in my apron and sweatpants, telling them to stand back for their own safety and not touch anything. And still! Some of these folks had the audacity to clap back, telling me to “chill” and that “this was the most interesting thing to happen this year” and I should “be more understanding.”
Well, sure, I’m glad that my trauma was your entertainment! I’ll try and be more “understanding” as you take a photo of my burning car to post on your Facebook and Instagram accounts for your 50 followers to see!
Things finally died down when the tow truck came and hauled it away. Even then, Erlend and I were left with a pile of toxic debris to shovel and dispose of. And after an hour or so of shoveling the remaining broken glass, molten metal, and toxic slush, I collapsed inside to cry. I spent the next few days trying to get myself back into my daily routine of working out, recipe development, and attempting to cook healthy meals, only to be defeated by very inconsequential hurdles that I would have ordinarily been able to handle prior to the event. I spent the rest of the week curled up on the couch, staring at the ceiling, jumping at any loud sound outside the house, spending a fortune on takeout, and ignoring people on Instagram (which, for some reason, was being more vicious than usual—but I’ll get to that in a second).
Like I said, it was a hellish—no, absolutely shitty—month.
How are you doing?
2021: The Year The Internet Broke Hummingbird High
This upcoming November, I am coming up on my tenth year of blogging at Hummingbird High. And if you’re a steady reader, you probably know that I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how things have evolved since the beginning, what’s next, and if I should even continue blogging in the first place. And now I’m sorry to say that the events of this past month have also put things into sharper perspective. I watched far too many people disregard our trauma and stress in service of a good selfie and story to tell.
But let me rewind: I first started Hummingbird High in 2011. Back then, it was a way for me to escape the stresses of my job through baking, and to keep in touch with friends and family. You can see this intention through some of my earlier posts. Instead of focusing on the recipe, I tell stories of my work, my life, and more. I treated Hummingbird High like it was a personal journal, interspersing it with recipes I found online and in cookbooks that I’d bookmarked and attempted for myself.
Truthfully, it was only through sheer luck and accident that Hummingbird High grew to be the community and resource it is today. Thanks to my obsessive baking, I soon developed the skills and confidence to develop my own recipes. A friend of mine submitted Hummingbird High to be a contender for Saveur Magazine’s now defunct “Best Food Blog” Awards. I was then lucky to be selected as a finalist for the “Best Baking Blog” award, bringing in a plethora of folks interested in baking. A few years later, Instagram’s community managers took notice of my work and recommended @hummingbirdhigh as an account to follow, leading to even more people discovering this space. Finally, in 2017, in what seemed like light years behind my peers, I committed to a cookbook deal and blogging for Hummingbird High full-time.
When I made the shift, I actively began treating Hummingbird High as a business instead of my journal. Instead of baking the recipes I was interested in, I researched Google trends to focus on developing recipes that people were searching for. I stopped experimenting with different photography styles, angles, and props and instead just shot my food in a way I knew worked well for Instagram and Pinterest. And finally, I stopped sharing personal stories about my life. I started focusing all aspects of my blog posts on helping you bake the recipes—information about ingredients and substitutions, frequently asked questions, and troubleshooting.
And honestly, for a long time, I loved it. And a big part of me still does! I love developing the very best versions of baked goods like blueberry muffins, Toll House chocolate chip cookies, burnt basque cheesecake, and more. I love sharing all my baking knowledge with everybody, and helping folks learn to become better and more confident bakers. Even the routine food photography and styling I describe above—I love that optimizing those tasks freed up my time to make my recipes better.
Understandably, with this new focus comes a change in Hummingbird High’s audience, especially on social media. Although there are a handful of folks who have been with me since the beginning, the majority of followers are now here for my recipes. They have no idea who I am—to them, I am just some random, faceless being who publishes recipes on the internet. I would be surprised if many of them even knew what I looked like! And truthfully, for the most part, I don’t mind this shift at all. I’ve never been the world’s biggest sharer or the most extroverted individual. I actually appreciate and value the privacy that this newer audience has given me. But I will admit that it’s also led to some unexpected surprises and problems, too.
Because over the last year, I’ve increasingly been fielding emails, DMs, and comments about the “tone” of my work. I still get angry emails about this chocolate chip cookie cake recipe with the words “FUCK COVID” scrawled across it. Nearly a thousand people on Instagram unfollowed me for sharing this video of myself doing a cartwheel in response to the election results. I’ve had folks tell me off for disrespecting 911 dispatchers in my stories above, snap at me for joking about my workout routine in a recipe for dalgona coffee, and scold me for promoting weight gain stigma when I write that small batch recipes help prevent me from overindulging.
Now, I’m no stranger to rude comments on the internet. I’ve always dealt with my fair share of people being unnecessarily unkind about my work. Additionally, there are many who tell me that I “talk too much” and I just “need to shut up and get to the recipe.” But these come with the territory of being a semi-public figure on the internet. In fact, they are so ubiquitous and boring in their criticism (because to quote the great Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, “Congratulations, you’ve found a new, not particularly original, way to say ‘shut up and cook!'”) that they barely register anymore.
But the tone policing feels new, and somehow more insidious. To me, it is indicative that many don’t realize that there is an actual human behind Hummingbird High—you know, a human being who is allowed to use colorful language and express opinions that differ from theirs. Because although I made the conscious decision to treat Hummingbird High like a business several years ago, my goal has never been to turn it into a faceless, generic recipe website with no stakes or opinions. So did I lean too hard in one direction? Or have people’s expectations on social media become impossible to navigate?
I suspect it’s the latter.
Because after experiencing the appalling and insensitive behavior of some of my neighbors this month, I’ve been critically thinking about social media and its role in my life, and, well, EVERYBODY’S life. I think that, especially thanks to the social isolation borne of last year, everybody has been inside and online for so long. We’ve all forgotten how to interact with others in a way that is meaningful—or, at the very least, not rude and offensive.
But maybe it’s just me. Because for a long time, social media—in particular, Instagram—brought me joy. It was a way to quickly share my work with my community, and to keep up with everybody’s work, too! It also seemed like Instagram made everybody so accessible. Thanks to the app, I was now connected with the bakers, cookbook authors, chefs, and even brands I’d admired for many years. We chatted about work, shared ideas, collaborated, and even became friends. And it worked for you guys, too! So many of you could now access me directly, with many of you DMing me to help troubleshoot recipes or share your versions of my recipes.
But somewhere along the way, I felt that Instagram began to get more competitive. People started exclusively sharing only the best and/or most significant moments in their lives. And with everybody’s highlight reel out on display, it created insane new standards for everybody. And all that communication also steadily eroded my work/life boundaries. More and more, I found myself answering DMs and comments at all hours of the day and night because people began treating @hummingbirdhigh as a customer support hotline.
Things got murkier when politics began to play a larger role in social media, especially after George Floyd’s death last year. Now, content creators are all supposed to, well, create content, answer everybody’s questions, AND be “perfect” humans who hold the “right” opinions and “use our platform” to advance said beliefs. But what if you didn’t agree with something we expressed? Well, that accessibility quickly became a problem, with many folks commenting and DMing to yell at us. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that I now actively brace myself every time I log into the app: “How will I be lectured, harassed, or insulted today?”
And it was one thing to expect that kind of anger around my more “controversial” posts (like this one, in which I condemned former President Trump’s decision to send federal agents to my hometown of Portland). But when I get that kind of vitriol and abuse because I decided to develop a snickerdoodle cookie recipe without cream of tartar? Yikes.
I don’t really have anything more to say other than what I’ve already said before: putting up with these crazy standards and toxic expectations feels very different from all the reasons why I started Hummingbird High in the first place. I don’t have any answers yet, but one thing I do know is that I want to spend less time on social media moving forward. I want to find better ways to connect with the folks worth connecting with outside of Instagram, and even on Hummingbird High, too. What that means yet—I’m really, really not sure. I’ve already started restricting the ability to DM me to certain hours of the day. But let me know if you have other ideas! Should I focus less on the recipes and more on the storytelling (like what you see in these monthly posts) again? Or vice versa—do I just provide the recipes without the life stories, ads, and go bankrupt? Should I start a newsletter or a substack for posts like this one? Or do I simply shrivel up and die to become reborn as a bland, opinion- and personality-less recipe developing algorithm? You tell me.
In Case You Missed It: New Recipes
And in case you missed it, I published and updated a handful of new recipes on both Hummingbird High and other websites in the past month. Here’s a round-up of everything new:
- Burnt Basque Cheesecake
- Small Batch Blueberry Muffins in The New York Times Cooking (Hummingbird High was also briefly mentioned in a New York Times article about small batch baking. They also republished my small batch blueberry muffin recipe in their cooking section! But if you’re paywalled out, check out the free version—complete with a video tutorial—on my site.)
- Strawberry Rose Snickerdoodles
- The Best Valentine’s Day Recipes on Hummingbird High (Okay, this isn’t technically a recipe, but a fun round-up of all the best Valentine’s Day baking recipes on here. Keep it bookmarked, because I plan on updating it every year!)
- Blood Orange Drizzle Cake
- Small Batch Chocolate Chip Cookies
Food For Thought
This past month, I also spent a LOT of time thinking and reading about food beyond the baking recipes you see on this blog. Here are the ideas and issues that resonated with me:
- Recipeasly: Your Favorite Recipes Without The Ads Or Lifestories. Okay, this isn’t an article, but a tweet thread that blew up yesterday when some clueless, mediocre white man announced his new “making the world a better place” startup. The premise? Handicapping food bloggers’ capacity to earn income for developing recipes by taking their recipes (without permission, of course) and re-publishing them in his app without the ads and stories typically found on our sites (Both of which enable creators to earn literal pennies for their work; if you don’t understand how the business model of food blogging works, let me know! I’m thinking of doing a deep-dive on it… maybe in my next monthly update?). Thankfully, many people—content creators and otherwise—saw his terrible idea for what it was and provided, er, “helpful feedback” explaining how his app was unethical and basically stealing labor from a primarily women- and queer- dominated field. The responses to his tweet are definitely worth reading. My favorites include this tweet by @tnwhiskeywoman, @kittenwithawhip, and @BlueHeronFarmTX.
- “The Absurd Logic of Internet Recipe Hacks” in The Atlantic. Okay, have y’all seen that terrifying TikTok of that woman making Spaghetti-Os pie? She legit uses her FOREARMS to mash bread (that she then puts in the pie). This article talks about the rise of these nutty food videos, and why we find them equal parts gross and satisfying.
- “After Another White Food Blogger Whitewashed An Asian American Dish, People Want More Than Just Damage Control” in Buzzfeed News. If you’re a fan of food bloggers, you probably follow Tieghan of Half Baked Harvest. She recently got into trouble for culturally appropriating pho, a traditional Vietnamese dish. Honestly the whole thing is messy and complicated, and I don’t have enough space on here to explain my muddled feelings on the topic. But hit me up with your thoughts.
- “The Aspirational Appeal of Cake Mix” in Taste Cooking. A brief history of cake mix, the suspect rise of $25 “fancy” cake mix, and how cake mix still plays a role in many modern kitchens. I loved this article because yes, baking cakes from box mixes is what got me interested in baking in the first place!
- “The Power of Self-Publishing in Food Media” in Food52. This article talks about the recent trend of food writers, recipe developers, and more launching their own independent newsletters, videos, and podcasts (as opposed to relying on traditional media and social media). Honestly, I think this new shift is a result of some of the crazy expectations I myself described and was bristling against above.
Recipes and Resources To Save
And here are the recipes and cooking-related resources I saved these last few weeks:
- Looking to improve your basic cake making skills? My friend Janice wrote a wonderful blog post and tutorial on how to bake perfectly flat cakes (which you need for a perfectly even layer cake). And once you’ve built your layer cake, Whitney will teach you how to transfer the cake to a highly Instagramable cake stand! So cool. Now go and practice your new found skills with these mini chocolate and cookie dough naked layer cakes from Lindsay!
- “Here’s How To Use Brown Butter In Any Baking Recipe” in The Kitchn. Have you ever used brown butter in a dough or batter and have it come out too dry? I definitely have. But according to that article, there’s an easy fix! God bless.
- Okay, wow, these layered scallion pancraffles from Mandy at Lady and Pups tho. I turn into the heart eye emoji every time I look at them!
Finally, On A Lighthearted Note
- Have you guys heard that our neighbors to the north are currently undergoing a butter crisis? God speed, god speed.
- I don’t know if you guys know this about me, but I am low key obsessed with pizza. I can go on and on about the different pizza styles (New York versus New Haven, Sicilian versus Detroit-style versus Grandma square, and so on). But even this guide made me second guess my pizza knowledge—there are so many styles out there!
- The Cut investigates to see if this viral TikTok feta pasta (YOU know which one I’m talking about) is actually any good. Has anybody out there tried it? I’m intrigued, but also scared. I don’t know if my lactose intolerant self can handle an ENTIRE block of feta in one dish!
Okay, whew! That’s all for now, folks. I hope you all are staying safe and healthy! Please let me know how you’re doing in the comments below, and feel free to share the ideas and issues that are floating around in your heads, too.