"A newsletter? What's it about?"
The ACBN reaches its quincentenary, and I'm still trying to answer that question.
This past weekend, I went to a football game with one of my oldest friends. It was a lovely time; we enjoyed a beautiful fall afternoon in the sun, my beloved Cincinnati Bearcats trounced the visiting Hoosiers of Indiana University by a 45-24 margin, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Before the game, while chatting with a friend of said friend at a tailgate, the subject of my writing came up and—as I often struggle to do—I had to attempt to explain to someone with no context just what exactly The Action Cookbook Newsletter is.
“A newsletter? What’s it about?”
This has been happening more and more of late as this newsletter continues to grow and gain recognition. Just in the last six months, I’ve been named a Fellow in Substack’s Food Writers’ Intensive fellowship program, I’ve co-hosted a restaurant pop-up where I prepared and served my recipes to actual people, and made tremendous strides in new subscriber growth.
I’ve also reached yet another milestone!
This is the 500th edition of The Action Cookbook Newsletter.
Since signing up for a Substack account in June 2019, I have hit that big red PUBLISH button a whopping five hundred times now.
The first few went to only a few dozen people; this one will go to many thousands.
In that time—by my rough math—I’ve published something like three-quarters of a million words here, a number that’s unfathomable to me and well beyond my expectations for something I started as a little side-project three years ago.
Heck, that’s something like three and a half Moby Dicks sent to your inboxes.
The Action Cookbook Newsletter is entirely reader-supported. To receive all three weekly newsletters, become a paying subscriber today!
And yet… I still struggle with my elevator pitch, still struggle to answer questions like the one asked of me at Saturday’s tailgate.
What’s it about?
I’m a sucker for milestones, though, and seeing as how there’s a lot of new people around here lately, I can’t resist taking this round-number newsletter as reason to try to explain just what it is I do here.
Indulge me, won’t you?
I write about food. A lot.
You probably knew that; in fact, there’s a decent chance that that’s the first way you encountered my writing.
Every Friday morning, I publish a sizeable “weekend prep” digest, a compendium wherein I offer up seven good things to improve your weekend—a recipe, a cocktail, music, book, and TV recommendations, a discussion topic, and photos of your pets.
It’s always the same format, but each one is unique and different. Take this one as the platonic ideal: it’s got all the elements, but it’s also a short story:
Friday night they’ll be dressed to kill (October 8th, 2021)
I do these because I love experimenting in the kitchen, coming up with new things, and then sharing them with people—but I’m not a cookbook writer.
(The name is just a coincidence.)
I write about food because it’s a universal subject—something everyone has opinions on, something that can unite people who aren’t alike in any other way.
I believe that all food has a story to tell, even contentious regional foods like my beloved Cincinnati chili:
In Defense of Weird Regional Foods (May 17th, 2021)
I’ll write about the lessons I learned from making a terrible meal, the essential introduction to culinary education I got from an oft-mocked television chef, and the solace I took watching Triple D during the worst moments of the pandemic.
But, I also write about parenting.
I have two young children—ages 7 and 5—and I feel like that’s an important fact to know about me. Becoming a parent has shaped my life in genuinely profound ways; I believe that it’s made me kinder, more patient, more adaptable and resilient, and far more focused on my responsibilities both at a household level and as a member of society.
(It’s also caused me to quickly go gray and have a bad back, but overall I’m well in the black on the transaction.)
I have become shamelessly sentimental and earnestly emotional, and honestly I recommend becoming both of those things. It’s way better than being a cynic.
Consequently, I often write about my experience as a parent.
I’ll write about the fears I had when I first found out I was going to be a parent:
A Hole In My Head (April 13th, 2022)
I’ll write about the joys of parenting small children and wanting to freeze them at just the perfect age:
“The Perfect Age” (July 7th, 2021)
I’ll write about the struggles, the days you feel like you’re failing them…
“Giants in the Nighttime” (September 21st, 2020)
… and the times where the world seems too harsh a place to raise kids at all:
A World Like This (May 25th, 2022)
These are often the pieces I get the most positive feedback on, even if I am sometimes (not entirely unfairly) accused of “Monday morning emotional terrorism”.
Sometimes, I go off topic…
The nature of the newsletter format is, I can write about anything. And I often do—periodically drawing on my other areas of minimal expertise.
In addition to being a writer, I’m also a licensed and practicing architect, so every once in a while I’ll sneak in something about architecture, like this screed about an arrogant billionaire’s misguided foray into campus design:
Let’s talk about this awful building (November 1st, 2021)
For a few years, I was—by the most generous definition possible—a sportswriter, and so sometimes I’ll dip my pen back in that well, like when I recently waxed poetic about baseball’s greatest asset, its seeming omniprescence:
Somewhere, there’s baseball (August 22nd, 2022)
Also, I love dogs.
I have two photogenic and internet-friendly dogs—the grumpy 11-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Holly, and the lovably enthusiastic young mixed-breed oaf Olaf, and sometimes I’ll channel them as inspiration, like when I developed an advanced analytical tool for measuring how wild your dogs are:
Quantifying Canine Chaos (December 1st, 2021)
… and sometimes I just get weird with it.
I have been known to display a taste for the absurd from time to time, and though it doesn’t show all the time, sometimes I just can’t keep it in.
Like when I noted that yes, things are busy now, but after this week, they should settle down.
After this week, things should settle down. (August 16th, 2021)
Or when I wrote an open letter from that one box you still haven’t unpacked…
An open letter from that one box you haven't unpacked since you moved in four years ago (November 3rd, 2021)
… or what might truly be my magnum opus, a 6,000-word New Yorker-style magazine article in which I interviewed Santa’s other eight reindeer about the real story behind that “one foggy night” when Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer became famous:
All of the Other Reindeer (December 13th, 2021)
(I hope this becomes a piece you revisit every December.)
I still haven’t answered the question, though, have I?
Fine. Let me try.
The Action Cookbook Newsletter is a place where I write about food and parenting, but also lots of other things.
I write about things that I care about, but also things that I hope will make people smile or feel a bit better when things are rough. I write because I want to be the one email a day you’re happiest to read, and I’m going to keep trying my best to get there.
Here’s to the next five hundred, friends. Thanks for getting me this far.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
"He said three-and-half Moby Dicks."
"Heh heh. Heh heh."
Early subscriber here. I've gotta say, it seems like more than three years. I've enjoyed all 500 newsletters. However, you really are downplaying the important role Holly played in the early years. She's the reason I signed up originally: that classic picture of Holly and the Horse reeled me in. I am sure I am not the only one. Also, the timeless shot of Holly barking furiously at a huge predator that was flying around your backyard sizing her up for brunch. Love your dogs and your newsletter, probably in that order.