[Book Ends] What a manicure has to do with cookbook writing

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Book Ends is an occasional series where I share insights about the cookbook writing process. For even more, subscribe to my newsletter.

Four hours after sending the finished manuscript to my editor, I walked to the little nail place in my neighborhood for a manicure and pedicure. Before Henry was born, pedicures were something of a regular indulgence for me. Manicures, less so, mostly because of cooking. It never seems worthwhile to bother with a manicure when I cook so much. 

This week, on the other hand, was different. For the past eight weeks the last major writing push was underway, including wrangling 50+ recipe testers to help (more on that later). This meant most nights included something from the cookbook for dinner. It also meant I kept a ruler on the counter to provide accurate measurements, and my small measuring spoons were used consistently for every meal. 

Hitting "send" on this very important email meant one thing. Well, two things. First, of course, this is really happening!! A huge milestone in the life of a book was reached, and I couldn't have been more thrilled.

Second, it was a small breath of freedom to return to the kind of cooking I do every day:  intuitive cooking. This means adapting a recipe if I want to, baking a sweet potato and calling it dinner, and not measuring salt. In short, my hands would not be nearly as busy for the next few days, so I decided a manicure was very much worthwhile this time around. 

It also afforded me a couple of days to do something I haven't done in months: read the New Yorker.

I'm well aware that six months pregnant may not have been the best time to launch a new subscription. I was excited, though, and when the first few editions arrived I read them in the evening before bed, and even aloud as Andrew occasionally rubbed my feet. It felt like bliss. Then I had a baby, and my dreams of keeping a contained, almost non-existent magazine pile were dashed.

Having a baby certainly changes the amount of productive time you have in a given day. Also, your definition of productive is sure to change from something like "I put together a presentation for work!" to "I put together a load of laundry... that's washed, but still needs to be transferred to the dryer!" 

Some might find this frustrating. And yes, I've had my moments, especially with a book deadline looming, but in some ways it makes my spare time all the more valuable. I must be extra picky with how to spend my time. This isn't a new concept to me, though.

As an introvert, I've long felt my energy stores dwindle at the expense of small talk, mundane tasks, or non-valuable social activities like loud cocktail hours. It's who I am, and I know it and love it. It means I'm less giving of my time, which may seem selfish to non-introverts or someone who doesn't know me personally, but if I'm not going to get value out of an experience, or if I'm going to be forced into small talk situations void of meaning, count me out.

So when I have free time nowadays, which mainly consists of brief windows of time (a spare 10 minutes or 30 minutes here and there), I act fast. The laundry in the dryer? Folded. Email in my inbox? Answered. Teeth brushed? Check. Sometimes, though, I just take a nap.

Of course, you don't need to have a baby in order to learn this kind of lesson, but it does help.

Aside from less time to read magazines, there's also the matter of getting dinner on the table. I've mentioned before how it can now take upwards of the entire day to make dinner. This isn't because I'm being overly ambitious, either, and making three courses or utilizing all my pots and pans. No.

It's because Henry's schedule is still unpredictable and I never know how much time I'll have when he falls asleep. To offset the inevitable, I try to prep the night before, once Andrew gets home. Or on Sunday I'll make pesto and curry paste and puree a soup. Whatever can be prepped to help with dinners during the week, I'll do it. (If I'm not napping, see above.)

This rambling is all to ask, what do you do with the time you have? Where are you putting your efforts and giving your energy?

I like to sit with this question every so often because it's easy to get caught up in things that don't matter, both at home and at work, and helpful to  focus on the things that do, like spending more quality time with friends, changing a routine, reading more and watching less television, or yes, even firmly sticking to my cross-the-street-so-I-don't-have-to-make-small-talk strategy. Conserve, conserve, conserve. 

This goes for cooking on occasion, too. After the flurry of final testing and writing, I needed a break, and for almost an entire week my manicure remained pristine enough to remind me it's not only acceptable to put down my pen and close my laptop, but that resting is an entirely non-negotiable and necessary component to being a writer.