[Book Ends] The stories we need to tell

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

The thing about writing is you have to love the journey. If you don't, you'll be disappointed most of the time because writing's biggest milestones take time to appear, often a good long while. Big moments are thrilling and all, but it's the quiet, daily writing nurtured day in and day out that gets us there.

Case and point: On March 1st I submitted the first draft of Eat This Poem to my publisher. Yes!  But to keep things in perspective, this moment was two years in the making.  Naturally, I wanted to celebrate and mark the occasion so after hitting "send" on an email with an attachment titled "Eat This Poem Manuscript Final," I walked to the beach.

At a leisurely pace it took about 20 minutes, which was the perfect amount of time to ponder the culmination of more than two years of work. To say I felt lighter would be an understatement. But more than that, I felt a profound sense of completion and gratitude for arriving at this milestone. I wanted to celebrate and feel all the feels, as the saying goes.

It was a Tuesday, so the beach was mostly deserted, and when I sat down on a cement bench at the edge of the sand, my eyes welled up with tears. I anticipated this might happen and welcomed it as best I could. These were happy tears, of course. Proud tears. Astonished tears.

A few days later, I went to the beach again.

This time, I ran.

Well, I tried to run. I didn't make it very far, actually, but I knew that would happen. The point is, I was planning to go to yoga, but decided to run because my body told me so. 

The sensation isn't new to me. I've always been athletic and ran cross country during high school, it's just the past few years have required a different type of exercise. Since 2013, yoga has been my spiritual and physical exercise, almost exclusively. It got me through the stress of a two-hour commute, as well as my prenatal months. Ever since Henry's been born, all I've wanted to do is run.

Standing in front of the water, I remembered something my friend Lisa posted on her Instagram account recently.

of all the things
i could've been,

i am so glad
to be this

thank god
i didn't actually become

who i pretended to be
back when

i had no idea
who i was

-rudy francisco

When I run (or try to run), I can't help but think of my former self. The seventeen-year-old without a ring on her finger, without the extra inch around her hips, without a clear course or sense of purpose just yet. Without a book contract. Without a son. My, times have changed. 

One of the biggest lessons of adulthood I've learned over the years is the importance of listening to your body. This goes for creativity, too. Right now, you might need to record your birth story before it blurs into memory, or draft an essay about growing up with a sibling 15 years older than you. Maybe you need to start journaling every day, or outline a future novel. Maybe you need to pull up some very old files on your computer and read something you wrote several years ago, then polish it like a shiny coin.

Don't worry that there's more than one idea floating in your head, because there always will be. The question is, what story do you need to tell right now? 

This urgency intertwined food and poetry for me in 2012, and now look where we are. So go with your gut. You never know where a story will lead, either, which of course is one of the very best parts indeed.

[Book Ends] The smell of laser ink

Book Ends is a new series where I share a bit about the cookbook writing process. For even more behind-the-scenes information, subscribe to my newsletter.

Something happens when you write a cookbook. Or, I should say, something happens when you write a cookbook and a blog. You can't do both, at least temporarily, because for weeks you're in the thick of it recipe testing, writing, thinking, tasting, and almost all your meals are for the book, so you can't share them. Any stray recipes that aren't from the book might not be recipes at all (hello, almond butter and toast).

I think most of us cookbook writers/bloggers hope this doesn't happen. I know I did. But between work and baby things and this very important project with a looming deadline, I haven't been able to sift through new poems or develop new recipe pairings or finish new literary city guides (there are three waiting in the wings!). It's all book, all the time over here. But only for about fourteen more days. 

On Sunday, Valentine’s Day, I did something monumental. After I got a massage (every new mother's dream gift), and after I made a cake for the fourth time, I printed out the first draft of my manuscript. The whole thing, all five sections, all hundred-and-something pages, all on my laser printer that I absolutely love the smell of. As my husband eloquently pointed out, it smells like progress. 

The manuscript isn't done yet, but it’s close. I’ve managed enough writing and note taking and tinkering to have a comfortable, fully formed draft to start reading through. This is the good stuff now, when I can step away, be objective, read on paper instead of my computer screen, and get a real sense of things. I'll be doing this with a red pen in hand and a slice of toast with almond butter nearby, naturally.

If you're interested, here are a few sneak peeks of some recipes I'm working on. More to come!

How to Read a Cookbook

How to Read a Cookbook

The matter of how to read a cookbook is a very personal one. After all, who is to say which way is best when it comes to digesting the ingredients, recipe notes, and photography from one cook to another? 

I've been giving this some thought, as I usually do in the fall, because the fall is unofficially cookbook season. Although they tend to appear year-round at the whim of a publisher, there's something about curling up with a stack of cookbooks in the cool days before the year turns over that is one of life's great pleasures.

So, to read a cookbook.

Perhaps we should start with cooking itself, which begins as a solitary endeavor. Although we may feed others, the process begins with a cook in her kitchen and the tools at her disposal. We stir and whisk and chop a meal into being.

There are various approaches. In the matter of salad, for example, one might choose to make her dressing two days in advance so it's at the ready, then close the cookbook and place it back on the shelf. Another will wait until just before dinner to begin completely, or ask her child/spouse/friend to help whisk the oil, vinegar, and mustard while using her finger to scroll down the list of ingredients, hoping they all can be found in the pantry. Another, confident cook, will use balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar when she cannot find red wine vinegar anywhere in her kitchen. She may or may not make a note in pencil in the cookbook's margin about her discovery.

How to Read a Cookbook

Some cooks will pour a glass of wine. Others will bounce their babies in view while they chop. Some put their feet up and watch their spouses or friends lend a hand (a rare indulgence). Cookbooks can be read in pajamas before bed, or while standing at the kitchen island. Recipes can be followed with precision, or merely taken as a general guideline. No matter the approach, a meal is still produced with care and attention onto a waiting plate.

There are voracious cookbook readers, who tear open the box as soon as it arrives and don't get up from the couch until they've finished reading cover to cover. This kind of reading is often a luxury, but a wonderful one.

There are thoughtful cookbook readers, who set aside time to pick it up and set it down again, always saving where they left off, and reading from beginning to end in the order it was written.

If someone is very hungry, they might read in accordance to their physical needs. If it's dinner time, they start with main courses. If they're hosting a party this weekend, they consider appetizers, flipping around from chapter to chapter in no particular order.

Also, the note takers, who keep a running list of things to make and keep it folded in the cookbook so when they pull it off the shelf again, they'll know exactly what they had wanted to try from the first time they read it. They may or may not cross off the recipes they made with a triumphant smile.

There are even non-readers who purchase cookbooks solely on the basis of beauty, to be stacked and assembled as art pieces in their living rooms. 

How to Read a Cookbook

If you've come this far, perhaps you're curious about my own inclinations. I enjoy reading cookbooks from cover to cover, and almost always stick post-it notes on the inside cover, marking with pencil the recipes I want to try (with page numbers). I sometimes tuck the notes into my meal planning notebook, too, so recipe ideas are always at the ready. 

I also like to linger, spending time reading the acknowledgements and recipe notes, even admiring the typeface and layout. I sip tea. I imagine how good it must feel to have one of these things out in the world. I try to make an effort to cook at least one or two recipes from any new cookbook as soon as possible. 

As it turns out, there is no wrong way to read a cookbook or to cook from one. They're non judgmental things, waiting on the shelf. Even if it's been a while. Even if it's fall and you're craving ice cream or popsicles. Even if you don't want to cook, just look at the photos, or dream of Paris or India or New York. Because regardless of how different one cookbook is from another, they always contain memories.

There are some things that don’t change much. I find the smell of a dish, or the way a certain spice is crushed, or just a quick look at the way something has been put on a plate, can pull me back to another place and time. I love those memories that seem so far away, yet you can hold them and carry them with you, even forget them, and then, with a single taste or hint or a smell, be chaperoned back to a beautiful moment.
— Tessa Kiros
How to Read a Cookbook
How to Read a Cookbook

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