Yesterday I was reading a cookbook during my mother’s first session of chemo. In retrospect it might have been a bit selfish and dense of me to be reading about crostini del mare and pasta with anchovy sauce in spitting distance from people hooked up to IVs, whose hobbies would be vomiting, dry heaving, and diarrhea, if it weren’t for the anti-nausea meds dripping into their veins. My mom raised me reading cookbooks, so I hoped that the glossy photographs of appetizers, entrees, and desserts would distract her from the blood, tubes, bags, and bored stares of fellow patients.
Even though I was raised with a voracious appetite for recipe tomes, I can’t say that I have any talent behind the burners. As an attempting-vegan with a vicious impatient streak and difficulty with the maths, I have more luck following driving directions across the country than the instructions on the back of a spaghetti box.
Publishing a cookbook requires more than the basic level of originality to grab an agent’s attention. Yes, this means you need to do something more than slather your naked body in pudding outside of the offices of Scribner, and don’t even think of sending Alton Brown another bouquet of flowers. I’ve tried, he’s allergic, it doesn’t work out well for anyone involved.
Out of the 1,500 cookbooks that are published every year, how many do you remember? Although the Food Network has helped immeasurably when it comes to increasing the popularity of cuisine-related programming, materials, and books, not everyone can become a celebrity chef. Like I said, I can’t cook. I can write, but I’m too picky to become a food critic:
Um, this restaurant seems to like the color blue a lot. I don’t eat chicken and veal is really gross, but the mushrooms underneath the halibut were good. The garnish tasted like shoes. I’m glad this meal was comped by my editor.
I’m too spastic to get in front of a camera without the originally intended programming winding up on either Comedy Central or some sort of emergency fire rescue show on A&E. But I enjoy writing and researching, so maybe the idea isn’t completely off-kilter. After all, you need a niche in order to secure your place in kitchen-based glory. Guy Fiere markets to the clientele of TGIFridays and late-nineties rockabilly dads who like wings. Rachel Ray is the patron saint of EVOO annoyance to MILFs and Oprah-lovers everywhere. Mario Batali is the more profound, prolific, portly human version of this is why you’re fat. Perhaps I can write for hypoglycemic girls who avoid dairy, deep fryers, fennel, and fast food…with a food allergy to boot.
Nearly all renowned celebrity cookbook authors don’t begin writing as a result of love for the written word. For some, like Anthony Bourdain, being a renegade chef in New York City helped them to shape their career as writers; Bourdain is now known not only for his cuisine hijinks but for hard-boiled fiction, magazine articles, and a horrendously narrated show on the Travel Channel. For others, like Bobby Flay, it was a checkered past combined with a passion for a particular type of cooking, leading to a lauded restaurant that made the ink flow. (Flay is rumored to have dropped out of high-school and worked at both a pizzeria and Baskin Robbins.) My personal favorite, and the cornerstone for my current obsession, is Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa. The woman can write about Corn Flakes on the back of a paper napkin and I’d pay $50 to read it. Hell, if she only published for Amazon’s Kindle I’d buy one of the hideous devices, and if you know me, you know how I feel about the Kindle.
Part of my obsession with Ina stems from the fact that she’s a Long Islander by choice, originally opting to purchase a specialty goods and gourmet shop near Montauk. Other contributing factors to my fascination include her vocal and exuberant adoration of her husband Jeffrey, and her penchant for intuitively organized shows, recipes, and books. She’s also a damn good writer with a story that doesn’t start with food. She used to work for the State Department.
Ina’s ability to wax poetic about floral arrangements, France, and – most importantly – fucking up in the kitchen, is what makes me read and reread her books. Although I can’t figure out the proper way to roast a piece of tofu, Ms. Garten makes me wish I were able to do more than purchase a can of soup and heat it over medium. (Once someone helps me to pop the top.) If you’ve seen her show on the Food Network, you know that her voice, humor, and personality are all sublime. It’s no wonder she can craft domestic goddessery out of everyday items, her television show alone would be the perfect accompaniment to any meal, even the kind you heat on HIGH for five minutes.
As of late, my interest in pots, pans, and procuring produce has come from a different, more desperate location in my body, somewhere slightly above my stomach. My mother, a long-time dieter and skinny-mini, weighing in at a whopping 83 pounds — three of which she gained since the diagnosis — has had to loosen her grip on fat-free food and portion control. She’s had to super-size and snack instead of skipping meals. As a wannabe vegan with a history of eating disorders, among other mental problems, I feel bad for my mom. I know that it must be a struggle to eat three bowls of ice cream a day when really all she “wants” is a salad with a side of tennis. She’s always been active, and the cancer has slowed her down. Now it’s insisting that she fatten herself up, just as the nausea and midsection distention rob her of the appetite she’s been fighting for years. I want to do something. I want to write a recipe for anorexics, cancer patients, vegans, crazy people. I want to study nutrition and figure out what the hell I can feed my maternal unit to make her healthy enough to withstand eight weeks of chemo. I want to cure cancer with a cookbook. Okay, okay, I want to cure cancer and watch Good Eats.
So you want to become a cookbook author? Good luck. Some of the best resources I could find are a website with irritating blinking text, an old article about compiling family recipes, and a semi-convoluted link to some cookbook-writing software. I also found the Institute of Culinary Education’s list of $75 cookbook writing courses, which are probably pretty useful to the fledgling tongue-to-pen sustenance scribe.
And, in case you missed it, here’s Simon’s recipe for Brussels sprouts that I bogarted. Though you’ll have gas for days, trust me, it’s worth it, especially if you hate anything that even remotely resembles cabbage:
From Like It – September 30th, 2008
The original version of this includes Parmesan cheese and pine nuts, the former we avoided because it comes from cow, and the later we skipped over ‘cause the only ones in the house, alas, did not belong to me. But feel free to add a bit of both or either to your go.
You’ll need: a bag of Brussels sprouts, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, a baking sheet, spatula, oven, large knife. Be careful.
First, preheat the oven to 450.
Rinse and cut the Brussels sprouts into halves or quarters, depending on how much gas you want to have. (Kidding. You are going to be flatulent regardless. Deal with it.)
Mix the cut up sprouts with 2/3 cup of good olive oil and a 1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar. Also, a teaspoon of salt.
[Confession: we didn’t measure. Two splashes from a medium sized bottle of oil, three splashes of balsamic, a hefty shake or two of salt. Baking is a science, cooking is an experiment.]
Put the greased, grapey sprouts on a baking sheet, spread ‘em out evenly, pop the whole thing in the oven for twenty (20) minutes. Mix them once while cooking with a spatula. They’re done either after twenty minutes or when they’re browned.
Take them out, eat them, vacate any unventilated spaces.
But, really, once your done playing the butt-trumpet, you’ll be back for seconds.
Drop me a line: AinsleyDrew at gmail dot com
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