I have been chanting through the litany of my insecurities regarding my writing these last few days, well, weeks, if I’m going to be honest. It is such a boring exercise that I never want to whisper a syllable of it out loud just in case one of my friends might overhear and decide they have had enough of this garbage and figure the only way out would be to drop me as a friend once and for all. I truly cannot afford to lose any more friends, especially over this.
All this head-banging stupidity crept into my waking hours when I asked Clara, my friend and cooking partner, to give me some deadlines for the pieces I have to write for the cookbook we’re putting together. I always work better when I know that there is a certain time that I absolutely must get words to someone. Clara agreed to be that someone, even though she was starting a full time job farming a huge plot of land and teaching workshops to probably very uninterested teenagers on growing, composting and knowing what the hell food they’re eating. I just know that she’ll be a great success — besides being very knowledgeable on subjects like composting and soil conditions, which could be a real turnoff to teenagers, she’s very hip, listens to cool music, is cute as a button, rides a bike all-year-round, and has a mysterious tattoo. What’s not to love?
She and I have, for the past eight months or so, been cooking our way through recipes that I collected during my wanderings in Europe in the 1970s. I had some amazing teachers during that time, usually impatient landladies who figured I was as inept at cooking as I was at speaking their languages. So they took it upon themselves to educate this foreigner. They would take me into their kitchens, sit me down, and show me step-by-step how to cook their basic repertoire. I would watch them closely and hope I was getting it.Every once in a while I’d utter a “Si, señora,” or “Ja, Frau Sophia,” to show I was catching all the nuances of their preparations. Afterwards, I would write what they did in a little notebook in the hope that I would remember how to do it when I left.
After I wrote the stories of cooking with these women in Mediterranean Journey: A Young Woman’s Travels Through 1970s Europe, some of my readers, well, friends, said I should take those recipes they taught me and do a cookbook. Why not, eh? Create a companion volume to go with the stories. It sounded like a damn good idea — it wouldn’t be that long since there weren’t that many recipes, not a lot of writing to do and a good “marketing” tool. I had never written a cookbook — a few recipe cards here and there, maybe, but that’s it — but how hard could it be? So, I got out my old, stained, cookbook to sort through recipes. Then I realized, that way-back-then, when I was sitting at the feet of my mentors to learn, I just wrote down a list of ingredients and didn’t bother to write down any kind of measurements except the vaguest kind, such as “add a glass of water.” This would not do for this cookbook. Unless you are a Jaimie Oliver (I’m not), you can’t get away with that kind of vagueness in a recipe.
That’s when I had the brilliant idea of asking — well, begging, actually — Clara to come and cook with me so we could figure out tablespoons and cups and whatever else we needed to make it duplicable. Through recipe after recipe, she would chop and sauté and simmer and I’d clean up after her. We were a terrific team. We even enlisted my good friend/landlord/neighbour, Len, as the Excellent Taster. The three of us ate a lot of good, and a few not so good, lunches over that time. But now, it’s time to put it all together and for me to sit down and start writing.
At our meeting in the Ideal Cafe, Clara asked me, politely, if the first week of April would be enough time for me to get a draft of the introduction to her. Sure, I said, and, to show the sincerity of my commitment, I dutifully wrote it down in my agenda in ink. At that time, I had a full two weeks to knock something out, how difficult could that be? I admit, I did procrastinate for the first week knowing I had another week to fulfill my obligation. But, when I finally sat down to write, all muses of any sort or shape that could have inspired my writing went on spring break. I was abandoned with nothing but my blank mind void of any clever ideas on how to begin the bloody thing. I know better then to think that you can force ideas and words to come just because you agreed to a deadline. It never has, it never will and it certainly doesn’t now. But did that let me forgive my inability to meet my deadline? You bet it didn’t.
I broke my own promise not to burden my friends with my writing woes when I went to dinner with M at C’s house. It was my first time there and I should have kept the conversation to lighter subjects, especially since C is a much-published author. But, when she asked me what I was working on now, instead of just saying something like, “Oh, this and that,” out oozed all my frustration of trying to write the bloody introduction which, really, for anyone who calls herself a writer, shouldn’t be all that hard, eh? C let out a howl of protest about how could I honestly think that words and ideas could fit into my schedule? “Give yourself a bloody break, would you?” It made me laugh.
When I got home, I sent Clara an email to say I decided to rejig the schedule and do the shorter pieces about the women who taught me the recipes first and then write the introduction. It seemed logical and clear as anything. I felt relieved that I had finally found an honourable solution to not having met my first deadline. I’ll start writing tomorrow, for sure.