Where I Write
The Many Desks of Author Cynthia Lair
February 16, 2017 | Category: Food & Wine
For this series, our authors take us behind the scenes to show us what their work spaces look like. Here’s Cynthia Lair, author of Feeding the Whole Family.
Writing recipes—whether for a cookbook, a cooking class, or an article—happens in multiple stages. First I get an idea for a recipe. Might be a specific need (I need a pear recipe to round out this chapter) or a hungry thing (Good heavens I love palak paneer, I’m going to figure out how to make it). Could be while dining in a restaurant, driving in my car (I keep itty-bitty spiral notebooks and pens near the driver’s seat), or walking my dog, Olive, around the neighborhood.
I write down main ingredients and wild guesses for amounts.
Then I go to the grocery store, get food, and brave a first attempt. While I’m cooking I keep a notepad nearby, and I write down the bare bones recipe with amounts and maybe some cryptic instructions.
If it worked (even somewhat), I type it up. Here. At my desk. I’m not neat as a pin, but am fairly organized. B+. The yogurt container has dog treats in it because Olive frequently comes to the desk to see how it’s going. You can’t see it, but I have Pandora on. Often I listen to Spanish guitar. Lately Film Scores Radio.
Once I type up the recipe, I print it out. Almost always I can see immediate edits that need to be made, which is so frustrating—so I may have to fix those and print it out again (I know, wasting paper, but I am so much better with hard copies.)
When I retest the recipe, I take the hard copy into the kitchen and make more notes while I’m cooking the dish. This go-round I include more of the sensual cues about how to tell when the dish is ready for the next ingredient or is done. I would love to tell you that this idea, to grocery store, to notepad in kitchen, to computer, and back to the kitchen is the whole journey. Once in a grand while it is! But more often the cooking-correcting-cooking circle gets repeated many times. I might even have to make the recipe twice a month for several months to get it right!
Sometimes I use this shortcut: I take a recipe that I think is in pretty darn good shape and have students make it. This is the teaching kitchen at Bastyr University, where we put four students at six stations. Each station makes the same menu. Which means (hooray!) I get to see and taste the dish made six times in one day. Recipe tester heaven.
When I think about how many recipes I have written, I can’t believe that I went through all those steps for each one. That’s crazy. But hey, I get to literally eat my work.