What It's Like (In Real Life) To Write a Cookbook
I’ve got to be honest, we had no idea what we were in for when we signed on to this thing. We had an agent approach us and offer to represent us if we wrote a cookbook on native culture and cuisine. That is a writer’s dream, so of course I said yes. Noel, unambitious but dear devoted husband that he is, said “sure” for my sake. Poor guy didn’t know what a tedious job he’d have quantifying his magic.
Once I realized this would be so much more than a book of recipes, but a tribute to native Mexican values and heritage, I was hooked on the project. And a good thing too, or else today I wouldn’t be able to say, “We’re almost there!”.
I think I can confidently say that the only really trying part of writing a cookbook is getting recipes on paper. The stories are fun—they motivate me to keep going. Recipes, on the other hand, are exacting, tedious, time consuming. I don’t need to ask Noel how this process has been for him—he’s made it oh–so–very clear to me how he feels. I imagine it’s akin to asking a painter to break down her work into a mathematical formula, or a wizard to write a thesis describing his magic in scientific terms with verifiable data.
Although Noel is the one responsible for putting these recipes down in rough draft form (with the heroic help of our staff), they still have to be translated, typed, and edited. And that falls on me. (Thankfully, I’ve found help with the first two of those tasks—shout out to Todos Santos resident, Matt Champagne!).
Editing recipes means going over every single detail and making sure the quantity is correct, the instructions clear. It means converting metric weight to American volume. It means asking the chef for clarification ten bazillion times (imagine doing that with your spouse and not killing your marriage. Now imagine doing it with a spouse that has a different culture, language, and values than your own). In our case, it also means sending those recipes out to our many testers, responding to their feedback, incorporating their feedback, returning to the chef for more clarification, and retyping.
And then there are the food photos to do.
On top of that there is a restaurant to run, a blog to keep on top of, catering events, summer travel, and a crowdfunding campaign (oh, yes!) to plan (more on that soon). About once a week I manage to walk my dogs instead of running them behind the car on the desert roads, and about once every two months I get really lavish and take a yoga class. Meals somehow happen (mostly because I have a restaurant); meditation does not. I think the last time Noel and I had a date was back in November.
Oh yeah—and there’s a toddler to raise. Despite having the help of a nanny eight hours per day, five days a week, I seem to only manage two hours of actual writing a day. This is in large part because of all the other responsibilities, but also because when a twenty–month old is pounding on your door crying, “Mamáaaaaaaaaa!!!” what are you going to do? (Answer: find a place outside the house to write).
And yet, I love it. I love the whole thing. (Well, everything except going over recipes with Noel. I don’t think we’ll ever sign up for that again. We’d both prefer a happy marriage). There are moments when, without knowing what is happening, I find words on the screen and they are…perfect…just as they are. Those are the moments every artist lives for—it’s like a treasured glimpse into the realm of dakinis. There was the time I found myself deep in a valley, hours away from civilization, surrounded by twenty men loading forty–kilo agave hearts into a pit oven, and I think, “God! This is it!”. As if life in that moment were more real than any other I’d ever experienced. And there are times when I find myself dreaming—naïvely, no doubt—that maybe these words will create the slightest shift of belief, and maybe the indigenous of Mexico who I’ve come to so deeply revere, will be seen in a new light, and given the respect and opportunities that have been withheld from them for so long.
Inflated hippie dreams, I know. Fingers crossed that some aspect of them comes true!
As for you, our readers and recipe testers, I’d like to thank you for all the encouragement, kind words, support, and feedback you’ve given us. This, too, is what keeps us going. (This and hugs from our sweet, smunchy toddler).
Thank you also for your patience! We’re a bit held up on recipes at the moment as I’m focusing my efforts on the story aspect of the book, but fear not—Noel has been working diligently on them for weeks now. It’s only a matter of getting them onto the computer and out to you all. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, check your recipe tester page and try out those that were previously posted.
A note on Crowdfunding
Meg (our photographer) and I are building up towards launching a crowdfunding campaign. Although we have an excellent independent publisher, the advance was not enough to cover photography and publicity costs. We plan to launch this fall with some fantastic rewards, so stay tuned!