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My Writer's Journal

Writing and Cooking

We were not a family of gourmets. My mother didn't like to cook, and I was a snoopy eater--no strange vegetables, please, and no weird spices. But when I was sixteen, we visited New York City, and my father took us to a French restaurant. Uncharacteristically, I ordered coq au vin (I was taking French in school and translated: chicken with wine). I probably pushed aside the onions and mushrooms, but the chicken was FABULOUS. My dad bought me a little French cookbook with the recipe. There was a problem--we didn't have any red wine. Or mushrooms. It would be a long time before I ate anything that interesting again.

One summer while I was in college I traveled to Europe, and once again I discovered that food was not just about meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and overcooked beans. When I married a year after college, I still couldn't put together a decent meal, but I got another French cookbook. The first thing I tackled was coq au vin. Success! I worked my way through the recipes--even attempting croissants made with puff pastry; nice try, but pretty awful.

The whole time I was trying to learn to cook, I was also trying to learn to write. This, I discovered, was much more difficult, due mostly to a lack of recipes. I had to figure everything out for myself. Nearly everything I "cooked up"--short stories--were dismal failures. My efforts in the kitchen were somewhat better, but not always great hits. Czech dumplings, for instance--years of failure, and then last Christmas, I finally got it right.

Last week I had a surprise phone call from a man who babysat my children fifty years ago, when he was a young teenager. "You used to sit in the basement and write while I played with the little boys," he said.

I no longer have an office in the basement. My little boys are now fathers. I turned out to be a pretty decent cook, still like to try new things. Pretty decent writer, too, and still like to try new things, even if they don't turn out the way I hope.
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