Writing and cooking

August 21, 2006 | Karin's Blog | 19 comments

     They have much in common, from a standard recipe that can change at the preparer’s discretion, to the finished product that satisfies a craving. 

     I love cooking and writing.  Today is my aunt’s b-day.  I told her last week I would cook dinner for her to celebrate.  I asked what she wanted and she didn’t hesitate with her answer. “Your rack of lamb.”

     It takes time, patience, and all the right ingredients to successfully prepare this dish.  Same as a story. Time, patience and all of the necessary ingredients.

     Let’s look at my roast rack of lamb process.

     I didn’t always know how to cook lamb.  It was a trial an error process, but one of the many things I learned a long time ago from my chef friend Nitra, was how to tell by touch how cooked the meat was, either on the grill or in the oven. I’m pretty proud of the fact I don’t go by time, I go by touch.  I know when too long is going to be too long and I know when too soon is too soon. 

     Blindfolded with a pair of short tongs I can tell if a piece of meat is rare, medium or well done.  It’s all in timing, paying attention and making adjustments.  In the early days I burnt the hell out of prime rib roast, or served it so raw all I needed to do was apply a band aide and it would get up and walk off the table. So timing is crucial.  As with meat, you can undercook or overcook your story.  Trial and error can remedy this.

     Now cooking the meat is only half of the process.  The preparation, the seasoning is as crucial.  Again trial and error.  Do I use fresh herbs or can I squeak by with the jarred stuff?  Do I braise the meat first to seal in the flavor or do I just prep and roast?

     As I cut fresh rosemary from my monster bush out in my herb garden this morning, I looked around at my other herb pots.  Oregano overflowed its clay pot the tips of the branches sweeping along the cement.  My basil was blossoming in a chaotic show of health. And my mint? Out of control. The thyme and chives looked so dainty amongst the big bushy rosemary I could barely see it.  For me there is no other choice but to use fresh herbs.  In writing I strive to make my characters fresh and engaging.

      The next part of the process was putting all of the ingredients together so that as a whole they created something special. Much like layering a story.

      I washed the rosemary and cut the little leaves then ground them, cleaned and pressed a whole head of fresh garlic, mixed the garlic and rosemary into a half cup of virgin olive oil.  I then added, salt, pepper, fresh thyme and a dash of balsamic vinegar. 

        For the herbs and spices to mingle and infuse into the oil, the mixture needed to sit for a half hour or so. I then add Italian bread crumbs.  I allow that mixture to infuse for another half hour. If I don’t give the mixture enough time to infuse the full affect of the herbs won’t come through. So patience and not rushing is vital to the nuance of the taste. Once the bread crumbs are saturated I’ll slather it all over the cleaned racks and let them sit for a few hours.  Much the same as I would after the first draft of my story.  I let it sit, to simmer in my mind before I go back for the final phase.

     Once the rack has marinated, I’ll braise them in seasoned olive oil, then arrange them in a special clay roaster and roast, all the while testing the meat with my tongs, making sure not to overcook my creation. 

     I make sure to pull the meat out about ten minutes before it’s at the desired temperature, because I know that meat still cooks even after it comes out.  I also know you need to allow meat to stand at least ten minute before you cut, otherwise all of that lovely juice will run.

     I mean really?  After all of that work do you want dry meat?  Same with a story.  Make sure you give your characters every minute they need to cook to perfection, because if you pull them too soon, they will dry up, and not taste nearly as good as they could have with just a bit more patience.

     Of course the meal would not be complete without the perfect wine.  My preference is a mellow merlot, although I’ll always be game for a fat cab.

     So, I’m wondering, since cooking seems to be a lost art in this busy world we live in, do any of you like to spend the afternoon creating yummy meals, or would you rather go out to dinner?



  1. Jan

    Good analogy, Karin, and your rack of lamb sounds delicious. I love to cook, esp. bake. But I prefer to make up dishes instead of following a recipe to the letter.

  2. Lee

    I learned to cook when my children actually left home. Does that make sense…I was a single parent and could only cook the basics. From a mid-west back ground my life was filled with meat and potatoes, not anything fancy stuff. But I can bake a mean apple pie, and cheese cake. So when I had time, I started to watch cooking shows, and used my husband as a test taster..And taught myself how to cook. I’m a better cook now, and I get requests from my sons especially for special dishes, and their old favorites which I’ve improved upon. The same with my writing. I could write police reports in a blink, but they were dry and unemotional. So when my children left home, and I had the time, I devoted time to writing classes, and learning my craft..I’m still learning how to cook and still learning how to write..And still collect never ending lessons in life..

  3. Karin

    Jan, and Lee, my hat is off to you both. I suck at baking. My mil can bake anything from scratch.
    Lee, I love watching cooking shows. One of these days I’m going to take a few classes over at the Culinary Institute in SF.
    My oldest son misses his mama’s cooking big time. If I could fly him some hot chicken parmesean I would.

  4. LaDonna

    First off Karin, I’m famished reading this post! And, Lee, makes perfect sense to me. Between working full-time, and carpooling kiddies everywhere, writing on weekends and evenings, who had time to cook? So, I did what you did. I enjoyed the process of cooking again, tried new recipies, and I love it. It’s such a labor of love, having the family gathered round on holidays, special occassions now. I have a cornbread dressing receipe I got from my mom, who got it from hers. Both are gone now, but when I prepare every Thanksgiving, I feel them around me and smile. Cooking is so much more than eating to survive. It’s a soul-thing, a love-from-me-to-you-thing.

    Your herb garden sounds devine, Karin! Something I want to do, as well as organic farming, etc. There’s plenty of time, eh?

  5. ktzmom

    I love to cook and to bake, although the baking requires a lot of sampling and that tends to put on the pounds. We would rather cook in our house than go out. Thankfully my husband is also an excellent cook, since I don’t get home from work until almost 6:30 every night.

  6. Karin

    ‘Cooking is so much more than eating to survive. It’s a soul-thing, a love-from-me-to-you-thing.’
    Perfect, LaDonna.
    Now, about that cornbread dressing recipe. Are you willing to share? I lurve cornbread dressing but have yet to find a recipe that excites me.
    Ktzmom, my guy used to cook. He still whips out a mean fruit salad, and grills, but a complete meal? That would be his index finger punching in the number to Papa Murphy’s.

  7. ktzmom

    Karin – lol I guess that’s something.

  8. LaDonna

    Karin, of course I’ll share! Ah, I need to dig it out. Organization in my kitchen is a an unknown entity. Pitiful, I know. On the surface, it’s clean. But the cabinets and drawers, enter at your own risk!

  9. May

    I can’t cook beyond the basics (this does not include any meat dishes), but I can bake. Anybody want cake? Cookies? Candy? I usually have one kind of each in the house–all home-made. Right now I have 2 of each. This is why you’ll never see me at cons: I’m too big to leave the house. LOL.

  10. Karin

    May, what kind of cookies do you bake?

  11. Tracey

    I can’t bake – but I love to “invent” reciepes. I have steak in the fridge – what can I put with that to make it taste great? So I add a bit of this and a touch of that until – voila – delicious meal (and sometimes disaster LOL).

    That’s how I cook – and that’s how I write. I can’t follow a receipe to the letter, never have.

    One of the best romances I saw was about two chefs working for competing resturants. Preparing food never seemed so sensual until I saw that. And Karin I agree – it’s all about touch.

  12. May

    Karin, I take requests. I figure it’ll make me very popular at university, LOL.

    I’m a supertaster (I’m that know-it-all who’ll tell you your lamb has too much rosemary), which extends into me being a grazer. I can’t gorge on something–you won’t see me finishing a tub of Tom & Jerry’s or a batch of cookies in one sitting. But I can eat a piece of that cake, one chocolate chip cookie, a hazelnut macaron, a scoop of ice cream and a piece of chocolate in one sitting.

  13. Karin

    Mmm, hazelnut macaron, do you have a recipe?
    Tracey, some of the sexiest scenes I’ve written involve food.

  14. Amanda Murphy

    Read a historical once with a food fight that became an erotic feast. Sounded fun to me.

  15. Edie Ramer

    I love what LaDonna said too. I’m not a big meat eater, but I enjoy cooking–just not every night. Eating out at least once a week sounds good to me.

  16. Karin

    We just went out for sushi. Yum.

  17. May

    This is the plain macaron recipe I use. Just substitute the almond flour with nut flour of choice–usually it’s almond, hazelnut, or pistachio. The Very Important Tips are Here, but most of them are working with Pierre Herme’s chocolate macaron recipe.

  18. Cece

    LOL!!!!!! I cook like Tracey does! Funny enough, I think i write like that too 😉

  19. Karin

    Great links, May. Thanks. I was just telling my mil last night how I wanted to get over to Chinatown and get some chocolate dipped macaroons. They are so light and moist and delish.
    Cece, I write like Tracey cooks as well. It’s amazing to see what you can come up with. Sometimes I amaze myself and it’s actually good.

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