1 Jun 2006

Of Food, Writing, and the Twain Together


Today is the first birthday of the food blog I write with my Peruvian buddy, Cesar. Admittedly, the blog taught me cooking. Really, it did. I had little interest in kitchen activities before we started the food blog. But once I connected with other, creative food bloggers, I was inspired. Soon enough, this uninterested yet curious neophyte was pulled inside the kitchen premises to try out fellow bloggers’ recipes. Before I knew, I was hooked. In a year’s time, I have grown from a novice to someone who can cook. Worry not; all my creations have been edible so far. Some even tasted scrumptious.

Have you ever pondered how similar the acts of writing and cooking are? It struck me one day as I dropped chopped onions and other ingredients into hot oil for frying. First you get all the ingredients together—the vegetables, the spices, the seasoning. The characters, the plot, the setting/s. Then you proceed to chopping and churning. Character style sheets, plot outlines (for those who do), setting details. And finally you begin cooking. The writing ensues. All this while, as the stew simmers and as the words flow off the keyboard, you are anticipating with anxiousness something good would emerge out of your efforts. Yet, you remain unaware of the final outcome. It is creative uncertainty at its nervous best, and for me, it's a childlike joy to go through the process. Finally, when your dish is ready and the story’s last word is typed, there’s a sense of relief. A breath of contentment at having created something from scattered, raw ingredients.

Next comes the critiques and tips from the experienced. Like when Lisa shared with me her trick to cooking al-dente pasta. "Just drop a strand on a plate and taste it. Don't use a timer." You bet, it's been working for me! Or when Cesar would suggest tweaks for my stories that rendered them smoother.

I guess the process is same for all creative pursuits. Food attracts me because of personal inclination, that’s all. And while we are at it, I will skip onto another note, while staying on the same octave. Food, being as vital a part of any culture as music or arts, has often found delicious expression in the words of writers. I would even go on to say that is one of the hallmarks of great writers—to successfully transfer the experience of the taste buds onto the writing page. I find that challenging myself, yet very inclined to attempt, too. For now, let’s savour some masterly literary relishes:

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

—Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

“Bread, milk and butter are of venerable antiquity. They taste of the morning of the world.”

—Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), The Seer

“…and every Saturday we’d get a case of beer and fry up some fish. We’d fry it in meal and egg batter, you know, and when it was all brown and crisp — not hard, though — we’d break open that cold beer…” Marie’s eyes went soft as the memory of just such a meal sometime, somewhere transfixed her.

—Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

“Well loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes. And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood.”

—Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

“Huge lemons, cut in slices, would sink like setting suns into the dusky sea, softly illuminating it with their radiating membranes, and its clear, smooth surface aquiver from the rising bitter essence.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke

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18 comments:

Bernita said...

Oh, very, VERY nice post, Bhaswati!
And the question I always ask, "Did I use enough salt and spices?"

Susan Abraham said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Scott said...

It certainly does strike me that the two are similar. So too with the approach one takes to writing. Some plan, and some just throw it all into a pot and see what comes out.

Lisa said...

Awww, Bhaswati, I'm so touched...and honored. Isn't it funny how one simple bit of advice can wipe away moments of frustration?

Love the pics! Love the quotes! Love the post!

Susan Abraham said...

Bhas, I am rephrasing my comments as I must have been in a hurry - my earlier words are haphazard and have come out wrongly:
So here's saying it all over again:

"I love the pics of the bread & lemons and also that you made this post sound attractive & colourful. That's because you wrote it with love and so, tenderness lined your words. Lastly, can I come to dinner, Bhas?"

Bhaswati said...

Bernita, that's a most pertinent question, both for cooking and writing.

Scott, I agree with you. I have seen a lot of people who produce the most amazing dishes with the least amount of planning. The same is true of many writers, too.

Lisa, the benefit from your advice was entirely mine. 'Glad you enjoyed the post :)

Susan, no problem. I deleted your previous comment. So nice of you to say such kind words about the post. Thank you!

And of course, you can come for dinner. Any time!

jason evans said...

What a great selection of passages! I especially like the one about bread being from the morning of the world. Food does deserve reverence.

Bhaswati said...

'Can't take any credit for the selection of passages, Jason. LOL

But I agree they are great. The bread one is my favourite as well. So much depth in those few words.

Yoda said...

That's it. You've made me hungry all over again. Sunday I am going to cook a lamb dish, which is my favorite. I've got all the ingredients and am looking for the most important one ... time!

Bhaswati said...

LOL, Yoda. I do hope you find the time to cook the lamb. Care to share the recipe?

Yoda said...

I have my own recipe, but this one comes close!

Lotus Reads said...

What a delectable post, Bhaswati and congratulations to the food blog on its first anniversary!

I love how you compare cooking with writing and the quotes you've chosen are just wonderful.

Food and literature are wonderful companions, infact, I love novels that make use of both: "La Cucina" by Lily Prior, "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel, "Chocolat" and "Five Quarters of the Orange" by Joanne Harris, and so on...

Great post, Bhaswati!

Jeff said...

Interesting comparison between cooking and writing. They really are similar in many ways.
Now I'm hungry. :)

September said...

I loved this post! I loved the pictures and the quotes and just everything! :)

Suddenly, I have this urge to go into the kitchen and create something!

Bhaswati said...

Yoda, that recipe looks yummy. Too bad I can't try it, don't have an oven :( Thanks for sharing anyway :)

Lotus, thanks--for the kind words and for mentioning the literary works. They are on my reading list now. I loved the cinematic version of Chocolat. Food and literature, when visualised through cinema, produce a divine charm, don't they?

Jeff, thanks. Glad to make you hungry. Food before anything ;)

Esther, I am glad you liked the post. Gladder yet that it motivated you to whip up some delight!

Anthony J. Rapino said...

Sury,

I love your food posts. If there is one thing I like more than literature, it's food. I actually just had my first taste of samosas the other day. I'm taking a class in post-colonial writers (Sasenarine Persaud, Meena Alexander, Feroza Jussawalla, Shani Mootoo, etc), and one of the other students had his mom make a batch up for the class. It's safe to say I have a new obsession.

-oni

Bhaswati said...

Oni, that's a great mix--post colonial literature and sub-continental cuisine! Can't get better I say. I am so glad to know you liked samosa; I haven't met many people who didn't :P.

Thanks for the kind words on the food posts, too :)

vanessa said...

Great Post. I love the comparison. I love the pictures and...when's dinner?
:)

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