My dad was a cordon bleu chef. He didn’t own a restaurant. In fact, the whole idea of working in the food service industry was pretty much his worst nightmare. As a college student in Colorado Springs, he was fired from the Broadmoor Hotel’s main dining room because he couldn’t carry a tray on his left hand. He also worked on the top of Pike’s Peak. His job there was in the kitchen–mainly frying donuts. Quick tip: to clarify grease (which keeps it from tasting burned/yucky) when frying anything all day, throw in some peeled potatoes periodically. All that said, he did enjoy cooking–just not “working” at it. Later in life, he started taking classes and enrolling in cooking schools. Just for the fun of it. Before that, though, he used to experiment with recipes from, of all place, Playboy Magazine. Yeah, my dad was cool. FYI, this was back in the 1930s and then the Sixties. When my parents decided to redo their kitchen, he insisted on losing the electric stove–“You can’t saute properly on electric burners!”–so they had gas stovetop with a downdraft grill and other fancy things.
I give you this historical background because I fixed French onion soup and roast beef au jus sandwhiches last night for dinner. Dad would have started the onion soup first thing yesterday mornign, simmering the beed broth and seasonings and then he would hae added the sliced onions at just the righ time ahead of serving so that they were the perfect texture when ladled into bowls, topped with home-made croutons and round slices of Provolone cheese. He would have bought fresh bagettes at the bakery to use as “nests” for his baby Swiss cheese and slow-roasted, thinly-sliced roast beef (probably prime rib more often than not), with the juices from that slow roasting for dipping. Sounds yummy, right?
Yeah, well. Y’all are probably scratching your heads about now wondering where the heck I’m going with this. Simple. I am not my father. Especially not at my age. I like things simple and easy, fast, and with minimal cleanup. Could I have done all the stuff Dad would have? Absolutely. He’s the one who taught me to cook. Is that what I did? Nope. I opened a can of Campbell’s French Onion soup, added a package of Lipton’s French Onion mix, along with half a can of water and half a can of beef broth. And I let that simmer on the stove will I messed with the sandwiches. I had Ballpark Tailgater Brat buns. I brushed them with butter and stuck them under the grill until they were slightly toasty. I used Oscar Meyer Natural Slow Roasted Roast Beef, sliced, sauting the slices in a little beef broth and melted butter. Then I loaded up the buns, topped with the baby Swis and stuck back in the warm grill drawer (no flame!) to melt the cheese and keep warm while I finished off the soup with New York Bakery brand Texas Toast croutons and rounds of Provolone. It’s like magic. AND also yummy! Still, I’m pretty sure my dad’s up trout fishing on a cloud somewhere looking down and shaking his head in despair, wondering where he went wrong.
The thing about cooking is finding ways to create what you want to eat, in a way that works for you. This is also a lesson for writers. Beginning writers get all the advice. “Plan out everything. Outline. Know everything about your characters and settings. Know everything about your plot. Follow the 3-part arc (beginning/set up, middle, end/climax). It’s the only way!” Or “Have an idea? Grab it and run. Sit down and just start typing. You can fix all the technical stuff later. That’s what edits and revisions are for. Tell the story the way you see it. Let the characters evolve naturally. Be organic.” Yeah, those would be Plotters and Pantsers (and in “by the seat of your pants.”) Then there are those of us who find our own way. I’m a Puzzler. I get an idea and t urn it into a framework (ALWAYS fit the straight-edged pieces together first, just sayin’! 😉 ) that consiset of your idea, a brief sketch of the characters and the setting.
And then I start writing. I actually start at the beginning because I have that framework and I know where I’m ultimately going. Provided I don’t get detoured to a better ending–which has happened!. Also, I do a lot of flash fiction for fun and more often than not, those 250 words based on a prompt turn into a full scene. Those scenes then get put together into chapters and those chapters get fitted into the overall plot and somehow, by the time I get to The End, I have a whole story that makes sense with characters who have surprised me along the way as they reveal things about themselves. Am I recommending this for anyone else? Oh to the hell NO! My brain is wired to work this way. It took me a long time to find the “write” process for me.
Writing and cooking is a lot alike. You can start with a recipe and follow it exactly and turn out an awesome dish. Or maybe you have a family favorite that you just cook up from scratch. Then there are the times when you know what you want to eat but don’t want to hit the grocery store so you take some of this and some of that and mix in that stuff and oh yeah, a little seasoning and VOILÀ ! Now all the sudden, you’re a cordon bleu writer.
I suppose I should mention a title here since it is Tuesday. Okay. Since we’re coming up on Halloween and I keep saying that I’d love to spend Halloween in New Orleans, I’ll suggest THAT OL’ BLACK MAGIC, the prequel to my Penumbra Papers Urban Fantasy series. Sade, the snarkily human FBI agent MC doesn’t cook. This is a good thing. But I know Sade well. She’s lived in my head for about 20 years now. She gets the whole point of this post and she’s alo telling you to go grab–or reread if you already own–her story. Just click on the title or the cover to find the list of on-line booksellers. You can also read it for free with Hoopla. So what about y’all? Are you a by-the-book cook/writer or a that-sounds-good kind?
Your soup sounds just as yummy as your dad’s with less work. I am all about less work. LOL
As for the rest… with writing and with cooking, once you know the basics, you can create anything and do it any way you want. Find what works FOR YOU and run with it. I mean, you know me, I call myself a plansterer… plan a little, plot a little, pants a lot. Plantsterer? Plantplotpantstalot? ROFL. :shrug: Whatever it is, it works for me. Well, it used to work for me before I started working and now I work so much I can’t work. If that makes any sense. I think my brain is broken this morning. What was I saying? Oh, yes, writing and cooking… you can only create something good in your own way. :nods: nuff said.
Why yes, we are sistahs from different mistahs! 😉 And trust me, your brain ain’t broke, just is a different gear for now. Hang in there!