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Playing with Food: Eggs in Brine

July 24, 2009

Egg in brine
I'm fascinated by old cookbooks that describe cooking techniques before food processing took over, which began to happen in the 1920s and then exploded after World War II.  I've mentioned my favorite, Miss E. Neil's cookbook, in this post on recipes.  She's writing at a time when there weren't many standard measuring devices, certainly no digital scales, no instant read thermometers.  A common instruction that fascinates me is to "make a brine strong enough to float an egg."  I've always wondered how much salt that would be.

So I asked my trusted culinary assistant, James, to weigh out three different weights of salt in the same amount of water to make a 5% brine, which is what I use as a standard brine for everything, whether for a chicken or to pickle vegetables or corn beef, a 10% brine which is a good strong brine, and a 15% brine, 75 grams of salt in 500 grams of water.

The above not-by-donna photograph is a little hard to make out, but the egg on the left, in the 10% brine is not floating while the egg in the 15% brine is.  15% brine is very strong, you'd have to use it judiciously. I'm glad I have a scale!

Also, I've always been curious about what happens when you brine an egg.  Can you preserve them this way?  I've heard you could.  Must they be cooked first, then brined? When I left both eggs in the 10% brine for a few days, they both evenutally floated.
IMG_0290
Anyone know why this would be?  Anyone brine eggs before?  What's going on here?  I have to assume there's a reason people aren't soaking raw eggs in brine all over the place. I'll leave them in for a week and see what happens.

Recent Comments
09:19:04 AM by cherie: i understand that folks who take long sailing trips use brining as their preservation method for eggs. http://www.cruisingworld.com/cruising-life/peop...
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Simple Sourdough Starter

July 21, 2009

Sour Dough Starter Blog_2
Photo by Donna

For those who want to capture and grow your own yeast to make bread for the BLT From Scratch Challenge, or for anyone who simply wants to make delicious bread at home (bread far more flavorful than that made from commercial yeast), here's how to do get a starter going and do it fast.

A while back, Carri Thurman, of Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, Alaska, left a comment on my blog about using purple cabbage as the source of abundant wild yeast.  Last week I decided to give it a shot. Worked so easily (I had a bubbling starter in 48 hours), I didn't trust it and did it again.  Worked great.

I've long been a huge fan of Nancy Silverton's Breads of La Brea Bakery, a book devoted to breads leavened with sourdough starters.  It's a great bread book, but her method for achieving a starter takes fifteen days and gives highly specific flour and water amounts for feeding the thing, all of which is clearly unnecessarily difficult by about 12 days and pounds of wasted flour.  I know she was trying to make it fool proof, so that even a beginner would be successful, and when I did her version years ago, it did indeed work.

But so did Carri's and it's so easy.  In a quart measuring cup or other container, put in equal weights of flour and water, about 8 or 10 ounces of each.  Stir it and and put a leaf or two of organic red cabbage. Carri covers it, I leave mine open hoping to lure more unsuspecting gas producing microflora.

Let it sit overnight, then add another addition of flour and water, same amounts as before.  You should have an active starter after another night.  Carri recommends 12 hours between feedings.  Also, if conditions are too hot or too cold, this may affect your starter.  If you don't have a bubbly starter after 48 hours, give it another day.

Here's a picture of Carri's really healthy starter.  This has been well developed and well used; it takes a little more feeding and use to get it this healthy. The starter pictured above had been fed about an hour before the photo was taken, so the yeast is just starting to get going. The more you work with your starter, the more you'll get a sense of its activity level and so you'll know when they'll make the best bread (make bread when they're very hungry!).

Carri's ratio for bread is right on the money, too.  1 part starter : 1 part water : 2 parts flour.  Add salt, about 2% of the total weight. So for a good sized country loaf, use 10 ounces starter (and thus .8 ounces salt). If you're metric, use 300 grams starter, 24 grams salt.

Carrie says it doesn't have to be cabbage but anything that attracts "that white film...grapes, even cumin," she says.  Funniest part of the story is that Carri got it via Martha, a fact she seems slightly embarrassed by:

"My version came from a very old Martha Stewart episode where she was visiting a bakery in NYC and the guy there did it. It was at least 10 years ago, I was home from work with a sick  child and saw the program and immediately wanted to try it, though I had no oganically grown red cabbage to use. Oddly enough the next day a good friend stopped by with some red cabbage from his garden and the rest is history!  Martha was my only way of getting information at that point in my life!"


Cheers to you both! People who grow their own cabbage, to make their own starter, for the BLT Challenge get extra points!

Recent Comments
09:12:57 AM by Toluca Gourmet: My starter did very well using Carris excellent recipe. I would suggest taking out the cabbage after a day, the starter produced some water at the bot...
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Veggie U Benefit, Milan, OH

July 20, 2009

Great event Saturday out at Chef's Garden/Culinary Vegetable Institute to raise money for the Jones family's initiative to help educate kids about food, called Veggie U.  It aims to reach 4th graders nationwide with a curriculum teaching how to make smart choice about food, everything from what they choose to eat to understanding the concepts of sustainable agriculture.  A thousand people turned out to taste scores of chef dishes, taste wines, watch demos eat Jeni's ice cream, and watch an Iron Chef-style competition.  The event raised some good money, but what Lee Jones, in trademark red bow tie and overalls, told me they really need to kick their program up to the next level is a corporate sponsor from a larger company whose goals align with their own. They had an offer from Coca Cola, for instance, which they couldn't accept, bless them.  It's a sad irony of our times that a company doing things the right way would have such a hard time finding support from a larger company who got larger by also doing things the right way. Does one exist? Maybe one of them will realize what the Jones family has realized: The only way we'll truly change the way this country produces and distributes its food is to educate our children. Today.
Bob Jones Sr and Fred Griffith event emcee
Chef's Garden patriarch Bob Jones and Cleveland television veteran and cookbook author Fred Griffith announcing top chef scores.
Chef Phillip Foss_1
One of my favorite tastes of the day, Phillip Foss's cheese-stuffed boneless chicken wing; deconstructed dishes can be done without wit or flavor; this one was succulent and delicious. I'm going to fill mine with sausage!

Chef Jonathon Sawyer
Jonathan Sawyer, chef of the Greenhouse in Cleveland was there with his wife, chef's widow, and staff serving a delicious goat "porchetta" with quail egg interiour garnish.

Chef Jonathan Bennett

Cleveland chef Jonathan Bennett of Moxie and staff sauteed more than a thousand scallops (no easy thing to get a good sear on a thousand scallops with the gaping maw of the public in your face!).

Star Chef Cookoff_4
30 minutes for a mystery basket dish (squash blossoms, micro fennel, tomatoes, walleye), two bunson burners and little prep space: chefs from reality television, Paula DaSilva (Hell's Kitchen), James Briscione (Chopped) and Lee Anne Wong (Top Chef season 1).
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli
Judge Alex Guarnaschelli, chef of Butter and now into the TV world herself (her mom was the editor of Charcuterie).

Lee Anne Wong and Michael Ruhlman
One of the judges harassing Lee Anne Wong

Bruce Seidel
Bruce Seidel of the Food Network, producer of Iron Chef America.

Chef James Briscione Cook off winner
Bob Jones congratulates Chef Briscione, winner by 1/2 point of the competition.

Thanks to the Jones family and the many many volunteers who helped run the event and of course the great generosity of the chefs and their staffs who gave their time and food to support Veggie U.

(Photos courtesy of Michelle Demuth-Bibb/The Chef’s Garden)

Recent Comments
09:29:56 AM by Kimberly Belle: This sounds like a very worthwhile cause. We need more events and pioneers like this! This piece compliments my own writing on the subject at http://w...
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Mousseline
(and recipe for easy shrimp toast)

July 15, 2009

Sausage 3
Photos by Donna
I've had sausage on my mind this week but truth be told, this post is really an excuse to publish the above photograph, which is one of my most favorite sausage shots.  Sausage is difficult to shoot well because its shape can be distracting.  And it's next to impossible to shoot appealingly in black and white because even uncooked sausage comes out gray/brown in a black and white image.

The above sausage is white: a scallop sausage with chunks of shrimp inside.  Donna has shot it on a white plate and it conveys the appropriate quality that define this sausage: moist delicacy. The photograph also has a nice circle motif going on, rather than a phallic one, the downfall of so much sausage photography.

The seafood sausage uses what's called a mousseline base, which is a French term for fish or meat pureed with an egg or egg white and cream.  (I've been criticized for my Francophile leanings, so I thought I would use the Italian term here to show that a basic preparation is a basic preparation no matter the name for it; I asked Del Grosso.  He told me it was "moussolina." So even whey I try to get away from the French, I can't!)

It is the easiest and most stable type of pureed or ground meat, delicious and healthful, and thus perfect for the home cook.  There is of course a ratio for mousseline, which can be found here (hey, there are only thirty three ratios in the book, if I give them all away here, who will buy the book?!  And besides, if you're smart you can figure it out from the below recipe for shrimp mousseline).

What can you do with a mousseline?  Use the below shrimp mousseline to make shrimp toast. Spread it on a thin white bread (Pepperidge Farm works well), sprinkle with sesame seeds and fry for delicious shrimp toasts with a little soy, a little rice vinegar, ginger, sesame oil dipping sauce (a really easy but impressive canape; make it ahead, keeps well in the fridge till you need it).  You can use it to fill wonton wrappers, pipe it into casing for a sausage, or spoon it into a seafood or vegetable broth for dumplings, or use it as a stuffing for something else. Change the shrimp to chicken and you've got a chicken mousseline (add lots of herbs and some shallot, some lemon zest for an amazing dumpling in chicken soup or ravioli filling). Change it to salmon and cook it in a terrine mold in a water bath for a salmon terrine (mix in chunks of smoked salmon or herbs for garnish and flavor). Really, you're limited only by your imagination when you know this basic technique.

For the above sausage I made a scallop mousseline (careful, scallop quality varies and some can be extremely moist; if you can wring them out, you need to find a better source of scallops). To this I folded in chunks of shrimp which turn pink when cooked and make a cool visual, flavorful interior garnish with a good bite.  I sauteed the sausage very gently in butter, and served them with a lemon beurre blanc, excuse me, a lemon butter sauce with minced shallot.

If you have a food processor, there's no reason not to make mousseline part of your repertoire.

Basic Shrimp Mousseline

8 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined (shells reserved for stock if you wish), and well-chilled
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cream

For shrimp toast also include:

1 teaspoon peeled and grated ginger, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 2 scallions, roughly chopped

Combine the shrimp, egg, salt, and if using, the ginger, garlic, scallion, in a food processor. Pulse the the blade a few times then, with the blade running, pour the cream in a steady stream.

This will make enough for about 20 shrimp dumplings, wontons, potstickers, or portions shrimp toast. For shrimp toast follow the instruction in the post above.

Mousseline 4

Recent Comments
10:09:26 AM by Bethany (dirtykitchensecrets): I love mousselines! And the photograph has good taste! I couldnt agree more about the downfall of sausage photography!...
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Cheesecake Factory:
The Alexander Challenge

July 11, 2009

  

A visit to the Cheesecake Factory In Suburban Cleveland, or, How To Use a Fancy Pants Word Like "Insipid" Twice In a Two-Minute Video (insipid: 1. without flavor, tasteless 2. not exciting or interesting, dull; lifeless).

A week or so ago I made fun of author and journalist Kelly Alexander after she wrote an article in praise of the Cheesecake Factory. She quickly issued a challenge by email: "OK, Ruhlman: A wager is in order, clearly. If you go to the Cheesecake Factory, taste that miso salmon, and after that can honestly tell me it doesn't rock, I will not only pay for your salmon but will personally buy 15 copies of Ratio. If you go and eat it and then concede that it tastes good, you have to blog KELLY ALEXANDER IS RIGHT ABOUT THE SALMON AT THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY. Deal or no deal?" 

Watch the above for the actual tasting and response, but beyond that, the whole visit brought up for me all kinds of questions about why my gut reaction was opposed to the CF. Was it simple unexplored snobbery? Or is the place truly reprehensible? 

As it happened a friend had organized a lunch, four high school friends welcoming a fifth back to town. I suggested the CF, saying I would explain. (That it required an explanation, says a lot.)

"I never ate here because the name turned me off," said DH perusing the menu. "Do you think the Roadside Sliders are made of possum?"

The menu runs 20 laminated pages, many filled with full-page ads for Coke and Carnival Cruise Lines and Alberto Men's Pants. 

DL said, "There are 92 specialties. How special can they be?!" Beside the dish filled with foil-wrapped pats of butter was a second menu, with still more "specials." There is indeed a lot to choose from. 

We ordered five entrees (lunch-sized portions, except for the salmon): the crispy beef, an Asian-style stir-fry, the salmon, chicken piccata, pasta carbonara and eventually the fish tacos. The salmon, as described above was delicious--juicy, flavorful, excellent miso glaze, just the right amount of sweetness, the sauce was buttery/creamy but lacked the acidity that would have added a lot to an already sweetish dish. The crispy beef was indeed crispy, lightly coated and deep fried I suspect, then tossed in a sweet sour sauce and al dente green beans. I'm a sucker for this dual cooking technique and enjoyed this the most. 

The piccata was fine, but more to the point, it would have been fine even if you didn't like boneless skinless chicken breas

I'd ordered the carbonara because it's so simple and one of the best pasta dishes there is and I wanted to see how the CF handled this classic. The waitress asked if I wanted chicken on it. I asked "Why I would want chicken on it?" She said, "You're just like my husband, I don't know why." (She was very nice, btw—all service was prompt, friendly and attentive.) 

The carbonara came dressed in a cream sauce and was garnished with peas (where did this peas thing come from—CF is not the only one). The friend beside me, LJ, said, "It's a guilty pleasure, liking bad pasta," as he polished off the carbonara. And the fish tacos, which we ordered on the fly, were all about texture, since the fish didn't have a flavor of it's own. But the texture and the garnishes were enjoyable, as was the fact that you could eat a few tacos and not feel stuffed. That, the beef and salmon were winners. The lay-ups, the piccata and carbonara were like muzak versions of the real thing. Portion size was generous. By the end even LJ was too full to taste the White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Nut Cheesecake that he'd wanted to order for his lunch entree. 

So, clearly, decent food can be had at more than reasonable prices, but it takes some careful choosing on a menu with more than 200 offerings. The biggest drawback is the mall-like atmosphere, a sense of faux everything that is perhaps inevitable in any large chain. The fact that any of the 146 CFs around the country can put out this astonishing variety of food is an impressive work of corporate organization and efficiency. But I left feeling sad, and not sure why. I think, on reflection it was because of the sense that what we'd just experienced was simply a company responding to the demands of America, and the demands of America were helping us to take our food one step backward rather than one step forward, and I don't think we have time for backward steps.

Recent Comments
11:08:49 AM by Melissa Hebert: What I dont like about the Cheesecake Factories is all the different kind of cheesecakes. Cheesecake is a beautiful thing, and CF smothers it in over...
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Tarragon-Garlic Pickles

July 08, 2009

Pickels w: Tarragon 2
Photo by Donna
I screwed up the brine for these and wound up with amazing short rib pastrami, below, but I remade the brine and got it right, nothing but tarragon and garlic.  I like dill and dill pickles, but I love tarragon flavored pickles, which is the dominant herb in cornichon.

I also prefer the flavor of the "natural" or "traditional" pickle, one that uses no vinegar.  Allowing lactic acid bacteria to feed on sugars in the vegetable and release acid, you create a sharp, but not vinegar-sharp, flavor. You also get the pleasure in this style of pickling of working with something that's alive, like yeast or creating your own vinegar.  This works with most vegetables, not just cucumbers.  How do you do this, get those bacteria working for you?  By leaving the uncovered jar out on the counter for a week. That's it.

Farmer's markets in much of the country are offering all kinds of cukes for pickling, so now is a great time to make pickles (grocery store cukes tend to turn out soggy, not crisp). They take a week but they're very easy to make: Figure out how much brine you need (I usually make 20 ounces or 500 grams), add 5% salt by weight (20 x .05 = 1 ounce, 500 x .05 = 25 grams), combine these ingredients in a pot with a bunch of tarragon and plenty of garlic smashed once with the flat side of a knife, bring it to a simmer, then thoroughly chill it.

Pour the chilled brine over your vegetables and put them in a cool spot in your kitchen or basement. Make sure they're completely submerged. Taste them after seven days.  You will have a pleasantly sour, naturally fermented pickle.  If you've stored them in a cold place, the fermentation can be slower.  Too hot, over 75 degrees or so, and you can develop some funky sliminess on top, which you don't want.

There's more detailed information in Charcuterie and Ratio, of course (if you want to keep them in the fridge for a long time, you may want to reboil and chill the brine to halt the fermentation), but the variations, whether you want to make root vegetable pickles, traditional dill pickles, or spicy kimchi, are infinite and they couldn't be simpler. And they go just fine with a short rib pastrami sandwich!

Recent Comments
09:57:37 AM by Scott: Made the pickles from your book, used the homemade pickling spice described. Everything worked perfectly but still got mush on the inside. I even pull...
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Homemade Short Rib Pastrami

July 03, 2009

Short Rib sandwich blog

Photos by Donna
It began with pickles. I'd bought a quart of small cukes to pickle with tarragon but I wasn't thinking as I made the brine.  I wanted some spice in there so I added black peppercorns.  Then, here is the not thinking part, I put in a load of coriander seed, then the tarragon, but as I smelled the brine coming up to heat, it was clear that pepper and coriander would completely overpower the tarragon, and simply don't belong together.  So I removed the tarragon.  Donna arrived just then and said, "Mmm, smells good in here. Like corned beef."

Having ruined the brine for the pickles (using the standard 5% brine ratio from Ratio, bien sur), I thought let's put it to use with what pepper and coriander were made for.  I'd bought some short ribs intending to cure them with a dry rub to see how that worked, but now that I had a brine with corned beef seasonings, it would be a pickle instead.  I'd bought them specifically to make corned beef/pastrami, normally made with brisket.  But briskets are big and expensive and I wanted small portions. Also the brisket nowadays is so lean it can become dry. I wanted to use a well marbled cut, and short rib seemed perfect. (I thought I was being particularly clever, here, making corned beef out of short ribs, but apparently Asianjewishdeli has been doing it for months! Rats!)

Short ribs on board blog The fact is, you can corn any cut of beef if you want, doesn't have to be brisket. The key ingredient is the pink salt, sodium nitrite, which keeps the meat vivid red even after cooking, and gives the beef its distinctive corned-beef flavor. So I simply added a half teaspoon of that to the brine, chilled it and submerged several boneless beef shortribs in the brine and left them for a few days.

I love the smoky spicy flavor of pastrami (corned beef coated in black pepper and coriander and smoked). To get this effect at home, without relying on a smoker, I grilled them over a hot fire. After grilling, they needed to be tenderized which we do by slow cooking. Corned beef is typically cooked in court bouillon, but I wanted to keep all the flavor in the abundantly seasoned meat.  So I wrapped them in foil with a little water to make sure the environment was moist and cooked them for a few hours in a 200 degree oven.

The result: exquisitely juicy, flavorful pastrami that's easy to do at home.  Several steps, yes, but all of them easy.

How did I prepare the pastrami? Neo-Reubens.  Pastrami, sauerkraut, gruyere, with a mayo spiked with sriracha sauce, sandwiched between English muffin halves and cooked in a skillet.  English muffin makes the perfect portion size for such a rich sandwich, we had with chips and beer.  The hardest part of this preparation was waiting for Donna to finish taking the picture so we could eat.

There's a complete corned beef recipe in Charcuterie, which includes mustard seeds, allspice, mace, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, all of which are fantastic, but all I used for this brine was peppercorn, coriander, garlic, pinch of ground cinnamon, and chilli flakes, and importantly 1/2 teaspoon of pink salt for about two cups of water (if you don't know about pink salt, there's more info at the bottom of this post). Pickle your beef for a few days in the fridge, coat with a mixture of equal parts peppercorns and coriander seed roughly cracked or chopped, grill them, then slow cook in foil as described above.  After tasting these, I can't imagine ever using brisket again. Corned beef short ribs are fabulous.

Recent Comments
11:22:20 AM by john_v_phipps: Oh my! I cooked off the short rib corned beef Saturday. Thank you! It was A-freaking-mazing. The only problem is that is disappeared so quickly....
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Cherry Pie

June 30, 2009

Cherry pie done w: piece
Photos by Donna
I don't think I'd really ever had a cherry pie before. When I was young my parents sometimes bought frozen cherry pies. Most pies for sale at bakeries and grocery stores seem to be made with the artificially colored and flavored gelatinized goop, poured out of cans into a pre-baked shell. Nasty stuff.

BCJ_0050 So what amazing good fortune it is to have a neighbor who not only has a thriving cherry tree, but who also tells his neighbors when the cherries are ripe and even sets a ladder in the tree.  Thanks, Marty!

A few days ago, a sultry summer afternoon, my daughter and I went to pick cherries and make a cherry pie.

Because the 321 pie dough ratio is embedded in my soul, it's finished in a snap.  Twelve ounces of flour would give me just enough for a pie with a lattice crust; we chilled it while we pitted the cherries.  Ripe and juicy, the pits popped right out. Because cherries are so juicy I knew I'd need plenty of corn starch, 1/3 of a cup, which, with evaporation in the oven, results in the perfect consistency. The cherries are tart, like rhubarb, and so I used about the same amount as I do for a rhubarb pie, 1-1/4 cup of sugar for 4 to 5 cups of cherries.  If you like it definitively sweet, you can go up to 1-1/2 cups of sugar. But I like it a little on the tart side to be balanced with some vanilla ice cream.

And that was it. No other seasonings.  Nothing.  I want pure cherry flavor in buttery flakey crust.

The cherries are fantastically vivid and so the visual appeal of making a cherry pie is more pleasurable than that of just about any other pie. Also there is nothing like the flavor of this amazing fruit—cooked with sugar it's cherry to the power of ten. I can't remember every being so pleased by a pie, recognizing as we ate that I was having cherry pie for the very first time.

Cleveland Heights Cherry Pie

12 ounce flour
8 ounces butter
4 ounces ice water
5 cups sour cherries, pits removed
1-1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup corn starch

Cut the butter into the flour, mix in the water just till a dough forms (don't over work it).  Chill the dough. Roll out three quarters of the dough to fill a pie dish, save the rest for the lattice crust (see this post on rhubarb pie for more detailed instructions on making a lattice crust, important to interlace the strips).

Combine the cherries, sugar and cornstarch and toss.  Pour the mixture into your pie shell, lay your lattice over this and pinch the edges to form an appealing rim.  Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350 and conintue baking for another hour or until the filling is thick and bubbling. Hands off until it's cooled a little!  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Chery pie making 2

Cherry pie crust making

Recent Comments
11:31:56 AM by Colleen: Hey! I think you are a big help in making a good cherry pie....its such a great pie with ice cream...I always pick just the real ripe dark red cherri...
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Writer's Block: What I Believe

June 28, 2009

IMG_0271
From my desk, photo by iphone
When I put up a recent tweet saying writer's block was nothing more than an attempt to justify your own laziness (and not recognizing this was simply lying to yourself), I got a number of angry RT's calling me (at best) smug.  To those whom I angered I would say, that's a common response when someone takes away a crutch.

If there is a problem with Twitter though, it’s an inability to express nuance (for most of us, anyway, who don’t have the poet’s genius for condensation).

But here I can say, re: writer’s block: This I Believe:

The phrase writer’s block is an excuse that should be used only by the weak and delusional (or as lighthearted slang for “It’s cocktail time somewhere!”).  If you must put a tag on your inability to produce, be my guest.  We all know what it means.

But!  This does not mean that I believe being unable to write well or to have something to say every hour of every day is a matter of laziness.  Sometimes the mind will and must lie fallow.  And, yes, these are hard days/weeks/years for any writer, whether you write to earn your daily bread or whether you write simply because you must.  But when the mind lies fallow, when the words simply aren’t coming, don’t call it writer’s block.  Call it being serious about your work, and recognizing that not writing is simply one part of the writing life, and that tomorrow, goddamit, it will be better.

As I’ve written before, learning to cook at the CIA changed my life.  When I returned home to write The Making of a Chef, Donna more or less looked at me, whilst bouncing our 18-month-old daughter on her knee, and explained that we would be broke in four months.  Because I had embraced the chef’s ethos, the recognition that saying, “Sorry chef, can’t do it” simply was not an option, I figured out how many words, writing five days a week, I’d need to generate in order to have a book-length manuscript in four months (1400 words should cover it, I figured); I literally would not let myself rise from the chair until my word count read 1400.

Some days my mind felt so numb by 4:30 pm (word count 980) that I would actually scream to jump start my brain. But basically it came down to the fact that I was the kid at the dinner table who was not allowed to go outside to play until he ate his spinach; so I ate my spinach.

Often though, what happened was, when I got to that awful I-can’t-write-another-word place, then screamed and moved forward, it was like unclogging a drain, not like pushing a rock uphill.  Once I cleared the way, the writing came easily once again.  And I would write beyond the quota (and thus have a head start for the following day).

I spent a half day Saturdays revising.

But there’s a danger to this ethos, too.  I believe I failed in the writing of Walk On Water by adhering too rigidly to a daily quota.  Because I was working so quickly, I failed to see the overall structure of a story set in the beautiful horrible world of pediatric heart surgery, and as a result, I put the proper end of the book in the middle.  The Making of a Chef had a built in narrative structure, it’s basically a school story.  The world of pediatric surgery is never-ending, and it was the writer’s job to impose a structure on it.  I did and, in my opinion, failed.  Which is why there is a new edition of Making a dozen years after it was first published and no new edition or even new sales of Walk on Water (the publisher's new miserable phony subtitle notwithstanding).

So, I reiterate. I believe “writer’s block” is a harmful term that justifies laziness and encourages self-deception.  But to be unable to write the next scene in your story, your screenplay, or even a new menu item to make something new out of all that arugula and eggplant in your walk in, this is an important part of your ongoing commitment to one of the greatest, and most difficult, human compulsions, to create something where there was nothing.

Recent Comments
01:28:43 PM by Chris Walker: Wait a minute; Ruhlman, youre on Twitter? What is this world coming to? Ive clearly been out of the loop. First Trent Reznor, then Tony Kornheiser, no...
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Cherries Are Here!

June 25, 2009

Cherries 3 in tree  
One of my favorite times of year, sour cherries are here!  Thanks for gorgeous shots Donna.  Time to make pie!

Or a cocktail:

Sour Cherry Mojito_2

Sour Cherry with Rum and Mint

Not quite a sour cherry mojito (though that would work).  Keep it pure with two ounces muddled sour cherries, 2 ounces rum, 1 ounce of simple syrup. Garnish with mint.

Really refreshing.  This will work with gin or vodka — I think gin best though.

Recent Comments
11:02:33 AM by amber: Please let Donna know that the cherry picture is absolutely gorgeous. She is a real talent. ...
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    I write about many subjects in magazines and newspapers, but mostly in books and mostly about food, chefs, and cooking—issues also covered in this blog.
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