Finding Inspiration

For the past two weeks my motivation has slowed a bit. I'm unsure if it's the infamous Oregon weather switching back and forth from perfect to perishable, the lag in the kick off of culinary school, or having too much time to think about what's next. I am a thinker, I will admit. An analyser, really, and I can get caught up in spending an extended amount of time getting stuck in the act of just "thinking", which in turn halts "doing". In any case I can finally sense that I'm moving beyond the funk after a weekend of finding renewed energy and excitement with what lies ahead in a few pieces of literature, an always-entertaining Cable TV show and some renewed connections with some past colleagues.

I have an abundance of cookbooks. I used to belong to a cookbook book club (say that five times fast). If you've ever belonged to a book club then you're probably aware that the club will automatically send you a title of its choice unless you respond back saying "no thank you". I'd often find myself ignoring the deadlines for responding and as a result I've ended up with a vast number of books that I didn't necessarily order. A few days ago I decided to bring out all the cookbooks I own, set them on my sitting room coffee table, and go through them one by one to decide once and for all which titles were worth keeping, and which could be a new addition to the bookshelves of my local Goodwill. The first book I picked up was one that I didn't request; one that the company chose for me. It's titled A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider. A hardcover at roughly 760 pages in length, the book never really caught my interest from the get go. Why, you ask? It has no color photographs. Yes, I am one of those individuals who often judges literature by its cover and cookbooks by the amount of color photos that are inside. Regardless of the lack of eye candy, I set the book on my lap and began to skim through. On the inside flap was an introduction of how the book came to fruition.

An excerpt from the introduction:

"Sally Schneider was tired of doing what we all do--separating foods into "good" and "bad", into those we crave but can't have and those we can eat freely but don't especially want--so she created A New Way to Cook."

"Her book is nothing short of revolutionary, a definition of healthy eating, where no food is taboo, where the pleasure principle is essential to well-being, where the concept of self-denial just doesn't exist."

Oh wow, I thought, I'm going to like this girl. I think one of the main reasons why I've signed up for the professional training of culinary school is that I want to learn the fundamentals of how good food is really suppose to be prepared; how to use real ingredients as opposed to all the "substitutes" that are becoming the norm these days. As I continued to read through Sally's introduction my ears continued to perk up and I couldn't put it down. Having spent 10 years in the food industry as a food writer, food stylist and professional chef, Sally has developed a philosophy of which is all about using real ingredients: yes, real butter; yes, real cream; and yes, real sugar, and to learn techniques that allow a cook to pair down the amount of the ingredients in a way that allows a dish to remain full of flavor and satisfaction. I enjoyed reading her insights and thoughts on different types of ingredients, whether to buy organic or not and even her recommendations of must-have tools for every kitchen. Her recipies begin with roast vegetable variations. Ok, now I'm really hooked. I'm a huge fan of vegetables and believe they CAN be delicious--one just has to know how to cook them. Needless to say, Sally has inspired me to try out her philosophy and recipes. I plan to test out each and every recipe in the book. And, I'm headed to a farmer's market tonight to buy some fresh, local veggies. Oh...and I have yet to pick up any of the other cookbooks still sitting on my coffee table.

My next order of business was to finish at least two of the three books I've been reading. The first one I chose was Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob. A food writer who's been writing since 1978, Dianne also instructs and coaches individuals and groups on becoming successful food writers. As she mentions in her book, she used to tell students to go check out books at the library about food writing to gain perspective of the business outside of class. After students repeadedly came back to her stating there were no books out there on food writing, Dianne decided she'd be the one to write it. So I guess one could say this is the first book published on the nuts and bolts of becoming a successful, professional food writer. I found the book incredibly helpful, honest and no-nonsense. Dianne has a gift for mixing honesty (don't quite your day job right away) with pep talks (just keep writing, you'll get there). She delivers practical advice and covers topics from writing cookbooks to the art of restaurant reviewing, pitching food article ideas to magazine editors to writing memoirs, and getting ficiton and nonfiction pieces published. The book also features a number of exercises at the end of each chapter for readers to stretch their creative muscles, like brainstorming exercises that assist in developing magazine article topics, writing your own food recipe and researching food and book publishing markets. Finishing the book inspired me to march forward and capture all the ideas floating in my head onto paper to get them closer to being possible published pieces of work. This is a book I will refer back to regularly.

The second book I vowed to finish was an anthology of food writing of 2006. It's titled Best Food Writing 2006 and is edited/compiled by Holly Hughes. The book contains a myriad of great food writing from magazines, memoirs, and other pieces of gastronimic literature. I enjoyed many of the works from famed food writers such as Julie Powell, Amanda Hesser, Michael Ruhlman, Julia Child and more. One piece that I'm still in awe over today was an entry by Anthony Bourdain titled "New Year's Meltdown". I'm not certain if Anthony meant for this story to be absolutely hysterical, but, to my wide eyes, it had me rolling off the couch in complete shock that the evening he wrote about actually took place.

An excerpt from his first paragraph:

"...I have witnessed some pretty ugly episodes of culinary disaster...I've watched restaurants endure mid-dinner-rush fires, floods, and rodent infiltration--as well as the more innocuous annoyances of used Band-Aids, tufts of hair, and industrial staples showing up in the nicoise salad. Busboy stabbing busboy, customer beating up customer, waiters duking it out on the dining room floor--I've seen it all. But never have I seen such a shameful synergy of Truly Awful Things happen, and in such spectacular fashion, as on New Years Eve 1991, a date that surely deserves to live in New York restaurant infamy. It was the all-time, award-winning, jumbo-sized restaurant train wreck, a night where absolutely everything went wrong that could go wrong, where the greatest number of people got hurt, and the entire kitchen bowed its head in shame and fear--while outside the kitchen doors, waiters trembled at the slaughterhouse their once hushed and elegant dining room had become."

As an inspiring food writer, I appreciate well-thought prose and writers who can clearly communicate a scene, environment, feelings and reactions successfully with words on paper. Anthony Bourdain is a master. I was there. While reading his story I was there, on the back deck of the restaurant waiting for the delivery of lobsters, in the kitchen watching the next disaster unfold, and in the restaurant with the waiters who were scared to go back out to face their out-of-control customers. I felt like I was standing right next to Anthony watching the event with him. Reading such a story inspires me to continue to write and develop my skills as I go on. I finished off my day of Bourdain by catching an episode of "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel. Anthony and his crew were in Iceland. I will admit that I'm unsure what time of year it was, but I remember him stating that it was the time of year where the town he was in saw only four hours of sunlight a day. Being a lover of the sun and light, I felt for Tony as he awoke in total blackness with droopy eyes and a cranky attitude. Nevertheless, it was entertaining to witness as he explored what Icelanders do with only four hours of sunlight.

As lives get busy and time goes on, we, unfortunately, lose touch with people we were once close to or who were an integral part of our lives either at work or personally. Such is life, it happens, there are only 24 hours in a day and it seems as we get older the way we spend that time shifts with each passing year. While I attend culinary school I do still need to pay a mortgage and keep a roof over my head. I've decided to try my hand at offering freelance/contract services in public relations, writing and editing. I decided to go all the way and even came up with a business name for myself: Savor Communications, inspired by this very blog you're reading. With getting back out into the real world comes the need to begin the networking process. I've laid low for the past few months and emerged within the last week, reconnecting with long lost colleagues and missed acquaintances. I've heard back from so many and it's incredibly refreshing to catch up with old faces. In the process I've realized it's been beneficial for me to communicate to people what I'm doing (going to culinary school and looking at becoming food writer, etc.). I have to say I'm lucky to have such a supportive group of friends and old colleagues out there. Everyone responds with such excitement and intrigue and I've even received a few "I wish I would have thought of that!" comments. Support and knowing that there are people out there who are so excited for what I'm doing is incredibly inspiring and definitely gives me that extra push to keep trucking along. Hearing other's excitement gets me re-excited and energized to embark on my new path. So thank you to those who have expressed interest in my journey. Your encouragement makes a world of difference.

Even when the road ahead promises a bright, exciting and adventurous future, sometimes we get stuck with an elusive streak of motivation. It's normal; not everyday is picture perfect and we don't always feel 110% day in and day out. I'm glad I took some time and let my mind lead me to finding things that reminded me why I'm doing what I'm doing and delivered a sense of renewed energy in my upcoming adventure. School starts in just under two weeks and I absolutely cannot wait. Orientation is this Saturday.


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