During one of the bleakest periods of the pandemic, when loneliness was like an anchor tied to my spirit, I started a project. I read an important cookbook in my collection — from the front matter through the acknowledgements. In the prison of imposed quiet, I watched the writer's hand, discovering their quirks and imperfections. I began collecting small phrases — expressions of personality — in a 25-page document. I have a few ideas for it.
I'm looking at my food and cookbooks in new ways, as objects of a writer's artistic practice and a record of career development. And I'm going to start writing about them here.
In 2013/14, a few pieces I wrote while at the Humber School for Writers were about cookbook collectors. A well-known Toronto food writer opened their home and library to me as a student. A generous gesture.
If I'm in a room with a cook and their collection, I find the latter distracting.
I began collecting in the mid to late 80s. My library is a culinary fingerprint.
I'm starting with that pile. There are some stories in it. I had lunch with one of those writers. There's a book there I gift as often as I can. I have a big beef with the research in one of those books. Some of them are out of print.
If it inspires you to buy, please support local cookbook and used bookstores. Remember going out of the house to get books? Being in a shop with people all leisurely like. Spending an hour in the afternoon in Nicholas Hoare on Front Street in Toronto (I miss that bookstore). I still have a few of their bookmarks.
There's something else. A friend is art directing. It was a spontaneous offer made in the last couple of weeks. I'm grateful to focus on the writing and am excited about the collaboration.
I'm working on the first essay. It's up May 6.
This week one of the good people in my life showed up wearing a Def Leppard t-shirt. My kind of woman. Pure fire.
Everything But The Girl is back. Tracey Thorn's black coffee voice. The second song makes me long for a dark, crowded nightclub.
March 14, 2023
February 22, 2023
Me and my mom at Calgary airport. I was in the final weeks of training for my first marathon. Some of my SCS students will remember me like that.
My running career ended in knee replacements. Those days are over. I did them real good.
Cooks are often driven by an outrageous need to constantly be pushing on their physical and skills capacity. Having a career in the kitchen is like being a crazy ultra-marathoner. Have you ever seen the documentary, The Barkley Marathons? The subtitle is, The Race That Eat's Its Young. Woo boy, it's insanity. Reminds me of working in the kitchen at Rundles. That should make a few of you laugh. IYKYK.
I can't write that way. It does not work. It's a whole different relationship to productivity.
Sometimes I'll hear a writer humble-brag about producing an astonishing number of words in a single sitting. What kind of fucking words, I wonder. Are we talking like Jack Nicolson in The Shining:
"All work and no play make Jack a dull boy."
Half a block. Do you know how far that is? I thought I would die those first few weeks of running.
I ran the first race within weeks of starting. It was called something like the Hilly 15. Basically, fifteen kilometres of expert-level cross-country. I was not prepared is an understatement. The medal is a testament to my will.
The nice thing about training in Stratford was the country roads and my farmer friends outside the city limits. I'd pull up to their doors sweaty, 20 or 30 km into a long run, and fill my water bottle. Do you know how good cold tap water tastes? On a sweltering day, it's three stars.
There I am, crossing the first finish line. Tired...joyful...proud...hungry...grateful. So fucking ready to stop. It rained the whole way. You can't imagine the chaffing after four hours.
Here's what I learned about taking the glory lap before the actual finish line. You don't want to do it. It's an energy suck.
Experienced writers don't talk much about what they are working on for the same reason.
Sports psychologists might disagree. They want you to believe in everlasting winning. That makes me want to lie down too. Then when you lose, you smash your racket to pieces on the court.
All week long, I had different songs lined up, and then this came up in explore mode last night and it made me feel good.
A 1968 Mustang. Is there a nicer car? Why am I going here? Because I saw this photo on Instagram this week. Taken in Tehran. The culture that historically gave us beautiful things related to food.
Clotted cream. The colour of that car. I’d look good behind the wheel. The thought of driving it sends me over the edge. I think I had a good time in one as a teenager. I mean that in the purest sense. Maybe that's where my love for the car started.
This week I was reminded of maps. Remember those? The robotic drone of Google directions is a poor replacement. It disrupts a real-life pleasure. Another kind of travel. Out where you can't be tracked.
I can see a map laid out on the hood of that car. On the side of US 101 or Highway 1, somewhere between Portland and San Francisco. The Pacific Ocean out the passenger window — smells briny like salt along with pine and moss. A wild and extraordinary drive. I’ve done parts of it near Cannon Beach and in Sonoma County.
Navigating is something I’ve always enjoyed. Finding the way is a challenge. Like solving a mystery. An exercise in following instructions. A cookbook for the road. One of the best games. And a source for epic fights. Many in public.
Pouring over maps before a trip. Planning a route to a restaurant, a botanical garden, an artist's home or museum. Just thinking of those journeys makes me smile.
Michelin regional maps of France are made of a material that doesn’t deteriorate at the seams — they're quality. I used one on this solo weekend trip in the Haute-Savoie. Wonder what their long life is?
Do you have a favourite style? I could fall down that rabbit hole. Someone on Twitter pointed me to the Blue Guides. Another talked about the dog-eared Lonely Planet guide they travelled through Europe with in their late teens. Do you have one of those?
The memories that imprint on us.
On Wednesday my mom said, "You have to take chances."
Seems imperative right now.
Making a playlist for a road trip. Give me that job, please.
These songs would play in that Mustang, on that coastal highway.
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