Top 5 Lessons Learned Writing Cookbooks – Lesson 1

This a segment from Top 5 Lessons Learned Writing Cookbooks – a piece that I wrote and read aloud at Litquake 2011 at San Francisco’s Mission Cheese.


Lesson 1:
Don’t accidentally get your kitchen remodeled in the midst of writing a cookbook.

I know how elitist this story will sound, but I’m going to go ahead with it anyway – the secret shame of nearly all food writers is that our very job is often one of extreme privilege.

We had the fortune-slash-misfortune of my father-in-law’s stock doing well, his horse coming in – something. He decided that we needed a new refrigerator, stove, and dishwasher, and he gave my partner Matthew and I the blank check to buy them. Blurry eyed from too many trips to Sears, we made our selection and I love what we have – thank you, Bill! But at the risk of sounding like an ungrateful brat, in hindsight, it was one of the most expensive and annoying extremely generous gifts that I have ever received.

Apparently, sizes on appliances aren’t standardized. And we very quickly learned that a new refrigerator, oven, and dishwasher were incompatible with our existing countertops and cabinetry. Meaning, they had to be replaced, resulting in mind-numbing trips to IKEA, painful hours spent finding contractors who do good work for cheap, and the marital agony of standing together, drooling slightly, in the aisles of the tile store looking into one another’s eyes and souls deciding whether to go with “ice blue” or “dolphin blue” glass tile backsplash.

Of course, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of you or your landlord wreaking construction havoc on your home, you know that no matter how you peel the onion there’s always another layer underneath, and that it all stinks and that it all brings tears to your eyes. Sigh. The new cabinetry and counters required city permits and inspectors who, after I’d spent hours like a rat through a maze navigating the permit process of City government, were more than happy to enlighten us to the construction codes. Suddenly we were inviting electricians and plumbers into our simmering Duck Soup as well.

After many, many weeks (roughly twice the amount of time we had first thought) and dollars that we didn’t have to spend later, we had an operating kitchen once again. I was weeks behind on my recipe development for my first book. Deadlines had been missed. But more importantly, lessons had been learned.

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