Monday, July 18, 2011

Cooking Up a Good Story

Here's a cautionary tale: first marry a slender husband, overfeed him until he barely fits into his military uniform, vow to do better, to cook with one eye on his waistline. Take a perfectly good recipe for stuffed bell peppers and eliminate most of what's good about it--take out the fat, be stingy with the lean ground beef, shun the salt shaker, and plunk that plate with its awful burden in front of him. He'll eat it, although it takes a lot of liquid chaser to get it down, but he won't rave to his buddies about his young wife's cooking. This might be an omen of food to come, stingy as a miser, warped out of shape by ulterior motives that have more to do with weight loss than love and nourishment.

I served those awful stuffed peppers in a time when we labeled eggs, butter, cream, salt, and almost anything tasty as toxic, fatal. Now we know that everything we eat can kill us, given the wrong proportions. So I've relaxed as a cook. I know that meals need seasoning and binding, they need salt and texture. Roasted beets need honey and olive oil, salt and pepper. And stories need good ingredients and a taste that lingers, be it crisp or creamy. Good writing is like good cooking: begin with a recipe and feel free to tinker, but don't make nothing out of something. Feed the reader.

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