As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time with cookbooks. The writing life may be a solitary one, but in the presence of a well-built library, a writer hardly feels alone. When I lived on my own in San Francisco for a year to go to culinary school, the house I rented belonged to the owner of my cooking school (Mary Risley of Tante Marie’s Cooking School). My eyes popped out of my head when I first arrived and discovered walls and walls of cookbooks, a collection amassed over many years. Treasures like signed first editions of Jacques Pepin’s La Technique and La Méthode were on every shelf.
If getting to go to culinary school wasn’t enough of a thrill, that cookbook-laden home was icing on the cake, and I came to feel I was among friends whenever I stepped through the door.
Books have been my companions for a good long time, and I started thinking I would like to write one (or two or three) when I was in college. The day Doug Thorpe, my beloved freshman English professor, handed out my essay to the class to read (he was demonstrating my awful first draft, and my passable final draft…), something ignited in me. That something, I realize now, was the key that would unlock the drive, the ambition, and the fruition of the path ahead. The key? Discovery of my vocation, and belief that I could, and would, write words that expressed something of value, and that others might just be willing to read. Words that would be, in a word, art.
I took my study of literature as far as I could reasonably take it, through a master’s degree and the start of a doctorate. But then I started to feel antsy, as though I was doing someone else’s work, and not my own. I moved on, and while I worked over the next many years in Chicago. The bulk of my days, were dedicated to the work that paid the bills and a big-city lifestyle. It was good work, work I valued.
But then I started to feel antsy, as though I was doing someone else’s work, and not my own…. Thank goodness for our inner voices, the parts of ourselves that reach up and grab us by the lapels, telling us what we really need to know about ourselves. That antsy-ness got me to San Francisco, to culinary school, back to Michigan and Little Traverse Bay and the little writing room and kitchen on Main Street where my blog, Rose Water & Orange Blossoms, was born.
Here I’m surrounded by my growing collection of cookbooks, some favorites of which we cook from here. Because as much as I love reading my cookbooks, I also love cooking from them.
I’m so happy to let you know that soon I’ll be adding my own cookbook to the shelf (and hopefully your shelf too!), a Lebanese cookbook—the one so many of you have been asking for, the one that is going to share the food and culture we love in a most special way:
Rose Water & Orange Blossoms: Fresh and Classic Recipes from my Lebanese Kitchen
Published by Running Press, an imprint of Perseus Books
The book will be filled with, well, fresh and classic Lebanese recipes, but also the gorgeous photos we love and the well-told stories that so often begin and end in the kitchen. Read more about the book and the writing process in an interview I did with the Harbor Light in Harbor Springs (thanks to my friends there for their terrific enthusiasm!).
Your companionship along the way has meant so much–many of you tested recipes for the book, a huge, ginormous help. You, the community here, are the greatest, and without you none of this would be possible. I consider this book very much ours. I hug each of you with gratitude and flowers.
The publishing process is long—the book will be out in spring 2015—but the manuscript-writing process is short, and there is much to do in the coming months. The timing matters a lot less, though, than the work itself, which is good work, work that is really more like play, and above all…work that is not someone else’s, but my own.