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…cover songs, recipes, and stories…

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During my recent trip to California, I had a chance to sit and visit for an evening with a friend, Serena, who also has a blog, and is one of the persons who inspired me to attempt writing one. As usual with me, the conversation began with her talking about specifics, day to observations, how one prioritizes content, resources, inspirations, time management. I sit and nod politely as my mind drifts, knowing I have nothing to offer in this arena. Eventually I ask her, who she writes to. Who, I ask, is her muse? She confesses that at first she was writing to and for the other bloggers who wrote about pretty much the same issues, but that lately it’s changed; she’s attracted a completely different audience and clientele for her thoughts… Changing the subject for a moment, she asks if I read other blogs. I said I did not. Which is not totally true. I do read other blogs – none, however about food, cooking, or making food, or anything similar. I told her I’m too malleable – too impressionable to read what somebody else might be saying that’s closely or literally related. It will likely make me pitch it in the trash and walk away thinking that someone else is already saying it better and more concisely. Then I’d have to find something else to do with my time…

I told her then, and I believe it now, that the best audience is the one who isn’t involved in the sphere of what you’re writing about. I don’t want other food bloggers to read this, and I’m certainly not writing it for them; I’d rather that non-food people did. For me, it doesn’t matter if you say something that someone else says better. We don’t ever tell new stories. As far as I’m concerned the themes we touch on have been around for as long as civilization, and few if any cultures have said them better than the ancients; in the forms of the earliest religions, myths, or the classics of the Greeks. Every generation, however, needs a new voice to keep singing the song of what it means to be alive, to be human. It needs the relevance and context of todays world in order to make sense to the ones living in it. Even last weeks poet becomes archaic, somehow, with each new upgrade of Windows…

On the 2 day drive back home, I realized that I originally started this blog for different reasons, having a conversation with some fictitious muse, speaking with a voice that wasn’t totally mine, but somewhere that all changed. Maybe that’s the challenge about ‘writing’ something such as this. Eventually, it only becomes a conversation with yourself, sitting alone, finally spilling out thoughts that you wanted to say to somebody somewhere, maybe some revelation, maybe something that finally makes sense. Eventually, you find – there’s no other audience than the vast recesses and vacant corners of your own head where things ricochet around a bit too much. Sometimes it makes me restless, because I’ve always thought that echoes imply emptiness.

And of course the difficulty of having a conversation with yourself is the grotesque, if not humbling realization, that often, the last person you want standing around talking to you is yourself. It’s another reason why I walk, why I pre-occupy myself with cooking, why I’m always seeking some distraction. Somedays the one person I’d like to have a break from is being me. The last person I want to engage with is the face I can’t get a break from looking back at me in the mirror. Throughout my life I gather that I’m unique in this self assessment. Others don’t seem to have this problem, or they certainly don’t talk about it. Me? I find the older I get I have more questions than answers, even though I’ve gained some wisdom and practical knowledge, none of it explains things as much as I need or want it to.

It actually should be this way. I’ve found the fountainhead of paralysis for anyone who writes publicly – whether they’re good, bad, great, indifferent, informative – when writing for anyone else, a specific audience for example, it turns to shit eventually. You protect words, you veil thoughts, and you don’t ever say what you really want to because you think this person or that might see themselves in some reference. You might lead somebody to some conclusion you weren’t intending. Or maybe, you think, they just won’t get it. Or maybe it just shapes the prism of your own thoughts. Suddenly, you realize, you’re rationalizing and explaining things instead of simply letting them spill out. You sacrifice the story for the sake of the ears it might fall upon. And even if the story isn’t completely mine, or the perspective gleaned from it isn’t one already experienced by a pantheon of anonymous souls before me, somehow it’s still genuine when I experience and discover it firsthand for myself.

There is a thought that goes along with this verbose preface, the thing that brings me back to this sort of reflection, and pithy-less diatribe. Along with usual distractions of walking, cooking – there’s usually music of some sort. I can listen to the same song over and over and over until it begins making my sinuses swell up and my hands shake before I even notice I’m still listening to it. The playlist tonight is simply called ‘creep’ – a three song set on my iPod, set to repeat until I shut it off, consisting of Chrissy Hynde performing her version of said song, then Brandi Carlile, and finally Ingrid Michaelsen.

It was originally written and performed by Radiohead, though I don’t have their version of it, only the covers done by these various females.

I’m biased in the sense that, given a choice, I’d much rather be listening to a female sing. There’s something bordering on the erotic, if not just fulfilling, about hearing a feminine voice wracked with emotion, telling a story set to music. It is, quite simply, lovely. This song, however, is different for me. It is the story, the lyrics, that originally caught my attention – striking a raw nerve a little too close to home, to near the bone to be fully amusing or merely a song – I listen to it now as a cautionary tale as to what I can become when left unchecked. I listen to one version after another because, even though it’s the same song, it’s a different song each time…

The significance dawned on me though, when making dinner, thinking I’d make stuffed tomatoes to accompany the duck I was going to roast. The ‘recipe’ I’d seen called for 8 tomatoes, basil, some arborio rice… I knew I had the rice, I knew had tomatoes – I thought I had 4 and would halve the recipe, but after returning from the grocery store realized I had only 3. I found a red bell pepper in the refrigerator to fill in for the missing fourth one.

The original recipe called for pureeing the pulp, of which I only had from 3 tomatoes and none from the pepper – so I decided to add in the spare duck liver and little bit of water to make up the difference. I added it to the blender, along with a couple of cloves of garlic and some parsley in lieu of the basil. It worked well, but it dawned on me that I’d done pretty much done my own ‘cover’ version of the recipe. It’s the way I cook more often than not. It’s really the point of what my own cookbook is shaping up to be. To give someone else eyes to hopefully approach things exactly this way.

To me, this is the only sort of thing that one should strive for in cooking, reading recipes, and making them. You should always interpret and improvise based on what you have, make up for what you don’t, understand enough to allow yourself to do just that.

There’s nothing more boring, if not heartless, than the person who creates a recipe exact. Who re-performs with such a degree of precision that they’re rendered invisible, and that the experience and finished product speaks nothing about where it came from or who made it. No one cherishes the perfect mimicry of what someone else has done, but they’ll listen endlessly and for hours on end to another persons firsthand version of it.

Recipes should always be regarded as an outline to a story. Anyone who cooks shouldn’t make the mistake of being a verbatim reader, but become a master storyteller – to learn timing, sequence, climax, to see the subtle details, the relationships, and express them in a way that’s meaningful and genuine to themselves…

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “…cover songs, recipes, and stories…

  1. Beautiful!

    Posted by Michelle Johnson | June 16, 2011, 1:59 pm

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