Middle school was probably the last time you were confronted by those A is to B as C is to D analogies. You know what I’m talking about:
Fingers are to hands as toes are to:
The answer of course is B) feet. But today I am resurrecting the analogy idea. The theme of my post is:
Cooking is to Eating as Writing is to Reading
We have long used phrases like “I absolutely devoured that last book.” How often have you needed some time to “fully digest” something you have read. Some might be likely to remark that they just read a through a scene that was “absolutely delicious.” I have no idea when or how such gastronomical metaphors came into fashion to describe literature but it brings together a couple of my favorite things: food and the writer’s world.
The other evening my wife and I collaborated on a hearty meat sauce to be dished liberally over pasta. We started with the standard onions and garlic sautéed in butter. There is nothing that smells as heavenly as that combination (Bacon I think is the only olfactory rival to onions and garlic—put all three together and you have Nirvana for the nose). Generally one would add ground beef to make a meat sauce like this but we had spicy Italian sausage on hand and we also diced up some carrots for crunch, color and contrast. Suddenly the tried and true “once upon a time” sauce was looking a little more special, more like a “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away” sauce.
Diced tomatoes went in of course but we also stirred in a healthy spoonful of tomato paste to add depth and complexity. Then we decided that olives, black beans, and corn would help round it out. A sort of italiano-mex combination. We seasoned it with basil and parsley, added a dash of salt and pepper to help balance the flavors and sprinkled a few red pepper flakes in it to add some heat, and left it to simmer a while. Stirring in goat cheese at the end would make it creamy (and believe me, I love creamy) but we opted for serving it with big curls of parmesan cheese providing a little added nutty, salty flavor instead, which turned out to be the perfect decision.
That is what writers do at the keyboard as well, isn’t it? We start with some basic premises and begin to tinker, pulling different things from the pantry shelf and experimenting to see what works well together. Sometimes we want to spice things up, other times we want to tone things down. Bright and simple, or dense and complex.
Just as writing can take on aspects of cooking, reading is similar to eating—enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labor. We can gobble up prose in hurry because it is so good. Other times we might want to savor it in order to enjoy every delectable word, making the book last as long as possible. Sometimes we indulge in the little guilty pleasure of a trashy book because everyone knows that even Twinkies taste pretty damn good.
The ingredients, whether for a fine meal or a good read, are endless and it is the way that they are combined that determines how much enjoyment is derived from them. It also depends on whose hands are doing the combining. The same list of fixin’s can be provided to two people. One might come up with a perfectly passable Mac ‘n’ Cheese while another is inspired to concoct a sublime soufflé. There is artistry everywhere—in the kitchen and at the keyboard—and I think that the ones who take the bigger risks are the ones who reap the most. If I might be allowed to resort to an over used cliché, remember that you gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet.
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