Life continually surprises me.
When I lived in New York, in an old pre-war apartment on the Upper West Side, I devoured The New York Times every Sunday. My dear friend Sharon and I walked up to Absolute Bagels in the late morning, bought two bagels each (one with cream cheese and a generous stack of lox, the other with lox cream cheese spread), and walked back to our place, talking. We made a big pot of tea and sat at the creaky table in the kitchen. Light came through the smudged windows there was no budget at our building for window washers and fell on the sections of the newspaper spread out across the table. We put on good music, Beatles and Bach, mostly. And we sat there, for hours, until the teapot was empty and our fingertips were stained charcoal grey from all the newsprint.
There haven’t been any Sunday mornings like that in a long time.
I read every single section of that paper. Okay, I skipped the business section. But I always found myself looking forward most to the magazine. And increasingly, I rushed first to the food columns written by Molly O’Neill.
Take a look at the opening to this piece from January 1998:
“WITH a fixed gaze, Madeleine Kamman watched the gently rolling chicken broth simmer around the endive on the stove. Her ice-blue eyes trained on a single leaf, she was alert for the faint shiver that would signal its softening.
In a flash, she added the dash of sugar that would help the endive caramelize. She shook the pan. She exhaled. ”Now it’s up to time and the fire,” she said. Ms. Kamman wasn’t instructing her visitor. She was reminding herself.
In a black beaded sweater, black slacks and tidy black pumps, Ms. Kamman looked like a bourgeoise grand-mere. At 67, the French-born chef, who is famous for her merciless exactitude and her meticulous cookbooks and teaching, is trying to accept that some things are beyond even her control.
A purist with an encyclopedic knowledge of food chemistry and food history, and a harsh judge, Ms. Kamman remains the superego of modern America’s food revolution.”
I couldn’t get enough of Molly O’Neill’s writing, her muscular, playful writing. She had command of my brain from the first sentence.
I didn’t know then that I wanted to write about food. Looking back, it all seems inevitable. The photos I took on my Kodak disposable camera when Sharon and I ate at Le Pain Quotidien or the Amish pie place. The way I remembered the breakfasts best. The fact that I grabbed the magazine to read Molly O’Neill’s columns before anything else, even the wedding announcements. It all seems pretty clear to me now.
But back then, I just wanted to write. Anything. Everything. I wanted to write.
Now, here I am writing.
And next month, I will be part of an extraordinary gathering of writers, organized by Molly O’Neill, here on Vashon Island.
And I’d like you to be here, if you can.
The Longhouse Writers Revival will be a day-long gathering in a big red barn, here on Vashon. It’s a conversation about the false divide between old-school writers and new media writers. (Hint: we’re all writers.) It’s bound to be spirited and funny, a little contentious and mostly amazing. That day-long seminar on August 12th will also be followed by a pig roast we’re finding just the right cooks for it now and a gathering of berry desserts. If you come to the Revival, bring a dessert made with Washington berries. There will be a contest for best-in-show, with that recipe published on One Big Table for all to see. (Personally, I want to see a gluten-free dessert win!)
A warm August day. Vashon. A big red barn. Great conversation. Pig roast. Berry desserts. How could you not want to be there?
And if you’re on the east coast, there will be another of these in the middle of September, in upstate New York. I am honored to be part of this too.
Along with this, there are writing classes.
On August 13th and 14th, Molly and I are team-teaching a two-day seminar called Essentials of Food Writing Day Camp.
“This 2-day intensive explores the elements of food writing as a genre. It presents its basic forms — the recipe-driven service piece, news article, and personal essay as well as food blogging, opinion and food policy and advocacy stories. After each form is introduced, students write a sample that is presented for group discussion. The balance of brief lectures, writing, work-shopping, and on-site editing of each piece allows students to experience each form and to identify their strengths and weaknesses as writers. The two-day intensive culminates in a pitch-a-thon in which each student is given three minutes to present a story, post, or book they’d like to write for comment and suggestions about how to structure the piece and where to sell it.”
Class is limited to 15 people, so sign up soon.
And on August 15th, we’re teaching an advanced seminar called Food Writing Masters Class Day Camp.
“This intimate, one-day intensive is designed for experienced food writers seeking to hone skills and to create (or to continue) long form work in books, documentary, or a brand-creating body of blog work. In addition to exercises for professional writers, each writer’s work will be presented and discussed with an eye to technical aspects of creating winning book or project proposals. Each participant is also offered a one-on-one session to discuss their work or ideas with one of the facilitators.”
This seminar will be limited to 8 people, so if you think this might be right for you, submit some writing samples and register here.
(Lunch and lovely foods will be provided at both seminars. Of course, there will be gluten-free food for those of you who need it.)
Life continually surprises me.
You could not have told me, when I sat at that kitchen table in an apartment in New York, that one day I could no longer eat those bagels. That Sharon would live far away. That I’d move back to Vashon, after leaving it for New York. That there would be years with a darling child where reading the Sunday paper seemed like a decadent luxury.
Mostly, you could not have told me that, one day, I’d be teaching writing with Molly O’Neill. The woman who worked with Lillian Hellman, Julia Child, and MFK Fisher? Wanting to work with me?
I’m very grateful. And kind of giggling at the same time.
I hope to see some of you there.