The joy of food writing – whether reading or writing it

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times post about food writing…

I am a writer. But I am also a foodie. I enjoy cooking, baking, eating, writing and reading about food. It is one of the great pleasures of my life. Perhaps this is why a New York Times post by Tejal Rao spoke so directly to me. Headlined, “The Joy of Reading About Cooking,” the piece traces the author’s move as a child from London to Paris. Rao is a restaurant critic at the Times and a winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for restaurant criticism in 2013 and 2016.

As a child, Rao had a hard time when she was initially plucked from London, the city of her birth, and then dropped in Paris, where she did not know the language. Her reminiscences — focusing on how she coped with the sudden absence of her native language by reading cookbooks written in English —  immediately resonated with me. Here is part of what she observed:

We had a paperback of The Australian Women’s Weekly “Children’s Birthday Cake Book.” I studied its pages before going to sleep, lingering over the steps for a vanilla cake lined with chocolate biscuits, topped with finely chopped green jelly and white plastic figurines, which was meant to look like an aboveground swimming pool. It was a book about aesthetics more so than cooking, and whether the recipe was for a typewriter with candy keys or a rubber duck with potato chip lips, it began, like a prayer, in the exact same way: “Make cake according to directions on packet.”

I had that same book when my children were young; perhaps you did, too. I baked and designed many cakes from it for my triplets (although I always did the baking, never using cake mixes). The most family-famous of these was the series of train cakes I made for their third birthday — see photo, above. The terrific volume of cake (what was I thinking?) had us giving away cake to neighbours for days afterward.

My thanks to Tejal Rao for reminding me of this special time and for causing me to rummage through our family photo albums so as to find this precious photo of our now-adult children…

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Nov. 13/17.

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