First about Harvard Common Press…

Tuesday August 4, 2009

When my publisher told me they made room on the Not Your Mother’s Cookbook website for a blog for me, I jumped at the chance to write directly to my readers. That means straight from the center of my creative mind to yours. Usually with the writing of a cookbook, my creativity goes through an editing process, then design and layout, then to printing. That’s a lot of layers. With a blog we circumvent my team and you get a direct stream of consciousness food writing. This blog doesn’t stand alone, although it certainly can, but is a partner to my NYM books.

I seem to have a lot to say. My editor Valerie is constantly telling me we have to cut recipes and text to fit into the designated number of pages laid out for a book. Her job is to know how many words will logically fit on a page with the proper blank spacing for visual balance. My job is to give the creative material to fill that page. Here in virtual space we do not have that boundary and I am able to share with you more recipes, notes on favorite equipment, nutrition, and my opinions on food and the world in general.

First about Harvard Common Press. HCP is a unique independent publishing house located

Boston MA

in the center of Boston. It is quite old fashioned in the way publishers began back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s: with the vision of a person(s) who loved writing and set up their own niche publishing house. This small, personalized approach to cookbook publishing is becoming extinct, as one by one, small houses are being incorporated as satellite divisions into the uber international corporate-style publishing houses such as Random House. HCP is one of the few successful privately owned publishers that balances the literary/practical side of cookbooks with the commercial and it is a gift as an author to be able to work within this company. Everyone knows each other, the publisher is hands on and knows what is going on in all the departments every day, creative meetings include most of the staff for brainstorming, and the teams of people who use their skills to bring a book to publication, are artists themselves. The path to literary success goes far beyond just having the author’s name on the book cover.

To celebrate the publication of a book, there is a potluck served in the office with the recipes from the new book prepared by the staff. It is a special feeling knowing that my support team are really paying attention to what kind of books they are publishing and I feel that connection. This close working relationship is an impossibility with a large company where you might only deal with your editor.

There is a learning curve to writing recipes. Some writers of other genres, especially scientific writers, really look down on cookbook writers an inferior since they think writing recipes is such a no-brainer. One isn’t born with the talent to do so, so a well written recipe is one that takes practice practice practice. Even so, an author must be emotionally tough to see through the red pencil edits that invariably come with the editing process. When I started writing in 1986, editors uses a red pencil and you got a large unwieldy pile of paper to plow through and manually write the answers to the queries; today there are marvelously efficient editing programs so everything is done online, but the red lines are still there. I remember one author, totally upset and frustrated when she saw her precious writing corrected about 100 times on each page: “Oh I feel like I am still in school. I see I got a D in recipe writing and a D in grammar.” But a good writer will analyze the corrections instead of being intimidated and incorporate them into the process of writing cleaner and tigher recipes that will allow the reader to easily make the recipe exactly as it was designed to be prepared. So the writer needs to be proactive and in a way predict the questions and rough spots a home cook might encounter.

I am constantly asked in interviews if I came up with the Not Your Mother’s moniker, which is a series of cookbooks that has grown from the first slow cooker book to include a volume on entertaining in the slow cooker, another for small batch cooking in the slow cooker for singles or couples, weeknight suppers (our version of yummy meals cooked with a time limit involved), and now our kid friendly, comfort food family favorites in the slow cooker, which will be available this month. No I did not think up the moniker myself. It was created in one of the office brainstorming sessions and it was simple and catchy enough to stick.

Summer means barbecue and casual outdoor eating. Growing up meant family BBQs at my Great Aunt Helen and Uncle Perry’s rural home in upstate New Jersey. There was a freestanding field stone fireplace with an ancient iron grill fitted in cooking those burgers, hot dogs, and chicken positioned between the fish pond and the picnic table for the penny Annie poker game for the over 80 set, all players wearing visors. But many cooks do not have room on their apartment deck for a barbecue set up, don’t have a yard with their condo, are too lazy, or else they never learned how to cook on one. My mother got a new gas BBQ with all the bells and whistles and misses her simple old charcoal BBQ that she had for 25 years which cooked perfect every time. Enter the slow cooker for making a pulled dark meat chicken BBQ. There wont be the burned edges, but you wont miss that at all. And no mess.

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Some cooks are just naturals in their ability to create tasty food. This is a favorite casual entertaining dish shared especially for the NYMSC books by my foodie friend Mary Ellen Evans, the author of a bevy of excellent books on chicken. She not only teaches this recipe in her cooking classes, but makes it at home for parties as well. It’s a hit everywhere and as great for eating on superbowl Sunday in front of the TV as it is for fourth of July and Labor Day backyard picnics. It goes together so fast (you just stir together the sauce ingredients and there is no browning of the chicken) you can make it even if you cannot cook. It cooks all day, so it is very convenient if you are away for the day or working.

The secret to the incredible dimension of taste? A dash of ground smoky chipotle chile powder.  Go ahead and double or triple this if you are serving a large crowd; it will cook in the same amount of time, but be sure to use a large slow cooker so the meat is loosely piled in. You can leave the slow cooker on the table and let guests help themselves. Serve piled into fresh, soft buns (and have lots of napkins nearby) with coleslaw, a bean salad, and wedges of cold seedless watermelon on the side. I have included recipes for the side salads since when I read about meal suggestions, I go crazy not getting those recipes too:

Beth Recommends

This will be an occasional section that will highlight whatever I am reading in cookbook land at the moment, favorite cookbooks, and tips for equipment.


Your Comments

3 comments Comments Feed
  1. Susan Levitt 04/08/2009 at 10:02 pm

    WOW! Great stuff! I love how you write. Please keep it coming and I look forward to more!

  2. Carolyn Jung 04/08/2009 at 11:44 pm

    Congrats on your indoctrination into the blogging world, Beth!

    And can I just say there’s something so wonderful and old-fashioned about the idea of a publisher hosting a potluck to celebrate the publication of a cookbook. I LOVE it. I hope it’s a tradition that never ends. ;)

  3. Jo Moore 05/08/2009 at 4:16 pm

    WOW! This is GREAT! I can’t wait to try it when I get home! Great to know you have this blog now, too! To have a forum to find your thoughts and ideas is a gift I very much appreciate!
    Bless you!

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