Re-entry. Or, How I Spent My Summer Vacation

by Jeanne on September 9, 2011

Hello there!  I missed you.  I apologize for not posting much in the past few months.  Writing the cookbook, motherhood, conferences, Canning Across America activities, and life took me farther away from here than I anticipated.  But, it’s back to school time for Girlfriend (she started middle school this week! Eek!) which means back to the blog for me!

The cookbook process is going well.  I finished the manuscript at the end of May.  Then in July my editor sent along edits for me to do.  So, I spent a couple of weeks going over the edits, adding things I had forgotten, or tweaking things that needed more attention.  I will admit that this process was more painful for me than I anticipated.  Not because it was hard, but because it exposed my mistakes.  My perfectionism comes out at times like this and cringes at the concept that I didn’t submit a perfect manuscript that could sail through the process without need for any changes.  I know, it is kind of ridiculous.  I am reminded, yet again, that I am the type of writer who needs time and space to figure out what I’m going to say and then how I’m going to say it.  I need to write drafts of my prose, walk away, and then come back and rewrite it to be better.  Writing is definitely an evolving process for me.  Writing my dissertation (oh so long ago) took the better part of a year, with drafts of chapters flying back and forth between me and my adviser.  It was a long process that taught me to be a much better writer of non-fiction.

Similarly, writing this cookbook taught me to be a cookbook writer.  Of course, I knew the mechanics of how to write a recipe and head notes and sources.  But, during these past months I learned how to put everything all together into a cohesive whole that is interesting and helpful.  Writing this book taught me even more how to inform others to do what I do, so their results match mine.  In addition, it was fun and somewhat surreal to write this book in the late winter and spring, and then to revisit it during July and August.  Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s have been part of my life this entire year.  It seems odd to me that these actual holidays are coming up, because I have been living them for months.

A couple of weeks ago we finished a week of cookbook photography shoots.  The lovely and talented Clare Barboza is the photographer for the book and the equally lovely and talented Helene Dujardin (from the amazing from Tartelette blog) was the stylist for the shoots.  I will tell you a secret I’ve been keeping for the past two years: as soon as I met Clare I thought to myself, “This is the person I want to photograph my cookbook if I am lucky enough to write one.”  Yay!  It happened!  And the fact that Helene was the stylist was icing on the cake.  Wow.  I am so humbled and amazed at how fortunate I have been for this whole process!

I will admit that I was nervous about the photography shoots for this book.  We had to shoot around 32 recipes in 6 days.  In August.  Before this summer hit, I was worried that it was going to be super-hot for the baking that had to take place for the shoots (and we have no air-conditioning).  Then this summer hit and I was less worried about that because our summer was almost non-existent.  It was cool for most of the summer. Except, of course, it was hot for the week we had to bake.  Then we had a mini-heat wave (in the 80s–I know, I know, still not as bad as what the rest of the country was having).

As it turned out, we didn’t even care how hot it was because we were so busy it didn’t matter.  Since Helene flew in from the East Coast, we only had 6 days to do the shoot–which was good because it made us get everything done quickly.  The routine we settled into was: bake/prep 5 or so recipes per night and then bring those baked items to Clare’s studio for photographing.  While Helene and Clare set up the shots, I would be in the studio kitchen (so awesome that there’s a kitchen there, I can’t tell you), doing last minute baking or prep for the next shoot.  We would do photos until the light ran out (only natural light was used) and then stop for the day.  And then Helene and I would go home, eat a quick dinner, and bake until midnight or 1:00 am.  It was super-fun and super-exhausting.

Working with these two supremely professional and passionate women was a gift to me.  It fed my soul to be involved with this process.  I am so grateful for and humbled by the intense commitment Clare and Helene had to making the photos for the book the best they could be.  Watching the two of them work at their art and craft of creating beautiful visual documents of the book’s recipes was a joy.  Each day went pretty much like clockwork, which wasn’t as easy as it seemed.  Clare and Helene did a lot of preparation for the shoot before it happened: emailing back and forth for the shoot, shopping for ingredients, choosing props, thinking of angles, etc.  And this work was evident in how smoothly the shoot went.

One of the best things about this process was that the three of us went into the process as friendly acquaintances and came out of the process as good friends.  The days were combinations of silent and concentrated work punctuated by chatting and laughing.  Clare, Helene and I turn out to have similar senses of humor, and we could almost finish each other’s sentences by the end of the week.  Helene stayed at my house, which gave us the freedom to bake and prep like maniacs each night without worrying about getting her back to a hotel.  It also gave us a chance to sit on the porch, drink Lillet, and chat during breaks while things were rising or baking.  She entered our house as the cookbook’s stylist and left as my dear friend.  For more on the shoot, with photos of the process, see Helene’s post on her blog.

Now I have to rearrange my brain and get started on all of the other projects I have put on the back burner. Stay tuned!

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