I grew up in the kitchen with my mama and grandmas and aunties. When I was a little girl my mama sprinkled flour across the counter and let me draw pictures in it while she baked. As I got older, I got to do more grown-up jobs. She taught me how to read recipes, measure ingredients and decipher spices.
I loved being in the kitchen because that’s where I found the greatest samples of food and the best stories cooking.
When I sat at the table with my grandma rolling lumpia, she would tell me about her childhood growing up in the Philippines and Hawaii. Grandma would giggle about the days when my grandpa would dedicate songs to her on the radio. She would share techniques for Filipino cooking, which is as much about the process as it is about the ingredients.
When I would pull up a stool to the counter, my mama would tell me about her adventures in the kitchen with her dad. I learned about our Italian-American heritage. I discovered the secret pasta sauce recipe. My mama unraveled the stories of her dreams, failures and the roots of her faith.
We bonded right there in the kitchen.
As a mama of three girls, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen today. We create, we taste, we dream up stories. One day I heard that familiar scrape of the stool across the kitchen tile. My middle daughter, who is named after an Italian chef, wanted to help mama. I happened to be making a Flourless Chocolate Truffle Torte. When she saw the chocolate swirling in the mixing bowl, she looked up at me very earnestly and said, “When does the licking begin?”
A classic line that will go down in history in our family. I am sure it’s also a line that will climb into one of my manuscripts one day.
And that’s just what happens in the kitchen: stories are born. My latest book, CORA COOKS PANCIT, details the story of a Filipino girl who learns to cook her family’s favorite noodle dish with her mama and uncovers some family history in the process. The story came out of my own experience cooking with my grandma Cora.
I happen to have a hand-scrawled copy of my grandma’s pancit recipe. I believe recipes are also a kind of story, a narrative of ingredients and traditions. That’s why we decided to include the recipe for the dish in the back of my book. When I do school visits, I talk about the ingredients with the kids and we cook pancit together.
I also included some details in the book from a Filipino friend who grew up in California’s Central San Joaquin Valley. One day when we were cooking together she told me about her dad who cooked for the hundreds of farmworkers who picked strawberries and grapes in the fields. This added another layer to my original manuscript because I could share a piece of California history as well.
The kitchen can also be a place to test out a lot more than just recipes. If your writer’s brain is blocked, droopy, stuck or uninspired, go feed it. Throw open the cupboards, dig in the refrigerator, turn up the burner and make something. I call it cooking therapy. Sometimes just the act of making myself a snack or cooking up a meal gets my creative juices flowing. While I’m cooking, I’m working out the kinks in my plot or adding nuances to my characters – sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously.
Julia Child said, “This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook. Try new recipes. Learn from your mistakes. Be fearless, and above all, have fun.”
Sounds like great advice for writers too.
A SPOONFUL OF WRITING PROMPTS TO HELP YOU COOK UP YOUR NEXT MANUSCRIPT:
- Describe the most delicious meal you can imagine. What are the smells, the colors, the tastes that inspire you there?
- Sketch a scene in words or pictures from your childhood that involved food. Was there a traditional dish or meal you often made with your family?
- If you were inviting a famous chef to dinner, what you would you serve? Invite your own children or perhaps your inner child to be a part of that story.
- What food makes your stomach turn or your nose turn up? Write a story about a child avoiding or facing that food.
- Go in the kitchen. Make yourself a snack. Dig in. Then imagine what would happen if that tantalizing snack came alive.
Dorina is the author of three books for children, including CORA COOKS PANCIT which won the Asian Pacific American Librarian Association’s “Picture Book of the Year.” Her poetry has also been published in Cricket magazine.
Dorina loves creating healthy recipes for her family and friends. To balance all that eating, she runs half marathons with her hubby and knits. When Dorina is not writing or stirring up stories in the kitchen, she is the director of The Haitian Bead Project. The project features upcycled jewelry made by Haitian artisans who are rising out of poverty. Dorina loves working with the Haitian women and sharing their stories in the U.S.
Dorina is giving away a signed copy of CORA COOKS PANCIT!
This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:
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Good luck, everyone!