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Lessons from Writing a Cookbook

A few years ago, I wrote an e-book There’s More to Eat Than Cooking, based on my more than three decades of cooking experience. By “cooking experience” is meant home cooking. You see, like many “house-husbands” I know--their name is legion--I do most of the cooking at home. That’s my cooking experience. When I first came to New York more than 30 years ago, I did not know much about cooking. I tried to follow the instructions in recipe books, but always ended up with the usual Chinese take outs, burgers and pizzas. I found out, to my chagrin, that following recipe instructions from a cookbook was like following the instructions manual of a cheap build-it-yourself computer table. Never stable. Ever since then, I had long given up on manuals. Like the bargain-priced computer table, you’d often end up with missing parts or extra objects you did not need. So, over time, I relied only on the pictures--and common sense. I learned that cooking is like this. You need common sense. Lots of it. A few ingredients may be missing, causing you to end up with unnecessary, extra ingredients. This I easily solved by simple common sense, meaning by applying the good sense to balance, improvise and “direct” the outcome. Learning how to cook from TV and YouTube has not always been that easy. I just wonder how many “takes” it took to shoot a scene. Besides, we house-husbands do not have all the sophisticated kitchen equipment that are available in the studio kitchens. We still rely heavily on the old reliable forks and pans. Like many disciplines, I taught myself how to cook the easy way, the shortcut way, and that is by apprenticeship--by observing how other people cooked, by asking my co-workers how they cooked their tempting lunch, and by recalling how my Mom cooked. My Mom cooked great stuff. She is my role model. I copied everything I know from my mother, including her peculiarities of cooking. For example, she would always throw in a pinch of sugar for all salt based food and a pinch of salt when making sweets. When it came to my Dad’s cooking, all I can remember was watching him throw a pinch of salt over his left shoulder. These are things I do unconsciously to this day. I made it a point to write a cookbook for all seasons, for all cultures, and for all situations and occasions. For example, what if your spouse came home early and tired from work and fell asleep. You’d say aha! no need to prepare dinner. But what if your spouse woke up in the middle of the night, and very hungry. What would you cook? If you were preparing a big party, isn’t it advisable to know in advance the diversity of your guests or their food preferences? Some years ago I gave a Thanksgiving party to the employees of a company I was working for. I was disappointed to find out that a third of my employees would not eat the turkey because they said it was not Halal. But I recall it was kosher even if we had no Jewish employees. At the end of the day, the rest of the employees went home happy because they brought home the untouched turkeys, while I ended up buying fruit baskets to “appease” the employees who wanted Halal turkey. New York is a multi-cultural metropolis. America itself, in fact, is fast becoming one. Your visitors may almost always consist of people from different ethnic groups. I remember an Indian friend who preferred Hawaiian food for breakfast. At one time we had a dinner guest who came in with her Jewish fiancé and I was tempted to serve Falafel with Indonesian devilled eggs inside. Cooking is universal. What tastes good, tastes good, regardless of one’s cultural taste buds. That was one of the main reasons why I was cocksure of readers in writing that book. I gunned for universal appeal. And much more. I aimed to teach and to delight. One advantage of cooking at home as opposed to eating out or having food delivered to your home is the certainty that your loved ones are eating clean. It’s less expensive too. Whether we’re expecting a dozen friends tomorrow or relatives for the weekend, my family just relaxes and reads my cookbook, and have a lot of fun cooking on the side. Sometimes, when they’re not up to it, they’d prefer to just read the background information on each food for pleasure. The interesting tidbits of history I injected for bedtime reading stood me in good stead. That’s why the title, There’s More to Eat Than Cooking. For a house-husband, you could do worse than write a cookbook.

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