THIS IS A TEST (I’m taking it, not you.)

Quite often when I’m asked, cold turkey, to name the topic I’ll be speaking on at whatever event the questioner represents, I pop out something that, at the moment, seems likely to attract listeners.  Then my next thought is:  “Did I SAY that?  Now what?”

I’ve gone and done it again.  When asked to name the topic of a talk I’m giving at a Missouri library in a few weeks, I popped out with “How is writing like cooking?”  Or at least there it is on the event schedule:  “At 11:00, Radine Trees Nehring will be speaking on the topic ‘ How are Cooking and Writing Alike?'”

You may think I’m a latter-day Julia Child, as in  love with kitchen creations, processes, and results as I am with writing creation, processes, and results. Truth is, I am no more fond of cooking than the female protagonist in my mystery novel series.  Carrie McCrite cooks because she gets hungry if she doesn’t cook, or at least heat something.  That’s it.  In fact, the woman was dumb enough to put all her cookbooks in the house sale that cleared out unnecessary possessions before she moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to her new log home in Arkansas’s rural Ozarks. And, when she wanted her neighbor, retired Kansas City Police Major  Henry King, to go with her to an Elderhostel (as they were once called) in Hot Springs, Arkansas, her friend Eleanor Stack advised her to invite Henry for dinner and make meatloaf.  “Men love meatloaf.  Ask him about the Hot Springs trip after dinner.  He’ll agree for sure.”

One HUGE problem.  Carrie lived at home where her mother cooked until she was nearly thirty.  Then she married Amos McCrite, a bachelor  wealthy enough to have always had a full-time cook.  The cook stayed on after the wedding, and one result of this luxury was that  Carrie hadn’t a clue how to make meatloaf.  Trying to follow Eleanor’s advice, she got paper and pencil and sat down to write a meatloaf recipe. All she could think of was “hamburger.”  Too embarrassed to ask any of her Arkansas friends for help, she finally appealed to the County Extension Service for a recipe. After the meatloaf meal,  Henry did say “Yes” to the trip, and Carrie said “Yes” when he proposed to her before they left Hot Springs.

When I cook I often, like Carrie, make up recipes as I go.  I think of an idea, then– since I have over fifty years of experience in meal prep– I add ingredients that sound plausible.  I work out quantities for each as I decide which flavor should be dominant, then think carefully, and balance the possible effect of every item before I put together the final dish.  I’m not afraid to re-think and correct.  Then I add the chosen ingredients cautiously, lest the result jerk the entire dish out of the “palatable” range.  This isn’t as difficult as it sounds, since I know from experience the qualities and taste of most common kitchen flavorings, herbs, and spices.

In this manner, and while I’m still in the planning stage I put together the recipe on paper and mentally interview or challenge every piece of the story–uh, recipe– assessing the properties of each and their possible influence on the mix.  It’s fun to try new things, but too much way-out new can be scary and even dangerous.

No matter what, the result will always be a mystery until its actually tasted.




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