Highlights from #FoodFictionFriday Assignment #2: Distillation

And… week 2 of #FoodFictionFriday is in the books. You guys are really finding your writing groove. As a reminder, the challenge was to use the principles of distillation to write and edit a piece describing a person as a drink.

Here are some highlights:

This piece from @Boomboombbq read in such an effortless, uncontrived way. The drink metaphor was so natural, you’d think we all described people that way.

@Demewalls wrote a heartfelt yet unsentimental ode to one of the best drinks of all time. Don’t you want to be this guy’s best friend?

And finally… here’s mine!

Keep on the lookout for the next prompt on this blog or on Instagram. The next assignment goes a little more outside the box. ;)

Highlights from #FoodFictionFriday Assignment #1

What a great way to start #FoodFictionFriday! Thank you to all who participated. I loved seeing how everyone interpreted the prompt in their own unique ways.

I read and comment on every single story and will be featuring a handful here on the blog every week.

@Jillfoodie’s 2-sentence story showed incredible confidence. She set up the story, then let the reader fill in the blanks for him or herself.

@Sookjinong put a spin on a classic fairy tale, revealing a different sort of magic. I loved how the bean became the touchstone — a seed, a stew ingredient, a way to connect…

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Tomorrow morning I’ll be flying to LaLa Land 🌴, so I’m posting my #FoodFictionFriday tonight. Here’s my piece for assignment #1: Start a recipe while also conveying another world beyond the food at hand. ✏️ Chocolate sprinkles Chocolate-covered pretzels Oreos (not generic brand!) Peanut butter cups (mini if possible) Wafer cones Chocolate chips (semi-sweet) Chocolate syrup Elmer’s glue Instant mashed potatoes - 5 boxes CONFIDENTIAL. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. ✏️ At the risk of killing the art, I’ll unpack it -- just because this is our first one and I know it can be a little funky to transition from food non-fiction to fiction. My goal was to portray a fastidious recipe writer and take the reader on a little roller coaster. When we start, we think this person is making a delicious sundae. But then we get to Elmer’s glue? Instant mashed potatoes?? Perhaps this person is a food stylist. And then the last line drops. Why so paranoid? Maybe the author has some not-so-sweet intentions… ✏️ If you’re writing an autobiographical piece, I encourage you to play with voice, structure, and subtext (rather than the typical linear, confessional approach). I‘m so excited to read your pieces and see how you’ve interpreted this prompt. Remember, post your story tomorrow with #FoodFictionFriday and @jessica_tom. Check out other people’s stories and show them some love. Hit me up if you have any homework questions or need any guidance!👇Remember the most important thing is to HAVE FUN and PLAY. It’s just a game of make-believe. 😊

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And here’s my story!

On Monday, I’ll be posting the next assignment. Stay tuned and thanks for playing! :)

Index-Carding Your Way to a Finished Book

There are many strains of the dreaded Writer's Block, but typically it comes down to: what do I write next? 

Now, some writers will want to "feel out" the direction -- and I do that, too! For a couple pages or so. But after a certain point, you might feel silly or delusional -- like running on a treadmill and telling yourself you're actually getting to your destination.

I'm all for letting your characters guide you (rather than having the story guide them like pieces on a chessboard). I'm all for creating original, surprising structures. And I'm all for writing exercises and playing around the character, dialogue, pacing, whatever.

But I'm also for clear planning. Setting goals. Not wasting time. 

So I'm a huge fan of outlining. Here's a little vid that explains my index card love in some more detail...

Restaurant Critics 101: Ruth Reichl

Last week, we covered Frank Bruni, the New York Times restaurant critic from 2004 - 2009. Today, we’ll cover Ruth Reichl, the Times’ critic from 1993-1999.

Reichl has written many memoirs about her life in food, but her book Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise focuses squarely on her time as a reviewer. Here are some insider tidbits, many of which found their way in my book somehow:

  1. As a woman who used to dumpster-dive in Berkeley, Ruth made it a point to represent all types of people (rich, poor, beautiful, plain), and all types of restaurants (ethnic places that veered from the white tablecloth French, Italian, and Continental cuisine of the day).

  2. While Frank Bruni shied away from disguises because they made him look and feel silly, Ruth plunged into them, with wigs, makeup, wardrobe, manicures and entire personalities and backstories. Her first disguise was Molly, a Midwestern woman who wore an old but well-preserved Armani suit. Her mother’s friend Claudia, an acting coach, put it this way: “If you are intent on deception, you must go all the way; the restaurant critic of the New York Times can not afford to look foolish.”

  3. One of Ruth’s most famous reviews originally had two parts: one, a 4-star review when dining with her boss and his aristocratic wife, and another 1-star review when she dined as Molly. The Le Cirque review was eventually unified into one article with a 3-star rating. Ruth wavered between 2 and 3, but as her editor said, “It doesn’t really matter. The only thing that people will care about is that you’re taking the fourth star away.”

  4. Restaurants offer a bounty (~$500) to anyone who spots the New York Times critic.

  5. Though New York Times dining critics are anonymous, they wield immense power and social clout -- though is it for a limited time? You are, in a sense, a king or queen of New York.  Celebrities and visiting dignitaries call for restaurant recommendations. But once you leave the post, the offers fall off. As Carol Shaw, Ruth’s friend and the secretary of the Living desk said, “You’re just a byline. Take a good look. The minute you give up the job, you become a nobody.” (Note: Likely not really the case. Look at Ruth herself, Frank Bruni, Sam Sifton… Mimi Sheraton! -- all with vibrant, dynamic careers -- and they can show their faces now.)

  6. Ruth bought her designer disguises at various consignment stores, including Michael’s Resale, a shop on the UWS that only accepts garments that are less than two years old (unless it’s Chanel, Pucci or Hermès).

  7. Though clothes started as a way to dine unnoticed, Reichl began to see how clothes could transform how you look at the world -- and how the world sees you.

  8. Ruth often tussled with the idea of being a food critic. At one time, she was a cook and healthy-eating advocate, someone who always got the worst table and paid in cash because she didn’t have a credit card. At the New York Times was she just telling rich people where to eat and feel coddled? But in a column titled, “Why I Disapprove of What I Do”, she says:

Going out to eat used to be like going to the opera; today, it is more like going to the movies.
And so everyone has become a critic. I couldn't be happier. The more people pay attention to what and how they eat, the more attuned they become to their own senses and the world around them.

Ruth wrote that almost ten years ago… and those statements are truer than ever.