The Food Maven Diary
I've been home from Italy for 10 days – read the last Maven's Diary item I wrote when I got back – and I haven't stopped working for a minute. The other night I spoke to the women's division of Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey and one of the women asked me what I have been doing with all my "spare time" since I left radio. I left WOR at 12:40 p.m. August 24, 2004. That was more than three years ago. I know exactly because it was a memorable moment in my life. I had the nerve to quite my job without another job waiting. I didn't tell the boss where he could put it, but I came close. Very satisfying! In any case, I haven't had a spare minute yet.
Among many other things, during the last three years I wrote a book that will be published the first week in March, 2008. I have written many things, actually, including filling up space on my website, and writing these letters to you. This takes time. Someone, obviously a clueless person, recently asked me "Who writes your books?" I decided not be insulted. Yes, you have to make a conscious decision not be hurt by these kinds of remarks. Otherwise you kill yourself. I suppose because professional chefs and TV chefs rarely write their own books, and there are so many chef cookbooks out there, people, some people, must think that all food professionals have ghost writers.
I am adamantly not a chef. I always say I am not able to do what they do, which is manage a kitchen staff and run a kitchen that cooks for hundreds of people (if they are successful) every night, and maybe every day, too. And they can't do what I do, which is communicate in writing and speech the details of food preparation that must be included in today's recipes – they can prepare the food, but they often can't describe what it is they do-- plus know about and be able to teach and discuss where the food comes from, meaning the history, cultural context, whatever you want to call it. I think of myself as a food writer, and I write every day. I used to teach writing years ago and when the class came in for the first session I would put on the blackboard "Writers write." You can't wait for an assignment to write. You can't wait to get paid for it. If you are a writer, you are compelled to write, so you do it.
I also think of myself as a teacher, which is why I enjoy the groups I take to Italy for Cook at Seliano, and the classes I conduct in the New York metro area. Balancing the solitary occupations of researching and writing and cooking, I am very social. I like people and conversation, and, yes, telling people what I have learned researching and writing and cooking.
Anyway … Some days I wonder myself what has kept me so busy for the last three years. If I have tested three or four recipes in a day (as opposed to simply preparing dinner), or I've written one of these newsletters, or a Maven's Diary item, or done some research for my next book, or written an essay for a book, or written a consulting report (I do a little restaurant consulting, too), I know what I have accomplished. Some days, however, I am merely busy on the phone making plans for future events or trips, or catching up with email, of which I get a lot, a lot; or doing clerical type things like putting into my computer files information from business cards that I have accumulated on a trip, which reminds me there's a stack of them here from Italy.
The website keeps me way too busy, especially as that doesn't produce any income except for the miniscule commissions I get from you buying books through Amazon.
One of you just reminded me that I should remind everyone about this: When you click through to Amazon from this web site to order a book, a CD, a DVD, anything, I get a tiny commission. It's not just when I put a direct link to Amazon, which I probably don't do often enough, but even if you link just by clicking on the Amazon logo on a page from my web site.
Truly, so far, these commissions only barely cover the cost of maintaining the web site on a server. Sometimes they don't even cover that pittance. But it is something. I have resisted putting any advertising on the site. I don't want you bothered by advertising, and truth be told, if you mount advertising to make money you have little control of what is advertised. As many of you know, one reason I left WOR was because I was being harassed into doing commercials for things I would not pay my own money for. The only thing my website promotes is me and my appearances.
In return for having your ear, I try to give a lot of information. Sometimes, when I get email asking for a recipe that is on the website, which is often, I have to say that I get discouraged. I feel my readers don't understand how to access the information that is there. So … please use the search engine, the box at the top of the page. Put a word in the box and see what comes up. Use the Food Maven recipe index. It is not complete, but not terribly out of date either. If you are going to southern Italy, there are restaurant guides to Naples and Rome. Sicily is written and being mounted by my webmaster, Ben McCullough, as I write this. Puglia and Calabria are up next. And there are Italian Travel Links, to which I am always adding. The links connect you to hotels and other travel amenities that I love. I never recommend a place or person with which I don't have personal experience. I know I should have some kind of New York restaurant guide, too. I have been working on that forever, but hope to complete it and get it on the website soon. I am also just about to put up some sample recipes from "Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food." There are already sample recipes from my other cookbooks in The Maven's Cookbooks section. Favorite Radio Recipes has some of the most-requested recipes from when I was on WOR.
So, as I hope you can see, I have been keeping busy since I left radio. Plenty busy.
And now – I am aboard the beautiful Seabourn Pride, hosting a cruise from Gloucester, Mass. to Nassau, the Bahamas. I'll try to spend some time filing reports. Right now, I have a meeting with the chef to prepare for my cooking demo tomorrow morning. I'm making Shrimp Newberg and Steak Diane, two of the legendary New York dishes, the recipes for which you can find in New York City Food.
My mother always said one of the secrets of a good life was to keep busy. I try.