Wednesday, April 27, 2005

**Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain

My Inspiration for IN THE PANTRY

E. had a wonderful birthday but his cake was too dry...and pale. Betty, what happened? I just got the new Martha Stewart KIDS and there is a beautiful black moist chocolate cake made with oil, buttermilk and cocoa. It is the blackest, richest looking chocolate cake I've ever seen. I shall try that one next time. E.'s cake had the palor of Milk of Magnesia, not a chocolate cake. The 'crumb' and texture were good--it was just bland and ugly but the kids loved that age, just as long as it's cake! I have to admit, as most of the cake decorators I have met do, that the best and tastiest and moistest cakes are those made from box mixes. I still seek to prove them wrong. When I find a cake, such as the banana chocolate cake at Fiddlehead's Cafe across the street or the delectable cakes made by Pam at the Dublin General Store, I want to know: what is your recipe? But they are closely guarded secrets. I would have to buy the cafe to find out and assure their longevity and I just don't have Oprah's ability to do that.

Aside from E's birthday, yesterday I signed my contract with Gibbs-Smith for my upcoming IN THE PANTRY book. It was a pleasant process but laden with somewhat intimidating factors so new to me. I consulted many people: friends who have photographed and written several books, other freelance writers, a copyright attorney, a cousin who had published. I realized in the end that you can't be in this for the money and it is really all about a publisher not only wanting your idea but getting your idea. I don't have an agent at this time and as much as I can see why they are useful--it is difficult to dicker for additional money or terms with a group with whom you may soon be working closely--I would rather establish a good working relationship with a publishing house on my own. I've heard nothing but good things about this publisher. They have published a number of excellent "coffee table" and shelter books in the past few years. They also publish cookbooks and even children's books. Check out:

I was introduced to Gibbs-Smith last fall when I was asked to contribute a chapter on pantries to VICTORIAN KITCHENS & BATHS by Franklin & Esther Schmidt (to be published in May 2006). That request came from them talking with my editor at OLD-HOUSE INTERIORS Magazine, the wonderful Patty Poore, for whom I had written a feature article last year on pantries. I have always loved pantry spaces and this inspired the article which inspired the chapter which inspired the book. I look forward to putting the book together and having a particular passion of mine put into print, to creating something as wonderful as a book--not only for myself but for others. Everyone I tell about the book always has a pantry story to share. One friend recalls making orange layered 1-2-3 Jello gelatin (remember that stuff?) in her grandmother's huge complex of pantries in a large Mediterranean-style house overlooking Dublin Lake. Another acquaintance often slept in her grandmother's pantry at night because it was so cozy and safe. Others recall the ample security of the pantry--of having every good thing at hand, especially the cookie jar.

I can not help but be persuaded by symbolism and meaning in all things. This of course has nothing to do with my training as an art and architectural historian--or a purveyor of fine literature. I expect the book writing and production process has a similiar alchemy to the chemical properties of baking: you mix the different ingredients in right measure and then bake for a set amount of time. Don't frost until cool and if any of the ingredients are off or the oven too hot or the mixing too vigorous, you're sunk. Sometimes no matter what you do, the recipe is a dud. As I have made many cakes in my day, I'm going to blame Betty and her band of domestic science harpies in their 1940s test kitchen. Or maybe people liked their cake pale and dry in the mid-20th century...was it that long ago? As for the book process ahead, although it will be somewhat of a collaborative effort, I'm the one to blame if it's a dry dud. But it will be fun, regardless of the outcome.

So yesterday, April 26, was my youngest son's fifth birthday, I signed a contract for my first book, and, as my friend Sue tells me, New Order released their new album. Today my adorable curly-haired niece turned one. She reminds me of myself as a toddler and I see glimmers of my father in her, too. I hope she will become like my honorary daughter--the imagined second one that I never had.

I can think of no better combination of events. And it is time to dance.

**Ok, I just don't get it--if anyone can adequately explain to me the lyrics of this song, MacArthur Park, sung by Donna Summers, disco queen in the 1970s, and before that by Frank Sinatra (the cooler version by far), I will FED-EX you a dozen of my homemade scones. It has remained one of life's unknown questions...and I usually can decypher code and symbol.


betslex said...

Don't give up! My work sends me fleeing to my kitchen and its pantry because in my family food is still love.

Congrats on the book contract. What a big adventure! You will be suprised what the pantry evokes in people...

Catherine said...

Thanks! You are my first message poster! And you are right about that--pantries convey a great deal of powerful emotions and memories.

Keep in touch!


N. said...

Here's what I found on MacArthur Park:

Yes, Jimmy has often discussed "MacArthur Park," most recently that I've seen in the current special issue of the British music magazine Q called "100 Songs That Changed the World." In it, he said "It's clearly about a love affair ending, and the person singing it is using the cake and the rain as a metaphor for that. Okay, it may be far out there, and a bit incomprehensible, but I wrote the song in the late 1960s when surrealistic lyrics were the order of the day."

Do I get the scones? :)