Stirring up Stories in the Kitchen (Chapter Two in Pavlova in a Hat Box, Sweet Memories & Desserts). Was posted on my old WordPress blog on Oct. 3, 2010.
Cloister. I like to say the word aloud and dream about a sanctuary in autumn; a simple white walled room with an ample window for sunbeams to pour in so thick, dust particles form into tiny fairies that slide down the beams. The only sound I hear is birdsong, wind song, or ocean song. A writer requires this kind of room to be shut away in, sheltered, and quieted; a place to withdraw from the world to create new worlds with words and storytelling. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Virginia Woolf said. Yes, please! I can imagine a sequestered luminous and peaceful writing room, but in reality, I have never had one. I can also picture myself in one of the private writing rooms at the New York City Public Library, or perhaps squirreled away in a cozy cottage at The McDowell Colony where one fortunate artist described the person delivering his picnic lunch basket as the Angel Gabriel. Oh, the freedom to create in uninterrupted time! I yearn for unadorned and easy days to meander deep down into the abyss of the past and dig out story relics to restore to some original shine. I pour over Poets & Writers’ magazine’s conferences and residencies section and dream of a studio in a rustic medieval village in Italy, or being on an idyllic Greek Island only accessible by boat. I especially like the Brittany writer’s rental with the setting in a 19th century stone house with five fireplaces and only a few miles from ocean beaches.
I dream of these places, but I have never had my own special writing room. I have always written stories in the sundry places available to me. The office, bedroom, parlor, living room, dining room, kitchen, public libraries, bookstores, diners, cafes, bed and breakfast inns, beaches, cars, buses, trains, airplanes, the back porch, friends’ homes, hotels, and even in the woods. I know there must be more rooms where I have taken my yellow legal pad or lap top and then put one word in front of the other. Sometimes choosing a room to write in reminds me of putting one feeble step in front of the other, like after I had major surgery and was forced to walk the next day. Alas, I have learned to write without the one unique charming room of my own. I’ve learned to capture my undisciplined mind that flits and flies around ideas and worries, and cage it temporarily so I can hear it sing a story to me.
When words aren’t hunted, honed, and placed on a page, I can write in my mind and heart. Ideas and outlines for stories form when I am showering, walking, cleaning, exercising, baking, and working on a painting in art class. I also write when I dance, the music infusing my brain with visions of grandeur. It happened that the entire premise for my first children’s book came to me while I was Irish set dancing in a pub. Writing for me can’t be condensed into one small room with a shot of light, but if it comes that way, like a much needed vacation to the tropics, I take it and splurge. Mostly, my writing experience isn’t like the narcissus bulbs forced to grow in January. I do require time for the right light for the right story, whether in my head, home, or a public place.
But a favorite room to write in is when I am in my kitchen and my hands are stirring, kneading, and molding. I call this writing love play writing because it can be a prelude to a story, acted out in measuring cups and spoons. It is the preferred room for when I write without my laptop or legal pad. The act of baking is full of unique and often simple ingredients with the potential for something delectable to be shared with others. Likewise, fiction writing is full of characters coming together in plot and suspense, culminating into a story that satisfies the hunger of readers. Story ideas, chapter scenes, plots, and endings often form and rise in my head while I mix, shape, and bake scones, breads, and pies. I can create magic in the kitchen because in no time at all, I whip up a pie, a cake, or cookies. And while doing so, I’m spicing up my writing already mixed up on a page or two, or even concocting ideas for a new story. Unlike baking however, I am unable to whisk up good writing quickly, no matter how many ideas or epiphanies come my way in the kitchen or elsewhere. Writing requires plenty of time for characters and scenes to baste, simmer, cook, boil, bake, and sometimes even chill, before it can be partaken of in a digestible, flavorsome, and entertaining story. But when I go to my kitchen to bake, I can create and complete something tangible and scrumptious to share with others in an hour or so. There is immediate gratification and success in baking, unlike writing done in many rooms day after day, week after week, and year after year (and sometimes without success). Becoming a seasoned and palatable writer is a slow cooker process. The outcome, if all the ingredients work, can be delicious. Yes, Virginia Woolf, I suppose I do have a favorite room of my own to create fiction in. It is in my kitchen where I face the empty pages of the stories in my head and fill the empty tins, pans, and cookie sheets with scrumptious possibility.
Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcakes
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
¾ cup cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 cup water
¾ cup oil
2 Tbs. vinegar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 large egg
¼ cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
8 oz. cream cheese
½ tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups chocolate chips (more or less, according to your liking)
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl; mix water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla; add to dry ingredients and beat with an electric mixer until smooth; fill cupcake holders 1/2 full with batter and add a heaping Tbs. of filling in center.
Bake 350 degrees for approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool on rack and then wrap them up in whimsical cupcake wrappers found in specialty stores (I order special cupcake wrappers online from Fancy Flours). No frosting is needed, for this would make the cupcake too sweet, but sprinkle with confectionary sugar and add sprigs of preferred washed, no spray, flowers. Arrange the cupcakes on a cake platter and drape with a few pieces of ribbon. Sometimes I double the recipe and arrange them fancifully on three cake plates set atop one another.