Now We’re Cooking

I cook the Thanksgiving Dinner at casa de Hartlaub each year. It involves some basic planning, such as buying a frozen turkey on Sunday. It sits in the refrigerator and thaws and by Thursday it’s ready for the oven. The real planning comes Thursday. I start at 7:00 AM with the pies. The lasagna goes in the over at 9:00 AM and at 9:35 I begin preparing the turkey and its stuffing. The whole kit and caboodle goes in the oven at 10:00 and then I stuff the potatoes, sit back and mfive hours later and it’s time to bake the rolls and prepare the mixed vegetable dish. By 4:00 PM dinner is served.

It occurred to me this year — probably because I had a blog entry to write — that preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a lot like the act of writing. The first and foremost step is that I have to get up and start. Getting up whenever I happen to wake up and having a cup of coffee and taking 20 to 30 minutes to transition between into it is not going to do it done. Before I know it I’ve lost half of the day. I have to get up and start.

The second element is making a schedule and doing everything I can to stick to it. Sometimes things, like life, get away from me, like that fire in the kitchen. We still had dinner that Thanksgiving, however, even though the dog got part of one of the pies. Since there were all males in the house, however, we ate the rest of it without worrying about germs. So too, when I’m writing: sometimes the idea will get away from me and I’ll find myself far afield, being just as clever as can be but not with anything that helps the story. I drag myself back and get on target and on schedule. And the sooner that I do that the better off I am.

The third element is the possession of the proper tools to get the job done. I discovered at the last minute that I didn’t purchase one of those turkey broiling pans that I use every year (one dollar at uh, The Dollar Store) and had to go out and get it. I had everything else all lined up and ready to go. Writing, I use Word and Google docs, but when my computer crapped a sandcastle while I was in New Orleans in September I used Evernote on my T-Mobile MyTouch to take notes and write whole chapters. My fingers will never be the same, but I got it done.

The fourth step is sticking with an outline. My outline for dinner is laid out above in my first paragraph. I have a more difficult time outlining a novel, but I’m finding that things work out a lot better when I do; otherwise I dislocate my arm patting myself on the back for a great beginning and a strong ending. It’s hard to fill that vast expanse of white space in between the beginning and end when your arm is dislocated. I’ve started using Scrivener, and that helps. It’s almost as good as…well, as a reliable oven.

That aside: I hope that you had a great Thanksgiving. I’m thankful to have lived much longer than I really should have and to have the love I don’t really deserve from so many wonderful people. That would include, first and foremost, the family I prepare dinner for every Thanksgiving, and who are my most loyal readers. And it would include you for stopping by here regularly. Thank you, and God Bless.

10 thoughts on “Now We’re Cooking

  1. Oh yeah, and one note I can add to the prep…make sure you know what ingredients are in the mix. Thanksgiving turned quite painful for me this year. As being partially kosher by genetic default (pork makes me extremely, painfully ill) I learned too late, ie after eating a rather large portion of, that the collard greens served at this year’s table were cooked with several ham hocks. Me gots to have spended much of Thursday night bloated and trying to be social while in a constant state of pain and regularly running outside to belch or otherwise expel excessive negative constitutional effervescence.

    In writing terms…Don’t lose track of just what you’re putting down, or you’ll be stuck with an endless series of sometimes painful brain farts as you try to undo the damage to the text.

    to extend the serious nature of my point, the word verification for this post is “buttprew”…which must mean something related to this point, er sumthin

  2. Happy Thanksgiving from across the pond in the UK.

    One of the things I make sure I do when writing is to back up the new work in at least two places and at times, in three places. I’ve lost blog posts in the past and that was frustrating enough. Losing my work would drive me insane.

  3. Joe, your dinner sounds great as does your analogy to writing. You’ve got to have a plan, and stick to it in both cases. My old mentor was fond of say, “Even a bad plan is better than no plan.”

  4. Nothing’s worse than a cold crescent roll. My greatest challenge is to make sure everything’s ready and hot when it’s served at the table. It’s kind of like pacing your story–things have to pop and sizzle at just the right moment.

  5. I can make coffee, cold Cheerios & a killer PBJ. Beyond that I’m lost in the kitchen. So you made Thanksgiving dinner – I’m impressed. I am now going to take your writing analogy to heart & shove this laptop in the oven.

  6. Wow, Basil, that sounds horrible. I love collards and ham hocks but I won’t eat them in the future without thinging of you. Hope you’re okay.

    Amen to backing work and everything else up, Rebecca. A number of us have discussed that frequently in this space. A dear friend of mine just lost a bunch of photographs when her hard drive bit the moose over the holiday. She thinks that some may be recovered but it will be a close thing.

    Paula and Joe, by all means, if you ever have the misfortune to be in Westerville, Ohio over Thanksgiving, let me know. We’ll set a place for you.

    That’s a bullseye on the crescent rolls, Kathryn. I bake those LAST!
    Everything else gets nuked for a few seconds if necessary.I can never quite get everything hot at the same time otherwise. Of course, my family is so stunned that a hapless male (me) can put a big dinner together that they don’t much care.

    I’ve never shoved a laptop in the oven, Dave, but I’ve been tempted many a time to throw one out a window. Of my home, hotel, car, courtroom, etc. Dropkicking one across the room is a temptation as well. I hope you resisted!

  7. Great blog, Mr. Hartlaub, “stuffed” with good advice on writing (and cooking).


    P.S. Just reading the words lasagna and turkey in the same paragraph makes my belly ache!

  8. Why thank you, Mr. Raffel! Much appreciated. I hope your holiday went well. BTW, re: your reaction to lasagna and turkey together…that is why you are slender while I just received notice that I am being assigned my own area code!

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