Canterbury Booksellers broke me in—cheese danish and a cappuccino, random books of poetry with pretty covers and narrow spines, and my journals dotting, dashing in a downtown rain. This was my idea of a literary lifestyle. I was hardly 16.
I wanted to tear books from the shelves and roll in them. I said this out loud, “I want to tear books from the shelves and roll in them!” I thought the ink would seep in leaving the coffee and sugar to fuel me. “I'm going to be famous one day.”
For years into early adulthood the order stayed the same--cheese danish and a cappuccino, poetry books and pens. Write. Write. Write.
And so it seemed, I should begin in cheese danishes with a recipe for Topfenkolatsche—traditional cream cheese (Topfen) danish. And like writing, the only way to begin is to begin.
I practically planned the day around mixing the pastry dough (1 ½ hours to rise); creaming the cheese, butter, eggs, lemon zest; rolling the pastries; anointing them with lather; folding them into neat packets to rise again (45 more minutes); and baking (30 minutes at 400 degrees).
The process was systematic and ritualistic. I followed the recipe to the letter.
Then they burned 15 minutes into the 30 minute bake time and I demanded we order a pizza.
I thought this, though--that failing at my first made-from-scratch cheese danish is just like finding that first rejection in the mail slot. That rewriting and reworking a recipe is the same thing--it comes from the desire to make something good and finding out you need more practice, more poetry books, and a lower oven temp. It comes from taking what you can from the masters then tossing it out and starting from scratch.
I recently received my first acceptance from an online literary magazine. To celebrate, I'm going to buy some puff pastry dough and make a not-so-traditional cream cheese danish.
Your turn: Tell us what food means "literary" to you. Or what were you so excited to cook, but ended up needing to remodel? There are no mistakes in cooking or writing, only new tastes to be explored.