I am writing a book.
That, my friends, is the short of it.
Exactly one year ago this very minute, I was seated by myself in a small Moroccan cafe in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, pushing Halloumi, fried eggs and merguez around on my plate while I chewed instead on an idea. I’d just completed my two-day whirlwind at the Saveur Blog Awards and was filled with inspiration, questions as to what I would do next … and also merguez, fried eggs and halloumi cheese. The notions that I could ever or would ever or should ever write a cookbook had been little more than flickering questions up until that morning, but as I sat there at that tiny table I couldn’t shake the thought: I really really want to make a cookbook. The wouldn’ts and couldn’ts and shouldn’ts sort of faded away and I was left with this very strong, very unshakable desire to write a book.
And so, after paying my bill and practically licking my plate clean, I Googled, “how to write a cookbook proposal” as I wandered down the streets of Brooklyn.
Fast forward a full year (yes, right to this very instant) and here I am staring at my working cookbook manuscript, piled in loose, unstapled pages and awaiting my next pass of reviews. I printed it so I can read things out loud to myself at a moment’s notice and scribble and draw all over it as I’ve done on all of my writing since I was little. Seems to help, as there’s just something especially effective about reading your own words aloud to really give you a solid grasp of how you feel about them. Yes, things can sound wholly different in one’s head than in the open air. With the open air comes vulnerability and the potential for criticism and second-guessing … which makes reading things out loud a much faster, truer route to really understanding your feelings about those words. That’s what I’ve found, at least.
After my fruitful Googling I composed a book proposal and then promptly Googled, “what do you do with a book proposal?” Well, as it turns out, you send it to literary agents and hope to God that one of them will bite. You play the waiting game and chew your nails down to the quicks and begin to doubt yourself and your abilities but still, all the while, hope for “the call.”
And then I got a call.
My first was from an agent in Yonkers who kicked off our conversation with a solid belly chuckle and the rather harsh words, “No one is ever going to publish your book. Best of luck to you, kid.” Just like in the movies. I spent some time feeling downtrodden, soul-crushed and utterly deflated before deciding to try again. But I did try again. This time, with a new batch of agents whose areas of expertise and interest seemed more in line with the book I was trying to make. And then, the waiting game commenced all over again.
Once week later, while eating a veggie burger and fries at a local eatery with my family, I got the call. The previous call – the Yonkers guy from the movies call – was just “a call.” This time, it was THE call.
And it set my life on a very different, very welcome course. Because thanks to that call, and my wonderful agent Deborah, I can now officially and proudly say … out loud and into the open air …
I AM WRITING A BOOK.
My book, Smoke, Roots, Mountain, Harvest is very much like this blog – it is a place for stories and photos and food, giving me a unique and special way to weave all of those elements together into a cohesive whole. Unlike this blog, however, the book has a setting. Grounded in my love of home – my home, the mountains of Southwestern Virginia – my cookbook has a much stronger sense of place and I am drawing inspiration directly from that small, tucked away corner of the world where I did all of my growing up. Appalachia. I’m working to both discover and re-discover the things about that area that make it so colorful, so distinctive, and so beautiful. So, not an Appalachian cookbook per se, but a book of my own recipes and images and stories that is very inspired by this place I love. Thanks to Chronicle Books (who eventually offered me a deal, thanks to my agent’s skillful pitching prowess), I’m also being afforded the opportunity to photograph the book, which has been the most wonderfully challenging and rewarding process so far.
I honestly cannot wait to share it with you, when it’s all said and done. It’s slated for release in April 2019, and I’ve got just over 2 months left to finish up the writing. Working on this book pulled me away from my blog over the summer, as I elected to take a small break from Harvest and Honey to devote more time to it. But I wanted to check in, say hello!, and update you on this very big, very exciting bit of news that seemed relevant enough to deposit in this space. I’m sure I will talk more about the book in the coming months, but in the meantime and in the name of cookbook celebrations, I wanted to share two of my very favorite cookbook recipes of the moment with you – two very unrelated yet highly delicious and wholly brilliant recipes.
The potatoes are from Laura Wright’s The First Mess Cookbook, based off of the vegan cooking blog of the same name, and I’ve made them three times in the last couple of weeks. Simple, healthy and so smart, they come with a vegan pine nut “aioli” that is downright addictive. The cookies are a riff on Sarah Kieffer’s now famous chocolate chippers, and I also have made them more times than I care to divulge. I combined parts of my go-to chocolate chip recipe with her method for creating those ultra-fetching rippled edges and voila! My new favorite cookie. Ever.
Toffee Coffee Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(adapted from The Vanilla Bean Baking Book )
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 lb. unsalted butter at room temperature
1-1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1 large egg
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp molasses
1 tsp espresso powder
2 Tbsp water
Two, 4-oz semi-sweet chocolate bars, chopped
3/4 cup chocolate toffee bits (such as Heath)
Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place the oven rack in the middle position. Cover two large baking sheets with aluminum foil, dull side facing up (this is one of the keys to establishing that crinkly, rippled edge effect that we’re going for … thanks for this killer tip, Sarah!)
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer), cream together the butter and sugars until very smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, molasses, espresso powder, and water and then mix until well-combined. Add the flour mix to the wet mix and beat to combine. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in the chopped chocolate and toffee bits, mixing until evenly combined.
Scoop mounds of dough, 1/3 cup each, onto the prepared baking sheets. I usually only do 3 or 4 cookies per sheet, as any more will cause them to run into one another during baking. Place the pans in the freezer for 10 minutes prior to baking (this will prevent over-spreading).
After 10 minutes, bake the cookies, in batches if necessary, for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, open the oven door and lift one corner of the pan(s) about 4 inches in the air and then let it drop down onto the baking rack again. This drop will deflate the cookies and help to create those gorgeous ripples. Do this every two minutes now until the cookies have baked for a total of 16 – 17 minutes. You’ll drop them about 3 – 4 times total.
Remove the cookies from the oven, sprinkle them with a little flaky sea salt, and allow them to cool and firm up before transferring them elsewhere, about 10 minutes. Continue baking and freezing your pans until you’ve made your way through all of the dough.
Crispy Salt & Vinegar Potatoes with Lemon Garlic Aioli (adapted from The First Mess Cookbook)
For the Lemon Garlic “aioli”(vegan)
1/2 cup raw pine nuts, soaked at least 2 hours
3 Tbsp filtered water
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of fine sea salt
For the Potatoes
1 lb mini waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold)
1.5 cups white or red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Minced chives and parsley, to garnish (optional)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Make the lemon and garlic “aioli”: Place the pine nuts, filtered water, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, garlic, mustard, and sea salt in a blender. Mix on high until you have a smooth and creamy consistency, stopping the blender and scraping the sides down a couple of times if necessary. When it’s ready, scoop the aioli into a small bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge. The aioli should firm up quite a bit.
Meanwhile, make the potatoes: Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with the vinegar and 1.5 cups of water. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes, dry them with a kitchen towel a bit, and then spread them out on a baking sheet to cool. When they are cool enough to handle, flatten each one with the palm of your hand, being careful not to extract too much of the inner flesh.
Lightly brush the potatoes with half of the olive oil and then sprinkle them with sea salt. Roast for 12 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the oven, flip them over and brush with the remaining oil. Roast for another 12 – 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden brown and crisped.
Serve with the Lemon Garlic “Aioli” on the side and garnish with chopped parsley and chives, if desired.