Blog Archive

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

How to Set Up Your Kitchen Pantry; An Interview with author, Jean MacLeod

One of my favorite hobbies is cooking and I always enjoy learning more tips to improve. That's why I wanted to do this interview with Jean. She's written nine books on everything from preparation, to substitution, and repurposing food. 

From what I can see, you’ve written nine books on tips for healthy gardening and food prep. What is your background for writing these books?
My background for writing books on healthy gardening and food prep is a lifelong, insatiable habit of collecting useful information of all types, particularly practical household hints, food preservation, and recipes. I’ve written one gardening book based on my years as an organic gardener. The other books deal with food and cooking based on many years of reading and cooking. Plus, I’m particularly interested in anything to do with waste prevention, specifically food. 

What made you specialize in this genre?
I’ve always been interested in the subject of food: its history, evolution, cultural implications, and the recipes that have ensued. However, on a personal level, I find baking, the most intriguing. The best gift I received as a child was a sweet shop toy (I think I was four at the time). The kit came with a scale for weighing the artificial sweets (candies), and I felt I was in my element. I loved that toy. I still love weighing ingredients, which makes me a stickler for detail. 

That said, I do have a problem with recipes that give the flour measurement in cups. Without knowing how the writer measures flour or what a magazines’ policy is for measuring flour, a person is pretty well in the dark because measuring in cups or ounces can result in different amounts. That's why I included a section in my baking book “Measuring Methods and Weight Equivalents for Flour in Cookbooks and Food Magazines.” That’s one long-winded title I’d love to shorten. 

How much of this research is by textbooks as opposed to trial and error on your own?
Some of the information in the books is based on trial and error. We accumulate knowledge as we go along. However, the bulk of my writing is based on research. When I’m exploring various components, especially wild, ethnic, and foreign ingredients, I go to the pros: experts in their particular field. Moreover, I then look for a consensus. There are extraordinary writers who have made it their life’s work to know about various foods and cultures. I think especially of Ian Hemphill and Charmaine Salomon, among others. I’m indebted to their knowledge and expertise. 

What are your five “must-haves” food or spices that you use every day?
The five must-haves that I use every day are full-fat milk, good bread, Irish butter, Tetley British Blend tea bags, and salt (Diamond Chrystal for cooking; Maldon sea salt for finishing). All rather mundane, but all precious and essential and dear to my heart.

If someone was moving into their own place for the first time, what items would you suggest they stock in their kitchen to get started? 
I would suggest they stock the following items to get started, then add further items as required. Each person has his or her particular requirements. It took me years before I acquired an electric kettle. Now I wouldn’t be without one. Besides heating water faster than the stovetop, it’s great for getting a head start on stovetop cooking like oatmeal. Anyway, here’s the list:

Pans: a 2-quart and a 4-quart saucepan, preferably with lids; a frying pan/skillet, preferably cast-iron to use on the stovetop and in the oven
Cutlery: knife, fork, teaspoon, and tablespoon (preferably more than one set)
Knives: chef’s knife, serrated bread knife, and paring knife
Baking pans: 9 x 13-inch cake/casserole, 9 x 5-inch loaf, and a rimmed baking sheet
Dishware: plate(s), bowl(s), and mug (s) for coffee, tea or soup
Utensils and accessories: cutting board, box grater, vegetable peeler, colander/sieve, can opener, set of measuring cups and spoons, spatula, cooking spoon, set of tongs, pot holder, dish brush, and dish towels.

You are an indie writer, why did you decide to do that rather than seeking a publisher/agent?

Deciding to become an Indie writer was born of necessity. With no platform and no media presence. I was pretty well dead in the water for the traditional route. 
St. Martin’s Press published my first book in 1997, but requirements in the publishing industry have changed dramatically since then. If my hints and tips on conserving food and saving money were to see the light of day, it was up to me to usher them into the world.

What’s the hardest part about being an indie author?
An indie author is responsible for every aspect of the publishing process. It’s akin to running your own publishing company, wearing different hats at different times, and having all your balloons in the air simultaneously. Also, it’s time-consuming. However, it does have its advantages: being able to select your cover image, choose your layout, style, and font, download updated revisions, and, reap a richer compensation. 

What has surprised you the most in writing/publishing?

The most surprising is that you don’t have to do everything yourself. I poured over reams of instructions on how to format a book, design a cover, and various sundry items on do-it-yourself projects. Then, thankfully, I discovered how inexpensive it was to outsource it to the experts. 

What frustrates me the most is the time-consuming element and all the other nitty-gritty things entailed in do-it-yourself publishing. 

What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I’d known sooner about the number of tools available for writers: Grammarly for one (it’s an excellent tool for settling internal debates), the value of a good editor, and the sage advice of Annie Lamott for another. In her book, Bird by Bird, Lamott advocates writing shitty first drafts: getting the bones of it down and not being self-critical. That woman’s a gem. However, I think the most important thing about writing is to keep doing it, whether journaling or whatever, it’s staying in the game, keeping in practice.

What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
The best advice I’ve received was from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. In it, she stresses the importance of doing Morning Pages (3 pages of longhand written in a stream of consciousness first thing in the morning). Another I’ve read somewhere was making a list of all the verbs and adjectives that could relate to food and its preparation.

Then something else I thought would be helpful was compiling a list of alliterations (words that start with the same sound) that I could use in my first book The Waste-Wise Kitchen Companion. There is powerful imagery in words such as silky smooth, tart and toothsome, decadently delicious. 

Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?
I would like to add the importance of being alert to your thoughts first thing upon awakening. It seems many good ideas come at that time. Things I hadn’t thought of pop into my mind. I see another way of approaching a situation or a word or phrase that succinctly expresses an idea. Perhaps it’s because we’re fresh and open. Are we tapping into the collective consciousness of the universe? I don’t know, except I’m grateful for any insight afforded me at dawn.

However, I think the most important thing is always to keep paper and pencil/pen handy. You never know when a good tip or turn of phrase will pop into your head, or you’ll see something that resonates that you can use. Unless you get it down, it can slip away pretty darn fast. 

That’s all for today’s interview. If you’d like to learn more about Jean and her books, here are two links to get you started. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very, very much for the opportunity to appear on your site. I'm deeply grateful. Best always. Jean