Sunday, September 4, 2011

corn and nectarine salad with basil

So I've written a book!

A couple of years ago, when I thought about the possibility of writing a book, I thought of it more as an exercise than a reality. I was absolutely sure that it would never go anywhere, but I thought it would be good for me to follow through and see what I could make of it. At the very least, I'd have the experience of writing a book proposal, and even that seemed glamorous and exciting and fulfilling. Even more, I was realizing how much I loved the process of writing, torturous as it was, and as someone who has always put great stock in real, bound books made of paper and glue, I did feel like I'd love to try to create one. 

For a few years before I started working on the book, I was a personal assistant to a filmmaker. She is a pretty remarkable woman, and she and I had a conversation once that helped all of this along.  I had just picked her up from the airport, and we were somewhere on the Taconic Parkway.  She was telling me about her trip and her meetings and then she changed the subject.

"When are you going to stop working for me and start doing what you love?"

Now the real truth of it was that there were parts of that job that I really did love, and it was actually in those few years that I had the chance to eat some of the most remarkable meals of my life.  This inspired me to no end, as did the interactions that I had with actors and filmmakers who had made so much out of nothing, and who continued to be humbled and surprised by their success.

But she knew that my heart was in this next step for which I was gathering my courage. And when I asked her how she did that thing, that is to jump in and to know that she could start with a spark and keep working and working until it was something, and then something big, even when the task seemed impossible and the world around her even said as much, she gave me a piece of advice that is with me every day. She told me to think about the next step, and the next step only.  She said that if I looked to the end result, I'd risk getting overwhelmed and losing the whole process, so I should just go step by step. Most importantly, I should believe that the next step was possible, and to put all my work into that. So that's what I've tried to do. I've put all of my energy into envisioning and working on the next step.  I'm one of those people who thinks so big that the results can feel impossible, and so I've had a lot of plans that I've abandoned early on.

So when I thought about writing a book, I thought about the beginning of the process.  I went to talk to a friend who I worked for when Sadie was  just born. She's worked in publishing for a long time, and I asked her where to start. And so on from there. And every accomplished step felt like a milestone, and I kept saying that if I didn't get any further, I'd still feel so good about making it this far. About writing a book proposal. About finding an amazing agent who wanted to work with me. About getting the proposal to the point where it could go to publishers. About selling (!) the book to a publisher. About actually writing (!!) the book, and learning about the process of working with an editor and a team.  About finding a photographer to work with, and working together on creating the images. Every time we get to a point, it feels like the peak of a mountain, and I can't help but jump up and down and holler into the air.

A year ago, it all started to feel real enough to tell you about, and with sweaty palms and a dry mouth, I introduced you to "untitled cookbook." The book is not totally done, and we still have a while until I can put it in your hands, but I wanted to make another introduction, because whereas that book was still a bit of a dream, it's now more of its real self. So, palms even sweatier, heart beating faster than it was a minute ago, I'd be honored if you'd allow me to make the introduction again.

This past week, I saw it all for the first time. Pictures and recipes and stories all designed into real pages of a real book. And I'll share more of it over the coming months, but today, I wanted to show you this page. Because when I saw it, I started to shake and there was a lump in my throat and a lot of other reactions all ran around inside of me. Because I think I've been steadily making my way through each step, and I still don't believe that this could be real. I still don't believe that my girls will be able to have this book about our life and our food and our granola.

The parts of this process that feel big keep surprising me. Months ago, I finished the manuscript and I sent it off, and then I made some dinner and put the girls to bed, and mentioned it to Joey, and he said "What? You did it?" and he let out a cheer. It all surprised me by feeling quiet and orderly. But the other night, Joey confessed that he'd been curious and checked on Amazon. He put the computer in front of me, and I typed my name into the Amazon search box.  There's no cover image, no author page or anything flashy, but there it is,

The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making

To be published April 3, 2012, and available for preorder now!  Coming in at #1,960,623 in books, which is pretty good I think, considering it doesn't exist yet.  Yeah!

So here's to envisioning each step, and to the possibility of impossible things. And here's to you, friends, my favorite company in the kitchen.  As nervous as I am (and man am I nervous) about these coming months when I have to keep exercising my sell-myself muscle (advice anyone?), as long as we can keep talking here, I think I can keep a level head. It turns out that it's not the writing that's the scariest for me, it's the asking people to read it. I'll keep working it, but thank you for helping me out with that one.  It's an understatement to say that none of this would be possible without you.

And speaking of you, what are you making for dinner? I've got this salad that I've made over and over this week--I've got to say that it's one the only things I'm interested in eating right now. Maybe it's the combination of summer in a bowl that does it, maybe it's that I'm holding on to the season? I'm not sure why it took me 32 years to eat raw corn, but better late than never. Did you know about this secret? Why didn't anyone tell me?

So this is corn, nectarines, scallions, lime, salt, pepper, and basil. That's it. It's sweet and sour and crunchy and slightly reminiscent of a cocktail that I have yet to try. And it's especially excellent on the potluck picnic table, so if you've got one of those this weekend, maybe it could make an appearance. Or if you've got a suggestion for what I could make when I've had enough of this, I would be eternally grateful.

Corn and Nectarine Salad with Basil

serves 4-6 people, or just me if there is a bowl of it in the fridge all day 

4 ears corn, kernels removed
2 nectarines, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large scallion, whites and a bit of the green thinly sliced
6 leaves basil, sliced thin
juice of 1 lime

Combine the ingredients and stir to combine. Taste to adjust for salt, pepper, and lime juice.


  1. OMG OMG have a "lump in your throat" and I've got tears going down my face!!!!!! YAY!!!!! The Catuccio's are totally preordering! You are the bomb and I am sooo excited for you, Joey, Rosie and Sadie! Big hugs:)

  2. I'm going to preorder now! And take what is now your advice to me about accomplishing big things. Also I've been enjoying the Cooks illustrated recipe for gaspacho that has a slice of bread whizzed up into it. That was not an attractive description I know!

  3. Brava! I'm looking forward to it.

  4. Oh my! I am so excited! If I preorder, it will be here in time to be my birthday gift to me. Congratulations! I can't wait to hold a copy!

  5. BTW, last time I was visiting the bookstore at the Annapolis SJC campus, the manager said he felt it was part of the St John's College bookstore's mission to promote books by Johnnies and promptly elicited the ISBN number of my Senior lab partner's new book (I had just informed him of its existence) so that he could carry it there. Good luck with your book!

  6. So proud of you! You've got a community of eaters to cheer you on!

  7. Wow -- you're already up to 63,000! Can't wait.

  8. This is so exciting Alana! Congrats on your success to be... the only reason that I didn't pre-order it is because I would really rather buy it from our local bookstore... hope you don't mind!

  9. Your book sounds great. Congrats on following through. Great advice on seeing the project to the end.

  10. Congratulations! My suggestion for what to eat (especially if you want to hold onto summer a little longer) is creamy gazpacho. Anonymous mentioned the one from Cook's Illustrated, and that is the one that I make (with my own modifications). Here is a link to the recipe on my blog:

  11. Pre-ordered!

    I'm so impressed & pleased for you! Can't wait to get my very own copy in the mail.

  12. Ahh, thank you everyone! And yes, Michele, wait for the bookloft! I'll get indie bound links up there too as we've got a cover image.

  13. A beautiful story about how you came to write your first of (many?!!) books that I cannot wait to hold in my hands! Cheering you on all the way...

  14. Your salad looks wonderful. I've always eaten raw corn. In fact, even when I cook it it is still basically raw...just warmed up so the butter will melt! Oh...I've just pre-ordered your book. This is my first visit to your blog and I can tell it will be one of my faves! Good luck with the book! ~Peggy

  15. I love to read your blog.
    I'm sure I'll love to read your book!
    Besides the fact that it's got a great title!!!
    Totally my philosophy.
    Thanks for working so hard for us!

  16. I would love to pre-order, but I am going to wait until I can get it locally. Looking forward to it. Congratulations.

  17. Can't wait to see/buy your book! Congratulations!! So happy for you!

  18. Lovely, lovely story. Congratulations. And now, in your bravery and your vulnerability, you are an inspiration to other (not-so-bold) dreamers. You have stomped down some of the weeds on the path. Well done!

  19. Congratulations. Also: love the concept, what a great idea. Kudos to you on going for it!

  20. Alana, what a wonderful day to find out that you have a blog. Maria told me about it, and this entry was just the thing I needed to see. I was laid off not too long ago, and I've been trying to examine myself and figure out how to move in the direction of some of my own dreams, learning from the past without being held back by it. Thank you for the wisdom of "step-by-step" and for the "possibility of impossible things."

  21. I will definitely pre-order your book. Last week I made ricotta for the first time. It was so easy and delicious that the manicotti I made with it levitated off the plate. If I CAN make it, I WILL make it.

    This post is lovely. It reminds me of the time, after I had moved to D.C. from Atlanta and wanted to drive "home" for a visit. My mother said it was too long a trip for me to take by myself because "what if something happened?" My husband said "Short of a terrible tragedy, what could happen that you would not be able to deal with by yourself?" I had no answer. So he told me to set out the following morning for Richmond; then drive to Raleigh, then Charlotte, and so on. If I hated it, as long as I wasn't past half way, I could turn around; otherwise, I should just keep going." I made that same trip six times (twelve counting coming back) that year, and it was my passport to freedom and my way out of homesickness. After all, I could just jump in my Fiat Spider and go home to Atlanta any time I wanted to. By the next year, coming back to D.C. was coming home!

  22. Going to pre-order now!! What a great idea!