I posted recently about how writing a novel can help us stretch beyond our comfort zones. In writing about characters who are passionate about cooking, I unearthed my own desire to learn Argentine cuisine.
Growing up as the first-generation American of Argentine parents, I only learned how to cook a few basic dishes. Still, from a handful of visits to the homes of Argentine relatives and numerous visits to local restaurants for Argentine expatriates, I’ve grown a fondness for certain foods.
So, I’m taking the lead from a character in my work in progress. In 2012, I’ll be making a new dish every couple of weeks. “Prepare yourself,” I told my husband and children. “We’ll be eating Argentine meals regularly.” And the cheering resounded throughout the house. Continue reading
As I looked through my manuscript, I noticed references to Gardel, Astor Piazzolla, mate, alfajores de maicena, and the bandoneon circled in pencil. And little question marks sat beside the words.
“G,” I asked my husband, going to him with my novel in hand. “Most people know who Astor Piazolla is, right? And alfajores? And mate?”
“But you know them,” I said, suddenly feeling slightly ridiculous.
“Because I married you. Or else, I would never know what any of that means.”
As the daughter of Argentine immigrants, I grew up with the music and foods in the novel. Because of my background, I assumed (and yes, I know what that makes me) that my point of cultural reference was the same as readers.
So now comes the interesting task of explaining cultural customs and foods in a novel … without droning on in a cooking-show monologue. This reminds me of the challenges of a Catholic writer, too, in explaining the feelings of characters regarding religion without sounding pedantic or just plain dull.
How often are the subjects most dear to us the ones most difficult to describe! And, yes, that includes Argentine food.