Collaborative Cookbook

March 20, 2011
An important note about the entry below. It was written a couple of years ago; the book was published in June, 2010. We’re no longer collecting stories. Do run out and buy a copy. There are 41 authors and 33 amazing international recipes. It’s a perfect book for the beach, the bathroom, and reading aloud to a friend. Female Nomad and Friends, Breaking Free and Breaking Bread Around the World. And all of the authors’ royalties are sending kids from a slum in New Delhi to vocational schools. Buy five copies and use them as gifts!!!

A Collaborative Cookbook

Many readers have suggested I write a cookbook. There’s a lot about food in the NOMAD book. Often I listed ingredients and figured I had given enough information for most people to cook the dish. Like the people I was learning from, I’m one of those cooks who doesn’t measure. I go by taste and whim and the ingredients on hand. That means, of course, that I can’t duplicate a dish because I don’t know exactly what I did…..and I don’t want to find out. It changes every time I make it. So when people suggest that I write a cookbook, I groan. I don’t like or want to measure. So I figured that the cookbook was never going to happen.

Then in January of 2003, on my way to India, I stopped off for a week or so to visit my friends, Lars and Nirin, in Nantes, France. Lars is a chef. Nirin is a doctor. They are totally, 100%, pure-bred foodies. They’re the ones who cooked that fabulous birthday dinner for me in Seattle. I wrote a journal entry about my Nantes visit which was filled with good conversation and lots of fantastic food, most of it cooked by Lars.

One day I mentioned to Lars that some of my readers were asking me to write a cookbook. I told him that I couldn’t do it because I refuse to measure. Lars said, “You don’t have to put in measurements. And it doesn’t have to be just a cookbook.” He went to his shelf of over-sized books and took down a book written in Swedish. It had a story and a recipe for every day of the year, half of a big page for the story and the other half for the recipe. The stories in the book were, I think, Swedish history. But mine could be whatever I wanted them to be. The recipes too could be whatever I wanted them to be. They could be loose and suggestive, and they could use words like, “a little,” “a handful,” “a whole bunch.” I could suggest that the cooks taste and fool around until it works for their palette.

Yes, that sounds like me. Lars even suggested a title, “Stories for People Who Know How to Read, and Recipes for People Who Know How to Cook.”

For more than a year the idea has been gestating and taking form. I do not want to do a calendar. 365 days is too long a book and dates are irrelevant if you’re not chronicling history. Even if the book is only 150 pages, I don’t have enough good stories and recipes for a whole book. Well then, what if I ask friends and readers, and friends of readers to make contributions. I sure get a lot of e-mails from people who say they are wanna-be writers. And most people have one good story in them. Why not invite them to contribute? Yeah, why not? So that’s what I’m doing.

For those of you who are interested, here are my thoughts, not written in stone, not connected to a publisher, and not very well developed. I’m open to suggestions.

What I do not want are cutesy stories of how Grandma’s cranberry pie is famous around our Thanksgiving table. Nobody cares. The stories should be more or less true, but there’s leeway here. If it reads well and is based on something that probably happened, no one is going to go out and check the facts.

The stories don’t have to be about food. I want stories/anecdotes with interesting characters and some kind of a plot. They should have something to do with travel or people connecting or cultural drama and interaction. They can be set anywhere……..even in your neighborhood. But they must have a certain poignancy or a warm snuggly feeling…..or a gentle tingle….or passion. The important ingredient in the stories has to be “human interest.” The link to the recipe can be fairly loose, like the example below. And, as I said, the recipe does not have to be precise…..just good. And actually, if it’s interesting, it doesn’t even have to be good. I plan to include the not-very good armadillo stew that I made when I was in Surinam. I like the story, and the setting is worth writing about.

But for the most part, the recipes should be worth cooking. Jan’s friend, Dave McIntyre made some fantastic matsoh meal fish cakes (to replace the gefilte fish that our ecumenical seder had vetoed) and Gayle made a dessert-cookie out of matsoh, chocolate, and caramel that was amazing. Those recipes came from and we’d have to get permission, but both story (about the guests at the table) and recipes are good. The fact that only 4 ¼ of the 10 guests were Jewish definitely added flavor and spice to the food-pool and that’s part of the story.

If you’re loaded with ideas and stories, write them all. We’ll use the best and if one person has four of the best, that’s no problem. You will definitely be credited. You’ll get a copy of the book. And if the publisher agrees, we’ll put in a line about who you are. A picture? I don’t know. That’s something I’d have to work out with the designer and the publisher. Maybe.

OK. So here’s a sample page. Lars gave me the idea. He had read the original proposal for Tales of a Female Nomad. At that point the book was structured with alternating chapters of Theme and Country. One of the theme chapters was “People I Meet on Airplanes” and this story was included. The final version of the book was differently structured and there was no room for the anecdote. Lars suggested that it be included in the cookbook. The recipe idea was his.

The Story (which needs work)

I had a window seat on my flight from New York to Los Angeles. The man in the seat next to mine arrived seconds after I did. I’m usually careful on airplanes; some people hate talking to strangers and I don’t want to impose. But this guy was a talker. Before the plane even took off, I knew that he was a lawyer, married with two children, living in Westchester County. And within minutes he knew all those little facts about me. Then he talked about the dreams he knew he would never realize, the spiritual world that he was trying to access, the dissatisfaction he felt about his chosen career. He shared the depth of feeling he had for his wife of many years…..and the disappointments. We talked about our kids, our fears, our p! assions. By the time dinner was served, we had verbally probed places neither of us had ever shared. This was my kind of seat mate!

We barely stopped talking during dinner, the intimacy kept building and the passion of our words was overwhelming. Then, when the lights went out after dinner (for the movie), he said, “May I hold your hand while we talk.” My first response was, oh my God, I’ve known this man for two hours. How could I? Then I thought again. What could happen? We were on a plane. My hand was hardly a body part that could be seriously violated. Why not? So I smiled and said yes.

And for the remaining three hours, as we talked, he literally made love to my hand. He never went above my wrist, but it was absolutely incredible. His fingers caressed my palm, my fingers, between my fingers and the back of my hand. His touch was light and sensuous and then firm and strong. My whole body was aroused, my heart was pounding, my head flooded with fantasies. It wasn’t long before I began returning the touch, the caress, the fondling. It was probably the most extraordinary sexual experience I have ever had……….and it happened in full view of flight attendants, pregnant women on their way to the toilet, and toddlers racing up and down the aisle.

That’s the story. The recipes, as Lars suggested, will be for finger foods!

So think about your story and recipe. It doesn’t have to be sexy…………..just a good read. Warm and fuzzy, cross cultural, a story about connecting. Send it to me by e-mail:

When I have a hundred and fifty story/recipes that are great reads, I’ll think about looking for a publisher.

Thanks, rg


As I mention above, I’m still collecting material for the cookbook. My friend, Maria Altobelli, whom I met when she e-mailed me a while ago from Mexico after having read my book, is helping me get it together. Maria is a fabulous Italian cook and an entertaining writer. She and her husband live in Patzcuaro and she has an interesting website where she talks about Mexico. ( We have about 55 cookbook entries. I plan to write about 10 myself, which brings us to 65, if all those entries can be whipped into shape. We still need more.

We’re hoping to hear from those of you who have stories to tell. The story is the thing. More than the recipe. We want stories that have something of a plot, a punch line, a warm fuzzy ending or a laugh. Stories about connecting. We’re not interested in travelogues or descriptions of beautiful places. I’m looking for human interest stories that have some drama or plot. A beginning, middle, and an end. And yes, if it will improve the story, you have my permission to embellish a bit. It isn’t a memoir, although these days that even the category of memoir seem to be pretty loosely pretty defined…I guess it’s called poetic license. Your story is a story and it will not be checked for accuracy. I want passion, adventure, and a strong plotline. Again: the story does not have to be about food!

As I say at the other end of the link below, every entry accepted will get a free book, no money, and a couple of lines or a paragraph of credit. If you’re a writer, we’ll plug your book. I don’t know if I will find a publisher; but if I don’t, I’ll get it published somehow.

Any profits from the book will go to an education fund for the jhuggie kids in New Delhi, most likely for vocational training after high school. (Only four boys from the jhuggie have graduated from high school in 25 years! Anyone who makes it deserves whatever help we can give him or her.)

The recipe should be connected in some way to the story, but it doesn’t have to be direct. A story that takes place in Turkey could be about anything and it could be accompanied by a Turkish recipe. Remember·.the story’s the thing. Size doesn’t matter!!! Long or short, as long as it’s satisfying. (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist!) Two or three pages would be great, but not necessary.

We have about 75 cookbook entries. I plan to write about 10 myself which brings us to 85, if all those entries can be whipped into shape. We could use a few more, if they’re good and interesting.

Love, Rita