I first started blogging in 2010, but it wasn’t until I rebranded as The California Table in 2016 that I really found my groove. My goal was to write about my recipe collection, but also to celebrate my home state of California.
The California Table is also a nod to my mom. Growing up in Northern California, our family always gathered around a table filled with fresh, regional dishes. My mom was an early proponent of California Cuisine and taught me the importance of local, lean ingredients that could be simple or complex, but always delicious.
Following in her footsteps, my blog and overall lifestyle focus on healthy, easy, everyday dishes that anyone can cook.
As I’ve grown as a writer and a home cook, I’ve expanded my focus to include more than just recipes. I’ve always dabbled in family history and memory keeping, with bursts of consistency followed by seasons of real life. But I still hadn’t combined my love of recipes and family lore in my writing.
That all changed this past weekend at retreat in Santa Fe, organized by A Writing Room. I originally signed up to meet two of my literary idols in person – Julia Cameron and Anne Lamott. Since my early days of writing professionally, I’ve followed the writings and practices of both women. It was incredible to write in the same room as them, alongside 350 other dedicated writers. We were also treated to workshops with SARK, Alex Elle, and so many others.
But it was in Laura McKowen’s session that my book project was reborn. I’ve dabbled a bit with the idea of this project for the past year and a half. The idea was simple but like all great ideas, a little tricky to actually execute. And my tendency to procrastinate wasn’t helping, either.
Laura jokingly walked us through a few yoga poses (the highlight was “rear-in-the chair asana”) before giving us 20 minutes to work on our Big Dream Project.
At first, I just sat there, pen in hand, blank page at the ready, listening as the writers surrounding me scratched away at the page.
And then I started to write.
About growing up as a latchkey kid after my parents divorced. About how my mom is still my longest running relationship. About the meal planning she did on index cards each week. About how she closed the kitchen after dinner each night, going so far as to turn out the lights. About the beautiful tables she’d set for big holidays. And about how throughout our childhood, she had meals on the table for us every night – always without complaint.
I came up with a list of recipes that I definitely remembered, and some I thought I remembered, but with a note to double check with my sister. I wrote out the menu my mom used year after year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas – and I wrote about how I still use the same menu to this day.
Then I brainstormed: what would my “kitchen table memory cookbook” look like? I’d gather the recipes of my childhood and make them modern. Each recipe would have a story, a photo from the past, and a photo of the dish itself. I envisioned the format to be similar to the Shutterfly photo books I produced on a semi-regular basis of family trips and annual yearbooks – mostly because the format was easy to execute (and I don’t know a thing about self publishing. Yet).
How long did this take?
In 20 minutes, I resurrected the seed of an idea I’d been carrying around in my heart for over a year. An idea I was afraid to explore. And why? Within 20 minutes, I’d sprouted roots, built chapters in the form of limbs, created a foundational trunk – I’d grown this precious idea of mine from a seed to an oak in the span of 20 minutes.
That’s the magic of a writer’s retreat. You can write at home, alone. Or at coffee shops next to strangers who might have a passing interest in what you’re doing. But when you’re in a room full of other writers, all pouring out their hearts and souls onto the page, something happens. There is an energy that swirls around everyone in that room, newbie or professional, creating a powerful force that gave me the courage to turn an idea into something more – reality.
All because I was asked to write.
This essay was originally published on Substack.