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How to write culinary and special diet memoirs

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Do you like to write culinary memoirs focusing on family recipes handed down from generation to generation? Or perhaps you enjoy talking to chefs and writing about what they've created with food.

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When nutritionists offer workshops in writing and/or recording culinary memoirs, they usually focus on adapting traditional family recipes by substituting healthier ingredients. One example would be switching to extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil, or rice bran oil, instead of baking or frying food using those solid, white hydrogenated trans-fat driven shortenings that their families used in the 1950s. To get a handle on technique, you may wish to check out this author's audio lecture on Internet Archive, "So You Want to Be A Personal Historian - Internet Archive."

Some people write memoirs on family history. Others like to focus on one aspect of family history, the culinary memoirs, such as popular family recipes and techniques related to applying journalism and creative writing to creations with foods.

How do you adapt the intergenerational or ethnic family recipes to preserve the tradition but not its debilitating health effects?

That's what culinary memoirs writing covers in addition to getting people to walk down an Epicurian memory lane. It can be done with groups of any ages and any physical conditions that can meet together online or in a classroom.

Sixty years ago, radio advertising reminded families that it's healthier to fry in solid hydrogenated oils (full of trans-fats) than to keep their own grandparents' or ethnic customs of frying in melted animal fat, unless their ancestors' customary frying and baking habits originated in geographic areas that used monosaturated oils (olive or macadamia nut) or even sesame oil for SW Asian cooking or saturated coconut oil in SE Asian recipes.

Nutritional family historians discuss with students how to write culinary memoirs, traditional family recipe cookbooks, along with adapting old recipes, modifying ethnic menus with healthier substitutions. Students can have one side of the page list the traditional family recipe and the other side of the page list the modified substitutions which could mean less salt, a different oil, or any other ways to adapt the traditional diet to a healthier ingredient...and also state why they are doing this.

Reminiscing and writing culinary memoirs for time capsules

Reminiscing is a good way of practice using your memory to evoke happy thoughts of favorite foods and how to make them or write about the meals or desserts. When personal historians that aren't nutritionists offer similar workshops they may focus on reminiscing to enhance memory by recalling family recipes, mealtime stories, and writing individual cookbooks to preserve family food traditions for future generations. For the archives, students may give a public reading or have their stories recorded on video as well as transcribed or published as text with photos.

Participants can develop multimedia time capsules to be opened at specified dates. For example a time capsule may be opened every generation or every 50 years in the future, for descendants and friends. A project might be a cookbook and video reminiscing about culinary memoirs.

Intergenerational culinary memoirs and food writing techniques

The project can be intergenerational--working with any or all age groups interacting with one another. Classes can be held for people on special diets, those with specific health issues, or as an ice-breaker to get people in a group talking and writing about what every family member does all over the world--eat meals. It is one subject that everyone can discuss--food, taste, and eating or cooking traditions.

For example, a classroom could include students learning to write a cookbook as a family history project or to cook traditional or ethnic recipes and discuss each ingredient in light of the particular item's health benefits and traditional or ethnic significance. And several generations of family members could be involved in working together on a culinary memoirs book and/or video.

Or traditional family recipes can be preserved as is. The big picture is about nutritional ethnology. The details are in getting people to interact together in personal history projects to develop a voice of confidence and resilience by reminiscing.

Writing family or ethnic foods cookbooks

The outcome is to develop a cookbook and/or video preserving tradition, stimulating memories, and writing about healthier ways to prepare familiar family recipes. Another goal is to produce keepsake heirlooms, time capsules, or gift boxes that include memories of how each generation approached food, mealtimes, and theme parties--such as recipes from those 1925 "old maid tea parties."

Cookbook projects packed with recipes, family food traditions, and recorded videos of food preparation demonstrations also can be sold to raise funds for schools or other causes. Do you want to keep the ingredients as a particular family used them or make substitutes for health changes, for example substituting sesame seed oil or unrefined coconut oil in recipes calling for fats instead of clarified chicken fat or lard.

Enhancing memories with culinary writing

Harvey Cox, a professor of divinity at the Harvard Divinity School wrote in The Seduction of the Spirit, 1973 that, "All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories." Culinary memoirs are true stories that sometimes can be thought of in part as culinary medicine becaue they enhance memories by reminiscing in detail. Participants have to recall the recipes and the attitudes associated with cooking and eating in a family or community setting.

What was your family life like at the table? Did people eat at the same time? Or did they gather on Sunday after church, Saturday after services, or Friday nights during Ramadan, or at the Hindu temple, the Pagoda, or in the many East Asian traditions at grandma's house?

Do you remember that wonderful ethnic cooking that people took hours to consume while conversation was full of conviviality and joy? Or maybe you had the type of family memories where everyone ate at different times because of their schedules?

What's your personal family history mealtime story? Journalism and culinary memoirs

Is food associated with eating alone for peace and quiet to escape a spouse's, parent's or sibling's verbal abuse? As a child, did your family mealtime experience make you feel important, competent, and good about yourself? Or did you have family members that questioned you about putting too much or too little food on your plate?

As a child did mealtime mean listening to your parents argue? Or did a grandparent cook meals for the entire family and you couldn't wait to eat your grandparent's special meals? Was mealtime a celebration of life in your family?

What stories have you heard about your great grandparents cooking, recipes, or mealtime customs? Do you enjoy a wide variety of ethnic meals and ethnic cooking styles or prefer one ethnic type of cooking?

Do you eat out most of the time or frequently cook at home? Did your parents and grandparents do the same or cook mostly at home? Which ethnic food do you enjoy?

What memories do you have of your family's cooking styles, recipes, and eating attitudes? Do males approach mealtime with a different attitude than females? Family food traditions follow you for a lifetime.

How do family food traditions affect our nutrition? In your family, are culinary memoirs also used in part as culinary medicine--healing tools that involve wise food traditions and perhaps laughter or a feeling of community at the meal table passed to the next generation? Is your meal time intergenerational or has it been in your family's history?

What is the story of your family's meals and attitudes at the table?

Food and nutrition family histories may include ethnic cookbooks, recipes, or family meals and wise food traditions. Personal historians sometimes offer workshops where they record ethnic culinary memoirs or preserve family cookbooks.

Imagine what it would have been like to have a multimedia or video recording of your great, great, great grandmother's food customs, herbal healing tools, or family eating traditions along with the family recipe book that sometimes gets handed down to the next generation.

It's called culinary memoirs. It's a celebration of life. And sometimes memoirs of happy culinary family history becomes good culinary medicine (like great grandma's olive-oil drenched wild herbed greens and 12-vegetable brunches). But meet some personal historians that focus on culinary memoirs, including the stories that you tell around the dinner table.

Intimate glimpses into kitchens

See the culinary memoirs book list at the eBranch Blog. The blog notes, "Culinary memoirs give a glimpse into the lives, and kitchens, of the famous and the unknown. One of the most recently released memoirs on the list is Julia Child's My Life in France.

"On a related note, and one that I particularly enjoyed, is Julie and Julia by Julie Powell where the author cooked all the recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking during the course of a year.

"Finally, if you enjoy Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show on the Travel Channel, then you might also enjoy his book Kitchen Confidential. If these intrigue you, check out the full list of Culinary Memoirs put together by Keddy Outlaw, Branch Librarian at the West University Branch Library."

View the entire culinary memoirs book list online at the Harris County Public Library -eBranch. One unique book is Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. It's a street-smart chef's inside look at the restaurant business. Or read Abe Opincar's Fried Butter: A Food Memoir Interwoven memories of food and life from a gifted storyteller.

Culinary Memoir also describes the projects and services of personal historian, Judith Kolva, Ph.D. It is "Culinary Memoir," that honors lives from the perspective of food-related events. The memoirs inlcude favorite recipes, photos, and the stories that families re-tell around the dinner table. Check out the culinary memoir projects at Kolva's site, the Memoir Shoppe. Click on 'resources.' See, "Memoir Shoppe | Facebook." Also see, "Leola's Legacy by Judith Kolva, Ph.D. - Book Goodies."

There you will see the book, We Remember Donna. You can preview her book. Kolva explains, "In addition to completing Culinary Memoirs for my clients, I offer workshops that teach people how to write their own Culinary Memoir."

"Food extends far beyond our need for nourishment," Kolva reports. "It accompanies meaningful life events. It symbolizes caring, camaraderie, comfort, and condolence. It connects us to the heartbeat of the past. It defines us. A Culinary Memoir takes treasured, traditional family recipes from a bursting binder to a bookshelf classic." Or see, "Popular Culinary Memoir Books - Goodreads."

It's a celebration of life through food. Kolva explains, "A Culinary Memoir is an everlasting tribute to a living or deceased loved one. It chronicles favorite recipes, stories, memorabilia, and photographs. Recipes are scanned in the cook's handwriting. Complete with spill marks they memorialize significant life events. A Culinary Memoir fulfills your dream of 'someday' writing a family cookbook."

Sharon Levine Waldman is experienced in the publishing, television and film industries as a writer, interviewer, editor and staff member, according to the Association of Personal Historians site. Since 1998, she has focused on personal history projects for individuals and families. In her business, "Family Chronicles", she has produced family history books, individual life stories, and tribute books.

Sharon Levine Waldman: Family Chronicles, is a personal historian and memoirs educator whose class, "Create a Family History Cookbook," at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Oregon featured discussion of family recipes, as Waldman explains, "Students discussing the nutrition of their family recipes by comparing them to the way we do things today, with more knowledge of the ingredients.

"Because ingredients are so different today, it's difficult to replicate the tastes we remember from our childhoods. For example, fresh-churned butter has a different taste and works differently in recipes than low-fat margarine. But few of us live on family farms now, or want to increase our consumption of animal fat; so the recipes taste different."

Writing personal history as culinary memoirs

"Personal historians realize that getting a group together in a classroom to talk about the ethnic origins of their family recipes also is a great exercise in reminiscing and memory enhancement. Waldman explains, "When students research the ethnic origins of their family recipes, they are often delighted to learn facts they never knew."

Waldman notes, "Sometimes the cultural differences between two sides of a family will result in family recipes from two distinct ethnic traditions. Often the original recipes from the old country were modified in America due to the availability of local ingredients. It's a fascinating subject, and both my students and I enjoy the classes immensely."

In her course, the students created a cookbook with their own family’s favorite recipes and the stories that go with them. Students collect original recipes, then describe their origins and the way their families prepared and enjoyed them. To make the cookbook multimedia, students add family photos, old recipe cards, illustrations, and/or photos of the food. The cookbook preserves and shares each student's family heritage for future generations.

Writing about recipes in culinary memoirs books or articles

The students learn how to collect the recipes from their families and format them in correct cookbook style. Students write the stories behind the recipes. They answer questions such as what is the recipe's origin, who cooked them, when and where were they served, and who loved eating the food.

In the classroom, students bring in their collected photos and recipe cards. The images enhance the stories and recipes. Best of all, the transferable skills learned is in how to organize, design and self-publish their own family history cookbook. People working with culinary memoirs realize that "a family history cookbook is a unique heirloom," according to Waldman's course outline.

"A family history cookbook is a gift you give to your friends and relatives that gets passed from one generation to the next." Students collect favorite recipes from their parents, grandparents, aunts, sisters, and male cooks in the family. The whole idea is that "students get to write the stories behind the recipes."

Writing about males barbequing meats and vegetables outdoors

In some families, the males do the outdoor barbeque work, cooking meat and roasting vegetables outdoors as they bond with other males. For example, in rural Crete, it's customary for males to cook the seafood over an open fire, sometimes at the shore.

Then the family sits down to a late afternoon 'lunch' of salad, seafood, lots of wild dandelion greens and herbs that grow on the hillside. After eating, the music starts, and soon the entire family, mom, dad, siblings, and guests are dancing to the string instrument rhythms in a circle.

Blending personal with food history writing

For persons interested in blending personal history recording and archiving with an interest in family food history, recipes, nutrition, culinary healing, or nutritional anthropology, it's also a way to not only create multimedia time capsules for future generations, but to use food memoirs, cook book writing, or discussions to enhance memories.

Food history and cook book making brings people together to talk about attitudes towards food, eating, and cooking traditions. There are menus to plan for various holidays and some great ethnic family recipes, including writing and/or speaking about how people adapted to specialized diets for health reasons. Cookbooks can be sold for fundraising purposes.

Personal historians can help clients write and illustrate cookbooks that can be sold to raise funds for various organizations or schools

When recipes are included in a culinary family history memoir, the interest goes far beyond family members. Many ethnic recipes are becoming universal, adapted widely outside of the particular ethnic or family group. For example, look at the popularity of Asian, Mediterranean, and Latin-American restaurants worldwide--or American fast food served overseas. Food can be one more healing tool.

Personal history makes sure a record is kept in various media for the future. Culinary memoirs are about family and universal traditions or changes in celebrations of food rituals, habits, and lifestyles.For personal history professional association information, see the Association of Personal Historians. Also check out Personal Historian software from Roots Magic. There are numerous software programs for genealogy information collection, for example. See, "Genealogy Software Review 2014 | Best Family Tree Software."

Diverse intergenerational attitudes toward foods are what make real-life culinary memoirs into highlights of family history true-life stories

Personal Historian software takes the seemingly monumental task of writing a personal history about yourself or another individual and breaks it into small, manageable pieces and then reconstructs it into a complete, publishable document.

More Resources: Check out these sites: Personal Historians, Susan Love of HeritageCookbook.com and Hella Buchheim of A Plate Full of Memories. Writing culinary memoirs can focus on family history recipes or branch out into food journalism by including the memoirs of chefs and their food creations.

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