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Some Delightfully Delicious (and Doable!) Writing

Every month, Innovative Editing features a creative writer or non-fiction writer who caught its editorial eye. These authors can be self-published or traditionally published, Innovative Editing clients or outside recommendations.

But regardless, they stand out! If you think you do too, you can reach me right here.

The flavor of this month is my very first and probably very only e-book author ever. Her writing simply looks too delicious not to share. Sandra Clark Jergensen, author of the Winter 20/20 Recipe Collection, offers a creative e-cookbook with a pleasantly palatable writing style complete with a good kick of personality you don’t want to miss.

February’s Author of the Month: Sandra Clark Jergensen

Genre: Cookbook… with a whole lot more

Age Appropriate: All

Bio: Sandra Clark Jergensen's writing most often focuses on food, spanning a variety of publications from academic journals to design blogs, including Gastronomica, Dialogue and Apartment Therapy, as well as Segullah, where she serves as co-editor-in-chief. She also co-edited Seasons of Change: Stories of Transition for Segullah, which was released in late 2017.

Sandra geeked out on food and writing as a master's student in food studies at the University of Texas, Arlington. In her latest venture, The Kitchen Natural, she teaches the art of seasonal cooking to home cooks online and in person. Sandra writes recipes faster than essays, but with equal gusto. She lives with one husband and two children in Northern California, where she runs without shoes, foster parents, and struggles to take pictures with her eyes open – sometimes all at the same time.

Jeannette: Hi, Sandra! You’ve really got a great concept with this e-cookbook of yours. It’s fun, affordable and looks completely doable, not to mention delicious. How did you come up with the idea of the 20/20?

Sandra: Aw, thanks! I’m flattered and honored to join you. The idea of writing a list came from advice by entrepreneurial icon Marie Forleo. I did her B-School training last year as I launched The Kitchen Natural, and she advised to take something you really want and find ways to make it possible by writing a list of 20 actionable ideas to get at that thing. Even if they were silly or crazy, just looking at possibilities would lead to a real course of action. So I took that idea of listing 20 things and said, “Huh! I bet I could create a list of only 20 ingredients as a concept and get 20 great recipes out of it. I wrote one and then another until I realized I really had something worth expanding. In fact, I ended up writing one for each season. They’re currently ebooks, but they’ll be available in print editions down the road.

Jeannette: As a traditional book kind of gal, I’m happy to hear that! But either way, it’s an intriguing and seemingly very affordable idea.

Sandra: I am too, but I love that ebooks are easier to take to the grocery store. The blessed limitation of only 20 pantry and produce items on that grocery list piqued my creativity. I loved the challenge to use ingredients in new ways, and I totally surprised myself with the outcomes – which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t given myself those creative constraints. The seasonal combinations and wholesome preparations are big on flavor and totally doable for the home cook. And extensive surveying showed me that’s what my audience was looking for. People get bored, stuck in ruts, they want to eat healthier, and try new things, but it’s hard to know where to go for guidance and approachable improvements.

Jeannette: That’s very true.

Sandra: I’m unabashedly passionate about fruits and vegetables in season, and have a reputation as a produce whisperer. I’ve come home to fennel in my mailbox from friends who didn’t know what to do with it. Yet. I try to speak to that “yet” and welcome people in through my writing and recipes. Seasonal cooking is really the best way I know to stack the deck in your flavor favor (slight cringe on that one, but still I’m going with it). It’s food at it’s best – even if you shop at Costco or Winco or the farmers market, the right season will always favor you. My whole concept with my business – the writing, teaching and recipes, and especially through the 20/20 series – is to give home cooks confidence in cooking fantastic wholesome food. The short list of 20 makes it simple; cooking the seasons makes it deliciously charming.

Jeannette: I’m not sure whether I more love the fact that you cringed at the term “flavor favor” or the fact that you stuck with it regardless. But that brings me right into my next question quite nicely, because one of my absolute favorite lines in your e-cookbook was about how you “fell hard” for celery’s licorice-like cousin. It seems like the 20/20 is a window into your culinary-loving soul, so I’m going to take a guess here and say that you genuinely enjoy what you do. How young were you when you decided this was your passion? And what did your journey into making it a reality look like?

Sandra: You’ve caught me! I have a long-running romance with the kitchen and especially cookbooks. As an English major, I would finish studying and researching on the library’s fifth floor, then head down to the second to peruse the cookbooks as the cherry on top of my library trips. I’ve always loved words and food with equal fervor, so writing about food and writing recipes to invent dishes of my own was a natural progression. I worked in restaurants and catering through high school and college, and learned snatches here and there that I would then go home and recreate. As a young mom, I’d devour cookbooks voraciously while my babies napped and fantasize about writing my own someday… all while writing my way through a food blog and my first few publications. Then it was on to the staff of a literary magazine and into grad school to bring the two passions solidly together. I was in bliss; connecting food and writing through academia felt like play.

Jeannette: That definitely shows in the 20/20. Did you ever have any moments of doubt at all?

Sandra: Well, an unexpected and un-passable opportunity came up for my husband’s career, so we moved before I finished my program. And without any reasonable way to finish it. At first, I was crushed at losing what I adored. But I’m a scrappy gal, and I came up swinging. I got practical and talked my way into a gig as a pantry chef at a farm-to-table restaurant, where I created their preserves and pickles instead of paying for culinary school. My time there taught me a lot about food and a lot about myself. The pacing gave me space to think through what I wanted next, which was more of the same but on my own terms. All the while, I kept writing and publishing on the side until I knew I had outgrown that job (and the overbearing boss whose Axe deodorant spray must have overpowered his inclination to human decency). I was ready for a fresh challenge that paired my passions for food and writing.

Jeannette: It sounds like a drama-filled episode of some chef show. Which begs the question: Do you have a favorite cooking show you dream of one day winning?

Sandra: Ha. My kids have begged me to try out for one. Most of those are about restaurant cooking and not about cooking in a way that feels connected to reality (because reality TV is not). With that said, my favorite one to watch is Chopped. It’s short, sweet, and wicked creative. I’d love to play that game.

Jeannette: Funny that you said that, since I know someone who could have ended up on Iron Chef, I think it was. But it came down to the question of whether she was good at creating drama. And since she said no, she didn’t get selected. So silly. Real life doesn’t always need that kind of doctoring regardless, particularly when it comes to any kind of art, the culinary world included. I remember the first time my younger sister made chocolate chip cookies, for instance. The recipe called for salt and, since she couldn’t find any, she went with garlic salt instead… then added more because it didn’t look like enough. Those cookies went right to the trash bin, to say the least. Any funny fails on your part? Sandra: Wow. That would be an exciting surprise! Way to go bold. My most epic incident was at 11, when I managed to make scrambled eggs inside of brownies. When I think about the logistics of what I accidentally managed to achieve, I can only laugh.It’s quite impressive.

Jeannette: That is exceptionally impressive! Sandra: In truth, I still make things I don’t love or that don’t turn out as planned. But that’s how I learn what doesn’t work as I figure out what does.

Jeannette: And what have you found that does work? What’s your favorite dish of all time to make?

Sandra: Good question. I’m hardly a creature of habit, but a salad or pie composed on a whim of whatever looks good at the market is always fun. I taught a fall pie-making class with a lemon persimmon pie recipe I wrote to accommodate the bumper crop from my neighbors’ trees. Students still talk about it when I see them around town. But my true secret pleasure is tweaking. It’s detective work. I suppose that’s where the editor in me comes out. I love it when someone asks me how to fix a dish or problem, and I have the satisfaction of delighting them with improved flavor and mechanics… all with a simple and elegant solution to their problem. My mom knows this and laughs at how excited I get at the task. So she lets me play my detective game in her kitchen. Once it was correcting 10 pounds of chocolate that had been forgotten and allowed to bloom (i.e., develop that white chalky buildup that dulls the flavor). I added in orange, vanilla, a bit of cinnamon and salt, and transformed it into fondue for a crowd.

Jeannette: You’re making me want to sample all this food! So before I go running to the bank to take out a loan and hire you as my personal culinary whiz, I’m going to redirect us to the writing process. Do you have any good advice you’d like to give for people who want to see their own kitchen creations published?

Sandra: Do! Go for it! But give yourself grace in the process. After all, learning to write recipes takes time.

Read the published handbooks and helps on the topic. Food writing icon David Lebovitz, for one, has several springboard blog posts about it. Dianne Jacob’s Will Write For Food is essential. But more than anything, pay attention and ask yourself questions: What do you find useful in a recipe? What’s the difference between a recipe you can’t wait to make and one that’s too daunting to start? It’s also important to recognize that contests and food blogging are a fine way in. But they’re not the only way. Don’t be scared to stomp out a new path of your own. As long as you write unselfishly for a specific audience – not just yourself or just anyone (i.e., no one) – you’ll commit to putting in what your readers need, writing in a way they’ll connect with and understand. That and have recipe testers. Mine are pearls without price.

Jeannette: Beautifully stated! And one final very important question: Where can people find you and your own culinary excursions?

Sandra: Thanks for asking! I’d be honored to have everyone pull up a chair around the table, so here’s where to catch me.

Jeannette: Sandra, thank you so much for your time, and I look forward to seeing what other delicious and doable cooking advice you have going forward. Long live the 20/20 e-cookbooks and its list of 20 great recipies!

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