Culinary Inspiration and Influences

Yesterday ‘s post at Cooking without Limits, “Muse in the kitchen,” has given me pause to think about some of the people who have inspired me cook, and who, in my opinion, has created a desire to cook better good. We all have our own styles and responses, and sometimes these align with others, and sometimes not. Some celebrity cooks are full of passion and charisma, while others are quiet and earnest–but all are in love with food.


In my culinary journey, I’ve been lucky in that I have been surrounded by people who know and are interested in knowing how to cook. Everyone in my family, for instance. Mom is a great baker, puts together an awesome beef stew, and swears by Nigella Lawson’s Christmas pudding. Dad has signature dishes like corn fritters and waffle ice cream sandwiches. My brother is a great cook, and spent many years in the food industry. My Uncles and Aunt, likewise, enjoy making all kinds of dishes–from turkey burgers stuffed with extra veggies, the best au gratin potatoes, to homemade pies.

The Ladies

And then there are the church ladies, who can cook their way into anyone’s hearts with their  homemade breads, french toast casseroles, and sticky buns, and hearty winter soups, and have taught their children to do the same. We’ve been to far too many church events where we’ve come home stuffed with delicious things. I’d be happy to know, someday, that I’ve become one of them.


Celebrity chefs, on the other hand, arrive to us through vastly different venues. Thanks to Julia Child*, they now reach us not only through cook books, but via TV, magazines, and other mass media. And yes, Julia Child is someone I find great inspiration from. Not only was she a pioneer in bringing great cooking to us, the masses, she did so with the firm conviction that yes, we can. Cooking great food was not just to be the secrets of great chefs, but available to all. And of course, I’m greatly inspired by the parts of Julie & Julia which bring us her story–the best parts of the movie, really.

Now, for the Food Network bits. The best show they ever had, hands down, was the original, Japanese, dubbed Iron Chef. DH and I watched this in college, and if it was available on DVD, I would throw my money at it. This show, and the chefs on it, changed my culinary life and expanded my horizons in a very real way. Today, there is almost nothing I wouldn’t try. We began to understand the concepts of what great food is really about, beyond our American pallets.

Good Eats with Alton Brown and Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten are my two other Food Network picks. I enjoy watching food shows with people who are knowledgeable and able to easily explain the science of food. Not to mention, Good Eats was entertaining, and I must admit I love Ina’s upscale lifestyle. But both are compelling and produce food I want to eat.

Another person, who I originally shied a bit away from, but have found really does know what she’s doing, is Martha Stewart. Not only does she cook, she also does decor and flowers, another great plus for me. Her recipes are well thought out and have nearly always turned out for me. If you are interested in the entire art of entertaining, she’s someone you should be looking into. Though I’ve managed to catch her cooking show only a few times, her earnestness comes through despite the extremely calm and collected personality she portrays.

More recent influences for me come from the UK. If you haven’t watched The Great British Bake Off (The Great British Baking Show as retitled on PBS), you should. Mary Berry, a well-known home cook in the UK with numerous cook books under her belt, is delightful as one of the judges on the show, and always knows why a cake hasn’t turned out properly. Hosts Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc are also delightful. The show itself, and the many bakers who have been on it, is refreshing after the advent of US reality shows, and quite inspiring.

My other pick here is the indefatigable Raymond Blanc.**  Having recently watched several series of his cooking shows, this self-taught chef has a restaurant that I’ll likely never be able to afford to eat in, but a huge talent for showing how simple incredible food can be if one only has patience, and for inspiring others. His charisma is infectious, and one simply can’t watch one of his shows without wanting to run into the kitchen and make something.

I have one final honorable mention. Two Fat Ladies*** is a BBC2 cooking program which stared Clarissa Dickson Wright** and Jennifer Paterson, two experienced cooks in their own right. While their recipes vary greatly, they are always a joy to watch–they are large in both body and personality, and this is a show I occasionally watch when not feeling well. I dream of making some of their recipes–Peaches Cardinal, Summer Tomato Pudding, or Onion Soup with Stilton. Clarissa Dickson Wright also has other food shows which are also lovely.

*Mastering the Art of French Cooking was recently gifted to me, and I can’t wait to get into reading it. A shoutout to DH, who got me a first edition when he totally didn’t have to.

**Raymond Blank and Clarissa Dickson Wright’s programs are available on Youtube, which is where I watched them.

***Two Fat Ladies is available as a DVD set.

Writing Exercise: Candle



Iseda watched at the top of the ridge as the others made their way silently down in the night. They were almost to the forest, she could tell that the thick fog was beginning to get darker on the way ahead. They just needed to get under cover, and then things might be alright. She was young, but her ears and eyes were some of the sharpest in the pack, and so she’d been set as lookout at the tops of hills since they’d set out, some five or more hours ago now.

At first, they’d been able to see the light of the torches following them, just barely visible through the fog behind. Yet she they hadn’t been able hear the horses’ hooves, between the field and fog, muffling all sounds. They had fallen back,  unable to keep up, but these men were native trackers, and might easily follow them once the sun rose. If they were really ready to kill them to make them leave, what was to say they wouldn’t follow them into a forest? Was there nowhere they might be safe?

A tiny light suddenly appeared coming back up the hill, Fenn by the scent. He’d changed to skin and sat next to her, bringing the welcome light close into her circle. Being out here made her think of all the tales their neighbors told of strange and frightening creatures on the moors.

“Rasti has returned, we’re nearly there, and Bari reports they’re well behind. They’d be fools to come into the forest.”

She nodded, but wondered if the Humans really knew what her own people were capable of. Thinking of their bloodlust made her press against him, and he put an arm around her. “Don’t worry, Bari’s trying to persuade them to leave astrally, to give up. Shall I keep you company?”

Iseda nodded again, and he stood as the last of them passed down into the valley between hills. Fenn’s candle shone like a beacon next to her, but safe as its’ light only penetrated a short way into the mist. Perhaps she finally understood why the Humans were so fond of fire.


Writing Exercise: Clumsy



Contessa muffled a swear word as she accepted Alexis’ hand up from the brick sidewalk and dusted herself off.

“Are you okay?” her friend asked.

“Yes, I’m fine. Just not paying enough attention, I think.”

Alexis just looked at her a moment. “Forgive me for being blunt, but you seem to be saying that a lot lately. I’m not inclined to believe you’ve suddenly become clumsy.”

When she didn’t answer right away, Alexis went on. “It’s clear something’s bothering you. You’ve been so distracted lately, even at rehearsals. You usually know all your lines by now, and don’t make habits of knocking over laps.”

“I…um.” She could hardly repeat what she’d learned, Lorenz’ secret. “I can’t tell you.”

“That man you were hanging out with, something happened, didn’t it? Did he threaten you?”

“No, he didn’t. He actually…” but she broke it off. “I really can’t talk about it,” she said finally, starting to walk again. How could she explain all the thoughts she couldn’t keep out of her mind? The constant glances over her shoulder that made her trip. But  she couldn’t betray him, even if she didn’t know how she felt about him anymore.

“Contessa, wait!” Alexis called, picking up the bag of shopping lying on the ground. “You can’t just…what do you expect me to do?”



“I’m sure things will be fine.” But for now, she was probably going to clumsy for a while.

Worldbuilding, Part 6: Culture

While normally I agree that building a new apartment complex of strip mall simply because there is land isn’t really a great choice, now, driving by the construction for the new farm equipment store or watching Gold Rush grieves me. All those trees uprooted, all those animals and creatures with no home. The bare land speaks volumes to me. This is an extremely Lupa view of land development. It is part of their culture and who they are.

There is a road I drive on often on which the land used to belong to a farm, and has since been sitting, full of grasses and a little woodland. It’s been there since I was a child as other things have sprung up around it. It has recently been under development. Driving by the construction grieves me. All those trees uprooted, all those animals and creatures with no home. It’s the same feeling I often have when my husband watches Gold Rush. The bare land speaks volumes to me. This is an extremely Lupa view of land development. It is part of their culture and who they are.

Some writers enjoy moving from one story to the next, while others work with the same characters or group of people over a series or even multiple series. In the series process, we often move from writers who control stories, to writers who discover stories. There is a point that it becomes part of us. We begin not just to understand who our characters are and where they’re coming from, but when we begin to think like them, and see through their eyes.

Culture is the part of a people from which we derive customs, modes of action, and world view–how we think. Ten years ago, construction never bothered me like it does today. I have incorporated this, and many other, Lupa ideologies into myself. Creating the culture from scratch, however, was long, and sometimes difficult. I had to determine the best way to show their character in all kinds of situations–and what was their character exactly?

In this section, we will discuss cultural elements beyond the basics of food, clothing, and shelter. Here is the time to consider social customs such as greetings and rank, how they treat various arts, how they deal with death. Some cultures focus on particular arts (such as singing and dancing in Tibet), while others adore poetry and plays (ancient Greece). Here is where we determine how people handle all kinds of things in life, from work to leisure, and everything in between.




All societies have customs. If you’re writing in any kind of historical genre, you have the added bonus of people able to research the culture and customs of which you’re writing. This is, of course, still quite a bit of work. If you’re based on an Earth historical period, such as medieval, you can make modifications. Even if you’re starting from scratch, you can start with a basic set based on the people you’re writing about. As the Lupa are very natural and instinctual, I started there. Do make sets of customs for both public and home life.


Public Life

Chose things that make sense for your basics. If your people have a great sense of smell or hearing, it may be very rude to not acknowledge someone’s presence when they come into a room or join a group–in most cases there’s no way you wouldn’t know they’re there. So if you have to acknowledge a new presence, start with the basic greeting. Is “hello” enough? Should there a nod or bow? What about gestures? Some people shake hands, grip forearms, or exchange a kiss of greeting. If there are different types, when is each used? Likewise, there are ways to say goodbye.

You’ll want to determine if there is rank, and if so, how do they interact? Are certain topics forbidden in public conversation? (See Victorian society for examples.) Are there certain things everyone knows about and therefore don’t need explaining? Why?

Not only should you have your basic public etiquette down, but you should delve into very specific things, as well. This is the difference between okay and good writing. Know your subject, and do differentiate. If you’re writing a feast, it’s not just enough to have food on the table. Know how many courses there should be, how many dishes are allowed under sumptuary laws, and what’s included in each one.

And always remember, people want to be thought better of in public. There is a reason that traveling outfits are traditionally better than home wear.

Home Life

Home life is where your characters may be most revealed, so you’ll want to make the most of it. Servants always know the intimacies of their masters and mistresses, and family and close friends reveal both the best and worst of themselves. However, there should be common expectations of what acceptable when one has guests, and what friends can expect when visiting.

For instance, who always uses the front door, and who may use whatever entrance they like? Who is free to move about, and who should stay where invited to sit or dine? In ancient Greek culture, a man may have been killed on the spot for entering the women’s quarters of a villa. Intruding on the king or queen’s chambers without an invitation is always a serious offense. Close agemates in Lupa culture have the right of entering through a bedroom window during daylight hours.

Most cultures make large distinctions on what’s appropriate based on the time of day. Some prioritize organization in the home, and others comfort. Made decisions on what’s most important for your people and characters, and again, write in a fully functioning manner for personal homes, whether it’s a one room hut or a residency wing of a large castle.




One of the prime telling points of a society may be how they approach education. There are many types currently in use in our world, from standard primary, secondary, and university schools, to master to apprentice, to tribal group learning. In science fiction one may find direct download to the brain (the Matrix trilogy) or in fantasy, direct mind to mind.

The lives of both the young and anyone who teaches or mentors significantly depends on how they learn, and the system in use in their community. Alana Treebond lives in the King’s castle to become a knight and is also required to pass general educational school subjects; Wesley Crusher attends Star Fleet Academy in San Francisco for his genius-level education; Balien the blacksmith as apprenticed to the town blackmith to learn his trade.

These all present very different means of learning, and greatly affected the lives of the characters. Most children go somewhere else for school, whether a daily commute or a boarding situation. Alana was put up at the King’s expense as part of his household.

What about people with no formal education system? How do they teach their children? Who does it, and what do they learn?




A secondary but important feature is how people communicate. A high-tech community who doesn’t use voice or video as their prime communication network is very telling–they may be phobic to other people, as in Azimov’s The Naked Sun. Millennials usually prefer texting, while Baby Boomers may prefer email. Romans may have sent messages tattooed on slaves.

For most of history, the letter was the main communication for those who could read, while the town crier or a minstrel may be the main mode for the illiterate. How information and news is disseminated can lay quite a backdrop. Who knows about current events, and who doesn’t. It may make a marked class distinction.

On the other hand, very high-tech societies which rely on video or holo communication where everyone is networked may make a much more even playing field in your people’s culture. Control of information via technology may also be important.

A species of telepaths, like the Betazoids on Star Trek, have an en entirely different understanding of communication than the average species. They commonly communicate telepathically, and  hold very different trials than other species. The Lupa, for whom some members are gifted in this area, often have trouble understanding why Humans hold trials, and why they take so long–a Speaker can settle guilt in moments and recommend appropriate action.


Art and Death


These are two very telling areas when it comes to culture, as how one deals with both art and death reveal much about one’s mindset and point of view. Some cultures will see art as a waste of time and energy, while in others it is the pinnacle upon which existence rests. A culture where death is seen as a doorway to a different existence may place little importance on death, or make it an important ceremony, depending on other aspects of their culture.

If you’re writing in a world in which there is much class structure or societal rules, consider if there are certain types of art that are prized or despised. Why? What are the most common types of art practiced by non-artists? Are there any very strange things that they consider great arts? If you have an artist as an important character, research how art was done in that time period, in that place. If in another world, determine what kinds of paints or drawing implements are used. Be prepared. A culture without eggs, for instance, will not be using tempera paint.

Regarding death, you will want to know the common modes of celebrating or mouring. What happens when a friend dies? A business acquaintance. A family member? If your have telepathic or mentally bonded characters, how does this change their or the people’s understanding of death and grieving? Death can be particularly harsh for these kinds of people, so is there a universal kind of understanding?

These are two important aspects of background culture which can shed luminous light on your story and characters.



Herbal Medicine Vs Chemical Medicine The Alternative Healthy Car

How your people handle medicine also has a lot to do with their world view. Throughout history, there have been a lot of thoughts about medicine that while not true were chief ideas that affected the entire field. During medieval times, for instance, your physician kept your humors in balance and preserved your health on a regular basis, whether or not you were ill.

Deeply spiritual people are more likely to use spiritual paths of healing. Science fiction isn’t just about the scientific ways of healing; it can also show much more metaphysical ones. Whatever your people do, make sure it fits with the rest of their culture. Also figure out if there are different modes of medicine used by different people. Lower classes of people often use more resourceful sources of medicine which can be found in their environment, while the wealthy may import unicorn horns.


Special Powers


The other major area of culture we must discuss, as world building is so heavily used in scifi/fantasy, is the inclusion or reaction of culture to special powers. The X-Men universe delves into war between Mutants and non-Mutants. The people of Betazed expect to communicate telepathically and to have others connect with them mentally. Witches and Wizards of the Harry Potter Wizarding world expect to see people doing magic as a matter of course–it is more unusual not to have magic.

Sometimes only certain people have powers, while other in other worlds it is much more common. Especially where it is common, what natural accommodations made? How is this power built into the foundations of society?

Lupa, for instance, have trouble understanding our justice system. Those with astral abilities are expected to help others in various ways, including determining whether someone is guilty. An experienced Speaker knows their pack members well, and can rightly determine this. To them, the time and “what ifs” of a trial are debilitatingly slow and unnecessary. But then, the guilty aren’t punished the same way, either. There are punishments when needed. However, part of the Speaker’s duty is to work with the person psychologically to correct any underlying causes, and likewise alert other pack members as to how they can help.

Take care and think through this aspect of the culture. It is very important. Even with only a percentage of the population (1-3 Lupa in every 30-50 have astral abilities), the cultural reflection can have a large imprint.

Writing Exercise: Daring


Miara dropped down into the garden on the other side of the wall, lying low behind some large bushes of grass and leaves. The police rushed by out on the street, none the wiser, and in a few moments she crept forward to get a better view of the garden. She only had a glimpse, however, of a large desert-type garden before the view was obscured by a pair of eyes golden eyes. The fur around them was striped, and she realized it was a tiger growling at her.

Hello, she said, reading out astrally to assure it that she was friendly, and not a threat. While it was quite startled–most animals hadn’t ever experienced something like that before–it remained quite suspicious of her. Not breaking the stare, she sat up a bit, slowly showing her hands.

I know I smell different, I’m not from around here. I just need somewhere to stay a few minutes.

While convincing animals to trust her produced varied results, greatly dependent upon species, she was better at it than most others she’d seen try it. It took a little while, but finally she was able to hold out a hand for sniffing at, and a little while later proved she knew the best places to pet.

Writing Exercise: Tree



I have always liked high places. Being able to see the lay of the land while thinking through a problem or situation helps one see the big picture. A picture which is becoming ever more vast as time goes on. When I was very young, I would try to forget my troubles, and could disappear from the world for hours simply by climbing a tree. Then, I learned to use it better; to think, or to let go. Sometimes, they are one in the same.

Kolle trees, the only ones we have left, aren’t particularly high. Instead, there are other tall ones to use, from a planet no one remembers now. But they are some of the tallest we’ve seen, tall and broad and straight with clumps of buds and leaves in the spring and summer. Way at the top are a mass of branches, and above that, a large flat area where one can sit and look out–if you can make it up there. There are long stretches without holds, and the tops sway a lot. It’s gentle, almost rocking at times.

It makes me wish we were back Home, in the tinne forests.

Writing Exercise: Border



“I don’t understand,” Les said. “What do you mean by ‘called’?”

“It–it’s hard to explain. I just feel it. It’s an astral thing.”

“And it wants you to go back to…to your homeworld? Not your family.” Red asked.

“Yes. But I talked to my sister, a lot of them have felt it to. I’m just not sure I..want to go with them,” she admitted, feeling quite lame. “I…I haven’t seen any of them in a long time and I don’t want to cause problems for them.”

“I don’t think they’d consider a visit a problem, even if you do have an episode,” Les said. “Not if they’re really family. Not if they really care about you.”

“I know, but…” It was the whole reason she’d left all those years ago. “No one’s been there before. No one really knows what it’s like, or why we should go now. We don’t…I don’t know if I can do it on my own,” she finally mumbled.

They both just stared at her a minute.

“It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?”

“Maybe to other people, but we know better,” Les said.

“He’s right,” Red said strongly after a few more minutes. “We’ve always supported each other when one of us pushed our boundaries before, and we should continue to do so.”

Writing Exercise: Unfinished

Yumiko had a hard time, sometimes, when Eiry would mention something about Tally. Although they’d got along so well, and she’d liked him so much, she’d really only known him for such a short time–a matter of months. He had been instrumental in boosting her career, but even years later she’d suddenly learn the way he ate a certain things, or the nuances of his personality.

Yes, he was dead, but she worked with his best friend. Eiry had become her mentor, naturally. And so her relationship with him wasn’t over, and wouldn’t be for a very long time.

Writing Exercise: Dilemma

After what seemed like hours, the door of the control room slid open with yet another gust of foul air. While they waited, hands over noses, they could see something floating in the center of the chamber.

“I thought this was supposed to be the control room,” Caroline said.

“It is,” Rai said, scanning the room with his enhanced eyesight. “The stations are dark, that’s all. Aes was right.”

“Then was is that thing?”

“It looks like an Old One,” Solartiger said. “Though here? All this time? Can that be right?”

“It appears to be…” Rai said, taking a closer look at it.

“Lumos maxima,” Caroline muttered, sending a bright ball of light into the room.

“It can’t be, but it is,” Rai said. “That looks exactly like an old stasis tube Aes used to use, on a much larger scale.”

“Could it be a fake?”

“We don’t know without Aes here to scan everything properly. Wait…” He searched for a bug device in the knapsack he carried, and found a tiny one. “Let’s see what this says.”

While Rai was busy watching the bug, Caroline and Solartiger shared a look. If that thing was real, then Rai was the one who should deal with it; he had the skills and tools to handle that kind of dark power. They couldn’t let it free, and Caroline knew she was the least useful. Solartiger at least had some experience. He checked over his armor while she strengthened some of her spells.