Maureen Evans is the author of “Eat Tweet: A Twitter Cookbook.” It contains over a thousand recipes and each one conforms to the 140-character limit that users on Twitter are limited to when writing their tweets. The book evolved from her Twitter stream @cookbook and it is the opposite of any kind of contrived gimmick. Maureen is a poet and this work is a work of poetry: poetry from which a fine meal or a quick snack can be derived.
She has always been interested in food. While living in San Francisco and having access to all of the fine California produce at the Farmer’s Market, she became inspired to write the original tweets.
How did you come to write it?
“[I have] lots of friends who love cooking equally as much, but they also tended to be geeks. [They were] working in the tech industry, maybe too many hours a day to have the ideal conversations about food that I wished we could be having after work: talking about what’s really great this season. I started this stream in order to communicate with these friends of mine, literally what I was doing in my kitchen and putting it out on Twitter.
“I really didn’t think in the beginning that the condensed form was going to be remarkable, but after challenges from my friends to tweet increasingly more complex recipes I kept it up. After a few years of writing the stream, I was approached by a reporter from the New York Times who, amazingly, wanted to do a feature on my Twitter stream, and this brought it to the attention of some agents and publishers. I was lucky enough to be approached by my favourite cookbook publisher, Artisan Books.”
How much of a challenge was it to turn your stream into a book?
“When I was approached by Artisan they asked for about a thousand recipes, which is approximately the size of Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” or a Julia Child book. So it’s an incredible number of recipes, and I wasn’t sure I could write that many and stay sane. It involved editing the web collection and adding an additional six hundred. So it was a challenge but I was surprised by how constantly inspired and really easy the work was because there is so much dimension to cuisine. Especially, as the work involves different ethnicities and approaches to food, I never got bored for a second.”
There’s a definite poetic element to it. Was it approached as a work of poetry?
“Certainly, I have many ideas of similarities between these recipes and poetry. One is that the reader has to bring their own knowledge and their own creative mind to either genre of art. A poem is a little unlike a novel in that it relies entirely on the mechanics of the reader’s mind to that purpose. We’ve all read poetry that does nothing for us. We’ve all read poetry that just hits us like something heavy in the heart. That’s the work of the reader. So in the same way I attempted to make [the recipes] poetic in their own way. I tried not to make the language inhuman, but at the same time they rely entirely on the reader to come to life.
“Recipes that hold your hand and tell you exactly how to shake the pan […] are very much in vogue and I think there’s a place for that. But there’s also a place for a traditional sense of empowerment in the kitchen that one can figure out a problem creatively and add their own flair to the solution. So that’s the service these little recipes provide for people.”
A lot or work went into the production of the book itself.
“This is where writers are indebted to the publishing community and the amazing people you find in publishers. The designer of this book was fantastic. They tried to give it a community feel, like an old cookbook that your workplace or your children’s school might put together, [but] at the same time giving it a contemporary typographic look. Their expertise was concentrated on this project for an appreciable amount of time. That in combination with the editors who were willing to take this new form of writing very seriously, as seriously as I do, at least, if not more – it raised it to another level.”
What do you mean by new form of writing?
“A new genre of cookbook, which is a funny thing to say, as we think of cookbooks as reference books, sometimes we think of them as a coffee-table book or something you read for entertainment. This is more a book of maps. These maps are to give you guidance to your own experiences, like any map. If offers you a path to getting there and where then is up to you.
“Whether you are going to use this book because you are in a rush and you want to send a recipe to yourself on your phone so you can do your grocery shopping, or [to] try a dish from a foreign cuisine you never heard of before – it’s very much a choose-your-own-adventure puzzle book.”
Would you call yourself a poet and how does this project fit into your body of work?
“I’m definitely a poet… This breaks away in many ways from what I normally do, but in some ways it’s similar. I’m interested in very spare forms like haiku… I love concision and form, but only when it lets me do unexpected or contrasting things. So the similarity there is that I think that haiku lets you fit whole seasons or experiences of feeling into just seventeen syllables… These recipes allow me fit not only a whole cooking experience, but every recipe is a kind of gift to the people you meet.
“Cooking from these recipes is more like coding. Techies will appreciate the metaphor. It’s more like coding because you would never just read a reference manual for a programming language from start to finish and expect to be able to be proficient in that language. It’s all about experience, tinkering, trying to build something that you might not have built before. So that’s the approach that I hope people [will use who] to take to this book rather than thinking they have to become fluent in twitterese or something. It’s intuitive and it’s intelligent and as long as you are too it’ll work out fine.”
Maureen’s book “Eat Tweet: A Twitter Cookbook” will become widely available on September 16th. She can be found on Twitter as @maureen and her recipes can be found as @cookbook We are hoping that more of her poetry will become available online and when it does we will be sure to notify you all in our blog stream.