The Final Cut

I’m in the midst of the insanity that every cookbook, author dreads: reviewing the copyedited manuscript of my upcoming book. Writing a cookbook, especially one that needs to be precise like a baking book, is really a task. I started working on this book well over a year ago and it grew and grew to hundreds of recipes before I reined myself it. I just got so excited and I couldn’t stop.


So this week I’ve locked myself in my apartment, taken the phone off the hook, and quit drinking wine. (Well, two outta three ain’t bad.) One of the hardest parts was getting it actually delivered to me in the first place. It was sent overnight via Fed Ex.

Normally that means ‘overnight’.

In France, it means ‘soon’.

So I patiently waited and waited, until it eventually showed up.

Being a tad insane, but globally conscience, I’ve decided to write the recipes in both cups-and-tablespoons as well as in metrics, which was like writing two books at the same time. So for all you people who complain about American cookbooks not being in metrics, or by weight, if you don’t buy this book, I going to come over, tie you up, and leave an endless loop video of back-to-back episodes of Rachael Ray shows on your television and force you to watch them over and over and over and over and…

So I’ve been working with my editor on-and-off for the past few months and it’s finally down to the wire. I’ve never worked with her before but she’s great and has worked with some of the best cookbook authors out there. We seem to agree on most things, and unlike most author/editor relationships, she listens to me and I listen to her. Rather strange I know, but so far so good and everything has been going along fine.

Well, that was until the frantic 67 emails I sent her yesterday.
(Since then, I haven’t heard anything.)

In these final stages of writing a cookbook, both the editor and a copy editor goes over the book with a fine-toothed comb, looking for errors and making sure things jibe. (I should’ve hired some of my readers, come to think of it.) This is the stage that I generally refer to as ‘hell’. You pore over each and every word and scan every recipe, jumping up to remeasure something in the kitchen, scrolling through the manuscript countless times making sure things are consistent, eat chocolate-coverd marshmallows from Pierre Marcolini, email all your old friends from college that you haven’t seen in twenty-five years that you’ve been meaning to write to but haven’t, checking to see if anyone’s commented on your blog, and finding silly projects around the house to avoid the inevidable final edit on the manuscript…all in a concerted effort to procrastinate further.

But at least I finally got around to digging out an old toothbrush and cleaning all the grimy stuff that’s collected around the buttons on my kitchen scale. I feel much better now.

Ok, so back editing.
Editors help rein-in authors like me, that sometimes have a tendancy to get inspiration from the most unusual places. Beauty pageants, childhood traumas, and naked men hurling coconuts on the sidewalk all made it’s way into this book. As you can imagine, I really have a dislike for boring, dull headnotes, those comments authors make at the beginning of recipes to introduce them.

There’s nothing worse than a headnote that reads like….”These cookies go well with tea in the afternoozzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Who has tea in the afternoon? I think I have, like, maybe once. And I was probably in bed with the flu. I usually eat cookies while waiting for my coffee to brew first thing in the morning. Or I leave cakes on the counter and hack away at them all day with a knife. Or rip pieces off with my hands and lick the icing off with my fingers.
With tea in the afternoon? I am so sure.

And it’s hard writing a single-subject book as I’m doing, without using some of the same words again. For example, everything I put in my books are my favorite recipes. How many times am I allowed to say, “This is one of my favorite recipe for….”?
As mentioned, I generally reach into the deep, dark recesses of my mind to grasp something to write about that’s curious and funny. But sometimes other people think they’re odd or weird.

For example, in a recipe for something with bananas, there was a note from my editor…

“Replace this headnote….Too many bugs, not enough yum.”

Frankly I’m so bleary from editing that last night I wrapped up a roast chicken carcass, which I ate like a crazed savage, to bring down to the trash room before racing out the door to meet Joy (who does not, by the way, have a potty-mouth in real life) for a late night rendez-vous over a bottle of wine in the Bastille. But when I woke up this morning, I realized I forgot to take the wrapped carcass downstairs and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I’ve looked everywhere; the refrigerator, the freezer, in kitchen cabinets, my clothes closet, in the bathroom and the shower. I know I will find it someday. I just hope I do before it ends up looking like one of my fruitcakes.


As I was racing to meet up, I learned something that I thought I’d share before I get back to work: No matter how pressed you are for time, don’t try to iron a shirt while you’re still wearing it.

Although on second thought, perhaps that will make an interesting headnote…

Better get back to work.

Never miss a post!


  • September 23, 2006 1:33pm

    I would buy your un-edited version… I actually want to read the odd, wierd and interesting. Congrats anyways what a huge achievement. And easy with the iron!

  • September 23, 2006 1:52pm

    It’s incredible how many little until then un-noticed things that get done when you to DO something. But that’s the positive side of this kind of hell! W(h)ine on , it’s soon going to be over and done with.

  • September 23, 2006 2:00pm

    A missing carcass is easy to find about a week later. Just follow the little fly parade. Oh my, David. That burn must hurt.

  • September 23, 2006 2:32pm

    Don’t be ashamed, we’ve all woken up to find unexpected hickeys…erm, ironing accidents now and again!

    Looking forward to the book :)

  • Sezz
    September 23, 2006 3:37pm

    You sure that was an ‘ironing’ accident!??!

    Weights are essential in a good cookery book. I have shelves of books that don’t see the light of day cause of those dreaded cup thingys.

    The long painful labour will be worth it when your new baby arrives :-)

  • Darrell
    September 23, 2006 3:48pm

    Rachel Ray? Don’t you think Sandra Lee would be more effective? (((shudder)))

    Good luck with the book!

  • Gail
    September 23, 2006 5:34pm

    I was laughing at your funny experiences until I had to go “ugh”; promise us no more self photos of body parts below the chin.

  • September 23, 2006 5:42pm

    Too funny about you admitting to leaving cake on the counter and hacking at it all day . . . I thought I was the only one! Great blog – I always enjoy reading. Good luck with the editing.

  • September 23, 2006 5:45pm

    I’m glad it was “only” a burn: I glanced down at the photo before reading the explanation and thought, “Well, now he’s gone and tried to slit his throat. What has the bank done to him NOW?”

  • Anna
    September 23, 2006 6:36pm

    I’m sorry about your very painful looking burn. I’ve given myself similar ones trying to rescue forgotten cakes from the oven. Your shirt however, does not look creased.

  • Broderick Smylie
    September 23, 2006 7:34pm

    That pic — ew

  • September 23, 2006 8:02pm

    uh huh, ironing???
    I will remember that the next time…

    Hey david.. been to the zoo lately???
    (monkeybites?? was the excuse we used in grammer school!)

  • rainey
    September 23, 2006 10:20pm

    For what it’s worth, I’m a lousy proofreader because I read whole ideas and miss the errors in individual words. So I rely on this technique my kids picked up in elementary school: read backwards. Your brain gets a pair of hobbles that allow you to slow it down so you can pay attention to what’s actually *on* the page instead of in your cognitive and compensating mind.

    Proof reading recipes has to be *the very HARDEST* thing of all. But this technique works even with the numerals of amounts and fractions so long as you read them backward too. 1 3/4 cups becomes “cups 4/3 (space) 1” and you’ll actually be concentrating so hard on each element that you’ll ensure that it *is*.

    Hope that helps and good luck with the rest of the project!

  • September 24, 2006 12:21am

    I’m sorry but I laughed out loud looking at that welt from your iron. I can’t believe you really did that…oh God! here I go again….it’s too darn funny

  • September 24, 2006 1:14am

    David – I have only a slight idea of what you are going through. I worked with a chef in L.A. doing recipe testing for her upcoming book. I met with her and her editor on serveral occasions and I spent hours with her nitpicking over the slightest “drip” or “crumb” in 20+ variations of the same photo that probably won’t even end up in the final edit. All that to say – keep up the great work and know that there are thousands+ of us who appreciate the work you do and are anxious to get our hands on the new book.

  • Anne Onim
    September 24, 2006 4:44am

    You should sue the iron company, if it’s not written “do not iron while wearing your clothes” they’re faulty :D

  • September 24, 2006 6:47am

    David, you have me laughing out loud on a regular basis with your very authentic reports of life in France. Your ‘Fed Ex – Overnight’ reminds me of the urgent real estate papers that my agent in the US sent to me here in the South of France for immediate signature and return. They also expected ‘overnight’ – especially for the price they paid. DHL called me two days later (on a Thursday) to say they had my parcel and would be delivering it the following *Tuesday* as that would be the next time they would be making a delivery…and I live in a not so small university town! One learns to roll with the punches, no?!

    Your post about the visa process is something I am going to link on my blog as I couldn’t describe it any better! 11 months after the start of the process in the Los Angeles consulate, I have finally received my Carte de Sejour…and what a story!

    I enjoy your humorous ‘world view’ …and can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with for your recipe headers! Good luck as you continue the process…between contact with old friends and testing the heat resistence level of your own body, that is!

  • September 24, 2006 7:20am

    Leslie: It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? I had UPS return 3 (very) larges cases of appliances that were shipped to me because “they couldn’t find my street”. (they also only made one delivery ‘attempt’ before returning them too!)
    I live on one of the Grand Boulevards of Paris, so for a delivery person to say they can’t find my street is insane.

    The funny thing is when you’re doing business with the US, people don’t understand about the difficulty in receiving things.

    Darrell: Thanks for the link…not!

    That was truly scary. Is that thing alive?

    Anne: I knew someone in the US who was a passenger in a car, and she had her foot on the dashboard and they were in a minor accident. The airbag went off and she broke her leg.

    When she was telling the story, someone said, “Aren’t you going to sue the car company?”…forcing me to point out that that’s what the airbag is supposed to do in an accident!
    So this time there’s no one to blame, but myself.

    Gail: I did give pause to the idea of putting that picture up. But after watching 2 seasons of Nip/Tuck, which appears on network TV in the US and some of those makeover shows, after seeing all those scalpels and blood everywhere, I decided my readers could handle seeing a scar.

    And yes, everyone, it is a scar from an iron.

    If I had gotten it any other way, do people think I’d be as stressed out as I am ; )

  • Eyal
    September 24, 2006 8:21am

    What would Freud say about the men and the coconuts?
    Congratulations on your new book (well, the final steps of it), and a Happy new year to you.

  • September 24, 2006 10:10am

    I was gonna jump on the hickie track bit figured you left yourself wide open, besides hickies are purplish and well that’s another subject! You editing post reminds me of Dan Lepards site where he has people saying this and that regarding editing errors, he explains as well as he can and well admits sometimes time, budget can contribute to that!We know your new bok will be as good as all the rest, with a Mollasses ginger recipe who could beat that!


  • September 24, 2006 10:21am

    “and leave an endless loop video of back-to-back episodes of Rachel Ray shows on your television and force you to watch them over and over and over and over and…”

    At last womeone has come up with something RR is good for.

    And your iron probably had a note in the instructions telling you not to iron shirts while wearing them. I’ve seen this warning ridiculed many times, but clearly it has a function.

  • September 24, 2006 3:14pm


    Okay, I’ve finally laughed my way through the comments (that Tana is almost as funny as you are), and although I really, really do believe you about the iron, I happened upon this article just this morning (don’t ask), so I figured the coincidence was too great and I would pass it along in case you ever happen need it in the future.

    P.S. Don’t feel too bad–Fed Ex can’t find me either. And certainly not overnight. I once got a phone call from a Fed Ex employee saying that their driver had ATTEMPTED to deliver my package, but it was raining so he couldn’t get out and open the (unlocked) gate at the entrance to the farm.

    Even the USPS here won’t guarantee any of that Overnight Delivery/Two Day Delivery/You’ll Get It Someday FOR SURE delivery here. They have a whole poster about it up at the post office.

    P.P.S. Dude, you can live a full and very happy life without ever ironing anything again. Trust me.

    P.P.P.S. Why won’t this blasted comment box let me have nice spaces between my paragraphs? (A large hint that my comment has exceeded its acceptable length, maybe?)

  • Mark
    September 24, 2006 5:20pm

    Ok, so if you are reading this then you don’t have time to write a blog, shop, cook, lead tours, eat chocolate, drink wine and write a cookbook in two weight languages! ;-)

  • laura
    September 24, 2006 5:39pm

    I am so sorry about your owie! And it looks like an owie not a hickey, btw.

    I think you have the best sense of humor! You could write a book, toss in a few recipies and it would be marvelous!! I’m actually worried that your new book _won’t_ have enough of you amongst all the recipies! But I’m looking forward to it come what may! :)

  • September 24, 2006 8:39pm

    But just think – all the happy people who get to look forward to another book by you! :)

  • Lisa
    September 25, 2006 4:38am

    I’m glad to see that the chocolate covered marshmallows are coming in handy :-)

  • Alphonse the Noble
    September 25, 2006 5:07am

    UPS? Well! Latest trick of UPS is to send an invoice demanding extra money a month after they’ve delivered the documents you sent across the world and for which they’ve agreed a price and debited your credit card! And when you telephone to say “what the h*** is this?” they say: “..oh it was a misquotation.” So you tell them, quietly and slowly: “a contract is a contract – you quoted me a price, I agreed and paid the price – you did the delivery – end of story.” And they fold and withdraw the additional invoice! I hear that I’m not the only one who has experienced this sort of what could be called by some – “trickery”.

    Oh! and, David says: “…Who has tea in the afternoon? I think I have, like, maybe once. And I was probably in bed with the flu…” Now you just listen to me sunshine of my life David Lebowitz: HM The Queen takes tea at 5pm every afternoon as do all well brought up British and Commonwealth peoples, Indian, Paksitani, Sri Lankan – the list is endless…!(MATT probably takes tea too!?) And, too, do a lot of other US persons especially on the East Coast of the USofA – but you’ve gone native after all those years of living in Rhinestone Heights in Bagdhad by the Bay!

  • September 25, 2006 8:01am

    Hi David
    LMAO!! Personally, I structure my buying around things that specifically DON’T need ironing, but I can picture my husband ironing a shirt he’s wearing to save time… Just say no!! Congrats on the book – and I can so relate to the “finding weird tasks to keep me away from the task at hand”. Why is it that your metal watch strap needs meticulous cleaning with a toothpick and a toothbrush the day before a big exam?

    Btw, I’d also buy the unedited version of your new book Maybe you can have like a director’s cut a la Ridley Scott?!

  • September 25, 2006 9:24am

    David, it looks less like a burn from an iron than it does some kind of alien implant. I bet you are actually Robotic-chocolate-man from planet Lythion, and Barbarella is your housefrau. That implant contains some sort of device which alerts you if she gets anywhere near your Kitchenaid mixer.. Am I right? Am I right?

  • September 25, 2006 11:51am

    This reminds me of “My Life in France”, the autobiography by Julia Child.

    Good luck on the book. I can’t wait until it comes out! I need a wonderful baking book!

    And yes, never iron a shirt while wearing it.

  • Janet
    September 25, 2006 2:44pm

    I’m sure the book will be worth every headache and battle scar, self-induced or not. I applaud your efforts to bring us more yummy prose.


  • September 25, 2006 3:14pm

    Lisa: I LOVED my marshmallows (thanks!) and will post about them soon. I didn’t share them with anyone…is that wrong?

    Michele: Are you saying I have implants??

    Alphonse TN: Sounds like someone’s about to start their own blog?!

    Janet: Yes, that’s the best part..the book!

    Karla: Prior to my arrival in France, if someone said I’d be ironing shirts, I would have laughed in their face. Not only do I have to iron my shirts now, but my linen dishtowels too! But not to worry: I won’t try to iron one while hanging it off my waist.

    Laura: Thanks for the compliment…but I must say that those of you who write comments crack me up too. I can’t tell you how many times I blurted out laughing when reading some of the comments. (Thanks everyone for the great laughs! Really..)

    Mark: It if wasn’t for this darned internet-thing, I’d have finished my book by now. With Gawker, Go Fug Yourself, and watching (and hoping) for the demise of Elisabeth Hassleback on You Tube, there’s no way I can get anything done.

  • September 25, 2006 4:58pm

    Oh David, as an editor myself I feel your pain!

    I know I’m on a procrastination high when I find myself organizing the tupperware drawer so that all the little plastic tops are lined up according to size and color. Of course since discovering food blogs procrastination has become a much easier thing. I don’t even have to leave my desk.

    Oh, and about the wound–fess up, my friend. You know and I know that you were really trying to scratch out your eyes after too much copyediting but your hand slipped and your fingernail sliced your neck on the way down.

  • cj
    September 25, 2006 6:07pm

    It’s probably bad blog manners to comment on a comment on someone else’s blog, but that “Lisboian” one you made on Michele’s was absolutely brilliant!

  • hag
    September 25, 2006 11:41pm

    I did iron a shirt once while I was wearing it…but I didn’t attempt the collar!

  • September 26, 2006 11:31am

    Ooh, I’d go for the director’s cut version too! Give me buggy headnotes any day… we already know your stuff is yummy!

    p.s. You know, you don’t really have to iron everything now that you’re in Europe. Just put your clothes on twenty minutes earlier; by the time anyone else sees you you’ll just have that pleasantly rumpled look you would have had by lunchtime ANYWAY…

  • September 26, 2006 2:33pm

    That was funny. I look forward to reading your not dull headnotes! And you’re so right about the afternoon tea thing.

  • Lyn-nut
    September 26, 2006 4:10pm

    I’m doing a review of my copy-editted transcript now too. We’ll be on bookshelves together!

  • Lyn-nut
    September 26, 2006 4:14pm

    Omigod, I should have had that copyedited, or at least spellchecked. I could say copy-editted (syc), yeah, that’s what I meant.

  • Lyn-nut
    September 26, 2006 4:16pm

    (sic), sigh.

  • September 26, 2006 4:54pm

    David, you’re killing me over here. Too funny! I hope for your sake that you find that chicken somewhere, mainly because “The Chicken Carcass, Part II” would make for a great sequel…

  • Bea at La Tartine Gourmande
    September 26, 2006 5:00pm

    aie aie ca fait mal ? I feel your pain! Seriously, almost over…..courage!

  • September 28, 2006 7:34am

    Thanks for the old toothbrush cleaning tip!

  • September 29, 2006 3:46pm

    Ironing a shirt while you’re still wearing it, are you INSANE?! Take my advice switch of the internet and go for a walk in the Jardin de Luxembourg or somtething. The fresh air will surely do you some good. Smell the flowers. And by the way why haven’t you been returning my calls, answering my letters, replying to my IMs? Please don’t use that ‘the editor is pressing me for deadlines’ excuse. Do you think I was born yesterday?

  • Elizabeth
    October 3, 2006 3:30pm

    Since you’re proof-reading, sir. Mnemonic device? “Rachael row your boat ashore…”

    II. NECK
    I admire your lack of pretension. Despite suffering an unfortunate burn, you do not walk around with the collar of your knit shirt sticking up in the air like pinkies at a Harrod’s tea.

  • October 4, 2006 3:49am

    Elizabeth: I purposely misspelled her name, since I didn’t want all her fans searching for her on Google to find my site. (Lest I suffer their wrath!)

    I never turn up the collar to my Lacoste shirts. I went to prep school and you never do it intentionally. It’s a spontaneous gesture, as if you just slipped on your polo shirt and the collar landed that way, but you’re too nonchalant to care one way or the other. But I flip my down so I don’t look like someone at a preppy Star Trek convention.