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May 2024

Pausing Social Media and YouTube.

In early May, I began feeling stressed. Partly due to my self-imposed deadlines to complete the book in 2024, but also because of the many roles I have in this project.


Summarizing over 200 feedback entries for the recipes, editing the manuscript daily, working with scholars to fact-check it, reviewing recipe photos with my photographer, while also writing and recording educational videos for social media and YouTube, and responding to the comments they generate (along with a dozen other tasks), felt overwhelming.


Exhausting oneself is never good, but it’s especially bad when making art, as it dampens creativity. But even worse, it affects the results because it’s already hard to do one thing well.


The purpose of my short-form videos is to educate, but even more so to raise awareness about Table of Gods. After all, the book will be the ultimate guide to bring people to the cradle of civilization.


Most publishers will tell you that without a large audience, your book is doomed to fail.


I believe this is mostly true, and even more so for me, since I will crowdfund the book. If the crowdfunding campaign fails, there will be no Table of Gods.

After almost two years of raising awareness about Table of Gods, I have some 30K followers on social media and YouTube, and another 5,000 on the book’s waiting list. 

Is this enough to crowdfund Table of Gods? I don’t know. The numbers aren’t staggering, but they aren’t minimal either. One thing I know for sure, however, is that if I don’t focus all my attention on finishing Table of Gods, there will be no crowdfunding campaign. Furthermore, I believe it will be a lesser book if I divide my attention now when the final details require it more than ever.


Pausing something that raises awareness about Table of Gods is a tough decision. The numbers are already down. But I didn’t make this decision based on numbers. I made it based on intuition and a sense of responsibility toward my future self and future readers.


Ten years from now, I believe I will thank myself for giving my full attention to making the best book I could.


Once I’ve finished the recipes and the manuscript, I’ll return to raising awareness and educating people about the cradle of civilization.

Fact Checking the Manuscript

If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that Table of Gods is more than a cookbook.


The book contains eleven chapters (cities), each starting with a travel guide followed by recipes from that city. I write these travel guides in the second person to make them as vivid as possible. Here’s an example from Uruk, 3032 BC:


“There are so many reed canoes you can barely see the canal they float on. The ones arriving are stacked with barley, the ones departing with farmers holding sickles. Sailors dock their boats loaded with building materials, mostly wood and stone. Hundreds of lean, bare-chested men unload them, their muscles detailed like carvings on stone reliefs.”


Here’s another excerpt from Dur-Sharrukin 706 BC:


“It’s a cloudy morning. You’re standing on a chariot drawn by two white horses. Their hooves echo in a synchronized rhythm. Next to you is a soldier in a red embroidered tunic. He wears a conical helmet and has a bow and quiver on his back. Tucked inside his wide leather belt are two daggers, and on his left forearm, a bracer. Trained since childhood to hit moving targets, this man is from the king’s guard and will deliver you to Sargon’s fortress.”


These texts are not edited and may not appear in the final manuscript. I just want to give you an idea of how I write the travel guides. As you can read, bringing ancient cities to life requires a lot of imagination. What’s important to me is that my imagination is based on facts.


One mistake I made in chapter Nineveh 647 BC, was about the Assyrian parasol. I wrote that you could buy one upon arrival to protect you from the sun—a good idea for sure.


But then I read Assyriologist Karen Radner’s work, Ancient Assyria: A Very Short Introduction. Radner writes that the parasol was reserved for royals. In fact, it was considered treason for others to carry one. You would have been imprisoned or even killed had you followed my advice!

A eunuch holds a parasol over the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III.

I guess no one, maybe not even Radner, would have noticed this minor inaccuracy. But it doesn’t matter. I want details like this to be correct, even if no one notices.


I think about Steve Jobs’ father, who told young Steve, “You gotta make the back of the fence—that nobody will see—just as good-looking as the front. Even though nobody will see it, you will know, and that will show that you’re dedicated to making something perfect.”


I’m dedicated to making something as perfect as it can be. That’s why I’ve sent the manuscript to Near Eastern archaeologists and scholars for a final fact-check before it goes to my editor.

Summarized 200+ Feedback Entries

Last month, I told you about the surreal responses I received from the recipe testers. People from all continents (except Antarctica, I think) cooked our recipes and provided feedback that exceeded my expectations.


Some people wrote short essays filled with useful ideas on how to improve certain recipes. It took many long phone calls with my sister (who’s not only my right hand in this project, but my right arm) to summarize everything. Here’s one feedback entry:


“The cake did not rise, the end result was extremely thin and dense. It could not even be cut in half, let alone thirds. I ended up making it again after proofing the yeast to make sure that wasn't the problem. The second time I measured the temperature of the butter mix with a digital thermometer to make sure that was not the problem, but at 94°F it should not have killed the yeast. The pomegranate syrup was delicious. I think that if the cake had risen, this would have been a great recipe.”


This feedback was about the pomegranate cake. And after receiving similar responses from other testers, we consulted with a food scientist (that’s a real title) who explained why the cake didn’t rise, scientifically.

A photo of the pomegranate cake, which will appear in the book on beautiful art paper.

After refining the recipe, three more people have baked the pomegranate cake, and all have reported successful results with the cake rising properly. That’s the power of recipe testers.

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