Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fictional Feasts


***Breaking news: Pat D is the winner of Edith Maxwell's book. Please contact her at Edithmax at gmail dot com to claim your prize!***


LUCY BURDETTE: I've got food on the brain lately, but what else is new? Especially after Rhys had us describing our favorite meals last week. Besides that, it's an occupational hazard of writing foodie mysteries, as you saw yesterday from Edith's post. And you'll see again on Sunday, when Leslie Budewitz visits to talk about her recent obsession with food-related memoirs.

But I realized as I cracked open Ruth Reichl's first novel, Delicious!, that I've always loved reading about food in fiction. Maybe it started consciously with Diane Mott Davidson's series about a Boulder caterer who can't help solving mysteries as she cooks. Davidson didn't just dump descriptions onto the pages, food works hard as part of her story. Here she is at the beginning of Catering to Nobody:

 
   "For the dessert shortcakes, I used an old trick: make giant scones. Another thing I'd learned in this business: involve the clients with the food. Make the spread good to look at, smell, touch, taste. Gauge action by needs. At a bridal shower, don't give the guests much to do with the food since they're already involved with the presents. But keeping people active at a wake was essential. Being busy, like working, allayed grief. By splitting cakes and heaping on berries and cream, the mourners could start to get their minds off death."

    Barbara O'Neal is another novelist who shows genius about writing food. Near the beginning of The Lost Recipe for Happiness, her chef character has just been fired by her lover/boss. She's been invited to breakfast by a handsome restaurant owner who's offered her a job. Where do you suppose this is heading:


     
"Elena speared a vivid red strawberry, a fruit at its prime, and fell into admiring it. The smooth red flesh, quilted with the tiniest seeds. It tasted slightly grainy, imbued with the sunlight of a summer morning. "Mmmm." She stabbed another and held it out to Julian. "Have a taste."

    Oh, there are so many other meals I've enjoyed on the page--have you read Jessica Sofer's Tomorrow There Will be Apricots? Or Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent? Or Jenny Shortridge's Eating Heaven? Or Erica Baumeister's The School of Essential Ingredients? Or Meredith Mileti's Aftertaste? Or Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of the Lemon Cake? I can't even begin to list all the fun culinary mysteries being written right now, but you'll find some wonderful choices at MysteryLoversKitchen.com.

    Reds, is there a special fictional meal that lingers on your palate? Or a foodie novel we must add to our pile? Or do all these calories on the page leave you cold?


(And by way, here's my favorite recipe for strawberry shortcake--obviously I've got that dish on the brain!)

39 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

My favorite food in a mystery? Clare Fergusson's butternut squash soup.
I enjoy the food in the mystery when it is truly part of the story . . . and I really like finding a recipe or two at the end of the book.
I tend to skip those detailed recipes that appear in the midst of the storytelling because [for me] they distract far too much from the author's story . . . .

Mark Baker said...

This year, I have been reading more foodie mysteries than previously, and I read plenty of them before.

As for one you might have missed? Shelley Costa's second mystery set at a family fun Italian kitchen just came out this week (and was reviewed on my blog on Tuesday). It's a lot of fun.

Ramona said...

Meredith Mileti's Aftertaste: A Novel in Five Courses is not a mystery, but definitely a book for foodies--successful NYC restaurant owner catches her husband and partner "wielding his whisk" with the new waitress. Quotes not mine but they give me a chuckle.

I like food in books.

Goldie Bear (DMD's catering heroine) was a terrific breakthrough character. When she noted the scar on her thumb while unloading the dishwasher, and revealed she'd been an abused wife, there was a seismic shift in the reader's impression of the book. Injecting a social issue into a fun cozy mystery gave the book a side of meaning. I think mystery writers, women, etc. all owe Diane Mott Davidson for her courage with that series.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Joan, I agree that food should be part of the story, rather than stuck in the middle, where it becomes a sideshow.

Mark, haven't read Shelly's new book yet, thanks for the recommendation!

Ramona, you are so right--Diane Mott Davidson broke ground in so many ways! And I loved Meredith's AFTERTASTE. Looking forward to her next book, whenever it comes...

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

PS started Diana Abu-Jaber's Birds of Paradise yesterday. She is a gorgeous writer--this book has a pastry chef character. You'll be hungry all the way through...

Anonymous said...

Louise Penny's descriptions of the meals served at Olivier's bistro make me head to the kitchen - or at least add to my grocery list!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Lucy/Roberta, I'm with you — love food in novels. But then I get cravings! I love it when the author includes recipes.... For great non-fiction food writing, I adore MFK Fisher.....

Deb Romano said...

I've gotten some of my favorite recipes, particularly cookies and tea cakes, from foodie mysteries. There have been so many good meals written about in so many books I've read that I can't remember which was in which book. There isn't enough time for me to list all my favorites, and Blogger would probably tell me my message was too long, anyway! Let me just ask all you foodie writers to keep up the good work!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Romana — "wielding his whisk" — HA! OK, now I must read AFTERTASTE.....

Mary Sutton said...

I don't know that I've ever paid too much attention to food in writing. With food, I'm much more visual - pictures get my salivary glands going more than descriptions.

Although if we extended "food" to include beverages, I've used them as tools to show how a character is feeling. When a woman who usually drinks red wine orders three fingers of Scotch straight up, you know she's had a bad day!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

HUh. I recently read RED SPARROW< which I have been pusing to anyone hwo ouwld listen for the past year or so (It won the Edgar eventually, which always makes me feel like I can pick 'em.)

Anyway, it's written by a man, its the most harsh, tough, sexy,violent and suspenseful spy thriller you can imagine--takes place in Russia--and at the end of each chapter, there is a--recipe. The recipes are what the character has just had for dinner, or whatever.

I loved it, although the recipes were not tempting, it was a wonderful way of making these characters be human.

MY husband, however, that that part was ridiculous.

Me, though, generally? I don't gravitate toward food mysteries. WOnder why...

Deb Romano said...

And, Lucy/Roberta:

Thanks to you, my stomach is now growling!

Anonymous said...

Fictional food? As in food found in fiction I hope. My mouth waters at Gabri's croissants in all the Louise Penny mysteries. Or Clara's turkey dinners. I really want to visit Three Pines this summer and find that bistro.
Ann in Rochester who knows full well that Louise Penny isn't part of this group but shee should be.

Kaye Barley said...

I am such a fan of foodie fiction (including yours, of course, Lucy/Roberta (you knew that). I've read most of those you've mentioned, but not all, so I'm adding them to my list. I do have Ruth Reichl's "Delicious," and can't wait to dive in. Also a big fan of foodie non-fiction. A book I keep on my nightstand is Pat Conroy's Cookbook. I do. It's full of some of the best essays you'll ever read in between some fun recipes.

FChurch said...

The first mystery series that caught my eye in terms of food was Robert B. Parker's Spenser. Here was a tough guy--and we got great descriptions of the food he ordered--fancy restaurant, dive bar, deli around the corner--and the meals he made for himself at home. It added a dimension to the character for me.

And I'm with Anonymous--love Gabri's bistro in Three Pines. Thanks, Louise Penny!!

Anonymous said...

Think about all of the wonderful meals in Donna Leon's series about Guido and he goes home for lunch many days! All of the meals are a pleasure to read about.

Hallie Ephron said...

I loved that there were recipes in Red Sparrow. Imagine the discussions that must have gone on between editor and author on that one.

I'm up for food anywhere anytime. Like Water for Chocolate is my favorite sexy sexy food book.

Diane Vallere said...

I don't cook much in real life so I don't seem to gravitate toward it in fiction, but when posed with this question, I immediately go back to the Trixie Belden series books. The Bob Whites were always having picnics with fried chicken and potato salad and fresh biscuits and gravy and coleslaw. Yum! I often thought if you pulled the food out of those books, you'd be left with a novella.

Deborah Crombie said...

Ruth Reichl has a novel out? Have to get it!!

I love food in books, and they don't have to be "foodie" mysteries, or even mysteries at all.

Food is such a definer of character. Even in real life, I always want to know what people eat.

One of my favorite food scenes ever--you'll probably think this is really weird, if the scene from The Fellowship of the Ring when the company has breakfast at Tom Bombadil's house. Bacon and mushrooms. I was so disappointed when that was left out of the movie. Time to go back and reread.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Absolutely agree about the importance of Diane Mott Davidson adding social justice issues to cozy mysteries -- opening the door for many others.

When Sophie Winston in Krista Davis's Domestic Diva Mysteries heads to the kitchen, I wish I could be Daisy the dog, trailing along. I drink a lot more espresso when I read a Cleo Coyle Coffeehouse Mystery, and if Julie Hyzy's Olivia Parras really did cook at the White House, I'd beg for an invitation!

Some of my local readers are a bit annoyed with me for creating a bakery that doesn't actually exist ... But no calories that way!

Ray Daniel said...

Fezziwig's Christmas Feast is still my favorite.

Kathy Reel said...

I always enjoy reading about the food people are eating in novels, whether it's a foodie novel or otherwise. Especially fun is reading about unfamiliar food of other countries or cultures. I have recently finished two such novels. Aunty Lee's Delights by Singapore author Ovidia Yu is set in Singapore with the main character, Aunty Lee, fixing authentic Singaporean meals at her Aunty Lee's Delights restaurant. A recipe for achar is included in the back. An exellent and fun mystery read.

A book I just finished, and one I think you've read, Roberta, is The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujatat Massey. I won this book on this blog, and it was a fortuitous win indeed. It's not a foodie fiction, but is a historical fiction set in the last 17 years of British rule in India. As Hank stated about pushing a book, I am pushing this one hard. It has won a permanent place in my heart forever. Working on a review now. Anyway, the food of India is fascinating, and Sujata includes several recipes in the back, too.

And, of course, my favorite foodie books are yours, Roberta. With my love for Key West, I am enthralled with Haley's restaurant reviews and mentions of where she stops for a bite. Speaking of food for which you have an expertise, Roberta, I need to get several recommendations from you on Key West can't-miss-restaurants for my September trip. There are a few I already plan on visiting--Camilla's (have you been yet???), Blue Heaven, and Caroline's on Duval, but the ones you talk about in your books need to be noted, too.

Roberta, the strawberry shortcake recipe sounds divine. I was just lamenting to a friend the other day that I hadn't had strawberry shortcake in the longest time.

Denise Ann said...

When I taught "To Kill A Mockingbird" I would make Miss Maudie's cake for the students -- fabulous, rich, sweet, and pretty.

Thanks, Lucy/Roberta, for the book suggestions. Does anyone else who reads this blog plan to give up all other activities besides reading the suggested books?

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Red Sparrow does not sound like my kind of book, but the recipes in between chapters--wow, that's such a great twist for a spy thriller!

It's so funny that for some of the books you mention, I don't remember the food at all. Fellowship of the Rings? Could not have come up with that meal. Nor the Trixie Beldon books--though Diane, your description of that meal sounds wonderful!

And Kaye, definitely going to look for Pat Conroy's cookbook...

And yes Leslie, love Krista's Diva mysteries with Sophie cooking for her pals--she makes whipping up a quick meal look so easy.

Libby Dodd said...

Guess I cut my teeth on British mysteries. Many trips to the kitchen to make a cup of tea or in hope of finding something vaguely scone like!

Jackie Baugh said...

Agree with Deborah Crombie about Tom Bombadil. They padded the story shamelessly, then left out Tom and Goldberry!
Can't remember if it was in the book as well as the movie, but Peter Clemenza showing Michael Corleone how to cook spaghetti sauce in "The Godfather" never fails to make my mouth water!

Hallie Ephron said...

All of this is reminding me of one of my favorite movie food lines... from "Big Night" - "Sometimes the spaghetti likes to be alone."

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Fabulous line Hallie, but what's the context?

Denise, you were so clever to make a cake to go along with the book!

And thank you Kathy. You know I loved THE SLEEPING DICTIONARY too. Yes we did make it to Camille's for lunch. Can't wait to hear about your trip!

Joan Farrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joan Farrell said...

I always enjoy eavesdropping on the meals at the Brunetti table in Donna Leone' s books. Since she released the cookbook, I've made several of the dishes and do recommend.

Ken Sullivan said...

Maybe it's just a sign of my age, but it's not possible for me to think of food in mysteries without having Nero Wolfe come to the forefront. I even have the Nero Wolfe cookbook! But Wolfe would hate that I prefer corn cooked in the microwave to his roasted corn recipe.

Anonymous said...

And...here's the sort of sentence I never want to read in another book: "She thought about the crime scene, and the food which had looked and smelled so delicious suddenly lost its appeal. She pushed her plate away, unable to take another bite." Or: "C'mon, dear, you have to eat to keep up your strength." "I can't. I'm just not hungry. Ever." What a waste!

Jenny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat D said...

Nero Wolfe took 30 minutes or more to cook the perfect scrambled eggs. Andrea Penrose writes a fun spy/romance series that features chocolate recipes.
And Susan Wittig Albert's series has all kinds of recipes at the end of each book.

Jenny said...

I love to read all mysteries but I confess that if I see a cozy with recipes, I'm drawn to it immediately. It's fun to see what the characters are eating and cooking and I love to read recipes -- even those I would probably never make for myself. Dianne Mott Davidson's culinary series is the first "cozy" series I ever read and it's still one of my favorites. For foodie books in general, I love anything by food writer M.F.K. Fisher and also Julia Child's "My Life in France." Great topic! Keep the culinary cozies coming; I can't get enough of them. And I'm looking forward to the next Florida Food Critic Mystery!

Kathy Reel said...

Hahaha! Anonymous, I was thinking of that very thing earlier. I hate it when there's a delicious plate of food setting before a character, and he/she has lost appetite or doesn't want a meal. What's wrong with those people? Eat up, characters! LOL!

Oh, I meant to say that I love the cover of the Catering to Nobody book. And, Roberta, so glad you finally ate at Camilla's. Hope you enjoyed it.

Reine said...

My favorite fictional meal was the clam hash that Robert B Parker once had Spenser cook for Susan. I'd never heard of it, but when I read it in that book I knew I would love it. And I do love it.

Susan D said...

Yeah, I'm with everyone whose mouths water over Olivier's cooking in Louise Penny's books. That came to mind immediately. And I have to agree with Diane about Trixie Belden. I just finished rereading the first two books (in need of a little relaxed reading lately) and the Wheelers' cook would come up with all kinds of food for Trixie and Honey to take out exploring with them (especially useful when Jim, hiding out in the mansion, hadn't eaten for days).

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Jenny, hope we're going to be reading yours one day soon!

Anonymous, you mean you hate to see characters who refuse to eat a beautiful meal? My characters don't have that problem--they eat when sad, worried, hungry, happy--they eat it all!