Monday, March 13, 2017

Eating Like a Literary Character


LUCY BURDETTE: If you know me, you know I'm always thinking about food--what to have for lunch as soon as I finish breakfast, what to make for dinner, what Key West restaurant we haven't tried, and so on. (Of course, my low sodium diet has forced some changes, but let's ignore that for a moment.)  


My food critic character Hayley Snow is a lot like me. She loves nothing better than a little snack to fuel her writing, and she's an even better and more adventurous eater--except for slimy things with tentacles. Food is laden with meaning too. She spends days figuring out what cake she should bake for Valentine's day. 

But would this cake transmit the message that I cared a lot, but without any pressure, and that it was for Valentine's Day, but no declaration intended, nor anything expected in return? Would it send the message of love and care, without appearing needy, too sweet, or cliched?This, I realized, was a lot to ask of any cake. from​ Fatal Reservations

When Ingrid was set to join us here at Jungle Red (hooray for Ingrid and Jenn!), I of course picked up the first book in her Fina Ludlow series. And I have to admit, I'm a little worried about Fina. Diet Coke? Diet iced tea? Mallomars? Nutter Butters? She never cooks and she never seems to have anything in her refrigerator. All this becomes fascinating background for Ingrid's character.

And has me wondering, how big a part does food play in your characters' lives? And do you eat the way they do?

HALLIE EPHRON: Considering how obsessed I am with food--planning what to eat, shopping, cooking, enjoying--it's amazing how little of that translates into my characters. I did a serious homage to the jelly donuts of my youth in NEVER TELL A LIE. And I have fun with low country cooking in the new book, YOU'LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR. There's a mouth-watering scene with biscuits and sausage gravy. Southern cooking is exquisite. I make a mean biscuit. But none of my main characters (so far) have been into cooking.

RHYS BOWEN: As one who is not too keen on cooking, I love to read about meals. It all started with the picnic hamper in The Wind in the Willows. Eating vicariously is sinless and calorie free. But I do describe long and formal dinners that Georgie has to attend, contrasting them with the miserable baked-beans on toast existence she had to endure during the early books of the series. Molly has also moved up from near starvation to feeding a family but she serves good old Irish cooking: stews, hot pots, meat puddings. But I've set three books at Christmas now and really enjoyed going to town with the food preparations and the elaborate meals.

Of course In Farleigh Field is set in WWII and the food described is utterly dire and miserable, apart from one man who deals in the black market!

INGRID THOFT:  Lucy, you're not the only one worried about Fina.  I admit I was surprised when the first book in the series, LOYALTY, was released, by the number of comments I heard from readers about Fina's diet.  The most common feedback:  How does she eat like that and stay thin? No one could really eat that way!  Do you eat like that?  In terms of maintaining a healthy weight, Fina doesn't actually eat a large quantity of food; she nibbles and pecks throughout the day, and her meals and snacks are interspersed with foot chases and fistfights, which help burn calories.  Also, I know people who eat this way and stay thin.  They may be the exception, but they do exist.  Do I eat like Fina?  No, which is exactly the point.  Part of the fun of writing this character is that she doesn't worry about her cholesterol or her intake of leafy green vegetables.  One trait we do share is an equal opportunity palette.  She can sink her teeth into a Reese's peanut butter cup and also appreciate the fare at Boston's finest restaurants, and I'm the same way.  I can appreciate the merits of a Cadbury Crème Egg and lightly seared scallops!  As long as someone else does the cooking, Fina and I are game.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm glad to know I'm not the only one worried about Fina! When Ingrid and I had lunch in Seattle and she had a salad, my fears were allayed, however, but we did share a really sinful dessert. And Lucy, oh my! Can I just mention the Cuban coffee and the maple-glazed bacon doughnut she brought me when I stayed with her in Key West??? I was in Hayley heaven.

I do love reading about food, and writing about food. If my characters eat or drink something, you can be pretty sure I've either eaten it in a London restaurant, or cooked it myself. (This my excuse--or one of my excuses--for all the outing to London pubs and restaurants...) And I think we can all look forward to more food in the next book (and I will be enjoying the research!)

JENN MCKINLAY: Cake. Pie. Tarts. Cupcakes. Donuts. Ice cream. Gelato. Candy. Chocolate. Basically, all the sweet things. The only part of the food pyramid that I enjoy is the tippy top fats, oils, and sweets part. I love to bake but find cooking to be utter drudgery, except breakfast cooking because...chocolate chip pancakes, strawberry filled crepes, Belgian waffles! Need I go on? Minus the diet beverage thing (I loathe anything with the word diet in it), I am pretty sure Fina is my people! My love of baked goods is likely how I ended up writing a mystery series about a cupcake bakery because my characters eat their product and live on sweets just like I would if I didn't have to be a good mom and cook real food for growing hooligans. Also, it's allowed me to create recipes for everything from cherry cola cupcakes to mojito cupcakes. The research and development part of the recipes is one of my favorite aspects of writing this series.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: The main character of my new book (still no title, ahhhh) eats canned tuna and a lot of toast. And wine. And pizza. And coffee. No, she is not sick, she is just busy.  But I have to say, if you added almonds and diet coke to that menu, I would be okay. Typing that out right now, it's very sad, when you all are talking about mojito cupcakes and honey glazed bacon and seared scallops. All of which sound delicious.  But my main characters so far have all been journalists, and often they have to hurry hurry hurry and grab food on the run. So far, in the new book, there's no fun in the food. And my main character is unhappy. So that works, right?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It works, Hank! Food ought to reveal something about the character. I don't do recipes in my books, but I do describe the food Clare is cooking (or the coffee she's brewing) in some detail when I need to. She loves to cook and has every little gadget you could think of, which is the result of a decision I made when I was figuring out who she was before I ever started to write the first book. At the start of the series, Clare is in her early thirties and has been moving constantly since her college days, courtesy of the US Army. What sort of hobby or diversion would someone like that have? Well, she runs, and..she cooks. Because cooking is a highly transportable past time - in fact, traveling to different areas of the country or abroad is an advantage. 


Russ, on the other hand, can make himself burgers and macaroni and cheese. It's not that he doesn't like food, it's just that he went from a mom who coked for him, to a wife who cooked for him, to...another wife who cooks for him. 

Reds, which literary character do you eat like? And who would you enjoy meeting for dinner?



56 comments:

  1. Okay, I love to cook [and eat] and I’m glad that Ingrid doesn’t copy Fina’s eating habits. I enjoy stories that include the characters in the kitchen cooking or eating just like everyone else. One of my favorite food bits is Clare and her butternut squash soup in “To Darkness and to Death” . . . .

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    1. Joan, that's the same recipe I cook, and I featured it here in the blog a few years ago: http://www.jungleredwriters.com/2012/11/easy-soup-for-trying-times.html

      It's definitely a seductive soup on a cold and snowy night. Maybe I ought to put a big pot on for tomorrow (brrrr!)

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    2. Julia, your butternut squash soup recipe is a favorite around here. And soup is absolutely perfect for the snowy weather, but I have the youngest grandbaby [not quite two] here for the week, so I'm thinking of making a pot of creamy chicken pasta soup . . . .

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  2. I love reading about cooking and great meals, and I love writing those details, too (most of my books do include recipes). Reviewers have said, "Don't read this book hungry!" I want to meet Clare and Russ for all kinds of reasons, not just the soup. Also alarmed about Fina. For me it isn't so much the weight thing, because I'd also noticed she doesn't eat big quantities, and she burns up a lot. But let's face it - she's malnourished and I wonder where she gets her energy! I think somebody needs to advise her to do protein/avocado shakes or something with some nutrients in it that also tastes good (we all know she won't consume it if it isn't yummy).

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    1. Edith, maybe she's having those green shakes on the side and they don't make it onto the page?

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    2. I don't think there are many protein shakes consumed, but Milloy does cook for Fina sometimes. In one of the books (I can't remember at the moment because my brain is fried from travel!)Fina tailors her food delivery order to suit his needs in addition to hers. I always say she isn't opposed to eating healthy food; she just has no interest in cooking it!

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  3. Where I love reading about food is--cookbooks. I love to read cookbooks. And do you know the new book The Art of the Pie? It is AMAZING.

    And of course, the famous frozen lamb in...what short story was it?

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    1. Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl. I believe I read it in Alfred Hitchcock's magazine. I am fairly sure it was televised on Alfred Hitchcock presents

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    2. Yes it absolutely was--she fed that delicious roast lamb to the cops who came to investigate, if I remember correctly!

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  4. It is kind of surprising how often food plays into character development in a lot of the books I like. Once can telegraph a lot about a person through food choices. And I think food really reinforces the sense of place in a lot of books, too. That can be those set in another country (like the interesting pub food in Deb's books) or just in a different region of the US, like the southern cooking so woven into Magaret Maron's Deborah Knott books.

    When I read Sue Grafton's X, I noted that Kinsey's passion for greasy burgers was less evident than earlier in the series. My personal jury is still out on whether this reflects Kinsey's maturing taste or Sue Grafton assessing that today's readers wouldn't see it in the same way we saw it back when the series started.

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    1. That's very interesting question Susan--or is the change a function of a long, long series? Seems like it would be very difficult to keep every character quirk running over that many books!

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  5. The first literary character that came to mind was Nero Wolfe. Then..Matthew Scudder, as he and I abstain from alcohol. The literary person I wish I could be is Juniper from Monica Furlong's Wise Child. She is a healer and a Sorceress living in Scotland. She lives a self sustaining life, growing her own food, and accepting donations from those she helps. She does not slaughter animals, however does accept meat if offered.

    Fina's diet; she is young still. I think her food choice reflects her maturity. In many ways she is still in the rebellious teen stage. Given her FOO, I don't blame her a bit.

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    1. Coralee, I don't know the character Juniper, but she sounds so interesting! And I think you are absolutely right about Fina (and her FOO--family of origin)

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  6. Of all the books I read and of all the characters with whom I would enjoy eating, I must say Olivier and Gabri of Three Pines take the (literal) cake. From the coffee and croissants in the morning through the sandwiches and soups for lunch right through those fabulous pot lucks at Clara's house, I can't imagine anything more frabjous.

    I injured my foot quite badly on Saturday and am off to see the foot orthopod, so even tho we avoid fast food like the plague, Wendy's may be on the lunch menu.

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  7. LIke Hank's characters, I learned to eat on the go as a journalist. In the rural Texas county I covered, we were often invited to sit in on lunches with the various city councils and school boards because they all wanted to eat, but they couldn't legally meet in private without posting an agenda. So they invited the press, and we never passed up the chance for free food and gossip. My diet in those days bounced between fast food take out, and the fairly elaborate catered meals at board meetings. These days I still bounce around a lot. On weeks when I have a concert, I work 10-12 hour days, and eat a lot of sandwiches, salads, and breakfast taquitos from Whataburger. (Breakfast taquito = scrambled egg, slice of bacon, American cheese, wrapped in a tortilla. Yummy, but too much salt.) On weeks when I have no concert, I like to cook lots of stuff on Sunday, so I can have reasonably healthy food after work the rest of the week, but caffeine is always important, and I drink far too much Coca-Cola--NOT the diet variety.

    As for literary characters, I'd love to settle down at the kitchen table for tea with Gemma, or meet Doug and Melody at the Jolly Gardener for lunch and a chat about updating an old house. I suspect it would be much like settling in at Deb's kitchen island for a glass of wine after work: great fun, and great conversation.

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    1. I bet it would be fun too Gigi! so interesting about the city council lunches...

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    2. Gigi- Coca cola is my weakness (not diet) so I never buy it unless it's out with a meal otherwise that and coffee are all I would drink.

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    3. You have far more self-control than I do, Jenn. I salute you.

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  8. How interesting to find this topic today! I started Ingrid's second book, Identity, this weekend and am stressing out a little over Fina's (ahem) diet. Ingrid, I am so relieved you eat salad in real life. You're too good of a writer to die young of junk food poisoning.

    In my Joe Gale books, most of my newspaper reporter protagonist's sustenance is via Christie Pappas, his (eventual) lover, who runs a diner. She fuels him with comfort food (blueberry pancakes, mushroom-and-cheese omelets, bacon and egg sandwiches when he is on the go.) He also drinks coffee. Lots and lots of coffee, kind of like Fina guzzles diet Coke.

    This bears little resemblance to my own situation. I drink only decaf, having hit my life limit on caffeine when I was about 28. But I do still indulge in the occasional blueberry pancake. . .

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    1. Brenda that cafe food sounds wonderful! Funny about hitting your life limit on Caffeine--it must have been law school that did this to you??

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    2. Actually, it was working as a reporter. I mainlined coffee until the fateful day it started giving me palpitations. Now even a half cup sets my heart to pounding. It's a good darn thing good decaf now exists. Back in the Sanka days I was an unhappy girl.

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    3. Junk food poisoning sounds like a great way to go, Brenda! Maybe in a few decades...;)

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  9. I love reading about meals. And I love cooking a meal - but I hate the daily drudgery of making dinner. Sunday dinner is my favorite. Last night we had roast, and mashed potates and sauteed green beans. I have jumbo sea scallops for later in the week. But the whole "what do I make that is fast and health and appealing tonight" question is maddening. I don't want a cook. I just want someone to plan the menu and shop for me!

    Both my characters are single - a divorced cop and a single lawyer. The cop is...busy. He grabs lunch when he can and it's often not great. But give him a free day and he'll make a good steak and he does a mean stew for the cold. He is very picky about his coffee and he only drinks high-quality dark beer. (And I know nothing about either of those beverages because I don't drink them so I ask a lot of questions and do a lot of research!).

    The attorney is also busy, but she loves a nice leisurely lunch - sometimes a salad, but there's nothing wrong with a good bacon cheeseburger either. Cooking for one is no fun, but ask her out to a good restaurant? She's there. And any meal is made better with a good wine, preferably a red - she's always willing to try a new variety.

    All this talk of food is making my blueberry bagel with cream cheese look very dissatisfactory.

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Mary, you've given a lot of thought to your characters and their food! I agree, the weekly menu planning can get old. I think that's why the meal services like Blue Apron have become so popular. I haven't gotten over the hump to try them, but our busy kids love having ingredients and menus delivered...

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    2. Can I meet your cop? Sounds like my kind of meal planning (except for the beer).

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  10. Before I stumbled onto Diane Mott Davidson's Goldie Bear catering mystery books, I was introduced to food prep in Lawrence Sanders The Commandments Series where the detective, Edward X. Delaney, would make these incredible sandwiches that he had to eat over the kitchen sink, never on a plate. I just finished Hallie's There Was An Old Woman where she also does a great homage to the jelly donut ~

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    1. I cut my teeth on Goldie Bear, Celia. I love how she made cooking massive quantities look so effortless. And her hub became a super cook too. Food as comfort!

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    2. Goldie Bear is my food idol, too. I started drinking espresso because of that series! And Davidson's books always include mouthwatering recipes, many of which I've actually made.

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    3. Davidson and Katherine Hall Page are two of the reasons I write foodie cozy mysteries! Seriouly.

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    4. Why isn't there and Edit button in blogger? I meant to type "Seriously."

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  11. Has ANYONE tried Blue Apron? I can;t bring myself to do it..though we are big on carry out...

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    1. My sister-in-law tried it for a while -- she enjoyed making the meals, but in the end discovered that her husband would just as soon have had biscuits and hamburger/sausage gravy or take-out ~ he would see the box and say, "Oh, I see you got another meal to make--great..."

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    2. Our kids love it, and we have a set of friends who do too...

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  12. I always worry about female characters in books who say they do not know how to boil water. How did they get out of their parents' house without learning how to cook something - even if it's just a hot dog or mac and cheese.

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    1. Good question! My mother loved to eat, but didn't enjoy cooking. So we really didn't learn much until we got out on our own...

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    2. Believe me, it could happen. I cook, but I think one daughter left knowing how to make a fried egg sandwich. She married a good cook. The other is a vegan baker and dedicated food lover.

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  13. Likw many of you, I love to cook, and to eat new foods when I am travelling. One of my favourite sub-genres to read are the culinary-based mysteries, so Lucy's Key West critic and Jenn's Cupcake bakery mysteries were always among my yearly reads.

    And there is a trend for female PIs to not eat well, including Fina. And what about Kinsey Millhone? Thank goodness she has neighbour/friend Henry to feed her otherwise Kinsey would jus eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches all the time!

    What fictional character would I like to eat with? I choose Spenser...a tough PI but also a great cook, esp. important since Susan Silverman could not even boil water!

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  14. I think Mary Sutton and I were separated at birth. I love the reading and the cooking, but hate the drudgery. On a daily basis that is. Give me a festival, or a day with no pressure (I've heard of those, haven't you?) and I can cook up a storm - then bring in the mini-maids to do the cleaning. Don't even suggest hubby who thinks dunk, rinse, done, dunk, rinse, done, why are these plates stuck together, is cleaning up.

    I still make variations on Goldie Bear recipes and they are still wonderful. My mother did not let me near the kitchen. When I left home boiling water was a challenge unless it had to do with an immersion coil heater--and I blew a few of those up. Then I decided I wanted to see the Caribbean, so I signed up as a cook on a fruit freighter. Learned in a hurry.

    One of my characters lives on pizza and take away Chinese. The other...hum. I'm not sure Catherine eats. Have to think about that. Reds, it's Peeps season - just in case no one noticed.

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    1. Kait, that is why I love when my dad and step-mom come to visit. I cook, they clean. Perfect!

      Mary/Liz

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    2. Cook on a fruit freighter--how interesting! so you were cooking for the crew? all fruit recipes???

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  15. Yes, I would vote for Three Pines as my fantasy place to eat.

    Funnily enough, although--or maybe because (two women in the kitchen being enough)--my mother and grandmother were both good cooks, I left home not knowing how to do much more than boil water, although I was good at setting and busing the table. Cooking adventures in my first apartment involved many long distance calls to my mom, starting with, "How do you--" Then my grandmother bought me my wonderful Burleigh Blue Calico dishes, and I think my love affair with cookbooks started soon after. And I've always been fascinated with what people eat, wherever I've been in the world, or in whatever I'm reading.

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    1. Three Pines - ahhhhh! I'd be a regular at Gabri and Olivier's bistro and hope Clara would ask me to some of her supper parties. Reine Marie Gamache is quite a cook as well, and to have a meal with the Gamaches would be sublime ~

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  17. Oh, Lucy, one of the aspects of your Key West series I enjoy the most is Haley's visiting the different eating establishments in Key West, a place I am familiar with, but somewhere I learn more and more about where to eat from your books. I am still hoping to see the appearance of the chef's Key Lime Cake from Firefly Restaurant on Petronia sometime in Haley's adventures. It supposedly is his grandmother's recipe, and it truly heaven on Earth, even close to heaven geographically, as Blue Heaven is right on the same street. In fact, I'm drinking coffee from my Blue Heaven mug right now. So, you can see why I am thrilled that there will be more of Haley.

    Oh, and Three Pines and Gabri and Olivier's Bistro is a favorite and the meals at the Gamaches (thanks for the reminder, Celia). I enjoy when Georgie is visiting somewhere and they have a large breakfast buffet spread out, and I am glad that she isn't eating as much beans and toast, Rhys. What disturbs me is when someone is at a country house and skips the breakfast or only nibbles on a piece of toast. I want to say, "Come on, eat, please!" I like the restaurant that Linda Fairstein's characters gather at to eat in her Alex Cooper series. Kinsey Milhone's visits to the Hungarian (it is Hungarian, isn't it?) restaurant are interesting, but not always appealing to me. I love it when there is a little cafe or out-of-the-way place where the food is surprisingly amazing.

    I don't cook much myself anymore, but I do love to eat out. One of the research projects I do before traveling is to check out the restaurants and food sources. I'm leaving for Hawaii in a week, and even though it is my fifth trip, fourth in the last five years, I already have a list of some new places to try and some old favorites, too. Of course, I should have probably gone on a starvation diet before my trip.

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    1. Oh thanks for the lovely comments Kathy! I still have to go to Firefly and try that cake you rave about! Four times to Hawaii--what island do you like to visit most?

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    2. Kathy: We are very much alike re: researching and choosing a bunch of new foods, restaurants and local markets to try while travelling. Both Iceland and Hawaii have been great culinary adventures so far!

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    3. Lucy, it's always Oahu where I'm scheduled to stay, as last four trips have been with my husband who is with his work. I did visit Molokai last time and loved it. This time I haven't decided what other island I'll visit. Oh, and please let me know when you've tried the cake.

      Grace, things can change so quickly with restaurants, like the shrimp trucks you told me about. I appreciate the update on them, as I always make a point to visit them. Keep letting me know what you've found.

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  18. I'd like a meal with Armand Gamache in Three Pines.
    Like Grace a meal with Spencer and Susan.
    And a meal with Cameron Flaherty from Edith Maxwell's Local Foods Mysteries

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  19. In terms of fictional characters eating memorable food, the best in history is when Gemma James, in Deborah Crombie's book, "Necessary as Blood", walks into Beigel Bites and walks away eating a hot salt beef with mustard bagel. I probably think of that scene once a day -- ha! Food just doesn't ever get any better than that -- or at least I don't think so.

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  20. bagelnosher, oh, you've made me drool for Brick Lane:-) Their hot salt beef (corned beef for Americans) is to die for. Next time!

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  21. Rhys, your comment about Wind in the Willows reminded me of my fondness for the meals in the Winnie the Pooh books. Wish I could post an image. Whatever it is that Christopher Robin has on his fork at the picnic has defined the word "morsel" for me since I was a child. I have no idea what it is, but it is obviously the most delicious bite ever. And tea! And elevenses!

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  22. I remember wanting to eat custard after reading that Winnie the Pooh and his friends ate custard.

    For some reason, reading about food made me think of the book and movie, Like Water For Chocolate, if I recall the right title. I remember a scene where the cook was crying while she was baking the wedding cake. At the wedding feast, everyone who ate a piece of the cake was crying!

    I have known people who eat "junk" food and stay thin. They have higher metabolism.

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