Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Comfort Foods

RHYS BOWEN:If you're anything like me you've spent the last week or so baking. And if you're like me, you've been baking the things your mother baked before you. My family always expects mince pies and sausage rolls to eat as Christmas day snacks. A Christmas cake in the afternoon, complete with white frosting. They are not so keen on Christmas pudding but I have to have to anyway because it's part of the English Christmas tradition--it should be brought to the table flaming with silver coins and charms inside.

The smells and tastes of Christmas take me straight back to my childhood. Isn't it amazing the power smells and tastes have to evoke memory? I use them frequently in my books to create Lady Georgie's world of 1930s England. (I don't want to imply that my childhood was in the 1930s, but I'm sure her childhood was pretty much like mine, down to the freezing houses with no central heating). So Georgie eats what I remember eating--my sumptuous feast becomes her sumptuous feast.

And I love reading about meals in other peoples' books. One of my favorite books in the past few years was Nicole Mones's The Last Chinese Chef--an exciting novel that is all about the legends of Chinese cooking. And of course I'm looking forward to blogmate Lucy's new series making its debut next week, featuring a food critic. I hope there will be lots of description of menus.

So how about the rest of you? Do you like reading about food, writing about food? Was your holiday full of childhood tastes and smells?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: A little food is a nice touch in a book. It helps to know if someone is hanging on the refrigerator door eating out of containers or setting a nice table for herself, even if she's alone. Whether her idea of fine dining is pepperoni pizza or Paul Bocuse. Paula Holliday isn't much of a cook so she relies on diner food - some of which is pretty tasty - to keep her going. MY WIP is partly set in Brooklyn so you know there will be more food involved.

My family traditions have changed over the years. I like to have a pot of apple cider simmering on the stove so the house smells nice when people come over - even though not many drink it! And once it dips under 50 degrees I make a fire. My two fave holiday smells!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Baking. Huh. Nope, not me. Sorry, I'm not a baker. I love to cook, and I am a good experimenter, but you can't experiment with baking. That's--chemistry. I bow to you bakers, and will happily accept cookies.

My Gramma Minnie made a fabulous coffee cake, and it filled her house with cinnamon and mocha fragrance--still, my favoirite. After she died, we all pounced on her recipe file box. And we found the recipe! Hurray. But then--it had no quantities. Flour, coffee, sugar, chocolate, etc. No amounts. So the recipe is extinct.

JAN BROGAN - First off, Rhys, I must have that mince pie recipe - mostly because I've never really understood mince pie and I would love to know what's inside from a real, true, Englishwoman.

HALLIE EPHRON: Oh, Rhys, I LOVE Christmas pudding. With hard sauce. Or just hard sauce, served on an index finger.

My mother did not bake. She did not cook except the occasional command performance after which she left the kitchen looking as if it had been hit by Irene and expected others to do the washing up.

I cook all the time. And for the holidays I'm making hanukah cookies (mandelbrot) and iced ginger cookies and trying out a new recipe for a spice cake with a maple bourbon glaze.

LUCY BURDETTE: My father was the only one in the family who would eat mince pie--which I believe he most appreciated as a vehicle for the hard sauce. I already made my double batch of iced sugar cookies as we'll be visiting family over Christmas and not in charge. Somehow a coffee cake called "Aunt Alvina's crumb cake" became the gold standard amongst my family. It's a recipe in the back of AN APPETITE FOR MURDER, though no one has any recollection of an Aunt Alvina. Nor can we find her on the family tree. It's mostly butter, sugar and flour, and completely delicious!

And Rhys, I loved THE LAST CHINESE CHEF! Also AFTERTASTE, by Meredith Mileti who was a guest here earlier this year. I love, love, love food in fiction!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Ladies, I'm salivating just reading your comments. So let's see: Baking. I make cookies, and Ross does all the cakes and pies. And I do enjoy reading about food in fiction, because it adds another sensory impression for the reader. If I read, "She stirred the orange chicken in the wok," I can see, smell and taste it.

I made the Rev. Clare Fergusson a foodie because when creating the character, I tried to think of what kind of hobbies or pastimes a young, female Army officer constantly on the move might have. Cooking and running seemed the logical choice. It's added some nice downtime moments to the book, as well as giving characters interesting "business" to perform while talking. Chopping, stirring, and tasting certainly livens up he-said, she-said dialog.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm not much of a baker, but my mom made wonderful pies when I was child. My fave? Mincemeat! I still love it, but unfortunately I'm the only one in the family who does, and I don't want to make a whole pie just for me. (Maybe I should reconsider that...) I love Christmas pudding, too, Rhys! But again, I'm the odd one out, so must fall back on store-bought.

I don't make Christmas cookies or candy, but I do make lovely gingerbread (the recipe is from Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking.) And nothing smells more like Christmas than gingerbread.

I love books about food, and food in books (so looking forward to our Lucy's Appetite for Murder). What fictional (and real) characters eat and cook and how they feel about food tells so many things about character, personality, background, place... And, as Julia, says, food provides a very nice "bit of business" so you don't have talking heads in your scenes.


  1. Yum yum yum--Hey, Red Julia, talk about delicious! What's this I hear about BLEAK MIDWNITER for $2.99??

    Details please..

  2. My mother's Christmas specialty was mutton pies - individually-sized pies filled with chunks of lamb seasoned with salt, pepper and cinnamon - which we ate for Christmas breakfast.

    She'd bake them in the days leading up to Christmas, and make a nice stock with the leg of lamb from which she'd taken the meat. After Christmas morning Mass she'd get a big pot of stock simmering then drop the pies in so they would heat through and soften. They were served in bowls, with the fragrant broth, topped with more cinnamon and salt and pepper.

    I realize this sounds like an odd dish, especially for breakfast, but in my family, it is the Christmas standard.

  3. LOVE reading about food! And food is a HUGE factor in the book I choose when it's my turn to host book club. One of my favorite reads of 2011 was Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love & War by Annia Ciezadlo, an American journalist married to a journalist originally from Beirut. They spent several years shuttling between war-time Baghdad and Beirut, with food-loving Annia always trying to make sense of a place through its food. Had a blast cooking Annia's recipes. Even the book sisters who didn't love the book ("too much about the food!") loved the Lebanese buffet!

  4. Hank, beginning in January 2012, my wonderful publisher is kicking off a whole new look for the entire (New York Times bestselling, multiple award winning) (Ross made me put that in) Clare Fergusson/ Russ Van Alstyne series.

    On January 3, the first book, IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER, releases in a brand-new trade paperback edition with a gorgeous cover and a reading group discussion guide.

    And best of all, the ebook of BLEAK is now available for a limited time for only $2.99! Yay! Who doesn't like saving money on books?

    In February, the ebook edition of my second book, A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD will also be priced at $2.99. The idea, of course, is that new readers can begin to follow the entire series without having to splash out too much money.

    Sometimes I think about $2.99 for a book and it boggles me. I mean, I spend that much for a Munchkin and a mint hot cocoa at Dunkin Donuts.

  5. Hi Rhys,

    I don't really get to cook much anymore - not to sound depressed at all, I hope - but unless family or friends are willing to do most of the work, I don't get to cook. I have my favorites, though, and every year I hope someone will be interested!

    My very favorite is my great-grandmother's tourtière recipe. It's a lot of work, and the family I married into had absolutely no connection to the tradition, and when I made it all I heard was on the order of, "There's meat in it! I thought it was going to be like minced meat pie. You know, sweet!"

    But this year a funny thing happened this. My clinical supervisor, whom I hadn't seen since grad school, sent me an urgent text message: Help! The tourtière didn't come out right. May I call you? Please!

    I was kind of ecstatic. Is that possible? Can you be kind of ecstatic? Here was someone interested in my tourtière! And he needed my help to bake it for his family!

    Wonderful! I'd discovered a fondness for vicarious cooking pleasure. I now resolve to read all novels with cooking in them.

  6. I totally channel my mother's cinnamon rolls every Christmas morning, except I use whole wheat flour and she used Bisquik. The two sticks of butter and the same amount of sugar in the recipe remain constant.

    Julia, great news. But how many more months of withdrawal am I going to have to go through until your next Clare/Russ book comes out?

    Can't wait to read Lucy's first. (And I agree about AFTERTASTE, by Meredith Mileti. Yum.)

    Happy New Year, Jungle Reds. You guys rock.

  7. Reading about food? I can read a cookbook like a novel.
    Love novels with food's descriptions and recipes.
    Fan of Laura Childs and Diana Motts
    Davidson and the women at Mystery Lovers Kitchen and always happy to discover new ones. So Lucy I'll be waiting for yours.

  8. Love books of any kind involving food! Really looking forward to Lucy's debut! I read cookbooks like novels, too, and esp. enjoy the ones with little stories to go with the recipes. (Pat Conroy's, for example)

    Like Hank, I wasn't much of a baker until about 10 years ago, since it's a more precise art, and savory cooking is more fun and experimental. But I've learned a lot more about baking and look forward to many happy years with my new KA mixer, also known as "Blue Boy".

    Even before I really got interested in baking, I always helped Mom make her pecan cookies and cheese rounds, a Christmas tradition that continues in my own home.

    Congrats on the releases, Julia! And Leslie, thanks for recommending Day of Honey, will add it to my list for sure!

  9. Reading all your comments is almost like being invited to the feast. So many celebrations so many variations. Thank you.

    I like baking but only at holidays and so at my open house in our new house in Denver (had to have one or I wouldn't have been invited to any parties this season) I made cookies. Chocolate crackle cookies, Mexican wedding cookies, chocolate chip, and frosted Moravian spice. Also some almond toffee. Now, however it's time to put the measuring cup away and get out the exercise tapes. Happy New Year.

  10. Ellen,
    Almond toffee?? I need that recipe.
    And when did you move to Denver? My husband was just telling me what an awesome city it was.


  11. Hi ladies! I'm a TLC transfer, so I've been lurking for a little while now. (Thanks, Hank, for directing me here!)

    This isn't food-related, but Julia and Hank, you brought up a question I have about the 2.99 books... Is that good as an author? I mean, obviously it's good for me as a reader! But when I see ebooks that are so inexpensive I start feeling like I should go pay "full price" somewhere so I'm not contributing to any authors going hungry. (Then it occurs to me that perhaps I overanalyze things...just a bit.)

    Personally, I won't need the Clare/Russ series as I already have them all and am anxiously awaiting the next one! (OK, actually, due to an unfortunate moving box mishap, I have two of most of them, but that's a whole 'nother story entirely...) I just wondered about the pricing.

  12. Paulabuck, welcome! xooxo And I can't wait to hear what Julia has to say..but from what I hear, she's very excited! The more eyes that can read your book--the better!

  13. I learned to make Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners from my mother and grandmother. Now that it's pretty much just Lillian and me, I don't do the big meals any more, and oddly I kind of miss it. Not the cleaning up but the cooking part. And since she's diabetic and I'm flirting with it, no baking happens (or stuffing, or potatoes, *sigh*), so it's fun to read about other people's delicious treats. Nummy!

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