Tag: comfort food

comfort food

It's What's for Dinner

 I missed putting up a blog post today because the past 48 hours felt more like 400 hours. Food, sleep, and writing took a back seat to the day job, packaging gifts for my church’s angel tree, graduating from Citizens’ Police Academy, packing books to send to contest winners, and schlepping a twenty-two pound box to UPS to return a wrong order to Amazon so I could get a refund. Not to mention the usual stuff: feeding the cat, taking out garbage, checking email and voicemail and text messages to make sure I didn’t miss an appointment or deadline or bill due date, “maintaining my social media presence” (that phrase) to keep Facebook and Twitter from sending me gentle reminders about how followers of my author page/feed want to hear from me—you get the picture. I left the day job, late, today with a to-do list longer than it was when I arrived at the office this morning, which means an early start tomorrow to play catch-up.So what did I do when I finally got home tonight, besides say a prayer of thanks that the cat sitter rescheduled her meet-and-greet with Agatha? I headed for the local pizzeria for some comfort food. Yeah, I know “emotional” eating is bad for you but sometimes I don’t care. A meatball and sausage sandwich and a bowl of minestrone soup (loaded with vegetables, by the way) went a long way toward making up for a missed lunch and freezing temps. Food plays a big role in much crime fiction. From the culinary cozy subgenre’s recipes to Nero Wolfe’s epicurean meals to Agatha Christie’s frequent choice of a murder weapon, food appears in mysteries again and again. In her November 2016 article in The Guardian, “Dining With Death: Crime Fiction’s Long Affair With Food,” crime writer Miranda Carter lists several detectives known as much for what they eat as for the crimes they solve: the aforementioned, Nero Wolfe, Inspector Montalbano, Yashim, Pepe Carvalho, Inspector Maigret. Food puts in a more-than-passing appearance in Sherlock Holmes and Sam Spade stories. While Agatha Christie’s poison-laced morsels hardly qualify as comfort food, in many of the other crime stories meals form the center piece of pleasant rituals that provide the detective—and the reader—with temporary respite from the horrors and stress of their work. Like my meatballs, sausage, and minestrone. While my life is far from horrible, it is stressful. Some days I feel as if dozens of things are happening at once and I’m running from crisis to crisis until I reach a point where I can’t even remember what day it is. (On Tuesday, I felt as if, surely, it must be Friday.) I drag myself home, exhausted and cranky. But, with a good meal and an hour or so, I feel ready to take on the world again. What’s your favorite comfort food? How do you unwind after a stressful day?

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Feeding the Hungry Reader

French Comfort Food, by Hillary Davis, one of my favorite cookbooks,    How would you like a buttery grilled cheese sandwich filled with Cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and bacon right now? Or perhaps a tuna melt on rye bulging with melted Gruyere? Maybe a plate of creamy macaroni and a combination of three cheeses, not one? Too plebian? We could add chunks of lobster.            Not feeling savory at the moment? Could I get you a plate of warm chewy chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven? Or a piece of apple pie with feathery light flaky crust? No? I could dish up a piece of moist golden cake with homemade chocolate buttercream frosting if you’d prefer.            If you aren’t hungry by now, you may not be human. Just the very description of these foods, often categorized as “comfort food” is enough to make a reader salivate, which is why most readers and writers are captivated by food in stories. Food helps to create atmosphere and lends authenticity to an environment. I defy you to read Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake series and not crave lobster. When Stone Barrington cuts into a steak at the legendary, now defunct, Elaine’s in Stuart Woods’ wildly popular series, most readers find their mouths mysteriously open.            Food enhances reading. Food enriches writing. Food brings joy to life. Cozy mystery writers have long understood this. Joanne Fluke (Blueberry Pie Murder), Diane Mott Davidson (Sticks and Scones), Lucy Burdette (Killer Takeout), and Edith Maxwell (When the Grits Hit the Fan) all have written popular series with variations in food themes.            Other mystery subgenres feature food regularly. Olivier cooks up a gastronomic storm at his bistro in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, while Clara serves comfort food to friends at her kitchen table. From Steak Frites with Mayonnaise to Coq Au Vin with a Hint of Maple, readers feast on Canadian specialties when not merely content to munch on a steady diet of buttery croissants.            Readers, myself included, have been driven to patronize restaurants featured in books. Margaret Truman’s books enticed me to try the old Le Lion D’Or in Washington D.C. when my daughter was in college there. My husband didn’t get it, especially when the tab arrived. He was on board when we headed to a Spanish restaurant in Harvard Square where William Tapply had his protagonist, Brady Coyne frequenting.            Writers use food more than gratuitously. It can be part of the plot as in Tana French’s recent release, The Trespasser, where a romantic dinner prepared by the murder victim but never shared, became an integral part of the story.            In Permanent Sunset, I chose the bride’s choice of her wedding menu as a window into her soul. I later used the wedding meal, which was never served to guests due to the untimely death of the bride, to color a police officer corrupt and to paint a portrait of the surviving family members.            I happen to love writing about food, possibly because I love reading about it (I own a few hundred cookbooks and this is after “downsizing”), only slightly less than cooking it. For me, it is as much pleasure deciding what to serve my characters as it is what to serve guests in my home. I recently created a meatloaf dinner for my grieving protagonist, which she quite enjoyed.            Fortunately, calories don’t count when you are writing about food. Only pleasure. What brings you please when you read or write about food?                       Dessert from Hillary Davis                       

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