What was the best thing about writing this book? Creating Fictitious Dishes – the reading, research, cooking, styling, photographing, writing, and designing of it – brought me deeper into some of my favorite books. Honing in on certain details and filling in the unwritten gaps between them gave me new insight into the narratives and characters. I also love that the book has engaged so many other readers, and in turn, makes me feel connected to them.
What was the most interesting fact you discovered when writing this book? Strawberries aren’t technically berries! JD Salinger ate frozen peas for breakfast (or so says his ex-girlfriend)! The Great Gatsby was almost titled The High Bouncing Lover! And so much more.
What do you love most about classics? I love the books themselves, of course, but also that so many people read classics, and that this shared experience of reading them creates an invisible community of readers across the world.
Do you have a favourite classic book? There are many! The Age of Innocence is pretty high on the list. Ellen Olenska is such a strong and complex character, I love reading about her over and over. I also love Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, To Kill a Mockingbird, Bleak House, To The Lighthouse… I could go on for a while.
Do you have a favourite meal? It depends on my mood, but favorite meals include: (my mom’s) spaghetti and meatballs, quinoa and roasted vegetables, pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, and toast with almond butter and sliced banana.
What are your favourite gadgets? Potato masher, egg slicer, nesting screwdrivers, long-armed stapler
Was there a particularly hard dish to photograph? The hardest dishes to photograph were the ornate feasts like the wedding dinner (and dessert) from Madame Bovary, the bountiful tea from Rebecca, and the dazzling party spread from The Great Gatsby.
Which dish was the easiest to photograph? The easiest dish to photograph was probably the strawberry picking party from Emma. I was living in San Francisco at the time, and the California strawberries and sunlight made the process pretty easy for me. There were even strawberry flowers growing in my back garden, so I picked some to tie on to the basket.
Were there any meals you considered, but didn’t make it into the book? There were lots of meals that didn’t make it into the book for various reasons. Some were too complex, some felt too obscure, others repetitive. There’s a wonderful jam making scene in Anna Karenina but I had already included Meg’s failed attempt at currant jelly from Little Women. I also didn’t end up using the scene from The Wind in the Willows that describes “a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb,” because there were just too many toast and sandwich dishes in the book. It would have been a good one though.
Do you collect anything? Vintage cookbooks, origami paper, airplane cutlery. As a child, I had a collection of beautifully wrapped sugar cubes; they have since disintegrated, but I think of them often.
Read my review of ‘Fictitious Dishes’ here.