Tuesday, October 20, 2009
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Current Project:The Baby's Bodyguard
Status: page 216
I love the children's book called THE SECRET GARDEN. Every couple of years I reread it. It's a book of change and hope and understanding and the power of a child to overcome herself and awaken those around her. Who doesn't crave a secret spot, a garden to bring back to life and to hold close and secret and in which to blossom as surely as the roses do?
But I also have a secret agenda with this book. The little girl, raised in India, catered to on every physical level, knows nothing of making her own way. Her first friend is a local boy, as barefoot and independent as she is spoiled and rotten. And as he teaches her the wonders of nature, he also teaches her how to build a fire at the "end of the garden" (don't you love that phrase, the "end" of the garden -- is your garden large enough to have an "end?" Mine sure isn't...) and in which to "roast" eggs. Yep, he puts the eggs in the ground, I believe or in the smoldering coals (time to reread) and cooks these eggs; it's an empowering wonder to her. And it's a wonder to me, too. I love this part of the book and every time I read it I have the overwhelming urge to hard boil an egg. Do I read the book for this scene? No. But it's part of the enjoyment. Excuse me while I go boil an egg....
That was yummy. This author (whose name I can't spell and I hate to navigate away from this site and have to start over, but you all know who she is, her first name is Francis the next two start with a B and a H) also wrote THE LITTLE PRINCESS. There's a scene in the movie -- I haven't read the book -- where the heroine is banished to attic with another little girl to live as a slave. She is always cold, she is always hungry. The grils become fast friends as they share their misery, and it's the stories of India our little heroine shares with her new friend that keep them warm. But one morning, they awake to a magical golden room with silk robes and Indian slippers, courtesy of the man from India who lives across from them, and in the middle of all this golden splendor is a table laid with the most succulent fruit and juices, meats and muffins. The children eat to their hearts' content.
This is an old part of fairy tales, you know. The magical table. The soup pot that is always full. So many people were hungry -- scrapping for food was practically a full time occupation. The thought that one could procure it by settling a special cloth over a rock and the dishes would appear hot and steaming was one of the most compelling fantasies of the times.
Off to my next food type encounter in a literary sense. THE LORD OF THE RINGS. If you are one of those acquainted with Tolkein's work by virtue of the movies and not the books, you may have missed one of the most memorable experiences (or a bevy of them) found within the pages and they have to do with -- food. Mushrooms: sauteed, fried, steamed... those Hobbits love them. But all along the way, it's food, from bacon rashers (I always crave bacon after reading this) to honey to apples to everything imaginable. Imagine the elfish bread that satisfies every need and comes wrapped in a leaf; or the sausages. Every place they land, they eat. And the beer! And the wine!
I also read a Bed and Breakfast cozy mystery series written by Mary Daheim. Her main character battles a few extra pounds though every day at 5:00 o'clock she fixes canapés for her guests. Crab wantons, stuffed this and that. Salmon. It's her cousin, though, who really brings the food to life. Her cousin and partner in (solving) crime is a high maintenance tiny woman who can eat anything and never gain a pound. It's a bone of some contention between them at times as the cousin is also a sloppy slob. Every time they go to lunch or stay at a death-haunted house or help out a soon-to-be murdered relative, they eat. And the author describes the food. It's the Pacific Northwest, so there's plenty of seafood, sorry Becky, but there's everything else as they travel the world and the country. One book took place with them both in the hospital for separate operations (SUTURE SELF). The main character ate whatever the hospital gave her without much appetite. But the cousin brought a huge bag full or apples and cheeses and crackers and her stash of Pepsi, slung the hospital trays into the garbage and then began importing things, having Chinese delivered during a snow storm, fried chicken snuck in by another patient... and it was the introduction of food from outside that figured into all three murders that happened around them so the food even got tied into the plot. And often, as I read these books, I find myself yearning for prime rib or crab cakes or even a hamburger -- the food is huge in the books. Every so often, the cousin takes up smoking and stops eating and the books suffer for the change. Who doesn't dream of having the income and the appetite to go to a very fancy restaurant and order three drinks, an appetizer (ooh, prawns) and dinner. Oh, and an aperitif and a desert? Where do they put all that food? It's a mystery.
My point : food matters. We all eat. Most of us watch cooking shows or read cookbooks even though we'll NEVER actually fix the actual dishes. With me, all I have to do is read that a character eats a bacon, tomato and avocado sandwich and it's a pretty sure bet one will show up for dinner at my house very soon. Are there books you read that demand you go cook a bacon and tomato sandwich or go out for really good Mexican food like the deep Molé sauces in the last mystery I read?
And how about your own books? Do you use the communal opportunity of food to share thoughts between your characters or expand the plot? Do the choices in their food help define their personalities? I know for myself that I tend to write books where everyone is under a lot of tension and seldom do more than scramble an egg because that's what I do when I'm really stressed. Sometimes, I forget to have people eat. I've had heroines pick at meals for days. My current hero was a captive in the fictional South American country of Tierra Montañosa for several months -- he didn't get a lot to eat. When he sits down for the first time to fish and chips in Northern California, he can't believe the taste -- or the crisp salty air, the cool ocean breeze, the beautiful woman across from him. That meal for him represents all the facets of freedom.
And now, because I am the world's worst promoter in the world (but trying to change--website improvements coming along soon, I hope), here I present my current release, AGENT DADDY:
For me, the food that stands out in this book is the fragrant bubbly stew in the ranch-style kitchen cooked by the Irish housekeeper and served with chucks of bread for dipping. There's a child in there, as well, who doesn't want to miss school because another child is bringing cupcakes. There's also hot chocolate....
Is there a book you can point to where the food became almost a character or just enhanced the pleasure of reading? And how do you introduce one of the very basic things we all do -- eat?