Monday, September 17, 2018

Feeding Their Muse: Authors in the Kitchen

by Marcia Moston @MarciaMoston

Years ago when my husband (a polyester-clad, New York City dweller from Queens) asked me (a back-to-the-land, tepee-dwelling ex-hippie) to marry him, I asked him how he felt about dinner. After a moment of stunned silence, he said, “As in eating it?” 

Clearly he was mortified by images of grazing in the garden after a day’s work and would need a properly concocted meal. Over the years, I’ve learned to make some cd’s, as he calls them—culinary delights—although I never acquired an attachment to the kitchen. That’s why I was surprised when a friend said she’d thought of me when she came across a cookbook. Turns out her association was all in the title: Lit A’ La CarteFavorite Recipes of Famous Authors.

Since the main reference to food I hear from authors these days is chocolate, I was curious what the likes of Stephen King, Annie Dillard and “Dear Abby” had to say about feeding their muse. They didn’t disappoint. The book is as much a culinary delight of personalities as it is of recipes. 

Conservative commentator William Buckley prefaced his contribution for Supply-Side Fudge with an apology to the editor. He said he was reluctant to submit a recipe “not so much for fear for my reputation, but for yours, since no red-blooded American would buy a book by me without demanding his money back.” (A little tongue-in-cheek there I think.)

Poet X.J. Kennedy would make an acquisition editor’s heart proud by how clearly he identified his audience for his recipe Pork Chops in Devastating Barbecue Sauce. “Serves 4-6 healthy eaters, or 8 dieters, for picnic supper. Those who eat one chop tend to crave another.”
Another poet and critic, William Jay Smith, went on record for “heartily disliking boiled cabbage,” but then proceeded to fill two pages with the history of sauerkraut, complete with recipe and a poem.

But a third poet, Richard Kenney, required only four lines for his Black Cow Float:
  • Root beer
  • Ice Cream
  • Add one to the other.
  • Any time after 11:30
Some of the novelists reminded me of my fiction-writing buddies who chat with their characters as easily as they do with their real-life friends. Instead of the author contributing the recipes, their characters did.

For example, mystery writer Sue Grafton said her private investigator Kinsey Millhone was thrilled to be asked to submit a recipe for her famous Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich, which specifically required Jif Crunchy Peanut Butter and Vlasic Sweet Butter Chips, or she couldn’t be responsible for the results of substitutions.

Australian writer, Elizabeth Jolley, said she gave her mother’s recipe for Tinned Oysters in White Sauce to one of her characters, who assured her that it could be depended upon. Included with the recipe was a tip from Jolley’s mother about how to clean charred pans. She suggested they could be placed “tastefully in the sunny spots in the garden for a few days and the black simply lifts out.” Good to know.

Anne Rice stuck with her vampire series by offering up Midnight Snack: One rat. One glass of champagne. 

Naturalist researcher Farley Mowat weighed in on the creative nonfiction side with Never Cry Wolf, his true-life immersion account of time spent studying arctic wolves. He offered a recipe from the book, also for rodent: Creamed Mouse. I suppose it’s more palatable than that of Rice’s, and could come in handy in case you find yourself marooned in the tundra, but still: “Skin and gut the mice but do not remove the heads; wash, then place in a pot with enough (ethyl) alcohol to cover the carcasses . . .” 

With editorial precision, Jim Lehrer submitted clear, concise, straight to the point, instructions for North Texas Chili.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, a pediatrician who turned strict child-rearing practices upside down, came through with, of all things, plain, ordinary, old-fashioned oatmeal.

Stephen King must have taken advice from Dr. Spock because he shed his horror and put on his home-making face with a recipe his kids love: Lunchtime Gloop. Gloop calls for Franco American Spaghetti and cheap greasy hamburger, best served with Wonder Bread. King never makes it when his wife is home because “she won’t eat it, in fact, doesn’t even like to look at it.” He also contributed a recipe for basic bread. “Baking bread is one of the ways I relax,” he says. And he serves the kids Wonder bread?

And last, Columnist Abigail Van Buren of “Dear Abby” fame spoke to the hearts of her lovelorn advice seekers with a recipe for, what else —Date Cake.

I used to agree with linguist Noam Chomsky (as far as attitude toward food anyway) when he concluded his recipe for cheese sandwich with “it’s not that I don’t like good food, but given constraints on time and energy, if someone would invent a pill that would satisfy minimal dietary needs, I’d happily take it every day.”

But now I’m happy to say I look forward to trying new recipes. And with a cookbook headed up by such a litany of literary folk, I have a lot of choices—well, with a few exceptions.

Feeding their muse: Authors in the Kitchen - @MarciaMoston on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Author @MarciaMoston takes on a tour of Authors in the Kitchen - on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Marcia Moston—author of the award-winning Call of a Coward-The God of Moses and the Middle-class Housewife—has written columns and features for several magazines and newspapers. She has served on the faculty of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and currently teaches her true love—memoir and creative nonfiction—at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the Furman campus in South Carolina.


  1. Am way too basic here Ms. Marcia. For me, it's corned-beef hash and eggs. Far too much I must add. Wash it down with a cup of hot coffee after feeding the livestock and I'm ready for some serious writing time. At least until my tummy reminds me it's lunch time. Thanks for a wonderful start to my day ma'am. God's blessings...

    1. Sounds better than Spock's basic oatmeal, Jim.

    2. :-O i LOVE corned beef hash and eggs!!! good writing food i must say

  2. What a hoot. Loved it. I liked cooking at one time, but I outgrew it. Now I'm looking for my 6 million dollars so I can hire a cook and housekeeper. I never did grow into cleaning house... I've looked everywhere for that $6 million. Someone suggested I start digging up the lawn... ;)