Monday, November 22, 2010

Food for thought


I love food, and if I like you, I'll feed you. If I love you dearly, I'll probably make your little waistcoat buttons suffer, because if you don't eat I'll assume that terribly hurt look. It's easier to eat until you explode than to suffer that, most people tell me. Even if it something I merely think you should like and really you'd kill for a MickyD burger instead of mysterious tentacly bits snurgling out of vicious red soup or things that have entirely too many legs. Ask Kate. I subjected her to a couple of kilos of spiny lobster which she found... um, yes, well. You thought the evil bits in Impaler were from a tortured mind, not indigestion?

So: naturally food finds its way into my books. Yes, I know, terrible habit. Sticks the pages together. But I love my books so I must feed them. This becomes particularly interesting when you're doing historically accurate as possible writing, which, being me I try to do. And of course much of what we think of stereotypical regional food... wasn't once Italian food... pre tomato?(Heirs books) Greek food - pre lemons? What color were carrots in the sixteenth century? (answer - not orange. White or purple.)

As someone who reads recipe books for fun I pick up a lot of this and add it into my mine of useless information, but of course there is also a fair amount of research. Food - particularly in historical books tells you such a lot about the people and the setting. Besides it gets me stimulated to go and cook something. Seriously, food is second only to sex (and the relationships that weave around that)in the interests of most people. No we will NOT discuss combining them or whether sushi should be served off naked human platters. (Sushi is wonderful. If you take it home and fry it it tastes just like fish.) But there are deep psycological and anthropological reasons why men take potential partners out to dinner.

Anyway, that's just my mileage - that good books have good food descriptions. Of course I love food and love cooking it, so there is bias. (I've always thought men who worried about food and cooking being too feminine, may have reason to worry about being percieved as feminine. I'm hairy-faced enough for you to tell the difference.) And like the other tedious bits (technical descriptions of sf weapons that this practical scientist sees large flaws with in concept, let alone calibre) - one can always skip it. Food writing is of course quite demanding on the visual and other sensory inputs being translated into words...
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The waiter appeared from the smoky kitchen after a spell that didn't even try Benito's empty stomach's patience too far. The man seemed bent on proving that, besides being a waiter in a sky-high priced taverna, he had all the skills of a juggler, or could at least do the balancing act at the local fair too. He carried a carafe of wine, a bowl of bread-rings, a platter of chargrilled baby octopus redolent of thyme and garlic with just a hint of bayleaf, a jug of extra sauce, and some olive oil and vinegar. He brought a plate of Melanzane alla finitese next, the crumbed aubergine slices bursting with hot melted cheese. "Eat up. The cook gets upset if you aren't ready for the swordfish the minute it arrives. And do you need more wine?"

(This Rough Magic)
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Anyway. Food? Or Micky D?
And does it add to your readng pleasure?

20 comments:

C Kelsey said...

Food please (says the guy who will be doing most of the cooking for Thanksgiving). Mickey D's is for those Saturdays when I'm so busy I forget to eat and am to lazy to cook something myself. Usually I forget to eat when I'm writing.

Amanda Green said...

Definitely food. As to whether it adds to my reading pleasure, if done well, it does. It's like anything, if it's just there to be there, eh...but like the passage you included, love it.

As for Kate and the tentacly bits, she just doesn't know what's good ;-p

MataPam said...

I always liked the food descriptions in Rex Stout's Mysteries. He wrote a cookbook with everthing he mentioned in it. That was during my starving-just-out-of-college period, so I never bought it. Hmm...

In my own writing, well in the NaNoWriMo in progress, I see they break for a quick lunch and the hotel managed a decent Christmas spread. :D I think I see where I can add to the word count! (41,198 ATM)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

As a kid, I read Enid Blyton as much for the food as for the adventures. It was particularly fascinating since a lot of this food was not stuff we ever had in Portugal. I learned to make pancakes BECAUSE of Enid Blyton. Scones, ditto. And I too used to read recipe books for fun. Heck, still do, but now have trouble admitting to it.
And I too love people with food. So I'm now learning to cook low-carb so I can continue feeding my family without diabetes/other health issues. They're losing weight AND I can still feed them. (Is a good thing.) Turns out though baking with coconut flour dries the cakes. I need to find other ways to do this.
And I MUST make it down there. I'll take all the spiney lobster you can find, thank you very much.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Oh, yeah, Matapam. I got the Rex Stout cookbook! It's awesome.

Anonymous said...

I love good food scenes. It makes my mouth water for all of the lovely foods that don't make it into this house for whatever reason, most of it that I don't know what to do with it.

I'm now trying to write food into my NaNoWriMo novel. Set on a distant planet yet the colony is a couple of hundred years from Earth based, I'm trying to find a good combo of food. The dishes and names for food must be rather Earth based to give it a familiar feel, yet different in that the foods they have to work with are different but close enough to feel similar. I'm finding it harder than I think it should be.

Linda

Chris L said...

Hi Dave,

Now, I know you live on a little island just to the north of me, and those are Tassie crayfish!

You just can't describe the flavour. These are what we eat at Christmas instead of turkey. Seafood braai. Mmmmm...Lekker.

In fact lekker is the only way to describe most of the food I'll be eating this Christmas. I know 'one word fits all' is pretty lame for a writer, but it's such a great word.

Francis Turner said...

Well it depends on the food I think. I doubt you could make (over) boiled cabbage and other staples of the N European winter diet attractive. In fact I can't see much point in describing it unless you are going for subsequent fart humour - "Ah my favourite! beans, boiled cabbage AND sauerkraut" exclaimed Timkin Rumbleguts.

Hmm which reminds me I must takea look at Rexandra

Kate said...

Dave, I'm hurt. I tried everything you fed me, even the ones you made me catch first! The only thing I balked at were the oysters (it's the slimy snot effect, nothing to do with your cooking).

Besides, all the... interesting bits in Impaler were written before I got to enjoy your cooking.

Food matters. Not just the right food for the time/place/economy, but the effect it has on the characters and all the little extra bits of information the cooking and the atmosphere adds to the whole. Besides, what a wonderful collection of senses... taste (and texture), smell, the atmosphere, what it looks like... All very helpful to scene setting.

I suspect the future equivalent of Mickey D is going to be straight out of a replicator, and food that's been grown in actual dirt (or involves actual animals) and prepared by actual people will be the gourmet experience.

Dave Freer said...

C Kelsey - and then I eat too much when I get stuck...

Dave Freer said...

Amanda Kate was fine on the tentacly bits... it was the too many legs bits...

Dave Freer said...

(chuckle) food and wordcount - yes, matapam, it will work.

Dave Freer said...

Sarah - Enid Blyton understood kids like mine. And the Spiny lobster here are... the carapace of the biggest one - in the pub on the wall weighed 11.5kg.

Dave Freer said...

Francis... there was always herring, and fermented delights like Rakfisk and of course the smoked food (which really can be good) and Cabbage. And cabbage.

Dave Freer said...

You did indeed Kate. Even the tentacle cthulhu But sea-cockroach (spiny lobster) was... interesting to watch :-).

Yep. food can cue a lot of things. It also a great deal of research if you want it right (and then a fair amount of explaining), as our modern concepts can be quite far out.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah' made a good point. Food is really important in children's books.

Food and justice. LOL

Dave Freer said...

Hey Chris L - Howcome you are calling crays 'lekker' :-)? (Lekker like a fire-cracker) - are you on Tassie itself?

Chris L said...

Yeah, I've just moved down to Hobart but I've spent some time with your former countrymen over the last few years.

I have to say, they really know how to prepare meat :)

Dave Freer said...

Chris L - braai is the nearest thing to a common religion or language South Africans ever managed. I thought Australians were much the same but then I discovered they use gas ;-/ (I onderstand why, but it is not the same). Well, if you ever make it this far north, come for a feed.

Chris L said...

Cheers Dave