Food for Thought: A Litany

I devoured that book.

The ending was unsatisfying.

Can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next one.

What’s the meat of the story?

The gristly climax?

I want a sweet ending, not a saccharine one.

No syrupy love story, no thanks.

Now, your turn.


Because Coffee and Reading Go Together

Stumptown Coffee hits New York on Monday! Glorious day.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Tobacco Tapioca, a Dreamer’s Feast

“She spent whole hausfrau afternoons slopping about in the sweatbox of her midget kitchen: ‘José says I’m better than the Colony. Really, who would have dreamed I had such a great natural talent? A month ago I couldn’t scramble eggs.’ And still couldn’t, for that matter. Simple dishes, steak, a proper salad, were beyond her. Instead, she fed José, and occasionally myself, outré soups (brandied black terrapin poured into avocado shells) Nero-ish novelties (roasted pheasant stuffed with pomegranates and persimmons) and other dubious inventions (chicken and saffron rice served with a chocolate sauce: ‘An East Indian classic, my dear.’) Wartime sugar and cream rationing restricted her imagination when it came to sweets — nevertheless, she once managed something called Tobacco Tapioca: best not describe it.”

– Truman Capote, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s


One of the biggest questions posed in Breakfast at Tiffany’s is whether or not Holly Golightly, central darling of our nostalgic narrator’s recollections, is a phony. Hollywood insider OJ Berman claims during a party scene that Holly’s at least a real phony that is, she truly believes “all this crap she believes.”

At first read, Berman’s analysis might ring true. But after a closer gaze at the the above excerpt, in which Holly braves cooking to better embody her latest role of a Latin American politico’s future wife, it’s clear that Miss Golightly is less likely a contrived phony and more certainly an honest-to-goodness dreamer. “Really, who would have dreamed,” indeed. But her dishes contain too much genuine nerve and whimsy to belong to a mere forger: phoniness seems too lazy a mark for the food she has the audacity to concoct.

If Holly is a dreamer, it’s no wonder she can’t scramble eggs, grill steak or toss a salad. Such basic cooking skills are part of the general foundation she lacks – how could she possibly have culinary roots when she herself is rootless, a mere chimera created by Lulamae’s tirelessly artful hands?

And so, instead of sturdy, grounded fare, Holly whips up dishes fit for Nero, Capote says. No coincidence there; Nero was known for his extravagance, and how else could one describe the hoity Colony, and descriptions of pheasant and wasted avocadoes in the bloody midst of wartime? Holly’s cooking only serves to illustrate that she, though charmingly capricious (at least at first), is deeply out of touch with reality both on the dining table and in her own overly fashioned life.

After all, what confectionary creations, in a time of rations, does her illusion-addled brain create? Oh, Holly, poor Holly. Tobacco Tapioca, that’s what – a recipe so unfit for consumption that even Capote won’t deign to describe it.

It’s that word, “unfit,” that’s key here. It’s so like and of Holly, despite her tinkling laugh, grand hat and sleek black dress. They’re all façade, like our girl (and like her cooking). In reality (well, at least in the novella version – the movie turns it into more of a love story), she doesn’t belong anywhere or to anyone for long.

And so, despite her fanciful and even entertaining culinary efforts, she still loses José, just as she loses her various selves and as our narrator loses her: she’s simply too fleeting to keep, herself an impeccably chic and impossible dream.

                                    holly eating

Reading is Eating

Growing up, my favorite place to read was the kitchen table. Few habits feel so decadent to this day. Sitting there, beloved novel in one hand, twirled forkful of spaghetti in the other, I almost missed my lips sometimes as I read and ate. I was too busy marveling at my fictive heroine’s latest caper or licking my lips at whatever *she* was eating or drinking. (Surely it tasted better than whatever was on my plate.)

But it wasn’t just her cheese-stuffed mushroom cap or Singapore Sling I would hanker after — rather, it was the things these foods represented: her character, her flair, her life.

I credit my childhood habit of reading while eating with imprinting on me from the beginning that the two acts are helplessly intertwined. Both reading and eating are nourishing, satisfying, even sustaining. Both can serve as vehicles of pleasure, and also escape. And, most interestingly, both are character defining.

For, if we are what we eat, then so, too, must our favorite novels’ characters be defined by those meals which they linger over and consume. Yet, these protagonists and ingénues have not plucked their food out of thin air, nor have they chosen it for themselves off an elegant oversized menu or crowded supermarket shelf. No, every bite of food to pass through an imagined character’s lips has been selected carefully by his or her author.

Okay. But shouldn’t we ask why? What do the breakfasts, brunches, dinners, late night snacks, the lovingly prepared family feasts and cobbled together leftovers that appear in our favorite novels and poems reflect or reveal about the characters who make and eat them? Why do these figures nibble on certain morsels and not others, and how do their author-bequeathed tastes help us to better understand who they are in their fictive worlds?

Chew on that.