Deb Erika likes hers warm, salty and sweet

I’ll admit it; I’m lucky. Not only did I get to write all about comfort foods in my novel LITTLE GALE GUMBO, but because there are recipes included in the reader’s guide, I also had to make each item (sometimes repeatedly) to make sure I got the measurements just right. (Wait–is that a violin I hear?)

Comfort foods are curious things. But no matter where we come from, I think the language of comfort foods is a universal one. Camille understands that as soon as she arrives on Little Gale Island, even before she opens her Creole café. Sure, the islanders have never heard of gumbo or etouffee, but that doesn’t matter. A warm bowl of stew is a warm bowl of stew, and a sugared treat is a sugared treat. The dishes may vary in ingredients, but I believe the sensations of “comfort” are the same: warm, salty and sweet. Mainers have chowder, New Orleanians have gumbo. Mainers have Whoopie Pies, New Orleanians have pralines.

And so, believing in this simple premise that food can unite even the most oppositional of neighbors, Camille builds a menu for her new restaurant, knowing that her traditional comfort foods will earn her customers. And of course, they do.

Now back to those recipes… (Be warned: This is the gratuitous visuals portion of the post. Viewer discretion is advised.)

For the warm, I included the recipe for Camille’s mother’s gumbo. Chunks of crabmeat, a rich shrimp stock.

For the salty, there’s the traditional wash day (Monday) dish of red beans and rice. Easy to make (another tenant of any good comfort food) and always satisfying. (Not to mention filling. Whoa.)

 For the sweet, there’s bread pudding. Chunks of spongy bread soaked overnight in a brandy-infused custard.

 Aaaaaand let’s not forget the pralines…

Am I right, or am I right?

So if you’re wondering which came first–my love of New Orleans “comfort foods” or the novel, I can assure you the food came first. My first day in New Orleans I bought and ate in one sitting a praline the size of manhole cover (okay, so maybe it was slightly smaller, but only slightly) and from that day on, I knew there was no going back. To be able to include my passion for these dishes that do indeed give me great comfort–whatever the season and whatever my mood–in a novel still makes me smile.

And really, really hungry.

How about you all? Have you ever found comfort in a novel’s food?

19 Replies to “Deb Erika likes hers warm, salty and sweet”

  1. Now I’m hungry. 😉

    I love when novels have food! I think I have almost as much fun reading about eating good food as I do eating it. (Yes, I’m very suggestible.) That was part of why I adored Little Gale Gumbo. Of course, it helped that the characters were amazingly well-drawn and the plot sucked me right in, too. But the food was just the right seasoning.

    1. Oh, thank you Linda! This week will be doing nothing for my waistline, I can already tell. After Joanne’s post yesterday and the kugel thread with Marcia, I’m craving kugel and blintzes!!

      1. Well today, since I’m pretty sure I have the noro virus, my comfort food is broth from my coffee mug. When I am well, my comfort foods include warm Thai Tea (with Almond Milk instead of cream), nachos piled high with all the veggies and beans, and flourless chocolate cake. Sadly, none of those sound appealing today!

        1. Oh, Missy! Poor you! This week’s topic was not well-timed for a virus–you tell it we said so! Feel better, dear. This has been a rough season for health for everyone it seems…

  2. YUMMMMYY!! That was one of the things I loved so much about your novel, Erika, how food was such an integral part! (Although I was hungry while reading it!!) In my current WIP (that also takes place in Maine) my MC is new to the state and tastes some things — like lobster stew — for the very first time.

    1. You are so kind to say, my dear! Oh, I love this idea of a character tasting lobster stew! But I would hope you did sufficient research, Julia–I mean, you may THINK you know how lobster stew tastes as a Mainer, but I hope you sampled many, MANY bowls to get the flavors and sensations JUST RIGHT 😉

      (Oh, the things we do for our art!)

  3. I am with Linda on this one-reading about all the food in LGG gave it another dimension of depth (and deliciousness) on top of the awesome characters and the layers of family drama. I was hoping you’d bring out some of the New Orleans dishes this week!
    And honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever read another novel where food figured quite as prominently, but I did write a scene in a book where a girl goes for Dim Sum for the first time and it had me drooling at my keyboard while I introduced my character to those delicious delights.

    1. OOoo! Dim Sum! I haven’t had that in way too long. Sigh!

      It’s really interesting, Joanne–LGG was the first book I’d ever written where food was so prominent and it just made sense for the story. With my next book, I kept thinking: Where’s all the food? And while there are certainly references to food (I can’t help myself!) I did have to accept that it didn’t make sense to have it be a central theme as it did in GUMBO…

  4. OOoooooooooo! Now talk of all this food is making me want to cook, and cook and then when I am done cooking I want to go for Dim Sum anyone in.
    Erika, LGG was over the top I so so enjoyed it and now to look at the pictures today (which I will not show my husband) or I will be making GUMBO. As soon as Passover is OVER !!!!!!!the GUMBO is first on the menu to try, and if I have a problem making it your on the next plane here for lessons.
    Stay tuned, this week sounds so delicious, just think I could end up with a whole bunch of new receipes. Oh yeh forgot to tell you about my chocolate cheese cake WOW EEEEEEEEEE.
    Keep writing, Keep smiling.

    1. Marcia, thank you so much! I tell you what, though–it’s my dear husband who is the true New Orleans cook! So we’ll come together if needed (I’m his sous-chef when it comes to gumbo!) but I would love to know what you think of the recipes if you do try them.

      This really does settle it: Between the kugel recipes, the Dim Sum talk, and gumbo, we really WILL have to have some sort of Deb Cook-Off (and we’re not even halfway through the week yet!)

  5. Haven’t eaten breakfast yet. My stomach is growling, especially reading this post! I love foody novels. LGG definitely rates up there with my all-time favorite foody novel, CRESCENT by Diana Abu-Jaber.

    Alas, I’m not a kitchen person, and cooking isn’t one of my passions. I’m revising a novel is which one character offers up a lumpy potato soup that his guest can’t eat because it looks so unappetizing. That’s what goes on for food in my novels! Hah!

    1. Hi Lisa! You are very kind to put LGG on the same shelf as CRESCENT–thank you!

      I love that you included the other side of the coin–NOT cooking can be a way to have food in a novel too–of course! And just as a character can know their way around a kitchen–and that can reveal much about them–a character who doesn’t know their way can be revealed through the opposite, absolutely!

  6. OMG I am so hungry now. I used to have a book club cookbook, with recipes from various books. They need to make a 2.0 version and include your pralines!!! YUM yum yum. Will your next book have lots of food too?

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