Guest Post: Megan Caldwell Talks “Good” Food vs. “Bad” Food
It’s my pleasure to turn over the blog to author Megan Caldwell today. Megan is the author of Vanity Fare, the story of a recently divorced Brooklyn mom, who starts writing copy for a bakery, discovers a knack for food-related literary puns, and becomes entangled in a love triangle. With New Year’s resolutions about losing weight and eating healthier bearing down on many of us at this time of year, Megan is here to offer a different perspective on the role of food in our daily lives.
A long time ago, an article about movies pointed out that if you’re watching a dramatic film, anytime the characters are eating they will get interrupted because of whatever emotional crisis they’re going through. And in the ensuing years, I’ve always noticed it, from people getting up from the dinner table because they’re fighting, or they get bad news, or some other crisis that interrupts their meal.
Now that is a tragedy.
That kind of universal thread shows just how important food is to our emotional, as well as our physical, well-being. With a new year just having arrived, many people are castigating certain foods as “bad” and forcing themselves to eat “good” food.
Let’s just say: Life is too short, and food too delicious, to eat “bad” food.
Food is more than just sustenance to maintain our bodies; it’s a way of expressing who we are—or who we’re not—and can elevate or lower our moods, depending on what we choose to eat.
(I’d also argue that our choice of reading material does that as well, but that’s an entirely different subject).
So what is good food? Anything that makes you feel good when you eat it. That can be a particularly enormous raw mushroom, or a stolen Cheez-It from your son’s lunch (ahem!), or a sliver of dark chocolate from a Christmas gift. It’s only “bad” if you’re eating it for the wrong reasons.
Bad food can be that same dark chocolate, or a can of hearts of palm (true story: I once ate an entire can of hearts of palm because I was procrastinating, and that was a very bad food moment, even though the h. of p. were themselves not caloric and were tasty), or a Cheez-It you picked up off the floor and were too lazy to throw into the trash.
In Vanity Fare, my heroine gets a job as a copywriter for a bakery opposite the New York Public Library, therefore combining two of my favorite things, baked goods and books (if I’d somehow found a way to throw Clive Owen into it, it’d be a trifecta of awesome). The concept, while certainly farfetched, makes sense in an emotional way—both books and food influence your mood, and when people talk about the former, they often also discuss the latter, as in, “You should settle in with this book with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit,” for example.
Vanity Fare has another food concern: namely my heroine’s ability to feed herself, her son, and eventually, her mother. At one point, she’s only got a yam, some dried black beans, and some elderly mozzarella in the house. She feeds her son Pop-Tarts and chicken nuggets, which she (and I!) ruefully acknowledge are not good nutrition. At one point, the potential hero insists she takes a taste of his pie, and that moment is both a romantic and a delicious one.
Food is emotional. If it weren’t, we would all be just fine with eating our requisite 1800 calories a day of well-balanced nutrition and incorporating more caloric foods into that structure. But we’re not; we crave the satisfaction found in eating a particularly yummy chocolate chip cookie, the delight in sharing a piece of cake with a birthday pal, a beer at the end of a long day while watching our favorite sports team (go Knicks!).
With all this, and the recipes found in Vanity Fare, you might think I am a good cook. Not so. I love eating, of course, but I’m not particularly good in the kitchen. But when you’re writing fiction, and if you’re a good enough writer, your lack of finesse in real world kitchen skills don’t matter (plus, if you get a former Union Square Café pastry chef to write recipes for your book, it really doesn’t matter). But what I am good at is recognizing the intrinsic emotional resonance of food, which is why it came so naturally to put books and food together (if we could only get Clive in there…).
So as the New Year marches on, and resolutions wilt and fade, just remember: Life is too short, and food too delicious, to eat “bad” food.
Tart of Darkness
Obscure, faintly dangerous ingredients – Belgian chocolate, white rum, African groundnuts – combine in a swirl of flavor, topped off with a heady adventure of whipped cream. Delicious, delectable, and almost completely inscrutable, this tart reveals your most secret desires. And if Kurtz had been able to savor this, who knows how the story would have ended?
Makes 6 – 8 servings
For the chocolate tart dough
1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
½ cup salted peanuts or other groundnuts
For the chocolate ganache
¾ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
8 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon white rum
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light in color and fluffy in texture.
- Add the eggs and vanilla extract.
- Sift together the flour and the cocoa powder and add to the bowl.
- Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for one hour.
- Spray a 7-inch tart pan that has a removable bottom.
- Place the chilled dough between 2 pieces of wax or parchment paper and using a rolling pin roll into a 10-inch disk. Peel off the top layer of paper and drop the dough inside the prepared tart ring. Press down on the dough, removing the other layer of paper. Using your fingers, press the dough into the tart pan, removing any excess dough. Place the tart pan in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.
- Bake the tart shell in 325°F oven for about 20 minutes, until firm. Allow to cool for half an hour.
- Chocolate Ganache: Combine the cream, butter, and sugar in a pot and bring to a boil. Break apart the chocolate in a bowl. Slowly pour the cream mixture over the chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk together, adding the rum, until creamy and well combined.
- Sprinkle half of the salted peanuts on the bottom of the tart shell. Pour the ganache into the shell and sprinkle the other half of the peanuts on top. Chill for about half an hour. Serve with whipped cream.