Monday, July 14, 2008
Minnesota Treats from Jess Lourey
For my third Fatal Foodies post, I decided to combine some shameless promotion for my good friend and excellent writer, Jess Lourey, author of the MURDER BY THE MONTH series. Her latest book, AUGUST MOON, just came out and I recommend all four books highly. The mysteries are well-crafted, the narrative both hilarious and suspenseful, and there's enough culinary descriptions to keep us foodies more than happy! So without further ado, my interview with Jess Lourey!
Me: Howdy, Jess, and thank you for letting me interview you for Fatal Foodies! Your heroine, Mira, has several jobs, including a column for the local newspaper called Battle Lake Bites for which she discovers new and unusual Midwestern recipes such as Turdeasant (pheasant stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey), Barbecued Spiced Bananas and Snowman's Balls. What made you decide to add recipes and what's your favorite one so far?
Jess: I love food. My family tree is full of amazing cooks, bakers, and eaters. It's not unusual for my parents to invite me over for supper and serve a five-course meal, starting with a fresh fruit soup, on to an herb salad with diced beets, feta cheese, and orange pulp under a maple soy dressing, on to fresh-from-the-garden grilled asparagus with a light honey sauce, on to...you get the picture. We eat good.
Because food is so central to my identity and the way I relate to people, when I began writing my mysteries, I toyed with the idea of doing a food-based series, something like Diane Mott Davidson's. However, I knew the series was going to be set in Minnesota, and on the whole, Minnesotan food is Lutheran food: white, and either a vehicle for cream of mushroom soup (if it's a main dish) or a vehicle for Cool Whip (if it's dessert). Instead of fighting that, I decided to have fun with it and find the weirdest Midwestern recipes I could and work it into a fictional column written by my main character.
Me: From the description of meals at your parents' house, they're either not Lutheran or have transcended the heritage of Lutheran food! I love the ambiance of the Fortune Café in your books (not to mention all the ginger scones Mira is always eating). Is it based on a real coffee shop in Battle Lake?
Jess: The location is real, in that there is a coffee shop in real Battle Lake in the same location as the Fortune Café in fictional Battle Lake, but in the last few years, the real coffee shop owners have cleaned out their baked goods area and turned into a knick-knack store that sells coffee. Sigh. Maybe someone will be inspired by the series to open the real deal. Yum.
Me: I've got two words for you. Nut Goodies. Talk about 'em.
Jess: Haha! You are so transparent, you addict. For readers who do not know, Nut Goodies are marvelous candy bar circles made in St. Paul, Minnesota, by the Pearson Company, who also makes Salted Nut Rolls. You can find the nut rolls all over the world, but the Nut Goodie never caught on and so can pretty much only be found in Minnesota. There's no accounting for taste because the Salted Nut Roll is to the Nut Goodie what tea is to Valium.
To the uninitiated, the Nut Goodie isn’t much to look at. The frenetic pine-green and clown-red wrapper yells of old-fashioned candy stores where you could dig your hand into the candy jar and pull out ten waxy pop-bottles for a dime. The Nut Goodie itself looks like a rubber gag toy, the kind you wouldn’t want to find next to your cat. The whole bar is as big as the palm of a grown woman’s hand and consists of a domed, sugar-maple center with peanut halves sprinkled on thick. Then, there is brown, waxy chocolate spilled over it all and hardened in a free shape around the outside. It looks like the unfortunate result of a bad meal, but it tastes like heaven. (this interviewer concurs with the 'tastes like heaven' part)
If you’re a Nut Goodie newbie, I suggest you start with one of the chocolate lips that has spilled off of the whole. It’s just chocolate covered peanuts, and it’s a good way to get your feet wet before biting into the so-sweet-it-makes-you-cry maple center. The maple concoction is the magic in a Nut Goodie. It’s not gooey, like caramel. It’s a nice, staid, Minnesota middle, the texture of thick butter cream frosting, and one bite would kill a diabetic. The Pearson’s Company first started creating them in St. Paul in 1907 and hasn’t looked back.
Me: I never knew these things existed until I read about them in all four of your MURDER BY THE MONTH mysteries. And they sounded good…but then I tasted one. Thank you for the addiction, Ms. Lourey. Tell me about your first Nut Goodie…did it start with just one?
Jess: It always starts with just one. It's a slippery slope, drizzled with warm chocolate and crunchy peanuts, and a soft maple candy pillow to catch you at the end.
Me: Ain't it the truth? And besides Nut Goodies, what are your favorite decadent culinary treats?
Jess: Nuts and chocolate really are my thing, though I lean toward dark chocolate when not Nut Goodie-ing. I also love to bake--it's very soothing to me to have my hands in the dough and to have the smell of fresh-baked bread and peanut butter cookies filling the corners of my house. Now that I'm pushing 40, though, I can't sit down with a slab of cheese and a chunk of fresh-baked bread as often. It makes me crazy and dimpled. So, that's a big decadent treat every now and again.
Me: 'Crazy and dimpled.' I have to laugh at that, even while I nod in empathy from my 40-something dimpled vantage point. Besides fresh-baked bread and Nut Goodies, got any favorite comfort foods? If so, what sort of occasion makes you crave them?
Jess: Garlic mashed potatoes with gravy, hands down. In second place is Jook, a Chinese comfort-food soup that is essentially a turkey wing, a cup of white rice, eight cups of water, a 1" cube of peeled fresh ginger, and some salt and pepper that you let cook for a couple hours. It turns out like porridge, and you sprinkle some fresh cilantro and sliced green onions on top, eat it for lunch on a cold winter day, and you feel like the world will be okay. Should I be concerned that I don't need an occasion to crave comfort food?
Me: Every day is a good day for comfort food as far as I'm concerned! Describe classic Midwestern food in one sentence (or two, if you need it):
Jess: White. :) Think lefse, tator tot hotdish, klub, potatoes, milk....
Thanks for having me, Fatal Foodies and Ms. Dana Fredsti!
Me: And thank you for sharing your favorite foods and the secret of Nut Goodies, Ms. Jess Lourey!