Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sassy Cajun Cookbook

My guest today is Sylvia Dickey Smith. She appeared on my blog yesterday, and is here today with a completely different interview on a completely different book--what a gal! Her bio says:

My name is Sylvia Dickey Smith. I was born in Orange, Texas, and grew up in a colorful Scots-Irish family living in the midst of a Cajun culture. When 34, my curiosity about the world took on a whole new dimension when I moved to the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad & Tobago. Awed by the differences in customs and cultures, particularly as they related to West Indian women, set me on a journey of study and self-discovery.

Back in the U.S. at 40, I started college and didn’t stop until I achieved a B.A. in sociology with a concentration in women’s studies and a master’s in counseling.

An advocate for women, my writing features those who recreate themselves into the people they want to be, strong women who take charge of their lives and get things done. (If you've met Sidra Smart or Bea Meade, you know what I mean.)

The stories dwell on the wondrous twists and turns of human behavior rooted in my background as a counselor before I became a novelist. The tales are fun, sassy, and (according to my fans) darn good reads. I hope you like these kind of books, too! I look forward to adding you as a fan.

Once you've met her, I'm sure she will add you as a fan, as she has me. :)

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Does food play a part in your fiction?

Not only in my fiction but also in my life! Food, and the pleasure good cooking brings, is the core not only of survival, but of the will to live. I’m one of those who live to eat, rather than eat to live. But maybe I combine the two. More and more I focus on eating true food, real food, instead of focusing on nutrition—which can often be full of empty calories.

Sidra has spent a lifetime of cooking for her husband’s parishioners, fellow preachers, her family, potlucks at the church and dinners on the ground. She’s 50 now, and out on her own for the first time in her life. She’s tired of cooking. Then along comes nosy, busybody Aunt Annie who swears she cooks better than anyone in the whole wide world! And indeed, she’s not too far afield. Her cooking swings from Cajun seafood gumbo and crawfish soup to southern chicken and dumplings—the best you’ve ever wrapped your gums around. Sidra has sworn for years she’d sleep on a bed of fire ants rather than move in with her aunt. But, of course, that swear tempts fate, which leaves her no other opportunity. Aunt Annie is always in the kitchen cooking up something delicious, and she expects it to be eaten and bragged about! But in the end of book three in the Sidra Smart mysteries, Sidra decides to make pickles, and she’s off on her own cooking journey.

Bea Meade, in A WAR OF HER OWN, cooks like mama taught her. Bea believes if it weren’t for her thin crusty biscuits, Hal never would have married her. Then, there’s the fried fruit pies fresh-made every morning and packed in his lunch box, that almost makes Hal decide to stay with Bea, instead of leaving her for another woman.

Why did you decide to write this cookbook?

The publisher of my Sidra Smart mystery series, L & L Dreamspell encouraged me to. We wanted it to be a spin-off from Sidra and Aunt Annie. They live in Cajun country (southwest Texas, right on the border of Louisiana), so we decided to combine recipes from both cultures and call it Sassy Southern Classy Cajun (read a review by Kevin Tipple here).

The term, Sassy Southern Classy Cajun may sound like an oxymoron to the average person. But in a land where folks live to eat rather than eat to live, good food becomes a passion. In southeast Texas, where southerners and Cajuns all sleep under the same threat of hurricanes and where mosquitoes grow as big as dragonflies—almost—gregarious folks welcome any excuse to get together for fellowship, fun and lively music. Food is the common denominator, an important part of any gathering.

It’s a small book with tried and true recipes—many submitted by fans. I’m wishing now we had made it larger. Maybe one day I’ll do another. There’s something about cookbooks that make so many people want to collect them, even though, with the internet, recipes can be easily downloaded for free. What is it about a cookbook in my hand that comforts me—that connects me to my past? Interesting study, huh? When friends and family gave me recipes, I made it a habit to write their names and dates on the card. Today, when I go back and pull one of those recipes to make, I read that information and connect with that time, that person, and send them a mental blessing. Many of them have passed over by now. I give thanks for their memory, and the impact they had on my life. Perhaps that’s the power of a recipe—especially those we’ve collected over the years. They serve as a diary, or a book of letters.

Who is the best cook you knew, growing up? Do you still think so?

Although my mother was a good cook, and made absolutely the best biscuits, fried fruit pies and chocolate pie in the world, I suppose I’d have to say the best over all cook was my Aunt Annie (Yes, one and the same as Sidra’s Aunt Annie!) She made cooking a whole new art form for me. She ‘sold’ herself as a great cook, and bragged to everyone how, when she’d take a fresh coconut layer cake to the church social folks lapped up every crumb. She made the wedding cake for my first wedding, and other than the bite fed me by my new husband, that’s the only one I got. Others at the reception ate the last crumb.

I loved her homemade yeast hot rolls. My Uncle Frank knew how much I loved them and every time she made them and I wasn’t there, I was told he’d call out my name and say, “Come get your hotrolls!”

And yes, I’d have to say I still think so. If I didn’t, knowing her, she’d come back and haunt me!

Do you like to cook? Do you have a favorite cuisine? Do you blend cuisines?

Love to cook! I’ve definitely done my share. When we lived in Trinidad, we had company living in our house all summer when college student volunteers came. With little prepared food, and few items available in the store that we were accustomed to, I learned to cook a lot of things! Like English muffins, New York style bagels, butter-layered cinnamon roles, hotdog and hamburger buns, onion rings, potato chips, ranch-style beans, potato-less potato salad (using breadfruit), made-from-scratch cakes—you name it, I made it!

I have no favorite cuisine. I love them all. When I cook, yes, I might well blend them. For instance, the other night we entertained our neighbors. We had chicken & dumplings, pinto beans (I cook mine with chili powder, chopped onion, and garlic, along with salt and lots of black pepper), and my sister’s recipe for the most delicious cornbread you’ve ever tasted, and it uses no eggs. (Which is in the cookbook, along with the chicken and dumplings) Then I added a Caprese salad, which is Italian. For dessert, fruit cobbler made with the season’s fresh peaches and Blue Bell ice cream’s Homemade Vanilla. We ate until we had to roll away from the table!

Do you like to read fiction that features food? If so, what's your favorite book--or what are some of your favorite books--that use food to help define a culture or a character?

Great question! And yes, I agree with you—writing food does indeed define a culture and/or a character. So often cozies can include food and recipes, like Karen MacInerney’s Gray Whale Inn mysteries. I’m a fan of Karen’s work, but I’m not a big reader of cozies. And when I get right down to thinking about it, I don’t know of any other work I’ve read that does what I do. Radine Nehring’s work likely comes the closest.

That’s not to say those works aren’t out there, but their not ones I know about or have on my shelf.

My books all include food not only because of who I am, but of the characters I write. I believe a person truly is what they eat, and how much of it! I can’t imagine writing a book that doesn’t include food. So much of our lives happen around food. It defines a person. Not only food, but how it is prepared, where we buy it, what we do to it in the process of meal preparation. Come to think about it, I could develop a whole personality type inventory with food and food preparation as the scale. That gives me an idea! Remember, I thought of it first! Know any publishers who might be interested? Send them my way!

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SASSY SOUTHERN CLASSY CAJUN is available at Amazon, as are other Sylvia Dickey Smith books.

Please visit Sylvia at her web site and at her blog and follow her blog tour:

August 9, 2010: Marian Allen
August 10: FatalFoodies
August 12, 2010: Straight from Hel
August 21, 2010: Meanderings and Muses
September 7, 2010: Jane Finnis
September 13, 2010: Eric Reed
September 29, 2010: Mason Canyon Reviews



Helen Ginger said...

You've made me hungry, Sylvia! I have Sylvia's cookbook, Sassy Southern - Classy Cajun, and am trying out some of the recipes.

This was a fun post. Thanks.


Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

Thanks Helen, I did tend to get rather wordy!! Hope you are doing some good cooking! We missed you Sunday at hotxsinc.

Sylvia Dickey Smith

A War of Her Own

Patricia Stoltey said...

Now y'all are making my mouth water.