May 27, 2020
Dear Lovely Readers,
I am thrilled to share with you today’s Foodie Guest Writer, Suzanne Nelson. Suzanne is no stranger to the book world. Before settling into her career as a middle grade/young adult author, she worked as a children’s book editor in New York City for eight years. Suzanne is the author to dozens of books. I instantly fell in love with her foodie series for middle graders including Cake Pop Crush, Donut Go Breaking My Heart, Hot Cocoa Hearts, I Only Have Pies For You, Macarons At Midnight, Shake It Off, and Sundae My Prince Will Come. These books are so delicious, that her 2017 hit, You’re Bacon Me Crazy was even made into a Hallmark Original Movie this year 😮! Incorporating foodie fun into books for our next generation to devour is the ultimate treat!
I hope you enjoy Suzanne’s letter to Mr. H. She shares with him her love of A Farewell To Arms, A Cat in the Rain, her grandmother’s recipes and one of her go to cookbooks. Enjoy!
Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!
Check out Suzanne with a compilation of her Grandmother’s recipes. 🥰🥰🥰
Dear Mr. Hemingway,
My younger, more naïve self of decades past wasn’t particularly fond of your writing. After reading A Farewell to Arms in high school, I felt downright cheated by its tragic ending. I was angry at you for making me uncomfortable. You forced me to think about the unfairness of life, when I only wanted to believe in its goodness and beauty. You might’ve laughed at my adolescent criticism of your “simplistic” style, especially if I’d told you about my own dreams of becoming a published writer. You might’ve bluntly reprimanded, “there is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man.” You might’ve ordered me out of my sheltered existence and into the great wide world, commanding me to live my own truth before I condemned yours. And you would’ve been justified on all accounts.
The fact is, Mr. Hemingway, I owe you an apology. I misjudged and underappreciated you. Over the years, I’ve grown to better understand you and the many ironies, beauties, and tragedies that accompany life. And I’ve been thinking of you more than usual lately. You see, recently, our world has slowed its pace. The scope of our daily existences has shrunk to the size of our own backyards. Much of what you loved about life—adventuring to far-off places, enjoying the lively and satisfying company of friends, feasting on eclectic cuisines—has come to a screeching halt. In the midst of this unsettling limbo, I searched my bookshelves for solace and stumbled upon your short story, A Cat in the Rain. The story is, of course, about a cat trapped under a café table during a storm—alone, uncomfortable, and afraid to leave for fear of getting wet. What serendipity, to revisit your story during this moment in our human history! How many of our circumstances lately have become like your cat’s!
But even during this surreal and disquieting confinement, I’ve discovered comforts. The frantic, spinning hamster wheel of schedules has relaxed. There is more time for creativity, more time for spontaneous family fun, and more time for cooking and conversation around the table. I have never been more acutely aware of how food connects us. I miss the cheery hum of restaurant conversations, the succor of morning coffee talks with friends, the chaotic, extended family feasts on holidays. But our family still has daily gatherings around our own kitchen table. No matter which corners of the house we each retreat to, eventually, we find one another again around our table. We’re drawn back to that connection, sooner or later, by the inevitable, gravitational pull of food and love.
Although I never had the chance to ask her, I believe my grandmother, Christine Tallman, understood this to be true. She knew the art of food as balm. Her chicken pot pie was a staple in my household growing up. My mom made it whenever we were sick, or on rainy, wintry days when we needed a dose of coziness.
Grandma was only nineteen when she married my grandfather. In 1941, she left the bustling town she’d grown up in to move to a potato farm in rural Pennsylvania, where she quickly learned the trials and travails of running a farmstead. She had eight children over the span of two decades, juggling a never-ending stream of household and farm chores with parenting. My grandfather—an ebulliently talkative man—constantly invited employees, customers, friends and fellow farmers to their table. On any given day, Grandma never knew how many extra mouths she might have to feed. The farm table had two long benches made for elbow-to-elbow, sardines-in-a-can style dining. The table was loud and boisterous, often with laughter but also with passionate arguing. Grandma’s kitchen was the sun around which the household orbited.
I often wonder how my grandmother felt about the life she chose. She passed away when I was eight, so I never had the chance to know her as a grown woman. I was never able to ask her if she felt fulfilled as an individual, a wife, and a mother. I wonder if, at times, she felt like your cat, confined by her times or her roles. My grandfather held the purse strings as well as the car keys in their marriage. Grandpa tried to teach Grandma how to drive only one time. When he began with an in-depth lecture on engine parts, the lesson failed. So, Grandma didn’t get her driver’s license until she was fifty-six years old. There were many places she longed to visit, but she rarely travelled beyond Pennsylvania. Geographically, her world was small, but her influence on those who knew her was wide and all-encompassing. She loved and was loved deeply. She opened her home to so many, inviting them to her table for comfort and company. And her cooking brought many other “cats” in from the rain.
Decades after her passing, some of the women in my family compiled my grandma’s recipes into a cookbook, Christine Tallman’s Cookbook, Written in Her Own Hand. The recipes sit beside photos of her throughout her life. On the book’s pages, I see a lovely, petite woman on her wedding day, a school girl laughing with friends, a young mother holding her firstborn, and a grandmother cuddling her grandchildren. The recipes give me a taste of her love. The photos are clues to a life I’ll never fully know, but can sense the joy in my grandma’s smiles.
It is ironic that so much of my own writing centers on food, when I’ve never had a true passion for cooking. I’ve suffered my share of cooking calamities through the years, but I keep trying. Second to my grandma’s cookbook, my favorite cookbook is Betty Crocker’s Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook from Scratch, now in its twelfth edition. It’s a staple in my kitchen, because it gives wonderful, basic information for cooking amateurs like myself, plus tried-and-true recipes that I’m relatively confident I can’t ruin. Given my lack of talent in the kitchen, you may wonder, Mr. Hemingway, why I’m drawn to write about food. The truth is, I write less about food itself and more about what food gives us. Food offers us comfort. It delights us with infinite flavors and textures. It inspires us to gather around tables with family and friends, to share, to laugh, to fight, to talk, and, most of all, to love. Perhaps like my grandma, I sense that when we have a mealtime table to congregate around, we’re no longer solitary cats trapped in the rain.
Thank you, Mr. Hemingway, for giving your water-logged cat a happy ending. By bringing your cat in from the rain at the end of your story, you offer hope amidst sadness. Your cat finds shelter, safety, and warmth. May we all find the same as we re-enter the world in the coming months. And, in the meantime, may we find it with delicious meals around our own tables.
Yours with humble gratitude,
PS. If you want to read about how one mysterious, one-of-a-kind food helps to restore the faith of an orphan, an elephant, and a dying town during the Dust Bowl, check out my middle-grade novel, A Tale Magnolious. For more fictional foodie fun for middle-graders, check out my line of Scholastic foodie books, including the upcoming Pumpkin Spice Up Your Life, which arrives in bookstores in September 2020.