Photo credit: James Ransom
Describe your latest book.
For my forthcoming book, Food52 Any Night Grilling,
I had the delightful charge of spending several months firing up dinner on the grill. In this project, I coach readers through the fundamentals of cooking over fire so the distinct pleasure of a grilled meal can be enjoyed any night (or day!) of the week — no long marinades or low-and-slow cook times here. In other words, don’t relegate your grill to the weekends. The recipes go way beyond your standard burgers and brats to include surprising items to fire on the grill, like Crackly Rosemary Flatbread, Grilled Corn Nachos, and Porchetta-Style Pork Kebabs. But you’ll also find backyard classics like Sweet and Smoky Drumsticks, Gulf Coast Shrimp Tacos, and Green Chile Cheeseburgers.
Recipes will also have folks charring fruits and vegetables in coals for smoky salads and sides, transforming day-old bread into delicious toasts, and using lingering heat to cook ahead for future meals.
Any Night Grilling
is my seventh cookbook. Prior to writing it, I served as a writer and recipe tester for Blue Apron, the revolutionary and fast-growing home meal delivery kit company. My first book, Cowgirl Cuisine
, chronicles the adventure of leaving New York City to cook on a ranch in the Texas Hill Country. I’ve cowritten four other cookbooks: Crescent City Cooking
with Susan Spicer, the chef at Bayona restaurant in New Orleans; the New York Times
bestseller Down Home With the Neelys
with Food Network
stars Pat and Gina Neely; and Real Cajun
with Donald Link, the acclaimed chef of Herbsaint and Cochon restaurants in New Orleans, which won the prestigious James Beard Award for Best American Cookbook. Down South
, my second collaboration with Link, was published in 2014 and won the International Association of Culinary Professionals Award for Best American Cookbook.
I’m already at work on my next project, Thank You for Smoking
(Ten Speed Press, March 2019). It will be a continuation, of sorts, to Any Night Grilling
. Stay tuned!
What was your favorite book as a child?
and All Creatures Great and Small
When did you know you were a writer?
I remember telling elementary school friends that I wanted to be a writer before having any idea what that entailed. Yet at that early age, I’d already fallen for (and romanticized) the possibility of storytelling and documenting meaningful experiences. Even as a kid, I was aware that I was constantly observing the emotional nuances and telling details in a situation, and then ruminating on an inner dialogue of how I’d shape and tell the experience.
What does your writing workspace look like?
I have an office (picture stacks of cookbooks and two gray cats) at our home in Austin. However, because there are inevitably a number of domestic distractions (laundry, dishes, cats, dogs), I still head to coffee shops when I’m really under the gun and need to meet a deadline. Even though those public spaces mean activity and background noises, I’m able to seal off and get inside a story better than I can at home. Then, of course, it’s the endless quandary of which one suits my mood that day (i.e., which has the best cortado, breakfast pastries or tacos, accessible outlets, and comfortable chairs).
What do you care about more than most people around you?
Lump charcoal. Nailing the perfect doneness of a whole grill-roasted chicken or duck. The challenges of gardening in rugged Texas soil (so different from the rich, dark Midwestern soil that I grew up with). The alarming speed at which my children are growing up.
Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
I’m truly delighted when someone tells me that they love a specific recipe, or that it’s become a new staple or part of the fabric of their home cooking. For instance, a friend’s sister makes the Pickled Shrimp With Beer and Lime from Cowgirl Cuisine
every summer at their family reunion in Florida, and that’s the coolest thing. A couple of friends give my Spicy Mixed Nuts (from the same book) as holiday gifts. It’s humbling to imagine food that I’ve created being incorporated into people’s lives.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
Before writing Any Night Grilling
, I was, in fact, a weekend griller. I could knock out a rib eye, but the process took a lot of planning and was riddled with more than a little self-doubt. I’ve since upped my game.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Joy Williams, and her book of short stories entitled Escapes
(especially "The Little Winter").
Besides your personal library, do you have any beloved collections?
Shells from scalloping trips in Florida and Pawleys Island, South Carolina, where we got married, and pretty pebbles and stones from Minnesota, where we spend time each summer, live in planters on our back porch. Beyond that, I’d say my children’s art work — and the growing number of grills and smokers in our back yard.
What's the strangest job you've ever had?
Ha, how many words do I have again? I’ve had enough to fill a memoir, but I’d say the highlight is the college semester I spent cooking for four priests in a Catholic rectory in Iowa City, Iowa. I wasn’t raised as a Catholic, and when I responded to the Help Wanted ad, was so naïve I didn’t realize that “Fr.” meant “Father,” as in, “Oh, Father!” Somehow, I got the job — and plenty of awkward, funny moments ensued.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
One of my dearest friends, poet and writer Beth Ann Fennelly,
began as a pen pal when I wrote her a fan letter. We swapped postcards and emails for years before my family road-tripped to meet hers in Oxford, MS — I consider that a pilgrimage of sorts. My daughter is named Flannery
, after Ms. O’Connor, so I suspect a road trip to Milledgeville, GA, is in our future.
The author dressed as Flannery O'Connor, flanked by peacocks.
What scares you the most as a writer?
Finding a typo or mistake in an advance copy of a cookbook (which is more or less inevitable, amidst all those details). When I write about people and places for magazines, it means everything to “get it right,” because I want to capture and honor the essence of the stories they have to tell. In the big picture, I fear that I won’t get to all the books I want to write, and the personal stories I want to preserve for my children.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
I’ll Never Forget This Night: Memoirs of a Boozy Old Flirt
Just kidding — I’m not sure. I think that question is a lifetime pursuit.
Offer a favorite sentence from another writer.
“Imagine a morning in late November.” Truman Capote’s first sentence in "A Christmas Memory."
Then, I can’t help but add a couple Texas troubadours:
“I’m a high straight in Plainview / A side bet in Idalou / And a fresh deck in New Deal.” — Terry Allen
“Time, she’s a fast old train / She’s here then she’s gone / And she won’t come again / Won't you take my hand." — Townes Van Zandt
Share a sentence of your own that you're particularly proud of.
“He called it a Cadillac gig because the pay was steady and the acoustics were good.” It’s the first sentence of a vignette in Cowgirl Cuisine
, that describes Rusty Lawrence, the musician who played at the ranch once a week.
I’ve done a lot of travel writing for magazines. Sometimes the stars align and the lead comes easily — other times, it’s agonizing. Once, I struggled over the opening for a story about a party on a fish camp in Southwest Louisiana. Finally, it came to me: “You can’t get to this party without a boat.” It’s simple, but says everything I wanted to convey from the get-go.
Describe a recurring nightmare.
For years, it’s the same situation: I’m in a descending plane, watching the scene unfold from the cockpit. The scenario is either we have too much fuel to land (!), or the runway is shaped like a silly straw and we realize the landing is pretty much impossible.
A friend says that this means I don’t want to be like anyone else. I’m pretty sure it means I should drink less red wine.
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
I’ll tell you right after I take a “peak” inside this celebrity’s fabulous house!
Do you have any phobias?
There’s a very specific involuntary groan that rises from deep within my soul whenever I see a water bug (those awful giant cockroaches common in Texas). I’m also terrified of possums.
Name a guilty pleasure you partake in regularly.
If I start posting YouTube videos of Glen Campbell, Freddy Fender, or ABBA, I might have had a margarita or two.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Never order chicken in beef country,” from my friend Pat Sharpe, the food editor of Texas Monthly
Where and when are you happiest?
In a swimming pool, at dusk, with my children.
The Five Cookbooks That I Reach for Most Often (Right This Minute!):
My husband (David Norman, Head Baker and partner at Easy Tiger Bakeshop and Beer Garden) and I have a pretty substantial cookbook collection that’s been steadily growing over the last 18 or so years. They line shelves in my office, our kitchen, and living room. The books represent different chapters in our lives, and evolving culinary and cultural proclivities. Right now, I keep the following five close at hand. Gabrielle and Suzanne are both friends, and two of my food heroes. The kids and I love selecting and baking cookies from Dorie’s beautiful book. I can’t get enough from Six Seasons
(even though it makes me jealous of the farmer’s market in Portland, OR). Aaron Franklin is a friend and mentor — and my most trusted source for questions about smoke and fire.
by Gabrielle Hamilton
Sunday Suppers at Lucques
by Suzanne Goin
by Dorie Greenspan
Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables
by Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg
by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay
÷ ÷ ÷
was the former Cowgirl Chef at Hart and Hind Fitness Ranch in Rio Frio, Texas. Prior to that, she spent 10 years working as a food and travel writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times
, Food and Wine
, and Saveur
, among other major publications. Food52 Any Night Grilling
is her most recent book.