Kathleen Ossip is the author of The Do-Over, a New York Times Editors’ Choice; The Cold War, which was one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of 2011; The Search Engine, which was selected by Derek Walcott for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize; and Cinephrastics, a chapbook of movie poems.
Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Best American Magazine Writing, the Washington Post, Paris Review, Poetry, The Believer, A Public Space, and Poetry Review (London). She teaches at The New School in New York, and she is the editor of the poetry review website SCOUT. She has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Here, Ossip discusses forbidden Cheez-Its, eating as procrastination, and being repulsed by corn.
On her all-time favorite meal:
My first answer: My mother’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner, which I’ve eaten with one or two exceptions, and with variations and innovations over the years, every November of my life. It is and was exactly as you’d imagine: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, lots of vegetable side dishes, lots of pies. The company is also predictable, and a little poignant as it waxes and wanes with the years: my parents, my three siblings, our spouses, our kids, some aunts and uncles, some cousins.
The two fancy meals were in restaurants with my husband: one anniversary meal at Nobu in New York, a frenzy of exquisite courses; and one dinner very early in our marriage when we were traveling through northern California. My father worked for a hospital at the time and he did business with a food service company that also ran restaurants, including one of those luxury-type places on the top of a tall building in San Francisco (I don’t remember its name), and we went there one night as guests of this company. We were greeted like royalty, given menus without prices, urged to order anything and everything we wanted, with suggested wine pairings. Although I don’t remember what we ate, it was probably the most lavish meal I ever had, and being treated like a princess always bolsters the appetite.
In current rotation at my house is a meal we call “vegetable feast”: broccoli sautéed with pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice and zest, and Parmesan cheese, plus tomato and basil bruschetta. We all enjoy it and that makes me happy. My relationship to food changed after I had a kid. It became less about gratifying hunger and more about the pleasure of nurturing. I can’t say I love cooking dinner but I do love making a tasty, healthful meal and watching my daughter eat it with gusto.
On her food quirks:
I’m repulsed by corn: I can barely look at a dish with even one kernel of corn in it.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
No light. I can’t really get hungry for dinner until it’s dark out. That means, in summer, dinner on Spanish time.
On snacking while writing:
I snack while not writing. Sitting down to write still causes me anxiety, and so I’ll procrastinate and one of the ways I procrastinate and manage my anxiety is to eat. Usually the way it works is I’ll start the neurotic “You should write/I can’t” inner monologue in the late morning, distract myself by doing clerical work like emails, editing, etc. for a while, then tell myself “I’ll start writing after lunch.” Then I go have lunch. I think this is why hummus was invented.
On her go-to late-night snack:
Favorite snack that I allow myself: salted cashews and dried cherries. Favorite snack that I don’t allow myself: Cheez-Its.
On her final meal request:
I’ve said that I eat when I’m anxious and that’s true, but when I get very very anxious and agitated I can’t eat a thing. I have to guess that under the circumstances of knowing I’m about to have my last meal, I’ll be very very anxious and won’t be able to eat.
On the other hand, if I’m lucky, maybe by that point I’ll be almost pure spirit and surrounded by those I love, past and present, holding my hands. I don’t know what you dine on when you’re pure spirit but I bet it tastes divine.