Erin Elizabeth Smith is the Creative Director at the Sundress Academy for the Arts and the Managing Editor of Sundress Publications. Her third full-length poetry collection, Down, will be published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2020. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Guernica, Ecotone, Mid-American, Tupelo Quarterly Crab Orchard Review, and Willow Springs, among others. She is a Distinguished Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Tennessee, and in 2017 she was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame.
Here, she talks about birthday crawfish boils, making twice as much rice for leftovers, and an incredibly hefty pantry.
On her all-time favorite meal:
Every year for my birthday I throw a crawfish boil. I did my PhD at the University of Southern Mississippi and fell in love with Gulf culture there. I don’t remember the first boil I ever went to, but I do remember the first one I threw; it was for my 28th birthday, and I’d just successfully defended my dissertation that morning. I came home, cracked open a beer in celebration, and then got to hosing off mudbugs in a kiddie pool. We had probably 30 people come out to celebrate and eventually got the cops called on us for chain sawing wood for our fire pit at around 11PM. There’s something about a communal table of food that you eat with your hands that brings out something deeply human and old in us; also, it’s spicy.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
Like lamplight through front yard trees, a small orange sun cutting in and out with the wind. On these darker nights, there’s also usually a fire in my stove and a oil lamp lit on my living room table where I usually eat.
On snacking while writing:
As an editor, I spend hours in front of my computer working on editing, formatting, and promoting the books at Sundress Publications. I’ll often eat my breakfast in front of the computer, which is usually rice-based—basmati tossed in homemade pesto topped with duck egg, bone broth with rice and greens, fried rice with egg and fried garlic. I always make twice as much rice as I need so I’ll have some in the refrigerator the next day.
On her go-to late-night snack:
If I’m eating after dinner, it’s usually a plate of blue cheese—Maytag is my favorite for this, though there’s not really a blue I’ll say no too—with a glass of port. I’m one of those few folks who doesn’t care for chocolate, but I make up for it in cheese consumption.
On her food quirks:
Oh yes. My friends poke jest at me about sprinkling my salt like a Food Network personality. I have a tendency to put eggs in or on everything, partially because I own a lot of chickens and ducks at Firefly Farms. I don’t really like breads or pastas, so I make a lot of rice and potato dishes. I own about 70 cookbooks and use them regularly. I start thinking about my meals days in advance. When I travel, I read the menus of all of the interesting restaurants in the city. I’ve eaten pretty much every organ in an animal and when people ask “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten?” I have a laundry list rather than a singular answer. My pantry is filled with everything from amaranth to dried jellyfish to Polish potted meats to mustard oil. I have over 100 spices, all in alphabetical order in a specialty spice rack my partner engineered and built for me.
When I asked my partner if I had any food quirks, he just laughed and laughed and then walked out of the room.
My joke is that my last meal would be amanita mushrooms and improperly cut blowfish. But in all honesty, it’d probably be a plate of raw West Coast oysters with lemon and horseradish. I’d be with my partner and friends on a porch looking out on the ocean where the shellfish and the sea smell the same, drinking cheap champagne and ordering fish dips off the menu when we drank too much. Despite this being my last meal, I’m definitely making plans about what we’re all going to be doing together tomorrow.