Jane Huffman’s poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, and elsewhere, and she is a 2019 recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. Jane is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently works for the Iowa Youth Writing Project. She is editor-in-chief of Guesthouse, an online literary journal. Find her on Twitter at @janechuffman.
Here, she talks about childhood voraciousness, late-night eating, and the nostalgia of post-theatre-rehearsal meals.
On her all-time favorite meal:
At the end of street where I grew up, there was a small, family-run Italian restaurant called DePalma’s. Dim chandeliers, low ceilings, lush red velour booths, cooks in crisp aprons smoking in the parking lot. On special occasions, my dad and I walked there for dinner. When he entered the quiet, tinkling anteroom with a seven-year old, other patrons made known their doubts: I was a child in a decidedly adult space.
But I was as polite as I was voracious—keeping pace with my father as the courses arrived: a breadbasket with several varieties including cinnamon snaps that looked like squares of weathered parchment; a three-bean bean salad tossed in shallots and vinegar; and then the entrée: chicken piccata with capers, artichoke hearts, and a white wine sauce. I ordered it every time, and every time, the waiter cast a dubious eye at my dad, who shrugged and said, “She’ll eat it.” After I cleaned my plate, I ordered a cannoli.
In the corner of the dining room, a pianist played tinny songs on a grand piano. He wore tails and cufflinks, a somewhat macabre character among suburban patrons in jeans and Detroit Lions sweatshirts. My dad always gave me a dollar so I could request the only song I knew he knew: “Over the Rainbow.” DePalma’s has since burned down in a fire, but somewhere in the recesses of my ego, I’m still there, stuffed and listening.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
The light is gone. I’ve come home from a long day to a silent apartment. I can finally undress, wash my face, and tuck into some leftovers. That’s decadence.
On snacking while writing:
I’m not much of a snacker these days, but if I’m writing, I’m usually drinking coffee. If I’m lucky, it’s still hot. If I get hungry, I’ll reach for some grapes if they’re within reaching distance, or tortilla chips with hot salsa, or a peanut butter and honey sandwich.
On her go-to late-night snack:
I work odd hours and do a lot of freelancing from home, so a late-night snack usually translates to dinner. I like to make simple recipes with lots of protein and fibrous ingredients: chard and feta omelets, canned tomato soup with a grilled cheese on some dark 12-grain bread, Caesar salad with rotisserie chicken, a protein and rice with a curry sauce, pork chops with egg noodles, stuffed peppers if I’ve prepared and frozen them, an old-school BLT, etc. I’m not much of a cook, but I’m learning.
When I can afford it, I really enjoy carry-out, and I’m lucky to live in a town with a lot of fantastic local restaurants. There’s a café across the street that serves the greatest, cheapest vegetarian breakfast burrito on the planet that’s packed with eggs, potatoes, veggies, avocado, and cheese. I’ll order one for pick-up on my way home from work so it’s ready when I get there. It comes wrapped in piping hot aluminum foil.
On her food quirks:
Not really, though I think I use more napkins than the average bear. There’s a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode about that. I’m watching that whole series for the first time, and I think Larry David has put me off of food quirks for the rest of my life. Maybe food, too. Anyway, I love a cloth napkin, or a dish towel in a pinch. There’s something very soothing about holding it my lap, and I have a bit of a tick where I fold and unfold it. I also like that that you can toss a cloth napkin in the wash to reuse and reuse, and once it’s in tatters, it has a comfortable afterlife as a kitchen rag.
On her final meal request:
When I was in high school, my mom often picked me up from theatre rehearsals late in the evening. She arrived with a meal on the passenger seat—whatever she cooked for dinner kept warm-ish between two plates—which I ate on the ride home. I think I’d want to go out with that one. In the car with my mom, driving down dark roads, eating meatloaf, stage makeup melting down my cheeks. She would cart me off to the other side.