Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of The Surrender Tree, Enchanted Air, Forest World, Drum Dream Girl, and a recent verse memoir Soaring Earth. She is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the NSK Neustadt Prize, a Newbery Honor, multiple Pura Belpré Awards, International Latino Book awards and honors, among many others. She served as the Young People’s Poet Laureate from 2017 to 2019.
Here, she talks about a traditional Cuban meal, sugar overload, and a final meal of, well, mostly coffee.
On her all-time favorite meal:
My most memorable meal was a guateque (outdoor party) on my great-uncle’s farm in Cuba when I was a child. A piglet was marinated in bitter orange and garlic, wrapped in banana leaves, and roasted in a pit in the ground. I cried when the pig was killed, but I ate the meat, yellow rice, black beans, yuca al mojo de ajo, plátanos fritos, and a fruit called mamonsillo. I have never experienced anything as traditional in the U.S., where I don’t have a large extended family.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
My favorite meal is breakfast, because I’m a morning person. Coffee is my favorite part of the meal, and sunrise is my favorite time to read poetry.
On snacking while writing:
When writing is going well, there is a time flow that takes me outside of ordinary reality, so until I take a break, there is no other activity. No snacking, no phone, no talking to other people. Solitude. Silence. Imagination.
On her go-to late-night snack:
If I could have my way, all three meals and every snack would be coffee ice cream, but my health would suffer, so I rarely eat any snacks after dinner. When I do, it’s usually something reasonably healthy like nuts, or fruit and cheese.
On her food quirks:
Once again, this is bad for my health, so I hardly ever let myself do it, but if I were to yield to the temptation of an inherited quirk, I would do what my mother used to do: boil a can of condensed milk for an hour to make dulce de leche, eat it with a spoon, and feel dizzy from the sugar overload.
On her final meal request:
There’s no point having a balanced meal at that point, so: coffee, coffee ice cream with hot fudge syrup, and dulce de leche, with my husband, children, grandchildren, parents, sister, cousins, and friends.