Michael Martone was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the home, then, of Eckrich Meats. Martone ate sandwiches constructed with Eckrich cold cuts: Bologna, Old Fashioned Loaf, Olive Loaf, Honey Loaf, and Pickle & Pimento Loaf. He is the author and editor of over twenty books, including, most recently, Memoranda and Winesburg, Indiana. He lives in Tuscaloosa, where he teaches at the University of Alabama.
Here, he talks about cashew rewards, stolen spoons, and surrounding himself with the people from his writing life.
On his all-time favorite meal:
It is either Greek mezze or a Maryland crab cake, broiled with crackers. I guess I will go with the mezze, the little plates you find in every restaurant of Greece, each with slight variations and local improvisations. Olives, a slab of feta dressed with oil and oregano, pistachios, tzatziki with lots of garlic and skodalia (the garlic and potato dip), grilled octopus, taramosalta and melitzanosalta, fava beans, dolmades, spanakopita, tiropita, or horiatiki (the village salad of onion, cucumbers, tomatoes bell peppers, olives, more olives, no lettuce), a great bread, maybe keftedes or souvlaki, maybe some stifado (an onion stew), or maybe some hummus or even kibbeh though that’s further afield. I did have an amazing pumpkin kibbeh in Central Square in Cambridge, MA, one time long ago. All with a glass of retsina or orzo.
It must have been in Baltimore where I was introduced to both the crab cake and Greek mezze by my wife’s family. And maybe why I think of the Maryland crab cake as part of the mezze line-up. Once, on Skyros, an island in the Sporades, Theresa and I had a miraculous mezze at Yanni’s (always best when the chef is named Yanni) outside (always outside is best) on a late summer evening, on a cliff looking out over the Aegean completely lightless and pitch when this moon, this full to overflowing moon, surfaced out of the sea, defining the horizon, the color, the exact color, of Yanni’s homemade retsina in our cut-glass glasses that the big ol’ moon’s moonlight was now burnishing.
On snacking while writing:
I don’t snack while I write. In graduate school, I would reward myself for writing by going over to the snack shop in Levering Hall and getting a quarter pound bag of whole roasted cashews, salted and still warm, and eat them on a bench, at times with a small Coke. I always used to say that cashews were proof of the existence of God, they tasted that good. This was a reward because cashews cost so much, dear on a graduate student’s stipend. But they were elegant and efficiently eaten, no shells, their hulls being poisonous (or so I heard) adding to the exotic and extreme nature of the act. The sugary pop was just right with the fatted salt of cashew fruit.
On what the light looks like during his favorite meal of the day:
Well, hard to recreate the light of that night on Skyros. I do like bright light at lunch for meals in restaurants. A clean, well-lighted place indeed, when it can’t be a late night Greek island dinner.
On his go-to late-night snack:
I like a square or two of very dark chocolate or a cup of hot chocolate. Recently, I have discovered oatcakes. Those are very good. Or frozen cherries, thawed, with a thick yogurt in a porcelain restaurant-ware bowl. Mine is from a Steak ‘n’ Shake with the winged logo on the side: In Sight It Must Be Right. I use an old Northwest Airlines spoon.
On eating chili and soup:
When I have soup or chili out, I enjoy breaking up the accompanying crackers inside the wrapping or bag in the case of oyster crackers. I like to pinch and crumb each one before opening up the plastic and spilling out the salty debris and mix it in with the soup or chili, a kind of dusting, thickening.
On his final meal request:
That is what is nice about mezze. The more the merrier. That would be the meal. And if I could, I would eat it with as many of the other writers I have written with over the last 35 years of teaching. I guess I am thinking of dinners at the annual AWP—big tables surrounded by all these people who are from all different times and places of my life writing. There was the time in New Orleans, an AWP, with a dozen or more people at the table, and I knew all of them and none of them knew each other but they all had me in common. The place doesn’t matter as much as everyone from all over being able to get to it at the same time.