Rebecca Makkai is the Chicago-based author of the novels The Borrower and The Hundred-Year House, and the new collectionMusic for Wartime — six stories from which have appeared in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Nonrequired Reading. The recipient of a 2014 NEA Fellowship, Rebecca has taught at the Tin House Writers’ Conference and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and is currently on the faculty of the MFA programs at Sierra Nevada College and Northwestern University.
Here, she talks a revitalizing meal, the glories of wine and mac n’ cheese, and how leftovers don’t count calorically.
On her all-time favorite meal:
A couple of years ago, I passed out on book tour. Not at a reading, thank god, but at a party afterwards. I hadn’t eaten all day and was dealing with a sinus infection. Everyone assumed I’d passed out drunk, just because there was a lot of alcohol around. That was the most embarrassing part; what a strange feeling to wake up completely disoriented and try to explain to people that you aren’t wasted, when you can hear yourself sounding wasted. But within a few minutes I was making sense again, and was able to explain that I hadn’t eaten. My media escort (the guy who’d picked me up at the airport, driven me to the book store, etc.) was also a chef and food stylist; part of his business often involved pre-prepping meals for chefs who were going to appear on morning talk shows. He went into the kitchen of my friends’ house and made me the best plate of scrambled eggs I’ve ever had in my life, with a side of crusty baguette. I have no idea what he did to these eggs. I’m pretty good at scrambled eggs, and I’ve eaten them in some decent restaurants, but these were magically soft and I wish I could eat them every day of my life.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
Afternoon sunlight coming in right at migraine level through kitchen window; kids outside playing in yard with neighbors. Possibly too early for wine, but no one is there to judge. This is the third meal of the day, about two hours before grownup dinner: First sip of red wine. Then a wooden spoonful of the kids’ Annie’s organic mac and cheese, straight off the wooden spoon, right over the stove. Only, because the cheese mix hasn’t been entirely stirred in yet, you can scrape the extra cheese powder off the spoon with your teeth. And then take another sip of wine, like a grownup. Then another wooden spoonful of cheese powder. Repeat.
On snacking while writing:
Okay, there are these weird rice-based Frisbee things that they make in front of you right at the grocery store. They’re like puffed-rice discs with zero nutritional value and ten calories. They’re probably terrible for you, but I don’t want to know. So you take one of those, and you spread one low-fat Laughing Cow cheese wedge on it, and on top of that you squirt a lot of Sriracha. Resultant snack is about 50 calories but looks vaguely like a pizza, and is crunchy and spicy and somewhat filling. Also, you don’t really need to refrigerate Laughing Cow, so you can keep these ingredients in your room at a writing residency. But probably in a Tupperware, because most residencies have mice.
On her go-to late-night snack:
Leftovers, which totally do not count calorically, because it’s not like you’re having a fifth meal, it’s just like you had a slightly larger dinner consisting of exactly twice as much as you ate the first time around.
On her food quirks:
I do not know what you’re talking about, she said as she tooth-scraped more cheese powder off the wooden spoon and washed it down with a Sriracha Frisbee.
On her final meal request:
Hopefully I’m eating it with my great-grandchildren. I’m going with incredibly spicy Indian food, because by that point most of my taste buds will be gone; and if it’s my last meal, I don’t have to suffer any of the consequences. Butter chicken, palak paneer, chana masala, baingan bharta. If I can still chew, samosas. We can eat it on the sun-filled terrace I plan to have by the time I’m old.