Sammi Skolmoski is a writer and fiber artist born, living, and probably dying in Chicago. She is the managing editor at Featherproof Books and a headline contributor at The Onion, with work regularly published at Reductress, The Hard Times, Bandcamp Daily, and elsewhere. Her first book, a translation of several screenplays by the Dardenne brothers, came out in June.
Here, she talks about family traditions, eating at the kitchen counter, and the impulse to order every potato item at a Polish restaurant.
On her all-time favorite meal:
When I hear “meal” I think the act of the meal, not food, and for me that has a very concrete definition in the form of Sunday night dinners with the Italian side of my family. My grandparents lived in a two-flat with my grandma’s sister and her husband, one pair in each flat, on the west side of Chicago and that’s where we all went, same place my mom and aunts and uncle were raised, every Sunday, hours long, eating off of dishes printed with some country house through changing seasons. Pasta is a course, not a meal. When I make gravy today, tomorrow, it’s according to this smell.
I need to mention one other singular meal which took place at the only secondary location we patronized for every occasion growing up, Sabatino’s, in Chicago, which, devastatingly, recently closed after 41 years. Two dear friends were finally there with me while they were in town for something like 18 hours. A meal there can last about that time. Should. We ate and drank slowly. I got what I always got, and they navigated the absurd amount of food with grace and deference. An ancient violin player and his accordion tail always strolled table to table taking requests, mostly Rat Pack, people leaning into the atmosphere and all. I slipped him a secret and a $5 bill, and, in what was maybe the only truly perfect moment in my life, I leaned back in my chair with my wine and some smirk I never felt before, prolonged eye contact with my friends, just as they launched into my request: the theme from the Godfather. The rest of the restaurant laughed, but one of my friends started crying, it was all too much tacky goodness, and then I did a little bit too.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
To me, a meal only happens very late in the day when I physically cannot go on working any longer without a break. I make a conscious effort to stop, cook, eat, do the dishes–an enclosed series of gestures that require me to be away from my desk. I am grateful for the break. So my favorite meal of the day is typically my only meal-meal of the day, and like a cartoon Lonely Woman I eat it standing at my countertop in the kitchen staring out the window. Regardless of the time of year, the light is lovely. Either the sun is setting or the dusk is heavy glowing blue.
On snacking while writing:
I never have an appetite when writing, probably because in those moments I am actively aware that I have chosen writing as a life path, which makes me nauseous. I drink coffee until my body rejects it, and then I switch to decaf. I take it with one ice cube and cinnamon if you’re making some.
On late-night snacking:
I am pretty good about not eating late–not because I have any self-respect, but because I have nightmares if I eat too close to bedtime. But: olives, pickled things.
On her food habits and quirks:
Habits, yes. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, always will be. Dairy-free or vegan for the last eight. Sugar makes me tired, so starches are largely avoided too. I listen to my body, so minor deviations happen on occasion, usually involving, like, a piece of bread (she said, the frenzied reader sent reeling from the high-octane thrills of this answer).
Onward to the quirks: When I eat popcorn, I eat it like a lizard. That is, I hold it in front of my mouth and then reach for it; it sticks to tongues. I eat blueberries often, despite being allergic. I carry around with me a strong conceptual impulse to walk into a restaurant, probably a Polish one, and blindly order every potato product on the menu. (I have not.)
On her final meal request:
If I don’t say it’s my mom’s eggplant parm and that I’m eating it with her, whatever I eat before I see her next will be my last meal. Whatever it is, there better be giardiniera nearby, and it better be hot.