Sunni Brown Wilkinson’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Adirondack Review, Sugar House Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and other journals and anthologies. She is the author of The Marriage of the Moon and the Field (Black Lawrence Press 2019) and her poem “Rodeo” won New Ohio Review’s inaugural NORward Poetry Prize. She teaches at Weber State University and lives in northern Utah with her husband and three young sons.
Here, she talks about Austrian yogurt, her cold cereal fetish, and being her most human self.
On her all-time favorite meal:
I’m not sure mine would be an entire meal, but I can say that one of the best foods I’ve ever had in my life was the yogurt my husband and I ate in Salzburg, Austria. It was like nothing I’ve eaten before or since. Absolutely fresh and creamy. The centuries old monastery-turned-hotel we stayed at served a breakfast of butter croissants, fresh fruit, fresh juices, granola, and that yogurt that I couldn’t get enough of. That was three years ago, and it’s ruined mass-produced, American yogurt for me forever. It made me truly lament the way we process our foods, particularly our dairy. All of those additives and preservatives take all of the freshness away, and we’re left with half a taste, if that. I still need to try making my own, which I do think will get me closer to that Austrian version, but I don’t think it will be the same. Every time my husband and I reminisce about our 10th anniversary river cruise down the Danube, the memory of that yogurt comes to me, and I say we have to go to Austria again, if just for another taste of that yogurt (and, yes, the majestic views of the Alps).
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
It’s first light, weak but growing. We can hear the birds outside, waking up the world. I open the shutters all over our house, and the first streaks of dawn—usually gold, sometimes orange—are stretching across the sky. We live right next to mountains, and the sunrises on those snowy peaks these days feel magical. My older boys are eating cereal, and I can smell the English muffin toasting for my kindergartner. The butter will melt into a little pool on each slice, and then we’ll spread the honey into it, and he’ll sit for a long time at the breakfast table relishing each bite. It’s my favorite meal because it’s simple and the beginning of everything possible that day.
Breakfast foods in particular carry a kind of refreshment that no other meal can parallel. Perfectly crispy English muffins with butter and homemade apricot jam, springy blueberry muffins that pout a puff of steam when you cut them open, German pancakes with fresh strawberries and powdered sugar (the breakfast of the gods), crepes with fresh raspberries and whipped cream. Is it any wonder that IHOP has made a killing for so many years? Breakfast means a fresh beginning, comfort, the warmth of your robe and slippers and your feet swinging happily at the kitchen table, just like when you were a kid. I actually favor breakfast-for-dinner over traditional dinners, but my husband isn’t a big fan, so I try to do it sparingly. I feel kind of sheepish when he comes home and I’m making waffles (again) because I wanted to find an excuse to eat large amounts of whipped cream and syrup for dinner.
Incidentally, my other favorite thing to cook for dinner is quiche, and it just now occurred to me that that may be because it can double as a breakfast dish too.
On snacking while writing:
Unfortunately, I snack a lot while I write. I wish I could say it was baby carrots, but it’s more like crackers or caramel popcorn or M & Ms. Last year I raided my kids’ Halloween candy bowl while I was working on a new poem I was particularly excited about, and I was horrified to discover, after a couple of hours of intense writing, that my desk was covered in mini candy bar wrappers. This morning, however, my oldest son and I committed to each other that we would lay off treats completely for a month: our version of Dry January. So my morning writing snack was a bowl of Skinny Pop. It got me by, but it wasn’t nearly as pleasurable.
On her go-to late-night snack:
My husband makes fun of me because I have a lifelong fetish with cold cereal. Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Corn Chex, or Special K (Vanilla & Almond or Cinnamon & Pecan or Fruit & Yogurt) with cold milk is about the most satisfying thing I can imagine at the end of the day. The pairing of crunchy and creamy is ingenious.
Cold cereal is like the poor college student’s version of breakfast, the best meal of the day, and since I was a poor college student (and a poor adjunct instructor) for so long, it takes me back to those simpler days. It also feels nice to end the day with a nod to the way you began it. Plus, it’s quick and generally low calorie, so I don’t feel terrible about eating that just before bed. (Not that I cared much about calories the rest of the day.)
On her food quirks:
I’ve hated peppers ever since I can remember. We grow a vegetable garden every year, and I’m sorry to say that we only planted peppers one or two years because I just couldn’t do anything with them. Ridiculous, huh? We devour the green beans and tomatoes and cucumbers. My palette just never took to peppers.
I am nuts about fresh strawberries and raspberries. We had both in our backyard at the house we just moved from, and nothing made me happier than picking them first thing in the morning. I’d plunk them onto our cereal, or, later that night, whip them into fresh strawberry or raspberry shakes to eat while we watched a movie for family movie night.
I can be embarrassingly barbaric when eating popcorn. You should have seen the Skinny Pop mess I just made writing most of these responses. It looked like an army of squirrels tore into the bag, threw it around, and trampled it into confetti. I don’t take one kernel at a time; I try to stuff in an entire fistful of popcorn all at once, shoving the last pieces into any spare corner of my mouth. For a grown woman, I am seriously lacking in refined table manners, but I can usually pass for “civilized” until popcorn comes into the picture. Then I’m just like one of my sons: jamming the food in as fast as I can so the other boys don’t get my share.
On her final meal request:
This one is easy. I’d be sitting at our picnic table on our patio with my husband and three sons (preferably in August or September) and we’d be eating a simple meal from our garden. Probably this pasta dish I make where I sauté a little garlic in butter and fresh lemon juice, then toss it into some angel hair pasta and add broiled grape tomatoes, mushrooms, and baby spinach and top it off with salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. Add a side of cooked green beans from our garden, corn on the cob from our neighbor’s garden, and a loaf of my favorite homemade bread (simply called “Crusty No-Knead Bread”) with its cracked brown top and warm insides, and you have my perfect meal.
We’ve actually eaten this meal in this setting multiple times, and it always feels like we are just being our best, most human selves. Once after a meal like this, my then three-year-old son looked out at the sunset in front of us and the homey setting around him and said, “It’s a good life, living here.” It felt profound for a toddler, but it was a simple, honest observation. It was the essence of home, and he was happy there. And any meal, for me, is more meaningful at home because it means my family is together and, even though the world is in chaos, I can rest easy that they’re safe. Plus, meals on the patio in late summer mean we get to eat in bare feet, and there’s nothing better than that.