Susan Orlean is the bestselling author of eight books, including The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup; My Kind of Place; Saturday Night; and Lazy Little Loafers. Orlean has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1992. Her work has also been published in Esquire, Rolling Stone, Outside, Smithsonian, and the New York Times. She has frequently served as a literary judge for competitions, including the National Book Awards, Bellevue Literary Awards, and Iowa Review award. She lives in Los Angeles and in upstate New York with her husband and son.
Here, she discusses ravenous late-night snacking, quitting gum cold turkey, and salting her oatmeal.
On her all-time favorite meal:
About ten years ago, I was traveling with a friend to the northernmost city in Maine, and we stopped at a little restaurant that teetered on the very edge between the US and Canada. It was a very simple café, and we didn’t expect much from it. But the meal was fresh trout, caught moments before it was cooked, and it was the most amazing thing I’d ever eaten. Everything accompanying it was equally fresh – corn that someone had just harvested (or so it seemed), and a green salad that was straight out of a garden. We could hardly talk through the meal because we were so flabbergasted by how delicious everything was.
On describing how the light looks during her favorite meal of the day:
Gauzy. Pinked by sunrise. I’m not sure that breakfast is really my favorite meal, but if I had to pick one, that would be it. I love sitting at the table early in the morning with a good cup of coffee and savoring the early light. In California, where I live now, that’s usually before it gets hot, so it’s especially pleasant, and the light is not yet the harsher glare of midday. It’s a kind of tender moment before the day really settles in. And with a good cup of coffee, I’m really happy.
On snacking while writing:
NEVER!! It’s a slippery slope. If I ate while I was writing I would be eating constantly. I don’t get hungry while I’m writing anyway. I do drink too much Diet Coke and I used to chew prodigious amounts of Orbit Blue gum. I went cold turkey on the gum but I still drink too much Diet Coke.
On her go-to late-night snack:
I am a maniac when I’m trolling for late-night snacks. My fallback is graham crackers and milk and a piece of chocolate. I also just learned how to make a s’mores in the microwave, so that’s a variation I’m fond of. If there are cookies in the house, I will eat them.
On her food quirks:
I salt my oatmeal. I despise bananas.
My food quirk with salt has an interesting backstory: I used to have a Bhutanese boyfriend, and in Bhutan, most food is either bland or spicy but rarely sweet. He was horrified by American breakfast food—syrupy pancakes, sweet cereal, sugar in coffee, brown sugar on oatmeal. He seemed to like oatmeal itself, though, so one day he took a bowl of it, salted it and put chili powder on it, and declared it a perfect breakfast. I thought it sounded disgusting—until I tried it. I got completely hooked, and continued eating oatmeal with salt and chili powder long after the relationship had passed its expiration date. I have returned to putting brown sugar on it now, but I throw on a lot of salt; I think he trained my taste buds to prefer that tangy flavor rather than the cloying sweetness of just sugar.
On her final meal request:
Cold fried chicken, carrot sticks, chocolate layer cake. It’s eaten on a picnic blanket in the woods. The temperature is about 68 and it’s sunny. I’m eating it with my sister, because we came up with this menu together when I was about eight years old, so I owe it to her to share.