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Nicole Villeneuve of Paper and Salt talks about how she unearths her authors’ beloved recipes and her favorite bookshops in NYC.
Here, the blogs you should be reading right now with recipes and tips from their creators
The Blog: On her blog, Paper and Salt, the self-declared literary fan-girl Nicole Villeneuve writes about what her favorite authors love to eat and cook.
What are your favorite recipes?
For sheer deliciousness, it’s hard to beat James Joyce’s rigatoni con stracotto (a total comfort dish)and the KitKat icebox cake I made for Roald Dahl’s birthday. But some of my favorite posts involve unexpected discoveries about the author—that kale was popular preferred croissants to madeleines.
How do you approach creating a post? Does it start with reading something an author wrote, or does it start with the food?
I usually start a post by reading authors’ letters or diaries—that’s where they’re most likely to share what they’re cooking, dish about an amazing meal, pass along a recipe to a friend. (That’s what most of my letters and journal entries are all about too, so I guess it’s universal!) I’ve stumbled across wonderful things that way, like E.B. White’s favorite cocktail recipe, or Susan Sontag's pizza orders.
Other times, though, I get curious about which authors might have shared my love of certain foods, and then the research goes the other direction; I search through biographies and letters for mentions of specific dishes, and see what comes up. I found out about Thomas Pynchon’s taco fixation that way, as well as Nietzsche’s bipolar relationship with risotto. And readers of the blog know that I’m always on the lookout for authors who were chocolate fanatics—those are the best recipes to test. Luckily, chocolate and coffee seem to be two of the most popular writing tools. I think we’d have a tremendous lack of reading material without them.
Letters collections, diaries and biographies are my staples, but some of my favorite posts are recipes that have been discovered in authors’ papers or passed down through family, and haven’t been published yet—like Elizabeth Bishop’s brownies or L. Frank Baum’s gingerbread cakes. Those always feel like you’re unearthing something special, and getting to know an author in a new way.
Are there any authors you’ve been dying to write about but can’t find a food connection or is there always one?
I would love to do a post about Nabokov or Vonnegut—two of my all-time favorite writers—but sometimes my searches don’t turn up much, and if that’s the case I make sure not to force it. Not everyone likes to cook, as anyone who has met my boyfriend will attest (although he, like both Nabokov and Vonnegut, is perfectly happy to eat)!
What are some of your favorite sources for books in New York City?
We’re so lucky to have beautiful, creative and tenacious independent bookstores here. The Strand is a favorite, just for awe-inspiring scale and the ability to lose yourself—there’s no other place like it. But for more calming book oases in the rush of the city, I love Housing Works in Soho and Greenlight in Brooklyn. Posman Books in Chelsea Market gets a special mention for an incredible selection of cookbooks. And I’ll greatly miss Rizzoli Bookstore, which closed in April but is planning to reopen soon, so keep an eye out for it.
What food-related blogs are you absolutely loving right now?
Eat This Poem is another food-meets-writing blog that always inspires me. Emiko Davies’s Italian cooking is like a mini vacation every time you make it. And then there are the daily reads: Love and Lemons, 101 Cookbooks, Five and Spice, A Sweet Spoonful and Smitten Kitchen are among them.
Kristin Donnelly is a former editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.