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Author Interview: Astrid Tuttle Winegar

astridAny regular visitor to the Legendarium site is no doubt aware of Astrid Tuttle Winegar’s wonderful fantasy-inspired recipes. In addition to being a staff writer, Astrid is also the author of Cooking for Halflings & Monsters: 111 Comfy, Cozy Recipes for Fantasy-Loving Souls, now available for pre-sale through Oloris Publishing and releasing soon. The Legendarium team is thrilled to support Astrid in this endeavor (I personally pre-ordered several copies–Christmas is just around the corner!), and are excited to share with you more about the wonderful cook and person behind the recipes. Enjoy!

Which came first, your love of cooking or your love of science fiction and fantasy?

Cooking came in third here, oddly enough. My first love was fantasy, namely, the Chronicles of Narnia. I suppose a helpful librarian suggested those stories to me in early elementary school. Favorite Chronicle? I have two, and they remain my favorites even now: The Horse and His Boy and The Magician’s Nephew. My second love was science fiction in the form of Star Trek, in later elementary school. Good thing the normal syndication procedures didn’t work for Star Trek (meaning, four seasons were usually required) and the networks went ahead and syndicated the three seasons. Favorite character? Spock. So, a love for cooking developed more in my teen years.

How do you create your recipes? What’s your creative process?cooking-for-halflings-cover

Recipe creation comes in many forms. Sometimes, I’ll go to a restaurant and I’ll order something that I decide to try to copy/improve at home. Other times, I’ll hear about a combination of ingredients and I’ll use them in a whole different dish. With this particular cookbook, which was originally based specifically on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, I utilized the text to come up with items. Thus, I have recipes for Rabbit Braised with Herbs, Apple and Raspberry Jam Tart, and Hild’s Mushroom Bacon Dish of Might. Readers who are familiar with Tolkien’s text should be able to recognize the references there. I also did some research into medieval foods, which produced a few ideas for other recipes that seemed harmonious with the world of Middle-earth.

Once an idea forms, I scrawl basic ingredients on a piece of scrap paper (usually the back side of a bill or something like that; I thought computers would produce less paper in our lives…). I add it to my menu rotation and give it a go, and I usually change proportions and seasonings, but sometimes I don’t. Occasionally, I’ll luck out and get a good recipe right away. A recipe is usually tested at least three times before it’s written in one of my large spiral notebooks, by hand. This means it’s a keeper. If I have to fuss with a recipe too many times and it still is giving me trouble, I eventually abandon it. This probably happens about 5% of the time, so I figure that’s pretty good. I torture my family members by asking them questions like, “Do you like this? Could it be better? What should I change?” They probably get tired of this relentless interrogation…

What do you like most about cooking?

Besides the eating? I think it’s a sort of Zen state—I get in the kitchen, and I can focus on creating something tangible, something that can be shared with family members around the table. Even if you’re dining alone, however, it is still satisfying to create a dish, sit at your table, and enjoy it. Is my life always so tranquil? Not really; inevitably, I get a phone call or some other interruption and the kitchen turns into a hectic place. But there can still be focus on the task, even through the cleaning-up stage.

Which was your favorite recipe to create, and which is your favorite to eat?

That’s a hard one, partly because all of this work was mostly completed a few years ago. The most exotic one was Treasured Tidbits; I had never worked with seaweed before. It was a challenge to come up with the perfect proportions and took some time to get the sushi rolls relatively tight. The most challenging one was One Wizard’s Precious Delight. I was trying to re-imagine the concept of Turkish Delight, even to deconstruct it somehow, but I ended up going back to a more traditional treatment. Since this is Narnian, it was never in my original cookbook, and was developed solely for the current edition.

I think my favorite to eat would change any time someone asks me. Today, I have a hankering for The Exquisite Soup of Master Mage Stormgutz—curry, cream, salmon, crunchy croutons—but it’s not on the menu tonight, alas. I’ve really been wanting to make Richard’s Orange Biscuits lately. Next week, I’ll probably pine for something different. My husband’s absolute favorite is named for him in the cookbook, Bob’s Obsession. This is coleslaw, and it’s a recipe we have once a month. As a matter of fact, I’m making it tonight! But his other favorite (which he mentioned yesterday) is Hild’s Mushroom Bacon Dish of Might.

Why should people buy Cooking for Halflings and Monsters?

My cookbook is bursting with comfort food recipes that will help the reader evoke a sense of warmth and community. The recipes range from easy to relatively difficult, with plenty in between—they are fantastically delicious! Full-color photographs accompany each recipe; lovely hand-drawn artwork peppers the pages. You don’t even have to like halflings or monsters; you just have to love food. (I think it’s really hard to sum up why one should buy one’s book, isn’t it…?)

What’s next for you?

While I’ve been waiting for the publishing process (it’s a LONG story; part of which is in my current cookbook), I’ve fiddled with the idea of exploring other lands for ideas. In this fantasy, I would write cookbooks about the lands of “North America,” and “Europe,” and “Asia.” I would fill these cookbooks with more anecdotes about my family as well as looking into the history and mythology of these places. I have MANY recipes already in development, now it’s just a matter of sitting down to write about them. We’ll see how it goes.

To pre-order Cooking for Halflings & Monsters: 111 Comfy, Cozy Recipes for Fantasy-Loving Souls, visit here:

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