Q& A | Bonny Wolf
It All Began With A Doll on a Cake
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; Page F01
Listeners of NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" know the voice well: For three years, Bonny Wolf has been regaling them with monthly essays about food and the ways it connects us to our families, friends, even ancestors we never knew. In her new book, "Talking With My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories" (St. Martin's Press, November 2006), Wolf digs with gusto into topics such as Jell-O, real Texas chili, state fair meat-on-a-stick, the glories of popovers and the biological impulses behind comfort food.
Wolf, 56, grew up in Minnesota and has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor in New Jersey, Texas and Washington. She taught journalism at Texas A&M University and was chief speechwriter for two U.S. secretaries of agriculture. Besides delivering her radio essays, she is contributing editor of NPR's weekly online food column, "Kitchen Window."
She has lived on Capitol Hill with her husband, Michael, for 22 years. I interviewed her last week in front of an audience at the Borders on L Street NW. Excerpts from our conversation follows:
What's your earliest food memory?
You know, all my memories are connected to food, starting with my birthday cake when I was 5. My mother made this many-tiered cake with a doll in the top of it so it looked like Scarlett O'Hara with a giant skirt. I remember my wedding by the food; the birth of my son by what my mother cooked.
Did your mother make that cake every year?
She never made anything more than once. I'm like that. I try things when people come to dinner, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I have a chapter called "Dinner Disasters," which included the time I roasted a whole chicken in driveway salt. I also have a fire section, because I have caught my hair on fire, every potholder I own.
What were your first food experiences in my home state of Texas?
Chicken-fried steak is the very first thing I learned how to make.
I understand I may not have had good chicken-fried steak, because I know people like it. It's sort of like Wiener schnitzel, isn't it? There are a lot of German influences in Texas.
When I was in college in Austin, some places sold "chicken-fried chicken," which is not fried chicken, but chicken that's fried in the manner of chicken-fried steak, believe it or not.