RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Cara Nicoletti loves food. She loves food almost as much as she loves books. Over the years, she has found herself thinking about the delicious dishes woven into the stories she loved as a child. She's married her two great loves - literature and cooking - in a new book called "Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books." She joins us now. Hey Cara, thanks so much for being with us.
CARA NICOLETTI: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: So you've written this book as a collection of short biographical vignettes. First, let's talk about "In The Night Kitchen." This is a beautiful children's book by Maurice Sendak. And you write in this chapter about how this particular book inspired you when you were going through a tough time. It was 2010. Can you...
MARTIN: Tell me what was happening in your life?
NICOLETTI: 2010, it was sort of a perfect storm of everything going wrong at the same time. And I was living with my older sister and my - my boyfriend at the time in this little apartment in Brooklyn, which I still live in. And we all lost our jobs at the same time. And it was sort of post-holiday. I'd been working as a baker at a small restaurant in Brooklyn. And I kind of was wandering around the neighborhood the day that they laid me off, and I stumbled across this bakery that I had never seen before. It's down the street from my house, and it's an overnight baking facility. And it was full of conveyor belts full of bread rolling out. And it reminded me so much of "In The Night Kitchen," which I think was kind of perfect because so many of Sendak's characters are kind of wandering and lost and alone. And that was how I felt at that moment. But thankfully - usually, they all end up back in their beds and safe again, and I did too. I was fine.
MARTIN: OK, the next chapter in the book I want to talk about is your homage to "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath. And this is really interesting. It's been a long time since I've read this book, and I didn't remember there being a reference to avocados of any kind.
MARTIN: But you - you talk about crab-stuffed avocados in connection to "The Bell Jar."
MARTIN: What's the link there?
NICOLETTI: Well, in the book, she's going to all these fancy and...
MARTIN: I should say, this is a young woman named Esther.
NICOLETTI: Yes, sorry, Esther.
MARTIN: In New York, yeah.
NICOLETTI: And she goes to a luncheon. She's working at a fashion magazine, and they serve avocados with crab salad in them. And they're, like, covered in mayo. It sounds disgusting. And then everyone gets sick with food poisoning from whatever they ate at the luncheon, probably the crab salad that was sitting out at room temperature.
MARTIN: And you said, yes, that's the recipe I want to put in my book, the one that made everyone sick.
NICOLETTI: (Laughter) Well, so often, the food scenes that are the most powerful in books are not necessarily the most appetizing. But that doesn't make them any less powerful, so it's actually a really delicious salad. I updated it a little bit. And...
MARTIN: Tell me what's in it.
NICOLETTI: It's - instead of mayo, it has a citrus base. So it's really - it's fresh crab. And then there's cherry tomatoes and cilantro and red onion. And it's all tossed together, and you just put it in an avocado.
MARTIN: I imagine this was what your life was like before you did this project. I mean, when you were growing up, did you - did you fixate on the food in these - in these books? I mean, is this...
NICOLETTI: I did.
MARTIN: Something you've always done?
NICOLETTI: Yeah, it is something that I've been kind of obsessed with since I was a kid. When I was writing the book, my parents sent me a bunch of the books that I read when I was a kid. And they had, like, underlines in all the food sections, which I didn't even remember doing. It was something I kind of lost in the years in between and then came back to, but it was interesting to see.
MARTIN: Cara Nicoletti, her now book is called "Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books." Thanks so much for talking with us, Cara.
NICOLETTI: Thank you, Rachel.
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