by Ellen Lewis
It was that time of year. I snuggled up on my sofa with my fuzzy blanket, seasonal coffee, and warmed up pumpkin muffin. I opened a brand new horror novel, and suddenly...it was all wrong! Sure, I was eating fall foods and reading a spooky story, but I wasn’t in the right mood. It took me a minute to realize that the pumpkin muffin was making me feel warm and cozy, not ready to read about blood and monsters.
As you sit down to read your favorite type of book, are you indulging in the correct food or drink—the one that will set the mood for your reading and not pull you out of it? Consider giving these suggestions a try to bring your reading experience to the next level. Embrace different genres by using food and drink to transport you to another world.
So where did I go wrong in my own example, with the seasonal muffin? After all, pumpkin is a typical fall food, and horror, though enjoyable year round, does have that spooky quality you often find around Halloween. It all fit. And therein lay the mistake. It fit. Good horror is not just about monsters or creaky staircases. Good horror makes you uncomfortable. It takes the mundane and expected and makes you unable to anticipate its next move because nothing acts as it should.
So, how would one enhance their horror story with an appropriate snack? Go for the jarring and unexpected choice! Does your horror story take place in the fall? Eat an Easter Peep! How about a refreshing glass of lemonade? Awaken your senses to something being off. Maybe your horror story isn’t necessarily seasonal. Eat what seems strange for your environment. If it’s summertime, turn up the air and drink some hot cocoa. Drink a glass of champagne on a random September day. It’s good food, but enabling good horror.
Like with horror, my first reaction with poetry was to steer into that stereotypical feeling. I thought of something that awakens the senses, like fruits—maybe even dangling a bunch of grapes over my mouth. But like with horror, I found that this was too on the nose. Poetry is all about unique sensory phrases, beauty, gut-wrenching scenes that tear your heart out, a different way of looking at the ordinary. And so a strong sensory snack, like chocolate-covered strawberries, actually distracts from the poetry.
Now, I don’t think you have to go eating a plain slice of bread and drinking water while reading poetry, but don’t distract your tastebuds either. Sheryl Began, the Wine Development Manager at Blue Cork Winery and Vineyard in Williamstown, New Jersey, had a great suggestion for a poetry wine pairing: “I’d pair this with Merlot. A softer red than Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s a little bit more ‘free form’ in its structure...It can also mix and match with a variety of foods, depending on how the winemaker chose to develop it. Pretty much, it's a versatile wine, so it should pair nicely with a versatile genre.”
While a Merlot can go with a variety of snacks, for the sake of the poetry, choose something like a mild cheese with crackers. This will make for a delicious and satisfying snack, but it won’t take away from the real prize here—the poetry itself.
Just when I thought I had figured out the trick—that stereotypical foods weren’t the right choice, I came up against romance books. Turns out, their delightfully predictable design actually yearns for stereotypical foods. After all, when you read a romance story, you’re reading for the happily ever after. You’re not looking to be surprised, but rather absorbed into the love formula of these types of books. So, stereotypical is exactly the direction you need to go!
Gina Ruiz, owner of Platinum House of Sweets in Turnersville, New Jersey, suggested chocolate-covered strawberries for this genre. She said they’re “sweet and juicy.” Sounds kind of like the romance genre itself! Add in some rose wine, according to Began, which is “a beautifully colored wine that gives off a feminine mystique in its initial appearance; however, it can pack a punch and pull in even the unlikeliest of consumers.” Get yourself the more exotic cheese platter this time. Go for the oysters (if that’s your thing). And more power to you if you’ve got the fancy clawfoot tub to read and eat in.
There are so many types of creative nonfiction, it’s difficult to narrow down the list to a detailed food and wine pairing. However, we can still glean some commonalities from this wide descriptor to help you choose your perfect reading drink and snack.
Good nonfiction should almost read like fiction. It should be so engrossing that you are pulled into the story, perhaps shocked by the truth of it. And so consider choosing a good food you personally enjoy that will keep you grounded to reality. After all, the greatest mistake while reading exceptional nonfiction would be to get so caught up in it that you forget that it’s real. So keep yourself grounded in reality.
Began states, “A genre that is clear and truthful deserves a wine that operates accordingly. I'd pair this with a Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc is rarely oaked, allowing its natural flavors and bright acidity to shine through.”
No Sauvignon Blanc on hand? Try choosing one of your personal favorites. For me, I’d possibly settle in with my mocha latte and a slice of coffee cake. It’s me, and therefore I can get to know someone else through their story.
The choice for this is quite elementary, my dear reader. If you are going to inhabit the mind of a hardboiled detective, you should drink some scotch or whiskey. Get into character. After all, the allure of mysteries is that you too can often solve the mystery right alongside your favorite detective.
And yet, not all mysteries are along the hardboiled route. While recently reading The Likeness by Tana French, I found that it was a completely atypical mystery, despite the protagonist being the expected detective. Instead, the main character was often eating a surprisingly hearty meal with the suspects. But even here is the potential to get into character and inhabit the mind of the detective. Because isn’t the best feeling in a mystery when you solve it?
Make your snack time magical! Like with romance, you’re going to want to go with the flow for this genre. Do you have a favorite atypical, surprising snack? For me, hot chocolate bombs would qualify. Ruiz said that her peppermint, peanut butter, white chocolate and other seasonal hot chocolate bombs might just “look like a regular little ball...but there’s a little surprise inside.” Plop one in some warmed milk and watch it erupt into something completely spectacular—and tasty too! Get the cake batter with the chocolate swirls! The cupcake with the star sprinkles on top!
Don’t forget the sweet wines that tickle your tongue, or even try your own recipe. I have been having entirely too much fun using otherwise run-of-the-mill wines and adding some spices to them, like cinnamon. And there are a ton of fantasy-themed cookbooks out there to help you do just that!
Not really a cookbook kind of person? Began suggests purchasing a Petit Verdot. “This genre deserves a bold wine that stands by your side. One you can easily sip on and depend upon, as you navigate your way through a world of magic and surprise...Petit Verdot is a grape that is often overlooked, being traditionally used as a blending grape. However, on its own, it can pack quite a punch of flavor; it has dark berry flavors that pull you in, encapsulate you, and bring you along for the ride.”
The Basic Rule
While getting the right food or drink for your reading is partly trial and error and personal preference, there is still this basic principle to follow: Eat or drink what is going to put you in the right mood for your reading. Some food and drinks can enhance the feel of a good book by adding to it, while other types of reading are so specific as to be thrown off by more common choices.
Regardless, have fun with your choices! Experiment! Curl up with your favorite type of reading! Or try something new!
The possibilities are limitless.