Tuesday, January 13, 2009


...Barbara O'Neal aka my very good friend, Barbara Samuel. Barbara is a RITA award-winning, bestselling author of wonderful women's fiction and luscious romances and she has a fabulous book out this month with the Bantam Discovery program (already into its fourth printing after just two weeks on the shelves!). The Lost Recipe for Happiness is the story of a chef just given the opportunity she's been waiting for--to run the kitchen of a world-class restaurant. It's a chance for Elena to take a new direction in her life--if she can let go of the ghosts from the past that still haunt her.

Filled with recipes and brimming with hope, this is feel-good fiction with the kind of chops (hah, a pun!) that make it perfect fare (yet another!) for your book group. Here's a few questions I put to Barbara about her new title.

Did you try out all the recipes in the book?

I did. I call it the Great Winter of Cooking because I wrote as I cooked, and cooked as I wrote. There were seven blizzards that winter, so I was stuck at home a lot, testing, retesting, retrying everything. Some things, Iike tamales, were things I'd made many times. Others, like duck tamales, I had to figure out how. (And those duck tamales made me a star with my partner, Christopher Robin!)

I want to attempt some of the recipes. What’s your first and second recommendations for someone who considers herself an intermediate cook? (Confession: I’m afraid of the baklava.)

I'd recommend trying Juan's Carne En Su Jugo. It is an amazingly flavorful soup, and not difficult to prepare. It's far more than the sum of its parts!

For the second one, I'm torn between recommending Carnitas, which are very easy and one of the best foods on the entire planet, and Pan de Muerte, which is a beautiful, flavorful yeast bread.

As for the baklava, it is time intensive, but not at all difficult to make. I've been experimenting a little with bringing out more pomegranate flavor, so if you want to try the evolving recipe, go to http://www.barbaraoneal.com/?p=114. I've been making it for book signings, and it disappears fast!

There’s a 14-year-old girl in the book who struck a chord with me. I particularly loved that she was worried about the circumference of her thighs. How did you tap into Portia?

Is there a woman on the planet who doesn't worry about getting too big for one reason or another? Me, too. It breaks my heart that young girls are so worried about how they look that they give up things that are GOOD for them and feel exhilarating.

It's no secret that I'm a mad hiker, and it doesn't exactly slim down your thighs. Skiing and running are wont to do the same thing, but I say, bring it on! Muscular is not the same thing as fat. (Besides, if you have more muscles, you can eat more carnitas!)

Day of the Dead figurines and the “holiday” itself (November 1) play a part in this story. Can you tell us a little more about the artwork and the day itself?

I love the Day of the Dead--it is a celebration of the lives of the people who have gone on before us to....the other realm. It is celebrated with skeletons of all kinds, and there are piles of food offered to the dead, and people decorate graves with marigolds. It's a very happy day, and I've found that it helps me to celebrate the lives of people I miss. This year, I made my grandmother's favorites, and it really did make me feel close to her.

Day of the Dead recognizes that we are all "walking" skeletons and our lives, each one, are very precious and beautiful.

Your portrayal of Colorado and New Mexico makes both places feel very exotic--even to me, a fellow Westerner. Can you name a couple of elements that others don’t “get” about the West?

I think a lot of people think the west is still a land of ghost towns and cowboys, and that's funny to me as a third generation native of Colorado. Although I love the outdoors, which are so easily accessible and beautiful here, I am really a city girl, and after all, there are at least a dozen cities in the west with more than a million people! It's a very hip, forward thinking, modern place, our modern west.

It's deeply multicultural, too, in a way that I don't feel in other parts of the country in quite the same way.

The heroine, Elena, has lived with ghosts for twenty years. Do you believe in ghosts? Have you experienced ghosts in your own life?

I believe we go on in some way, and that doesn't discount the possibility of ghosts. We've all felt that sense of a presence, haven't we? And I've been in houses I wouldn't have slept in on a BET. I lived in a house for a long time that seemed to be inhabited by a friendly presence. My cats used to talk to her in an eerie, funny way, rubbing their backs against her invisible knees! It was really quite spooky sometimes.

So I guess I do believe in ghosts, but I haven't seen one. Nor do I wish to, thanks very much, unless it is the the happy friendly ghost of my cat.

Do you believe in the concept of soul mates?

Yes. I'm not sure there is only ONE soul mate for each one of us--that would be so sad if one of the pair was lost in a lifetime!--but I believe we all have soul mates.

I believe, too, in soul mates that are not lovers. Friends, siblings, even children. Bottom line is, I really believe in LOVE, all kinds of love, and that's what gets us through the tough times.

Christie again: It's your turn, everyone! In the book, the characters put to each other a question that I've modified a little. Please share: What are one or two of the best things you've ever eaten, anywhere?


Christie Ridgway said...

I'll start with one of the best things I've ever eaten. In college, there was a restaurant called Rudy's just off campus. They sold beer and hot, salty tortilla chips. Very salty. Very hot. Nothing better to a hungry college student than a cold sip of beer followed by a tongue-burning, curled and greasy chip!

Jane said...

I had the best gyoza(fried dumplings) at this little shop in Tokyo. It was a few blocks from the hotel and I was so surprised the food was so good.

Playground Monitor said...

Haselnuss steak at the Cafe Hotel Grimminger in Heidelberg, Germany. It was panfried hazelnut encrusted veal with hollandaise sauce. Absolutely orgasmic! We lived an hour away from Heidelberg and would drive there for dinner just to eat this.


PJ said...

Welcome Barbara! My friend, Janga has been raving about THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS all over the internet. It's on my list for my next book order.

I love to cook and I love to eat so, of course, I appreciate books that have great recipes in them. Looking forward to trying out some of yours!

The first "best food" that comes to mind is the tiramisu that I had at Vito's, a little ristorante in Rome, Italy. Apparently I dissolved into raptures of ecstasy, according to the girlfriend I was traveling with, and very closely resembled Meg Ryan in the lunch scene from When Harry Met Sally. (minus the table pounding) *grin*

Anonymous said...

Birthday Ice Cream from Bruster's. Incredible, but after the first 1/2 gallon, you get a little tired of it. (Snicker)

I had a cajun gumbo in New Orleans that was moan-worthy.

lois greiman said...

Barbara, thanks for joining us. We met her in snowy Minnesota a few years ago. You spoke about climbing 14,000 footers. I was so intrigued I tried it with my kids last summer. We had great adventures on Mt. Elbert, Boundary Peak, and Mt. Whitney. Thanks for the inspiration, literarily and physically. :)

The new novel sounds fantastic. The food, too, come to that.

Kylie said...

Welcome, Barbara!

I have very simple tastes in food. Childlike, really, LOL. Give me a sandwich and I'm a happy camper.

But there's a little restaurant in Sioux Falls, SD that does a seafood crepe that's to die for. I've also been known to swoon in culinary delight eating crab.

My claim to fame in my house is my manicotti and pepperoni bread.

Christie Ridgway said...

Wow. You guys are talking about all these lovely fancy foods and I raved about tortilla chips!

Keri Ford said...

Give me a stack of pancakes coated in syrup and I'll be a happy gal!

Something I often crave but haven't had in years are those cream filled pastries. They usually have a chocolate glaze on top. Long Johns maybe?

Betina Krahn said...

Welcome back, Barbara. What a wonderful sounding book! Another for my TBR shelf. As for food, one of my favorites was a crab-stuffed fish at the Commander's Palace in New Orleans years ago. Also, there was a chain of restaurants in Oklahoma on I-40 (The Cherokee) that served the BEST cream pies on the planet. Banana Cream, coconut, chocolate. . . I swoon to remember. And for coffee. . . the Adams Mark in Houston served a whole tray of delights (shaved chocolate, several kinds of sugars,candied orange peel, vanilla, rum balls) to try in their rich, flavorful dark coffee. Ahhhh.

As for your second question, I absolutely believe in soul mates. I was married to mine for 23 years. And I found a second love who suits me well, but is nothing like the first love. Maybe our "soulmate" requirements change over time as our souls change. Maybe as we age and grow and change, so do the requirements for the one who would "mate" our souls. Whaddya think?

Cindy Gerard said...

Hi Barbara, Last time I saw you was in Matera, Italy. Ciao!
A food. My passion and the bane of my existence. I've rarely met a food i didn't like. But I have to say that of all the places I've been, there's a little restaurant downtown Chicago (The West Egg Cafe) that makes the most amazing crepes I've EVER eaten. Yum Yum
The book sounds amazing! Thanks so much for riding with us today

Christie Ridgway said...

Commander's Palace! Betina, I've eaten there twice and both times looooved the food. The second time Avon Books was hosting a dinner during the RWA conference and Lucia Macro and Carrie Feron couldn't decide on which dessert so we all got two! Oh, yum!

Christie Ridgway said...

And Keri's making me want pancakes!

MaryC said...

Hi, Barbara!
I just got back from the bookstore with a copy of The Lost Recipe For Happiness - it's next on my list to read.

My favorite meal was dim sum that my uncle made when he arrived from Hong Kong. At the time, there was an extremely limited selection available locally(1968). The other thing would be my Mom's home made egg rolls - major prep time and gone in a flash!

lunaticcafe said...

Food is one of my crutches in life and I love to try local places- you can learn a lot about a region by trying their food. When we lived in Monterey we fell in love with a deli called Campangnos(forgive the spelling) because they make the best sandwiches ever and this lovely layered chocolate cake. Our other favorite was Jim's- a small family owned Chinese place with the best hot and sour soup and a fantastic black pepper chicken. We loved these places so much that when we visited last year we ate at both, more than once.

When we travelled across the country we ate at all the little places along the way- Huey's in Memphis, Brother's in North Carolina, anything with green chiles in New Mexico. The list was long and very yummy. I highly recommend finding the local favorites and giving them a try!

Barbara [Samuel} O'Neal said...

You guys are making me REALLY hungry! I just got back from walking the dogs and I'm trying to resist all the cookies my son keeps bringing home!!

Jane, the fried dumplings sound fantastic. I would love to visit Japan, but I worry (probably showing my provincialism!) that I wouldn't know what to do with the food. But dumplings, now, dumplings I could do!

Marilyn, that steak sounds like something out of Saveur magazine.

What a cute dog, PJ! (There is a cute dog in this book, too! Alvin is his name, based on my own dog Jack.) Please kiss Janga from me, will you? :)

Barbara [Samue] O'Neal said...

Cyndi, my grandmother was an ice cream fiend. Never had Busters!

14ers! Lois, I read your accounts here when you were climbing with your kids. Kind of you to say I was an inspiration, but I haven't done that super hard hike you tackled! It made me want to try again.

(And again, one good thing about hiking is that it burns ZILLIONS of calories!! :))

Kylie, I'm with you: crab is wonderful. It's the only shellfish I really like at all.

Pancakes! I love, love, love pancakes and no matter what, I have to have them sometimes. (My next book is called 100 Breakfasts. :))

Helen Brenna said...

Hey, Barbara! Welcome back is right! I love your books and can't wait to read this one.

I have to go with the best thing I've ever TASTED since it's a drink. The first time I ever had a sauternes, a sweet after dinner white wine, it was a Chateau Y'Quem. Absolutely amazing stuff.

We bought a couple of bottles from my FIL's wine cellar when he passed away and are saving them for VERY special occasions.

My FIL used to say, this sauterne was only to be drunk "on bended knee."

Can't wait to try out a couple recipes in your latest, Barbara. I remember making a couple things from one of your other books and loved them.

Debra Dixon said...

Barbara!! Welcome, girl! So, glad to have you. Hubby can't wait to try the recipes in the book.

He's the cook in the family. But he can't have it until I read it. I don't want food all over my book. (g)

Sadly, I'd be hardpressed to name the best things I've ever eaten. I've traveled so much and loved so much food along the way.

Recently I had a really fabulous home-made chips with Maytag blue Cheese drizzle at one of our favorite diners (upscale diner) that's in Atlanta.

Michele Hauf said...

Hey, Barbara! I've read a few of your books and love the warm humor.

My favorite thing I've eaten? When I was in Paris (I love saying that), I had this vanilla ice cream, just a small scoop, that was out of this world. It was simply amazing. Never forget that sweet treat.

Barbara Samuel O'Neal said...

Betina, I think you're right about our needs in a soul mate shifting over time.

Matera! Cindy, now there was some food. I ate my way across Italy, especially olives, those little salt cured ones that have so much explosive flavor. (Wasn't that fun?)

Mary, how lovely to say you have an uncle who made you dim sum!

Helen, I'm jealous. I've never tasted sauternes, but there was a bit in a wine book I once read that talked about the origins and it's a great foodie story, of course. Lucky you to have those special bottles.

Deb, that sounds fantastic! One of the best things in Atlanta was the peaches they gave out at the hotel the year RWA was there. Remember them anyone? It was as big as a grapefruit and one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten!

Thanks, Michele. LOL on "saying that." A friend of mine says you should always buy clothes when you are traveling in exotic places, so that later you can say, "Oh, this? I bought in...."

The world is a rich and wonderful place. I'd like to see a lot more of it!

Thanks all of you for having me.

Barbara Samuel O'Neal said...

Oops, I put the wrong website link on that last post. Oh, well. The most current info is at barbaraoneal.com, but it's all good. :)

Laurie said...

My mother-in-law came over from Hungary (German descent). She made the best cheese strudel imaginable!! Melt in your mouth delicious. I've tried to duplicate it but to no avail.

M. said...

The first loaf of bread I ever made with my own two hands, and the first pancakes my son ever made on his own.

Q: Is this a 'classic' women's fiction book (in the sense of deep issues along the way) or is 'funny' a regular element?

BTW : I love the cover