Cook All the Things: Cooking the Books with Editor Miriam Weinberg

This month, we have a very special Cooking the Books guest: Miriam Weinberg, Assistant Editor at Tor. Also, my editor at Tor. GLEE.

*Actual Photo* of Me & Miriam hard at work.

Miriam is an amazing cook and baker, prone to the occasional well-layered pun, and when it comes to animated gifs, she contains multitudes. She’s also a mighty fine finder-of-restaurants, which makes her an excellent person to kick off the 2014 season of Cooking the Books! We asked her all sorts of questions, from editing/cooking style to anime. So bring your appetite… Cooking the Books 2014 begins now…

Hi Miriam! What’s your favorite style of cooking?

Hmm, my family would probably say the ELABORATE kind? I’ve been known to throw myself wholeheartedly into dinner party planning, approaching feast level. One of my favorites is to make a base meal, say, ground lamb or beef with couscous, or a soup, and then make a bunch of toppings—quick pickled onions, raita, roasted vegetables, small minced radishes or herbs—for guests to decorate/sample at will.

I really like trying new recipes, but I have about ~15 dinners on weekday rotation (mostly at the behest of my very practical significant other, who is the resident dishwasher).

I also like things that look fancy but are really quite simple—puff pastry and fresh fruit. I always have those on hand. Though I did make a five-part Harry Potter-based dessert table for my sister’s bridal shower….

How does your cooking style compare (or not) to your editing style?

My editing style is much more like making bread than it is like cooking. I like to get my hands in there and do some work, but then let the author rise through revisions in their own way (I am not sure that actually works…mayhaps my simile has gone..a-rye! Sorry, sorry. I (k)ne(a)ded that).

{Editorial Note 1: We <3 Miriam so much right now. So much it hurts.}

Also, I tend to think of the revision process as a much more collaborative effort, since I have been known to be exceedingly dictatorial in the kitchen (in my defense, my actual counter space is TINY, and other people standing in it are a menace). Ultimately, though, every book (and author) needs something different…so maybe the best part of being a cook and an editor is learning to roll with whatever pops up.

{Note 2: …. She’s not going to get a rise out of us. NEWP. ONWARDS.}

What do you look for in a good meal? What do you look for in a manuscript?

I want both to be DELICIOUS? A really, truly good meal has all the things a great book has: an interplay of savory and sweet, a finish that lingers with you, a sensation of satisfaction that both brings to memory past meals/books and future meals/books.

That sounds really vague and a bit lamely pretentious…so, let me also note that I like to eat in the same way I like to read: there are certain things I gravitate towards, and can’t go more than a couple weeks without having, but there is a book and a meal for every mood. And I am always ready to be surprised by something new and unexpected.

Also, sharing with friends makes everything more awesome! I am an unabashed book and food pusher (apparently I am both of my Grandmas) (which totally works because they are awesome).

Do you find editing a manuscript is more like:  a. preparing a multi-course meal, b. baking a cake, c. working as a restaurant chef,  d. something else entirely, what a weird question, e. all of the above?

Probably E… though most obviously A and C.

There is a huge amount of behind-the-scenes work and a number of stages for every book, so that covers A. and also C., where everyone is collaborating to put out something that will satisfy a consumer and entice them to return. I suppose that makes an editor a cross between the Sous and the Station chefs…and, line cook, if wearing an assistant hat as well, as so many of us are! Also, though as an editor I am lucky enough to work with something I LOVE, it is still a job, at the end of the day, and you want your restaurant to stay open. As to B, there are many ways to bake a cake! And many occasions for cakes to be present!

I subscribe to the Deb Perelman cake-for-every-occasion type of thinking (actually, that hyper link is my go-to-cake, though I mostly included that post for the example of cake mentality. I’ve made it with at least 7 kinds of fruit since seeing it in Gourmet back in 2009).

Do your favorite books have fabulous food in them?

A great many of them do… I think that food is one of the great excitements of humanity. Food makes these bridges between places and people and community and self-identity. It reveals things that are, in reality, intensely personal, but can be accessed by casual questions, spinning towards deeper, even subconscious connections. And it’s not just that kind of overly grand ideal, either, it’s also the little ways to easily short-hand memories and textures of things.

So, in that very meandering way…. . I’m trying to say yes (though not all of them. I’m chronically unable to pick favorites, and contrarily I’ve thought now of many books I love that barely mention food). But I am thinking of the intense imaginary flights of fancy that one is presented with in early childhood, reading about the lake of spun sugar-syrup in The Magical Monarch of Mo, or trying to decide on the taste of Snozberries (or the synaesthetic qualities of one’s dreams, for that matter).

And I do love to read food writing, too….but always in my mind is all the wonderful fantasy I read as a kid, being enticed by the varied, nearly off-hand vitalities of food in Tortall or at the Winding Circle, or the nearly identifiable and yet wondrous and enchanting food of the Commonwealth (from the obvious, Harry Potter, to the non-speculative, like Dorothy Sayers).

Food, to me, is a way to show culture, history, family, love, danger…I have always been an intense devotee of (particularly Greek and Egyptian, but all around) mythology and fairy-tales, and this makes one constantly on guard for any reference to food, lest you be enchanted or stranded or changed in a terrifying, immutable way

Man, now I want to just LIST the sumptuous books…and the ones that tempted and dared me to believe and to wonder, and those who made me dream in a more realistic way.

(I just started to count the titles and then:)

What is your favorite imaginary/literary food? Who is your favorite imaginary cook?

But, hmmm….That’s tough. Maybe we just go with what I’d really like to eat at this very moment? And because I am writing this at 7:30 am, an hour I choose to completely ignore on most days (I know.), I would like some espresso (or coffee, or klah, or Quaffy, or what have you…tea, for me, is a more afternoon drink, though I can think of many more characters/books I’ve loved that reference it) and one of these beauties:

(from the haunting and lovely The Scorpio Races, recipe here). I don’t know if I have a favorite imaginary cook, as much as specific things I want from charcters….I want Morwen’s cider, and for a Murakami protagonist to make me dinner (Midori would admittedly be the best cook, but I am really thinking of the unnamed narrator of Dance, Dance, Dance making me a painstakingly perfect yet simple pasta), and I want to go over to Sophie and Howl’s for brunch…

Let’s talk about anime for a moment. Are there any shows/characters that you associate with good food?

I have very recently tumbled headlong into anime (past Sailor Moon and Cowboy Bebop and Miyazaki, I’d seen very little although LOVED what I had. But Kelly Quinn is basically a druglord of anime and manga and I am a willing disciple). There are a million anime I have heard but not seen that deal with food extremely intently (according to Kelly, there is a fun manga, Shingeki No Soma, about cooking… ).

So. Kurojitsuji is my first thought, and anime (though the manga is better in terms of plot, the anime is really fun!), since Sebastian’s afternoon teatime duties are always accomplished with the utmost grace and deliciousness, regardless of the day’s conflicts … Plus, the curry episode. Oh, and if you want to think about where your food comes from, then it’s Silver Spoon, the new anime from Arakawa.

But let’s be honest: I mostly mention that to smoothly lead into Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood….

I keep thinking about Ling’s exhaustion/cheerful insatiability, but also Ed OVEREATING and Al NOT eating, and APPLE PIE and arggghh (guys, watch it, it is a MASTER-COURSE in plotting and character development and world-building and ugh THE FEELS. Also when you watch it you should definitely go read/watch Mark Oshiro because, oh man, the shock/fiendish glee/faces of emotional wreckage/philosophical musings….it is wonderful).

One of the things I love about anime is the “big eater” trope, and some good examples are either Hei from Darker than Black or Nagisa from Free!

Kelly would want me to mention Kagura, from Gintama.

And, though it is NOT an anime, I really, really love the food in AVATAR: TLA. And I mean, Sokka and food….

I know that when you travel, you look for new restaurants and foods to try. Can you talk about that a bit? What about in your reading, do you do the same thing?

I do! I love, love, LOVE to research and make lists and plan. Particularly if the planning can be THEMATIC and/or HISTORICAL. I am a fan of trying regional and local things both in food and reading—I would TOTALLY, if I had the thing known as free time, start a blog for matching food/books/locations.

{Note 3: WE HERE AT COOKING THE BOOKS THINK THIS IS AN EXCELLENT IDEA. INTERNET, MAKE IT SO.}

I do also tend to choose food in different cities in the same way I do what books to bring—combination of buzz, friend recommendations, “genre (cuisine!)” preferences/balances. I have this (supposedly insane) packing system, which is why I never travel with less than 1.5 books per day gone, and also why I am thankful I gave into owning a Nook (though I have still never gone away with less than 2 print books aside from an ereader….sigh).

But, as in travel, and as I mentioned before in meals, I really like being blown away by something totally unexpected!

Cooking the Books Pop Quiz!
Match these books with a food and a location!

  1. V.E. Schwab’s Vicious : Chocolate Milk! And….hm. Detroit, maybe.
  2. China Mieville’s The City & The City : Bosnian rolled borek (a twisty hand -held often-meat-filled pasty, and Sarajevo… 
  3. Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of DragonsShashlik (meat on skewers!), Carpathian mountains
  4. Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own MakingOooh, tie between something recognizable and something so perfect albeit like nothing that I’ve yet eaten)….Pumpkin (duh), or else a Gagana’s egg. (I had to pick something orange, for September, but, man. Valente KNOWS the significance of food in fiction. Seriously. She is the best.) [NOTE TO AUTHOR: How great would it be if Grant Achatz made a Fairyland-themed dinner?!]

What is your favorite food indulgence?

Reading over a meal. I love the sense of leisurely but deviant tranquility. In a hectic life, it heightens the taste of even the simplest of repasts. I have, since childhood, been known to bargain with loved ones for the privilege (in my own house, I still stick to the reading at breakfast/lunch instead of dinner structure, unless one is alone. Dessert and afternoon snacks are wildcards).

The Recipe

I cycled through far too many fictional food recipes, but, instead, I give you one of my favorite things to make, in nearly all weather (such good summer dish, with bread or pasta, to soak up the vinaigrette, or against brisket in the winter) and nearly all situations (eating with my fingers, alone, out of a Tupperware, or for a picnic, or a fancy dinner party).  It is also insanely easy, and quick, if you have time to prep a few hours in advance. It makes FANTASTIC leftovers, though it loses the vibrant green of the fresh dish. My mom’s side of the family is hugely into cooking, and so I have always been around great food, and generally knew how to make things, but this is the first recipe I ever wrote down, when I was in middle school:

Marinated green beans (serves 4ish as side dish, 2ish as a main course as suggested above)

  • 2 (slightly heaped) Tablespoons chopped parsley (fresh)
  • 8-10 fresh basil leaves, chopped or julienned
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 5 Tablespoons wine vinegar (I use red, though I’m sure white would be good)
  • 2 Tablespoons onion chopped very fine (I go red onion, b/c I like the color contrast, but my mom uses whatever she has)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 lb. green beans (do not use haricot vert)
  • 1/3C extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Choose a bowl large enough to accommodate the green beans later, and put in the parsley, basil, oregano and vinegar.  Let steep in bowl for 10 min.

Add chopped onion and crushed garlic, mix, and let steep again , this time for at least 30 min. Halfway through, start boiling water for green beans.

Cook green beans. Drain when still *very* firm.

Add boiled green beans (while still hot/warm) to the already steeping herbs and vinegar in the bowl, marinate for a minimum of 1 hour and as much as 5 or 6. Mix thoroughly with a large serving spoon from time to time.

Serve beans at room temperature, adding the olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.


Miriam Weinberg is an Assistant Editor at Tor/Forge. She dreams of having a  dragon best friend (named Skysong, preferably, which is also the name of her Nook), and fears that one day she will be found trapped underneath a pile of books in her Brooklyn apartment. You can find her on Twitter… or delving into an animated gif rabbit hole on Tumblr.


Read more Cooking the Books – The updated library of interviews is here.

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