Food and Family with Candace Walsh
Candace Walsh is an out lesbian author, blogger, and burgeoning foodie. She’s a food blogger for AfterEllen, and next month will release her first memoir, Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Identity. The mother of two, who married her partner of 10 years last year in Hudson, N.Y., spoke to The Advocate from her home in Santa Fe, N.M.
The Advocate: Tell me a little bit about the book. What inspired you to write it?
Candace Walsh: When I read Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, in 1997, I was like, Wow, I think that’s great the way that a recipe is just kind of mixed in with personal storytelling. Society wasn’t ready for [a memoir like] it, culture wasn’t ready for it. You’d read a book and it would read exactly like the author’s life, and it would be fiction, but there would be this secondary consciousness that was like, Oh, that’s exactly what happened in their life. I talked to a writer friend that I respected a lot, but he was kind of autocratic and said, “No one would want to read that.” And then this whole food memoir boom happened in the last 10 years or so, and this has been percolating for a long time, since at the time I was in my mid 20s, and I needed to accumulate fodder for my book.
Where did the recipes come from throughout the book?
They are a mixture of family recipes, going back three generations. I have a really great mix of ancestry, Greek, Cuban, Irish, and German, so I was able to mine family recipes that were beloved. It was interesting, because I’ve always been kind of cut off from my Greek family, not for any particular reason. But I started reaching out on Facebook and I was able to connect with one cousin who said, “Oh, the spanakopita recipe died with Aunt Christina.” And then I talked to my other cousin Stephanie, and she was like, “Oh, I’ve got that recipe!” So I was able to get it to the other cousin. My great-great-grandmothers were from Crete, and they used mint in their spanakopita, which is kind of a regional thing.
I talk a lot about The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, and [though] I didn’t include a recipe, I wanted to point people to it, and I think that people will be inspired to go pick up that book.
Do you consider yourself a foodie?
Yes, definitely, but not hard-core. I’d hate to get a pop quiz about — are you really a foodie? [Laughs] ’Cause I just kind of come to it organically, like, what speaks to me. It’s not like, oh, my God, this is my personality, I’d have to get into … molecular gastronomy.
You married your partner of 10 years last year in New York. Congratulations!
Thank you! I made my own wedding cake, which was really meaningful to me. I did use the Cake Bible chocolate cake recipe and a white chocolate cream cheese frosting. My wife, Laura, loves chocolate, so that’s her part of [the cake, but] what’s my part of it? I thought and thought about it, and finally I came up with a Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey cake. Not ice cream, but just the banana, the chocolate, and the walnut. People were like, “That is awesome!” I kind of had to make it happen because [everyone was wondering], “How would this taste in a cake?” [The wedding was on] October 1, and we love Thanksgiving so much — Laura loves food too, but not as geekily as I do — so we served everyone Thanksgiving dinner at the reception with family recipes.
Oh, wow! That’s so much better than catered chicken or fish.
I know! What do you call it? The prime rib and all the craft service wedding food.
Speaking of marriage equality, given the recent Chick-fil-A melee, what do you think about mixing food and politics?
I have to think about that for a second. It’s very interesting. I actually made this really snarky comment on Facebook, about people have to be eating in an attempt to undermine gay rights, but at least it’s unhealthy and they’ll get sick … I was posting about Chick-fil-A on Facebook and this person got offended, looked me up, found out who my boss was, and sent it to him. My boss was like, “This is your personal life, I don’t want to know about it,” in a good way. But wow, this Chick-fil-A thing could’ve gotten me fired, if I had a different boss. And that is violent. I feel skittish even talking about it, but I feel like it’s important talking about it, because it made me self-conscious in a way that made me kind of sad. … We live in interesting times. It can be a political act to eat from the farmers’ market. It can be a political act to boycott Chick-fil-A. I hope that there are more opportunities to make positive food choices, not just personally but societally.
What has been your experience of living your truth as an out lesbian in the culinary world?
I think it’s a wonderful nest to be an out lesbian, because there are so many strong women in kitchens. And there’s nothing sexier to me than a hot woman cooking and holding her own in this macho environment and creating delicious mouthfuls of things to eat. It’s like, Yeah! I mean, the butch thing in a kitchen is really hot.
I guess I’m just entering the culinary world with my book. It does feel cozy though. I’ve interviewed Kim Severson, who wrote Spoon Fed and is an out lesbian and is the Atlanta bureau chief for The New York Times, and she was really great, and I feel like there’s a community. And of course, Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton — she’s a huge role model. I got my book contract and got the advance copy of that book, and I was just like, Oh, my God! How do I even write a book now? Thanks a lot! But it’s awesome.
As a little girl, I was basically told to clean my plate. That’s complicated because you’re not listening to what your body wants. It has to do with authority and the people you love most in the world telling you … how to nourish yourself. And it’s out of your hands. It’s plopped on your plate and you’re told you must finish it.
But it’s kind of a violent thing, because you don’t have a choice about how much to eat, what you want to eat, and it’s wrapped up in approval and punishment. So that was complicated as an early lesson, and I had to unlearn it.
My grandmother, who’s Cuban, she’s passed away now, but she would come to visit, and she wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish to me. I actually didn’t know the Spanish word for Grandma until I was in junior high. And she was also not allowed to make Spanish food. But she would make Spanish food and say, “Oh, that’s just chicken and rice.” Or, “That’s just beef stew.” So there was this closeting of my Hispanic heritage that I was absorbing at a young age. I know that both my parents have evolved a lot. My mom probably felt awkward about being Hispanic and Greek, and marrying into an Irish and German family … So that also made food complicated to me. Certain cultural food, that was pretty much my birthright, was wrong, denied. So I’m getting disenfranchised from myself and what my appetites are. Not really feeling secure about trusting my gut.
I had not thought of “clean your plate” being a violent dichotomy, but that totally makes sense.
Because of that, I have guidelines, but I’ll say [to my kids], “You have to take two bites of the greens.” Maybe I went a teeny bit the opposite direction. But I give them lots of choices, healthy options, because I really didn’t want to do that to them.
If you give kids healthy options, offering those provides them some agency.
Definitely, and also just saying, “Hey, you need this to grow, but which one do you want?”
Anything else you’d like to add?
When Laura and I got married, we appeared in the New York Times Vows column, and they ran it with our picture. Our wedding vows included quotes from the two senators who were the deciding votes for marriage equality in New York. And then another friend of mine who is getting gay-married asked me to send my vows over [to her]. So, yes, the personal really, really, is political. If politicians don’t support us, then we can’t get personally married. So, thank you!