Month: September 2021

Author Interview: Country singer Trisha Yearwood shares family recipes from new cookbook

Trisha Yearwood loves food — the warmth, the creativity, the memories certain dishes evoke. The country music star wrote her first cookbook, “Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen,” with her mother and her sister as a way to memorialize her father and keep him alive through their shared love of favorite recipes.

“It was so personal,” Yearwood said. “Once we finished, I thought there would never be another book like that.”

The cookbook became a #1 New York Times bestseller, and the singer, actress and entrepreneur established herself as a respected culinary voice. She delivered a second bestselling cookbook, “Home Cooking with Trisha Yearwood,” in 2010. In 2012, she hosted the Food Network series Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, which garnered an Emmy Award in the “Outstanding Culinary Show” category.

During the early months of the pandemic, she discovered another family cookbook from her Grandma Yearwood. Going over it with her sister, with whom she is very close, they realized there were many recipes that meant something to them and that they wanted to share.

“The recipe for Grandma’s fried pies was in there!” she said. “My dad loved those pies and anytime he had one, he would always say they weren’t as good as his mother’s.”

The long stretch of time spent at home last year gave Yearwood the opportunity to be creative and find comfort in the chaos. The result is her latest cookbook, “Trisha’s Kitchen: Easy Comfort Food for Friends and Family,” filled with 125 family recipes. Each recipe tells a story, from her grandmother’s Million Dollar Cupcakes to Uncle Wilson’s Ice Cream Thing to Garth’s Teriyaki Bowl.

“When you make something your mom made and it tastes the same, there’s a connection,” she said.

Capturing the recipes was also important to her because so many favorite family dishes had no specific instructions, just an idea of ingredients and steps.

“If you have family recipes, write them down and share them with family,” she said. “Don’t take for granted the person who knows how to make a certain dish will always be around.”

This article was first published in The Tallahassee Democrat.

Author Interview: For novelist Susan Zurenda, reading paved way to writing

Susan Zurenda didn’t plan to be an author. She started college pursuing a music degree, something she said was her mother’s dream. Yet she’d always been a writer, penning skits for Girls Scouts and scripts for the school talent show. And she’s always, always been a reader.

“My mother took me to story hour at the library when I was 3 years old; my father would read poetry to me and my brother at bedtime,” she told me. “All of my years of reading made me a better writer. I would rather read than anything.”

Zurenda, author of “Bells for Eli,” her first novel, will be speaking and signing books at Midtown Reader at noon Friday, Sept. 24.

After earning an English degree in literature, working briefly as a journalist and starting a family, Zurenda became a literature professor, something she said was also instrumental in learning to write fiction. She wrote short stories but never had the time to create a longer work of fiction.

“When I sit down to write,” she said, “I want to be able to do it until my mind says, ‘That’s all we need to do for today.’ I didn’t feel like that was possible when I was working full time and raising a family.”

Once she retired, she had the time, and the novel she’d had in her mind began to develop. Sometimes it felt like the content was writing itself, and the characters were doing their own thing.

“I started with an outline but around the third chapter, I threw it out,” she said. “On a conscious level I’m very aware of writing structure and moving points forward, but underneath there’s something in the subconscious that brings out the characters’ stories on its own.”

The natural arc of character development also helped her bond with her characters, especially those she had a hard time connecting with at first.

“There was a character I didn’t particularly like, which made it difficult for me to write him as a truly multidimensional character,” she admitted. “But later in the story, his actions helped me develop a real sympathy for him. I felt like I understood him better.”

Bells for Eli — which follows two cousins growing up in small-town South Carolina in the 1960s and ’70s — is Zurenda’s first full-length novel, although she’s written numerous prize-winning short stories throughout the course of her career. When I asked her what she would tell other aspiring writers, she didn’t hesitate.

“By golly, you’ve got to be a serious reader.”

This article was first published in the Tallahassee Democrat.