Writing About Writing and Writer’s Block

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” —Thomas Merton

There’s a stupid food lore that if you throw cooked spaghetti at the wall and if it’s stick it’s done. This is stupid for several reasons of course. Why waste pasta? And why clean up more messes after cooking than you need to? We all know the pot of marinara is going to spit up a hot bubble of tomato-y burp at one point and get little driblets of sauce all over your stovetop. Besides, I highly doubt anyone in this day and age would do anything that dumb, then again we have people believing that they can recreate Minion cookies off Pintrest that come out looking like something else entirely.

My apologies for the tone of the last paragraph. It was written in frustration at a Starbucks in Cambridge after spending over an hour staring at a blank screen. That is of course a lie, I spent most of the hour I should have been writing surfing the Internet. At least 25% of the time was spent “researching” for the short story I’m trying to finish right now. It’s hard to write about what you know, but obviously don’t know as much as the real people in our stories.

This can be frustrating if your character is say an impulsive fighter, from an ancient order and she nearly gets herself killed by rushing into a situation before thinking everything through. You know she should know better, but obviously you have to craft circumstances that circumvent logic and almost twenty years of training. What about a chef frustrated with her profession, even though she is at the top of her career as the story begins? How does one write about crafting the perfect menu that tells a magical, mental narrative if you’ve never been through the rigors of culinary school, let alone years of training and months of recipe testing? How can I make my readers think something like “fresh ricotta, olive oil drizzle, rosemary salt and candied orange zest on crispy olive ‘panettone’” is delicious and well thought out even though it has probably never existed in a restaurant outside the digital pages on Microsoft Word in my iCloud drive?

This is of course the whole purpose of writing—to make a reader experience what you have and to foster this unique osmosis of imagery. This is what I am studying and am trying to quantify for my PhD. All writers eventually figure out what works for them and how they convey this to their readers. Of course when this flow of information seems obstructed, aka writer’s block, this generates the opposite feeling of osmosis. It’s as if the fusion of words is burned up and suddenly our keyboards become dying stars. Except we don’t want a supernova to happen, even though this seems at first like a good idea. (Supernovas eventually become black holes.)

Recently, someone asked me what my writer’s block “looks like.” An interesting question, and one that will likely make every writer pause before they say “a block of course.” This physical manifestation of a literal translation between metaphor and imagery is pervasive. There are even gag gifts for writers of wooden cubes labeled as such. I’ve even seen a thick notebook designed to look like this.

For me, my writer’s block looks like a giant cube of sandstone. This is probably because I am a huge fan of the TV show Futurama. In the episode “A Pharaoh to Remember” the Planet Express delivery crew has to deliver a block of sandstone to a planet resembling Ancient Egypt. When Professor Farnsworth makes this announcement with his usual call of “good news, everyone,” we don’t see it until the camera pans out to show this object being larger than the spaceship that will deliver it, and Fry comments, “I thought something looked different in here.”

Over the past six months since I’ve arrived in the UK, I know I’ve been so focused on pushing this block out of it’s tunnel, that I have forgotten one of the most basic principles of the physics of the mind. We can imagine almost anything if given the linguistic keys to do so. When this person asked me the follow up question of “why can’t I move this block?” my immediate reaction was, “well, maybe I should just pan the camera out?” Instead of moving or chipping away at the gargantuan artifice built up of procrastination and bad habits, I can focus on expanding the cavern it’s stuck in.

So take this advice, even if I don’t as often as I should. Don’t focus on moving, blasting, or chipping away at the obstacle. Maybe instead focus on expanding the cavern around it. Either by panning out, exploding new holes to let the light in, or finding cracks you didn’t realize that were there. This mental exercise can be strengthened with a few other proven tricks of mine, and if they work for me and my screwy brain, they might work for you:

  • “Read a lot. Write a lot.” I wholly believe in Stephen King’s advice from On Writing regarding this mantra. When I don’t read, my writing gets sluggish. This is also true if I read a lot of similar things in a row. If you’re reading too much about food history or on the craft of writing, like I have since starting my PhD program, read something in a completely different genre. Even if it’s just a few articles, short stories, or some poems. Just look at what picking up a biography in an airport did for Lin-Manuel Miranda.
  • Find your space. This can be in a coffee shop, library, or setting up a corner desk in your home. Making a space for writing seems to help your brain center itself and realize it’s time to write or create. This actually is something many writing manuals suggest. The latest one I bought is Organizing for Creative People by Sheila Chandra. It’s something that’s easy to forget, especially if you move to a new country and expect the writing bug to find you again. Doesn’t work like that.
  • Give yourself deadlines, and stick to them. Self explanatory, but even more so is to make yourself excited to see that end goal and not just treating it as a means to an end. Perhaps treat your next project like a travel itinerary. Sure things may change at the last minute and you may have to visit the National Gallery instead of the Tate Modern, but you still have to leave London and go back home eventually. Make the ending (or at least the first draft of a project) your coming home date and then the next step is the next itinerary for your next adventure of creativity.
  • In addition to a space and deadlines, above all you have to treat writing as something between a hobby and as a “real” occupation. It must be nurtured. This can be done with deadlines, a dedicated space, and by feeding it with words read and words written. Time spent writing must be protected and become as much a part of your routine as sleep, bathing, taking prescribed medication, eating well, and exercising. Notice how all of those things in the previous sentence not only contribute to a healthy body, but in turn a healthy mind.

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” as John Lennon said but one must make writing part of life, not a plan.

Advice I have been given over and over. Things I know, but often forget to practice. Perhaps we always need re-reminding of the important things as a way to remember to appreciate them.

“If a man is to live, he must be all alive, body, soul, mind, heart, spirit.” —Thomas Merton




© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image taken with iPhone 6 in July 2017 at Museum of London, London, England, UK.

How Bout them (Golden) Apples?

It’s been a hell of a year.

Just over one year ago, in early June of 2016, I decided to see if the idea that started to take shape during my MFA program would be worthy enough to make a decent PhD thesis. I drew up an Excel spreadsheet of PhD in Creative Writing programs in the UK that could take FAFSA student loans and narrowed them down based on other additional factors. Those included tuition, cost of living, and the coolness factor of where the school was located. Then I started reaching out to the schools to find an advisor that could supervise my science fiction and fantasy genre.

At the time I was pitched my PhD topic to focus on the food imagery in the works of Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman. A few times I got the response of “I’m sure we could find a supervisor for you.” Although the most common reply I received was, “I don’t think anyone here could supervise a degree that focuses on speculative fiction.” Or is silence better than kindness? There were a few silences too. I’m sure I could have been more aggressive but this was more or less an exercise in seeing what could happen. I had no idea if I could even go beyond asking. I still had to save up money, apply for a visa, and mentally prepare myself to leave home for at least three years.

On May 10, 2016, I received a response from the person who would become my second supervisor, Dr. Helen Marshall. Not only did she give full replies to some of my more awkward questions (I actually asked if British English grammar and punctuation would be expected of an American student), but she was wholly enthusiastic about my idea.

“Your project interests me because I find food to be such a strong component of speculative fiction, both, as you say, as a thematic device and as an avenue for world-building. All sorts of tropes come to mind, particularly taboos around eating food (such as in Fairyland for example) and in works that have a strong connection to those mythologies (Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, etc.) Anglia Ruskin could well be a good fit for your project as we have a real faculty strength in science fiction and fantasy, one that we expect to grow over the next three years.”

What? Seriously? I spent my whole MFA feeling like a bump on a log because I couldn’t fit myself into the literary fiction mold I tried so hard to fit myself into. But I was fortunate to find an enthusiastic mentor in Ellen Akins, she not only liked my straight fantasy ideas she encouraged them. When I told her I wasn’t sure about continuing on my with my Daeramere stories she asked in her wide eyed, straightforward manner, “why not?” (I try to take every opportunity I can to thank her for permission to write fantasy. Thank you, Ellen!)

There were several weeks of back and forth with Helen and then she introduced me to Dr. Tiffani Angus. Tiffani was also enthusiastic about my idea, except that both of them believed that I was “shoe-horning” the works of Atwood and Gaiman into my thesis idea. So I started to branch away, and was thrilled because I was once again given permission to explore the genre that has been my constant creative friend since I was a child.

When I arrived in the UK the time came for me to draft my real proposal, with a due date of the end of February. I must say the due date itself didn’t intimidate me at first. I figured I knew what I was doing, I knew this genre, of course I could get out in words what the (beep) I was going to become a self-professed expert in.

The truth is always harder and heavier than that isn’t it.

Like thousands of other postgraduate students (probably like every postgraduate student), I was immediately stricken with that most contagious of thought viruses: imposter syndrome. Other students were talking about doing their PhD’s on transformative works (aka fanfiction) and Tiffani told me that her PhD focused on chronotopes and heterotopias and spatialization…I felt like my terminology was so pedestrian for such lofty ivory tower ambitions.

Almost a year to the day after my first correspondence from Helen, I was told that my PhD proposal had been approved by the university. That I was worthy of literature.

I know when I say to a layperson, or even another student of creative writing and literature, that I’m studying the use of food imagery in science fiction and fantasy, particularly, how it shapes world-building and characterization, they usually reply that sounds really cool. Or variants thereof. The working title of my academic thesis eventually revealed itself as “Food and Cheer and Prose: The Gastronomy of Science Fiction and Fantasy.” Yet, when another creative writing or lit postgrad says something like, “my thesis is on the transmutability and false memory in the prose of Proust and Woolf,” I feel like I come up short. (I completely made that up but you get my point right?)

Those of you who know me well know that this is a huge part of my being, I always feel like I come up short when faced with the ambitions of others. But apparently ambition is something that is both singular and communal. Homer wasn’t the first person to tell stories about a ten-year war started by a beauty contest among the gods, but did so with his own twists because he wanted to tell this grand tale in a new way. Civilization repeated it over and over because it’s a good story and quite often tells us something about ourselves in how we retell the tale.

I guess this means I’ve got to remember that while others may talk of analyzing trauma and literary transubstantiation within the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin (again made up) that this is their part of the Trojan War of literature that they see. I see food and maybe when I tell you of a recipe hidden within prose it will either stir your stomach, or your mind, and then you’ll go and repeat the tales of brave Ulysses in your own way.

That is literature.

And this is my proposal:


Food and Cheer and Prose: The Gastronomy of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Proposed Area of Research

This doctoral thesis will be comprised of a creative piece of approximately 60,000 words and a critical analysis of approximately 25,000 words.

For a successful connection between reader and science fiction and fantasy literature the writer must evoke a convincing cultural milieu. My creative project, a speculative fiction short story collection, will explore food as a nexus of culture within literature. Each story will be paired with a recipe and will fall into one of the subgenres of science fiction and fantasy (SFF). The accompanying research will focus on how food imagery influences SFF world building, and how setting and characterization are shaped by different dichotomies found within the genre.

Aim of the Study

My proposed creative project, Odyssey in the Starwine Market: A Collection, will pair eight recipes with eight SFF works in a combined tasting and reading menu. Some recipes readers will be able to recreate for themselves, some perhaps not. The short stories will also fall under different subgenres, including high, urban, weird, and historical fantasy.

Aside from the subgenre of culinary mysteries, pairing recipes with prose is an uncommon occurrence in fiction. Although this medium has also appeared in nonfiction memoirs, Laura Esquivel’s magical realism novel, Like Water for Chocolate, in which a recipe precedes each monthly chapter, is one of the few examples where a whole menu is paired with the prose of the story.

Rosemary Jackson argues that fantasy is a “literature of desire, which seeks that which is experienced as absence or loss” (1981, pp.3-4). Food creates a connection between reader and story because it tends to literalize this desire in a variety of ways. Reading about Sansa Stark saving room for lemon cakes in A Game of Thrones, or Shadow Moon reflecting on his departed wife’s chili in American Gods, triggers Proustian moments in a reader.

One of my proposed stories, “How to Cook a Dragon,” will feature a typical post-Tolkien fantasy world. A cooking competition will serve as the catalyst to an unfolding mystery of sabotage and political intrigue between classic fantasy races. The story will also serve as a tongue-in-cheek observation of overused tropes of the genre (as examined in Diana Wynne Jones’s The Tough Guide to Fantasyland) and the popularity of television cooking shows.

Research Questions

  1. Why is food imagery important to works of SFF? How can it be identified and classified and how has it changed? How is it different in SFF versus other fiction genres? Does it change between SFF subgenres?
  2. What dichotomies arise in the types of food imagery in SFF? How special/sacred does a meal have to be or is the banal/profane just as important?
  3. How does food imagery play into world building and setting? How does food define characters in their response to the meals they eat or food they encounter?
  4. How does food imagery enhance or change a reader’s experience of a text with regards to dietary preferences and primal or cultural aversions to the consumption of taboo food?

Context for the Research

This PhD project addresses relatively new ground in academia. Fabio Parasecoli claims “food has only recently become a respectful object of interest and research in academia” (2008, p.11). I will investigate food imagery in SFF to see how it has changed over the years and how it has shaped the genre.

My research component will combine two of the oldest pieces of civilization: literature and food. Food in myth is about desire, as illustrated by the fruit of knowledge in the Garden of Eden, the Trojan War starting with a contest over a Golden Apple, and the apple that appears in the Grimm Brothers’ Snow White tale. In stories about fairies all readers know “Fairies often ask for food or gifts,” and “one must not eat the fairy food” (Purkiss, pp.66 & 129). Because of the myth and fairy tale origins of SFF there is an underlying tradition of food imagery. To taste what a character is eating or cooking enforces world building, shapes the setting, and feeds into characterization. Tolkien’s The Hobbit normalizes Middle Earth and the hobbit, wizard, and dwarf races via a feast featuring a very British menu. In contrast, Daenerys Targaryen in Martin’s A Game of Thrones is served horsemeat at her wedding feast. During his first journey on the Hogwarts express, Harry Potter walks away from the food trolley with an armful of fantastic sweets, including chocolate frogs that actually hop around.

There is also another side to food imagery, where an author takes these vicarious pleasures and subverts them. In addition to his unusual speech patterns, Gollum is further alienated from Sam, Frodo, and the reader by his bloodthirsty diet. Authors may ask of readers to view a tray bearing breakfast as something nefarious. After chaining up and stripping the wizard protagonist Harry Dresden of his magic in Death Masks, the villain Nicodemus taunts Harry with food, asking both the protagonist and the reader to sell their soul for pancakes and coffee.


My research will include SFF short stories and novels, as well as cookbooks and food history texts. Food imagery, via the lens of literary theory, will be examined through the works of SFF academics such as Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James. Works about creative writing and the craft of writing will also be studied. Visits to historical kitchens, food libraries, and London’s Le Cordon Bleu will reinforce the living history of food and its ever-changing presence in our lives and in literature.

As my academic research progresses I will attend, and submit a paper to, the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery and SFF conventions, including NineWorlds, Eastercon, and WorldCon. Updates on my academic and creative process will be featured on www.foodcheerprose.wordpress.com.



Comparative Texts

Butcher, J., 2003. Death masks. New York: Roc.

Collins, S., 2008. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic Press.

Esquivel, L., 1992. Like water for chocolate: a novel in monthly installments, with recipes, romances, and home remedies. New York: Doubleday.

Gaiman, N., 2004. American gods: a novel. Readers’ copy edn. Ossining, NY: Hill House, Publishers.

Gaiman, N., 2009. Neverwhere: the author’s preferred text. New York: William Morrow.

Lewis, C.S., 2005; 1950. The lion, the witch, and the wardrobe. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Mirrelees, H., 1926, Lud-in-the-Mist, Glasgow, UK: Collins.

Rowling, J.K., 1998. Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone. New York: Scholastic.

Tolkien, J.R.R., 1997. The hobbit, or, There and back again. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Tolkien, J.R.R., 1986; 1965. The two towers: being the second part of the lord of the rings. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Tolkien, J.R.R., 2012; 1994. The fellowship of the ring: being the first part of the lord of the rings. Boston: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.


Creative Process/Craft

Burroway, J., Stuckey-French, E. and Stuckey-French, N., 2015; 2015. Writing fiction: a guide to narrative craft. Ninth edn. Boston: Pearson.

Card, O.S., 2010. Characters & viewpoint. Rev edn. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.

King, S., 2000. On writing: a memoir of the craft. New York: Scribner.

Lamott, A., 1995; 1994. Bird by bird: some instructions on writing and life. Anchor Books edn. New York: Anchor Books.

Mort, G., 2001. The Creative Writing Coursebook: forty authors share advice and exercises for poetry and prose. London: Macmillan.


Food Studies

Andrews, T., 2000. Nectar & ambrosia: an encyclopedia of food in world mythology. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Abc-Clio.

Dahl, R. and blake, Q., 1994. Roald Dahl’s revolting recipes. New York: Viking.

Davidson, A., Jaine, T. and Vannithone, S., 2014. The Oxford companion to food. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Freedman, P., 2007. Food: the history of taste. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lawson, N., 1998. How to eat: the pleasures and principles of good food. London: Chatto & Windus.

Monroe-Cassel, C. and Lehrer, S., 2012. A feast of ice and fire: the official companion cookbook. New York: Bantam Books.

Parasecoli, F., 2008. Bite me: food in popular culture. Oxford; New York: Berg.

Pollan, M., 2006. The omnivore’s dilemma: a natural history of four meals. New York: Penguin Press.

Pollan, M., 2013. Cooked: a natural history of transformation. New York: The Penguin Press.

Reeder, C., 2015. The Geeky Chef cookbook: unofficial recipes from Doctor Who, Game of thrones, Harry Potter, and more: real-life recipes for your favorite fantasy foods. New York: Race Point Publishing, a division of Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc.


SFF Studies

Card, O.S., 1990. How to write science fiction and fantasy. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.

Clute, J. and Grant, J., 1997. The Encyclopedia of fantasy. US edn. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Jackson, R., 1981. Fantasy, the literature of subversion. London; New York: Methuen.

James, E. and Mendlesohn, F., 2003. The Cambridge companion to science fiction. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

James, E. and Mendlesohn, F., 2012. The Cambridge companion to fantasy literature. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jones, D. W., 1996. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. New York: Firebird Books.

Mendlesohn, F., 2008. Rhetorics of fantasy. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press.

Purkiss, D., 2007. Fairies and fairy stories: a history. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing Limited.

VanderMeer, J., 2013. Wonderbook: an illustrated guide to creating imaginative fiction. New York: Abrams Image.




© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image taken with iPhone 6 in June 2017 at Foyles Bookshop, London, England, UK.


More Than Royal “We”


As I start to type out this blog post I am on a train departing from Cambridge, the city that has been somewhat my home for the past four and a half months. I’m not loving every minute of this new adventure, but I am starting to allow myself to realize that’s an okay thought. I’m spending a lot of physical, emotional, and spiritual (not to mention financial) energy on this venture of earning a PhD. I’m doubly hard on myself because of my mental illness and in general I have been hard on myself my whole life.

Back to the thoughts that started this post. I’m sitting on a train, sipping on an iced vanilla latte and eating a bacon sandwich. Bless the British people for inventing the bacon sandwich. It’s the only time I’ll concede that your back bacon rashers are better than the thick smoked streaky bacon back home. Especially the bacon from Smiths and Harmons. I really miss Harmons. Sainsburys here is somewhat close, but not the same.

The last five and a half months have been an exercise in “same” or “not the same,” and sometimes there’s “somewhat better” and “better.” Ben and Jerry’s? Same. Hard to find cute clothes for my plus size body? Same. The UK weather compared to Utah weather? I say somewhat better because while the humidity is surely going to kill me, at least there’s moisture in the air and everything’s green. Which means I can breathe through my nose and my lips, elbows, and hair aren’t always dry. Diet soda? I’m going to say it’s better for me here because I don’t drink it like I did back home. I used to be a Diet Coke fiend, but here Diet Coke tastes nasty. So less soda equals win, doesn’t it?

Game shows? Somewhat better. I’ve always loved Jeopardy back home, and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire has always been easy for me sitting at home on the couch and shouting at people for not knowing that Frida Kahlo’s nationality was Mexican! But I admit here in the UK I’ve fallen for quiz shows like The Chase, Pointless, and Tipping Point. My advisor teases me for liking the last one, but I mean, come on, it’s exciting to see if the counters in the push machine will or will not fall. And people are dumb for choosing drop zone three when clearly in drop zone four that mystery counter is so close to falling over. (For those of you that have never watched the game show Tipping Point, don’t, it’s addicting.)

Historical sites? Again somewhat better. I do love the pioneer and Native American history of Utah, but I have always been enchanted by old churches and castles, ancient graveyards, and with any place where the population and government are dedicated to preserving the past. The stories that came before us speak of our humanity and the sliding scales of our progresses as a civilization, which has changed from the first tiny settlements in the Tigris-Euphrates and Indus valleys, into this global economy and melting pot of cultures our world is slowly becoming.

Because I’m studying food in science fiction and fantasy literature for my PhD, this means I’m not only looking at what magical sweets Harry Potter bought on the Hogwarts Express or the anachronistic potatoes in Middle Earth, I will be studying the history of food in culture as well. I am fortunate to have already visited the historical kitchen at Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth II’s secondary residence, on a previous trip to England. Recent archeology of the centuries old castle uncovered that several of the chimneys in the kitchen were almost a thousand years old. Which means that it’s likely the oldest continually working kitchen in Great Britain at the very least.

Today I visited Hampton Court Palace there I walked where kings and queens once walked. They are titles, which mean very little for many people in the world. I’ve met several republicans here in the UK, which for my US friends mean they are against the monarchy, or rather for the most part, the monarchy receiving taxpayer money. To me the title of course invokes history. This is probably due to my American birth and a vague notion that real names would be remembered forever in history that weren’t presidents. I still vividly remember my dad telling my siblings and me about the death of Princess Di and that this was going to really upset my mom who liked her a great deal. Then in the aftermath of September 11th I remember the outrage over President Bush’s family ties to Saudi Arabian royalty. The rest of the notion of royalty is wrapped up in fairy tales and history.

In my senior year of high school we studied several of Shakespeare’s plays and we learned a bit more about the culture of Tudor and Elizabethan England. I was completely enamored with the story of the Tutors (and also of the mysterious figure of Christopher Marlowe, but that’s another story for another time). The budding feminist in me was outraged at how Henry VIII discarded one wife after another, especially since I’d learned in biology class that men carry the genes that determine the sex of a baby. I was also enchanted by the notion of this culture of decadence mixed with religious fervor, tying into my own inner religious turmoil that continues to this day.

At Hampton Court Palace I must confess I felt a bit disappointed in my surroundings upon first arrival. The flag at half mast due to the attack at the London Bridge the night before was also heavy on my heart.

Whenever you see modern restoration and construction taking place with a historical sight in the backdrop, it tends to cause a bit of temporal dissonance I think. I felt this same bit of disappointment when I visited Westminster Abbey for a second time in 2015 and saw to my horror the beautiful gothic facade covered by scaffolding.

My disappointment began to ebb away though as I climbed the steps up to Henry VIII’s apartments and the great hall within. These vaulted ceilings never cease to take my breath away. The audio guide and displays pointing out things where time was knitted together between the years even then. Where some places of Katherine of Aragon’s time still overlapped with Anne Boleyn’s (some of it due to restoration). One exhibit was dedicated to the power play between Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. It was spiritually moving to visit chambers where in all likelihood Katherine of Aragon prayed and wept, never losing her composure or her faith. I also admire Anne Boleyn as well. We can never know to what extent she was played a pawn in her father’s and uncle’s games to court the King’s favor, or if she really was a bold patron of new religious freedom. I’ve also seen Anne’s English Bible, a Tyndale translation, in the British Library. Such a thing would have been a dangerous possession; even as Henry distanced himself from the Catholic Church in Rome he still fought to maintain his faith in the teachings of the church of his forbearers.

Of course the main reason I wanted to go to Hampton Court Palace was so see the historical *working* kitchen. Well, really only one hearth is actively used today for live cooking demonstrations of spit roasting meat. The experimental food historian (my new favorite job title) answered questions from visitors with enthusiasm. Surely he’s answered many of these same questions many of the times over the years working as both a historian and a character in the atmosphere of a time where courtiers dined on thousands of pounds of meat every year. The staggering number of hundreds of deer, oxen, sheep, wild boar, and fish served could feed a small third world nation today for sure. When guests spent their time at Hampton Court, approximately 75% of the diet was meat; hardly distinct from the diet of many people in first world nations today.

When I told the experimental food historian I was here in the UK to study food in literature he was instantly interested. Immediately asked if I considered some quotes from various Shakespeare plays, one of which was King Lear, a play I have not revisited with my new academic angle in mind. He also told me about a friend of his who did her own postgrad dissertation on the historical significance of how deer was hunted and the order in which it was dressed (butchered) in the field, with allusions to Tristan and Isolde and The Green Knight. When I said, “cool,” he laughed and replied, “we say cool; most people don’t know what it means.”

I love that. I so often feel so singular and isolated that I forget I can be part of a “we.” I’m an academic “we.” I guess in a way I’m a food historian “we” now as well (more of a cultural food historian, but still). I’m a writer “we” and a reader “we.” Still a part of family “we” and slowly becoming part of the Anglia Ruskin “we.”

This also means I will likely become a “we” of the past one day. I’ll leave behind words rather than royal actions or help to charge religious change. You can be a part of a “we” too, vicarious we of this PhD blog and my expat experiences.




© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Image taken with iPhone 6 in June 2017 at Hampton Court Palace, London, England, UK.


My Favorite Meal


Over the last few years my favorite meal has slowly changed. It used to be, with absolute certainty, chicken fettuccine Alfredo, garlic bread my Grandma Forbes’s no-bake, cheesecake topped with raspberry sauce, even at Death’s door. The dessert part of this last supper hasn’t changed. I don’t think it ever will.

The best part about Thanksgiving on the old Forbes farm was Bessie Forbes’s cheesecake. It’s a simple thing to make. It starts with a cookie crust. She used Honey Maid graham crackers. I use a mixture of graham and Biscoff crumbs when I make it, but there’s something about the memory of her crust that mine will probably never top. Next is an eight-ounce brick of Philadelphia cream cheese, a can of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk, and 1/3 cup of lemon juice. Here again I tend to deviate from her recipe and I use a mix of lime and lemon juice. To me this is what cooking is all about, embracing old memories and techniques while crafting new ones at the same time.

After you get your non-custard, but custardy base together, you can either pour it into your prepared crust, or add in a cup or so of whipped cream. My mom prefers no extra fluff and Grandma Forbes used Dream Whip. I stick to whipped cream, I even have plans to make this easy cheesecake when I appear on Chopped or some other cooking show in the future.

The cheesecake needs to spend some time in the refrigerator. This is where the no-bake part happens. There’s chemistry at work is essentially curdling. The absence of so much water in the sweetened condensed milk means that the casein proteins in the milk react with the acid to thicken without eggs or heat.

The above paragraph is also one of those little gems I love to learn about when I research food history and chemistry. I love learning why foods do what they do because of human desire and interaction, or just because of the process of nature. This is the magic I have come to know, and it has taken many years of study.

I truly believe in Stephen King’s aphorism that one must “read a lot and write a lot” in order to become a better writer. There is no way to avoid this. Even the greats read and wrote many words that never saw the light. Many of those words were also excised with the editing pen (many superfluous words were excised from this blog post as well). These are the magic wands and words. “Get busy reading or get busy writing,” as I’ve begun to tell my self.

The same holds true with cooking, and overcoming extreme picky eating.

Yes, I am a picky eater. It used to be really bad. I can remember refusing to eat baked potatoes as a kid. Nowadays however, when cooked perfectly, there is nothing like piercing the papery brown skin of a russet with just a fork and fighting with the emerging steam to reveal the fluffy starch inside. I even just like them with a pat of butter, salt, pepper, and a dollop of sour cream (yet another foodstuff I used to shun because I didn’t like the tanginess). But you have to remember to close the open potato again so that the butter and sour cream melt into the flesh before too much heat escapes.

Next, and this may sound strange coming from a “red blooded American,” but I used to not be such a big fan of steak. That is until I discovered the two magic words: “medium rare.” The juice is the best part of a piece of meat and until I first asked for my steak to be cooked a less than the family standard of above medium, I was quite unaware of this fact. Now a thick ribeye, with plenty of marbling, is the third component of my favorite meal.

One of my favorite ways to season a steak is to get some Montreal Steak Seasoning and add ancho chili powder in a 4:1 ratio. I call this my “stupid easy steak seasoning.” Another favorite seasoning, for lesser cuts like sirloin or flatiron, I use a wet marinade made of soy sauce, brown sugar, and crushed garlic. Also, if you’re cooking your meat at home, be sure to take it out about an hour before introducing your beef to some heat. This helps to keep the meat tender because refrigerator cold meeting extreme heat tends to cause steaks or burgers to seize.

The final miracle is this: sometime around the age of five I developed an aversion to about 90% of foodstuffs that come from the ground. According to my parents practically overnight I stopped eating things like beans, carrots, celery, and all forms of lettuces. Until recently I would gag anytime I tried to eat a salad. I still tried over the years, especially post high school, to keep trying salad, but I could never make it past a bite or two. Then on a trip to West Wendover, Nevada with my grandmother, her sister, her two daughters, and a cousin we decided to eat at the nice Italian restaurant called Romanza.

For dinner I ordered my standby of chicken alfredo and a cocktail called an Italian Wedding Cake (amaretto is just lovely, isn’t it?). Everyone but me at the table asked for the Caesar salad. I had probably initially asked for the soup, but for some reason I decided to tell the waitress that I wanted give the Caesar a try. Why not? I was pretty sure I had never tried Caesar dressing before. About this time I was about five years into my culinary self-education and I had seen or read that Caesar dressing was made up of one of the “eww-ist” of ingredients—anchovies. But I was feeling daring in the wake of the gambling atmosphere of the town.

The waitress brought out the big wooden bowl started to assemble our salad tableside. I watched closely as the pale yellow dressing met the emerald and jade green leaves. She sprinkled the grated Parmesan cheese over the bowl as though it were snow. I mean snow cheese, what could be better? Then croutons, previously the only salad ingredient I liked aside from black olives. And then the tempo of this the symphony sped up as she tossed the ingredients together into a crescendo of edible music. I could swear I was literally enchanted by all of these ingredients coming together for the first time in my memory. This is the closest I have ever come to having a synesthetic moment. Synesthesia is a condition some people have there they see music or hear color. Upon reflection I swear I could not only hear and taste and see the salad, but I was sure that many of these senses had been transposed and exchanged. Magic, evolution, experience, whatever you want to call it, after that meal I started experimenting more with salads. And now I can’t imagine my favorite meal without a Caesar.

There is something refreshing when one enjoys a crunchy and crisp salad with a tangy dressing, right before the richness of a medium rare steak and a creamy butter baked potato. Followed by a slice of no-bake cheesecake with raspberry sauce, made up of it’s own science and magic, is a meal made up of the evolution of my palate.

When the raw is transformed it reignites memory, and this is why I study food in fiction. Human memory can be found in any text, and the deepest memories any of us have are usually of food. Food can be sustenance and the building blocks of civilization, but it is also a symbol of love and our connection to both the Earth and one another. A meal is just another magical form of communication.




Featured image taken by Ginger Lee Thomason in 2017 on iPhone 6. Salad, steak, and baked potato images are stock and the cheesecake martini glasses were taken by Ginger Lee Thomason on iPhone 4.

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Whys

“Your only limit is your soul.”

So, here is the inaugural post for my PhD blog. As of this writing I am nearly two months into my PhD in Creative Writing programme at Anglia Ruskin University. A few weeks ago I submitted my proposal and now I feel a bit lost. I’ve been living in a foreign country for a few weeks now and while there are many familiarities with home, the physical absence of family and friends has started to weigh on my academic and creative progress. My advisor Dr. Tiffani Angus has set a few deadlines and goals for me, one of which is to official launch my PhD blog.

As an extremely introverted, and self-described “strange” teenager, I dreamed of leaving Layton, Utah for some academically exotic place like New York City, Los Angeles or, most of all, England. There was something about England in books, TV, and movies that seemed so magical. So if I were to give reason number one in applying for and aspiring to study in the UK, it would be to achieve this adolescent dream. When I left high school in 2005, I enrolled at Weber State University to study psychology before changing to history. I dropped out after only two years of study and returned to college at another school in 2011.

Though I finished my bachelor’s through Southern New Hampshire (SNHU) University and my MFA with Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, I have actually never “gone away” to school. All of my classes at SNHU were online, and aside from four writers residencies (conferences) with Fairleigh Dickinson, I lived and worked in my home state of Utah during my studies. The secondary reason for chasing this PhD craziness was that I knew I had to go big…or I’d end up going somewhere else in the US. Which is fine. I was also looking at a food studies PhD program at NYU (except after my first trip to NYC I learned I didn’t like the city that much) and the least exciting option was a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Oklahoma…yeah, um, no.

The third reason I wanted to go for a PhD has to do with my family. I learned at my Grandpa Thomason’s funeral in 2006 that he wanted to be a history teacher but never became one. This was one of the reasons I changed my Weber State major from psychology to history. My cousins and I loved his stories about family history and his life, he was a vivid but grounded storyteller, the kind any writer aspires to be. However there was one problem: I could never be a teacher for kids. I am well aware that college students aren’t much better, but it still seems like my calling. I love writing because I like sharing stories with people, and while at first I wanted to share my love of history with other people, now I want to help people find their own writing voice.

There is also a final and purely selfish reason for pursuing this PhD. Even as far back as my psychology aspirations I wanted to be the first person in my family to be called Dr. Thomason.

They tell me that I need to remember the reasons why I’m going for a PhD as time goes by. That I need to remember the passion behind my decision when it’s a late night and I’ve got a headache and a deadline, or when I lack the motivation to read or write another word. I have to remember that this is the accumulation of my love of learning. It’s also a huge part of something I’ve learned about in my twenties and what I expect of myself as I near my thirtieth birthday—that I can succeed and even more than that I will succeed.


Image belongs to Disney/Pixar.

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


I’ll be using this post to document my journey through my PhD program at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK.



Image taken with iPhone 6 in Cambridge, UK by Ginger Lee Thomason.

© Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Ginger Lee Thomason and foodcheerprose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.