Monday, November 28, 2011

Author Gretchen McNeil DIshes On Meatballs, Bourdain and the Allure of Salty-Sweet

Today I want to introduce you to the fabulousness of Gretchen McNeil. I met Gretchen through the Apocalypsies where she and Lynne Kelly have served as den mothers of sorts, corralling the craziness of 100+ debut authors into a highly fun and functional group. But Gretchen is also a food-lovin' lady and avid home cook who is lucky to live amid the amazing restaurants of L.A. and thus a natural for Pots 'n Pens.

About Gretchen

Gretchen McNeil is an opera singer, writer and clown. Her YA horror/paranormal POSSESS debuted with Balzer + Bray for HarperCollins, August 23, 2011. Her second novel, TEN – YA horror/suspense about ten teens trapped on a remote island with a serial killer – is tentatively scheduled for a Fall 2012 release. Gretchen is a former coloratura soprano, the voice of Mary on G4's Code Monkeys and she currently sings with the LA-based circus troupe Cirque Berzerk ( ). Gretchen is also a founding member of the vlog group YARebels ( where she can be seen as "Monday."

Tell me about a typical writing day and how food fits into it. Do you stress bake or cook compulsively on deadline, or does the food prep fall away when the writing gets busy? How about when you’re performing?

I think any writer will tell you that food plays a HUGE role in the process. When I'm writing on deadline I require certain food items in the house: jelly beans, fresh corn tortillas and guacamole (for quesadillas), and I always make a big batch of my homemade meatballs. Yes, totally random, but I think those items fill three essential food needs: sugar high, comfort food, brain protein.

Performing is similar, except I'm usually expending a lot more calories singing and dancing on stage than say, sitting on my butt in front of my laptop, so I tend to crave carb energy, usually in the form of the French fry…

What kinds of meals or flavors inspire you most?

I love a mix of salty and sweet. There's a brunch restaurant in West LA that does this to perfection in the form of waffle sliders – mini Belgian waffles sandwiching a fried egg, thick cut bacon and sharp cheddar cheese, served with real maple syrup. I also love the Pancakes 'n' Bacon cupcake from Yummy Cupcakes. Oh, and anything labeled "salted caramel." Mmmm. Now I'm hungry.

What are some of your favorite books involving food?

I'm a huge Anthony Bourdain fan. I've read all of his non-fiction books and I adore the way he mixes his unique voice (I call it "overeducated snark") with amazing food commentary. He makes me want to hop a plane to Asia and eat my way from Japan to India!

Recipes or improvisation? Plotter or pantser?

Can I be both? I like to start with a recipe, and then modify it to my own personal tastes overtime, like said homemade meatball recipe mentioned above.

Your writing seems to straddle different genres. Does your cooking, as well?

Oh yes. I was exposed to a variety of cuisines as a kid growing up in California. I love all food, and I've tried my hand at everything from dim sum to tamales to shepherd's pie!

Possess is set in your birthplace of San Francisco but you live in L.A. Which city has the better dining scene?

Yes, I'm a San Francisco native but I've lived in LA for almost 15 years. And as much as I adore San Francisco's foodie culture, I think for sheer variety, inventiveness and insanity, LA is my preferred food city. I mean, where else can you eat at the #1 Himalayan restaurant in the U.S.?

Now for the signature Pots and Pens question: If you had to choose a single book and a single food item, desert island style, what would you pick?

Does champagne count as a food item? No? Damn. In that case, an After School Special (grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough with tomato soup to dip it in) and John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps. Don't ask. I love that damn book.

What recipe are you going to share with us? Tell us a little bit about it!

So this is my favorite recipe, the one I always include in recipe swaps. It's a brunch dish which takes all of 5 minutes to assemble, and every single time I serve it, people beg me for the recipe. It's also the easiest dish I have ever made in my life. Ready?

Spanish Cheese Pie

3 eggs, whisked with 2 tablespoons of milk

1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese

½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 small can diced fire roasted green chiles (I like the Ortega brand)

1 small can French's French Fried onions

1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Poor in a glass pie plate. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes. Cut and serve.

You'll thank me for this one. ;)


  1. Thanks for a great interview, Gretchen and Elisa--fun and interesting! I imagine it must be hard work keeping those pesky Apocalypsies in line. ;)

  2. Salted caramel and champagne. A girl after my own heart. :)

    Food is an integral part of writing, though you gave your choices more rhyme and reason than I can find with mine. Popsicles, popcorn and...okay, maybe there's a pattern.

    Great interview. Thanks!

  3. I love Gretchen!!! Thank you so much for stopping by! What a fantastic interview. :)