Friday, December 2, 2011

Interview with: Toni De Palma

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Toni De Palma, author of Under the Banyan Tree (Holiday House) and the middle grade fantasy, Jeremy Owl (Aerodale Press). She is full of interesting stories and even got close to John Travolta's ankle once (but that's a story for another post). She also has a delicious chili recipe for us today as well. Yum! Welcome, Toni!

Let's start with some cooking questions first.

What are three must-have foods/seasonings in your kitchen?

Fresh basil for a caprese salad (tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, basil and salt), different types of pastas and good Reggiano Parmigiano cheese.

Great choices! Nothing like fresh basil to add flavor. Do you have a favorite kitchen accessory or appliance that further makes the dish?

For my bridal shower, my husband's grandmother gave me a pasta machine. When I unwrapped it, I smiled politely and handed it over to him. I enjoy drinking a glass of wine while he cranks out delicious folds of pasta :)

Love this story! At least it's getting used. Maybe a writing utensil is more your speed. Do you have a favorite writing accessory or reference?

My favorite writing "accessory" has to do with space. At the start of each novel, I find a spot in my home and make that the sacred space for that story. In the past, that spot has been a little niche in my bedroom, my home office, and now it is the island in my kitchen. I don't know why it changes, but for duration of that novel, I became rather superstitious and can't switch.

I completely understand finding the perfect spot. Sometimes nothing else feels right or write. Ha.
Let's switch gears a little bit and stretch your boundaries. Is there a food you’d love to learn how to cook or a different genre or type of book you’d love to try to write?

This summer I went to a writing retreat in Paris and fell in love with the fromagerie or cheese shops. Delicate white wheels, braids and logs of creamy goodness are rolled in herbs or ash, which decorate the shops' front windows. I would love to go to the French countryside and learn to make my own cheese.

As for a book? Maybe a romance novel about a woman who finds love as she's learning to make cheese!

I have to say, I have never read a romance book like that! And, maybe you'd have to go to Paris again for research and further inspiration. What about your other books? Can you tell us what inspired your latest book and what ingredients you hope make it a tasty treat for readers?

My latest novel, Jeremy Owl, about a 10 year old science geek who is turned into an owl by a bunch of nasty fairies, is a fantasy romp that includes magical pies. One delectable scene takes place in a pie library. After I wrote it, my mouth was watering for apple pie.

Ooh apple pie. And fairies! Sold. Can you share a bit about your next project as well?

My first novel, Under the Banyan Tree, is a contemporary YA that deals with a girl's difficult family life. Actually, there's lots of good Cuban cooking in that one. For my next novel, Stealing Sarah, I'm returning to my contemporary YA roots. Sarah is dealing with economic hardship and a

long held feud with the most popular girl in the school. Sarah hungers for a different life and a certain hot guy.

Those both sound great. Contemp YA is close to my heart too. And, speaking of hungering for something, what’s your go-to meal when you need to serve something quick and easy?

While the pasta is boiling, I sauté some garlic, artichoke hearts (from a can), black olives and a handful of sun dried tomatoes. I also add a bit of vegetable broth, fresh parsley and, if you like it hot, some red pepper flakes. Pour the veggies over the pasta, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and you've got a meal with a lot of flavor.

Great idea! And now it's time for our last question. If you were marooned on an island and Pots & Pens granted your wish for only one book and one food, what would you choose?

Since I have had so many wonderful moments associated with this food (sitting on a jetty with my mom in Italy, warm summer nights in a Brooklyn pizzeria), I'd have to say without a doubt my choice would be pizza.
The second part of this question is near impossible to answer. So since I couldn't choose just one book, I'd have to say a journal. That way I could write my own adventure.

Thank you so much for joining us today, Toni! We're looking forward to trying your chili recipe!

Veggie Chili:

2 tbsp. oil

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped scallions

1 large red pepper diced.

2 large cloves garlic

28 oz. diced tomatoes from a can

1 tbsp. chili powder

2 tsp. cumin

1 chipotle pepper minced

3 cans beans (pink, white, black or whatever you like)

2 1/2 cups vegetable broth

1 can corn

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Salt to taste


Heat oil, add scallion, celery, red pepper and garlic. Cook until softens.

Stir in diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, salt, and chipotle. Cook for 2 minutes.

Drain beans and add along with corn and broth. Let simmer for 30 minutes.

Stir in cilantro right before serving.


  1. Great interview! :) xo I can't wait to try out the recipe.

  2. Paris, pizza and a great post!
    I love this interview, especially that you find a special spot for writing each book. I often do this, too. I can't wait to try this tasty chili recipe and STEALING SARAH sounds like a book I'd love to read, too.

  3. A writing retreat in Paris sounds like Heaven. Thanks for the great interview, ladies. Now I'm hungry. : ) Happy reading and writing!