Monday, May 18, 2009

Robin Brande on food and beauty

Librarians know that the coolest thing in the world is getting to chat with authors, whether it's in person or online. Thanks to the miracles of technology (read: Google, Technorati, Twitter, email), I got to interview Robin Brande, author of the upcoming Fat Cat, which I loved and you will too. Robin, who is hilarious and much better about answering her email than I am, graciously took the time to answer some of my burning questions on, among other things, what makes a person "hot" and what I should have for dinner. Read on!

Carlie: Which came first: The idea for FAT CAT or an interest in natural foods/eating vegetarian?

Robin: It’s interesting, Carlie. Whenever the topic of food and weight and my own history come up, I tend to be either secretive and cagey, or to totally spill my guts although tomorrow I may send you a frantic e-mail: “NO! DELETE! DELETE!” But here goes::

I have alternated in my life among being average, fat, and very fat. The last time I was skinny was in fourth grade. Then my boobs came in in fifth, and it was all over. (See, that’s one of the parts you’re going to have to delete.)

For most of my life, food and weight have been constantly on my mind. I love to bake, love to eat, love to read books about baking and eating—but then there’s this other side of me that is secretly a nutrition and health freak, and so you can imagine the war going on in my brain.

When I was in junior high and high school I was a big fan of all the diets I’d see in Cosmo or Glamour or wherever. The week-long beets diet was especially spectacular, what with the way it turned my pee and poop bright red. Thrilling.

Then once I hit college—when I was superfat—I’d alternate between months of gorging on things like sweet and sour pork and a pint of Baskin Robbins (that was my Wednesday night treat—something to look forward to every week), and then weeks (or days) of “getting serious” and trying some new diet I’d make up. My favorite was the “trail mix diet,” where I decided since I love M&Ms, peanuts, and raisins so much, I’d just eat those—and only those—for a whole week. Gained five pounds. Excellent.

In my adult years I finally found a love for exercise, and that keeps most of the major pudge off, but I still love tortilla chips and chocolate chip cookies and other snacks way too much to get back to my fourth grade form. Which, let’s admit, is impossible anyway, since back then I had no notion of hips.

So the idea for FAT CAT, as you can see, came from my own life. The difference between Cat and me is that she’s smart and scientific, whereas I think eating M&Ms might solve the problem.

So when I embarked on writing the book, I decided to make myself my own science experiment, just like Cat did. In the process I read tons and tons of books on food and nutrition, I made all sorts of changes to my diet, and I finally actually figured out a healthy way of eating and living. Yes, I still need the tortilla chips and cookies every now and then—who doesn’t?—but I’m trying to keep it all under reasonable control, in part because now I have this book coming out and I’d better fairly represent it, don’t you think?

(Alternate answer: I don’t really care about food or eating, Carlie. I’m just one of those lucky people. I basically just made the whole book up.)

CW: Since an interest in science plays a big part in your books, can you talk about your background in science (if you have one)?

RB: Again with the confession: I have absolutely zero background in science. I used to hate it more than I can say. Then somewhere in these past few years a little switch got dislodged in my brain, and now I watch all these science shows like Nova and Nature, I read the science section of the New York Times, I watch science documentaries—what happened to me? I used to only read People and watch Top Chef. (Okay, still do that.)

In short, can’t explain it. I just think science is totally fascinating and cool, and I really admire kids who get the bug early.

CW: The back of FAT CAT reads: Cat After: Smart. Funny. Hot. The idea of what makes a "hot" girl is often an extreme; you have to be tanned, fake hair, fake nails, a size 2, etc. What do you envision the "After" Cat as looking like? What does it mean to you for a girl to be "hot?"

RB: Ugh, hate the things you just described. Personally, I think hotness comes from within, and is a much more natural process than going to the tanning salon and getting the fake hotness sprayed on.

This morning when I was out walking the dogs on the nearby university campus, I saw this college girl walking toward the sports facilities. And she had the most incredible, muscular arms. I had to stop her and say something. “Oh, my gosh, your arms! They’re fabulous! Are you a swimmer?” She smiled and confirmed she was. Now that kind of look is HOT. Healthy, strong, natural.

CW: Reading FAT CAT made me hungry. What should I make for dinner (with recipe, please)?

RB: Mmm, so many yummy possibilities. My current favorite thing is to cut up a bunch of little potatoes and roast them in the oven with just a layer of water in the bottom of the pan—you don’t need oil. Put some salt and pepper on them, heap up a big plateful, dip in ketchup and fancy mustard and even horseradish if you can take it.

Then mix up a huge salad full of all sorts of fun and interesting things—plain salads are so boring and will never make you crave them. Lately I’ve been taking three or four handfuls of pre-washed baby greens, then adding artichoke hearts, asparagus I’ve either steamed or roasted in the oven (again, just in water and with salt and pepper), beets (yes, I’ve forgiven beets), sunflower seeds, raisins—really, anything that captures my fancy. Then I toss it with about a tablespoon of Annie’s Naturals Goddess Dressing (a real endorsement—no kickbacks), made with tahini and apple cider vinegar—I’m telling you, it’s as decadent as all those big heavy meals I used to eat pre-FAT CAT, and yet eating this way makes me feel SO much better. I am a changed woman because of writing that book. Another reason why I love my job!

CW: What are you working on now, and what can we expect from you in the future?

RB: I’m working on another science book—surprise! But as usual, it’s science balanced with comedy and romance, because we all need some c & r. Can’t say anything more about it yet. And besides, I’ve spilled my guts quite enough for one interview, don’t you think?

Carlie's note: It should be said here that of all household duties, I loathe cooking the most (although I love to eat). I know lots of people find it relaxing and creative, but I find it frustrating drudgery. Even with my supreme hatred of cooking, Fat Cat made me want to not only enter my kitchen, but to cook in it! That, my friends, is a powerful book.

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