McMuffins and Steak Frites: An “Escape Plans” Menu by Teri Vlassopoulos
When one writes fiction, at any given moment there are people, usually family or friends, who believe that much of what you’ve written is true. They pick out the threads of real life and whatever they can’t recall happening or being verbalized suddenly become portals into a presumed secret world: did you really do that? Is that how you really feel?
My most recent book, a novel called Escape Plans, charts the final days of Niko Kiriakos’ life before he dies in a sailing accident on the Greek island of Spetses. Years later, his surviving wife, Anna, and daughter, Zoe, recount the aftermath, Anna while she’s on vacation with her partner in Paris, and Zoe in Montreal where’s she starting university. While slivers of the book’s events can be connected to me, I’ve already explained to a few people that no, seriously, it’s fiction. However, there’s one area of the book that’s unabashedly based on real life, and that area is food. As much as I love writing about food, it’s tricky slipping in references without them sticking out like the little darlings they are. So, I did the best I could. Below is a sampler of food and drink mentioned in the book that has most definitely been vetted by me.
- McDonalds sausage and egg McMuffin, hashbrown and coffee. Best for roadtrips. The main rule is that the passenger squeezes the ketchup on the McMuffin for the driver. Alternative when not in a car: bodega breakfast bagel with a cup of coffee, the greasier the better.
- Hawaiian donut. The multicoloured sprinkled donut doesn’t taste as good as say, a regular chocolate dip, but the sprinkles provide good textural crunch in contrast to the soft donut. The festive, primary colours put anyone in a good mood. Tip: buy them for your crushes.
- Koulouri. Thin rounds of sesame bread, very cheap, sold at bakeries or by vendors in Athens, Greece. Slightly dry, chewy, strangely addictive. Recommendation: wash down with a Nescafé frappé for the full Greek experience.
- Soup dumplings. They feel like a small miracle for relatively little money. Best eaten in Chinatown in New York City with someone you’ve just met.
- Small fried fish. Either marides (smelts) or gavros (anchovies) in Greek. A plate of these fish is one of the most perfect things you can order on a hot day. Preferred pairings: a half kilo pitcher of cold white wine, bread, a Greek salad (horiatiki). Fresh air, seaside.
- Frisée salad with poached egg and lardons. Frisée , curly endive, is bitter on its own, but once toped with yolky egg and salty cubes of bacon, it softens and the mixture tastes surprisingly luscious for salad. Best made in Paris.
- Stuffed peppers and tomatoes. Yemista in Greek. In principle the dish seems unremarkable, but when you take a hollowed out pepper or tomato and stuff it with rice, ground beef, a pinch of cinnamon, drizzle them in oil and cook in a hot oven over the course of an afternoon, something special happens. The vegetables get charred and slumped, the rice cooks in their juices, and the oil gives everything a kind of richness. Also good cold.
- Steak frites. The steak medium rare, the frites cut thinly and eaten with mayo.
- McDonalds again? Fine. Only because it’s especially convenient when one is traveling in America and on a budget. A Big Mac combo, with chicken McNuggets on the side if you’re really hungry.
- Cheap wine, two ways:
- Origin Montreal, from the dep. Corner stores in Montreal are called depanneurs in French, but everyone, English or French, refer to them as deps. When you’re in a pinch, you can go to a dep for a cheap bottle. It’s the patron beverage of bad decisions and college students.a
- Origin Paris, from someone selling bottles discreetly on the Champs de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. Save the expensive stuff for dinner. You’re looking at the Eiffel Tower; you’ll feel fancy no matter what.
- Mille feuille
- Diner apple pie, sliced, wrapped in plastic and ready to take straight to the car
Teri Vlassopoulos is the author of the short story collection, “Bats or Swallows” (2010), and a new novel, “Escape Plans” (2015). Her fiction has appeared in Room Magazine, Joyland, Little Fiction, and various other North American journals. She is the cookbook columnist for Bookslut, and has had non-fiction published at The Toast, The Millions and the Rumpus. She can be found at http://bibliographic.net or @terki. She lives in Toronto.
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