Imagine this: Literary legend Maya Angelou returns to her North Carolina home after long days on a book tour, including a recent stop in Dallas.
She heads straight to her country kitchen and begins to saute onions, celery and garlic. Next she adds some chicken stock and lets the mixture simmer. Maybe she'll make soup. But first, she says "hello" to her home.
"If you live alone and have been away a week or more, the house can be as aloof as a pet. You don't feel the warmth of it embracing you. The best thing to do is start a soup," Angelou says. "As the aromas go down the halls, up the steps and around into the bedrooms and into the dining room, it's as if the house says, 'OK, she's back.' It just feels so warm and inviting."
Known for her words, Angelou is also known for her cooking. Her latest book, Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart (Random House, $30) is a collection of delectable recipes. It is her second cookbook, chock-full of sage advice and sprinkled with poetry. It's a delightful mix that feeds the soul and the body.
Sitting down for an interview in her Dallas hotel suite, Angelou, 82, says she wrote the book for friends and family.
"I am a serious cook and I cook all the time, so my friends and family, when I cook something, they ask 'Is this written down anywhere?' So I thought I will do one more cookbook. These are recipes that I found in my travels around the world and some from my childhood," she says.
The night before the interview, Angelou took to the Nasher Sculpture Center stage dressed in an elegant black dress accented with a sparkling necklace. She reigned supreme for an hour, telling stories about growing up with her grandmother in Stamps, Ark., and, years ago, scaring a host in Yugoslavia who had never seen a black person before. As they shared food and drink, the host soon discovered that she and Angelou had far more in common than the differences of their skin, a story that left the audience nodding in recognition of what happens when folks commune over food.
Over the decades of creating meals, she has gathered wisdom.
She laments the fact that so many Americans have pushed away from the table, replacing home-cooked meals with fast food eaten standing at a counter. Families are missing their chance to connect with each other, she says.
She thinks many people overeat because they are not consuming what their taste buds really want -- a few forkfuls of savory macaroni and cheese, let's say, rather than french fries and a hamburger. Because that particular taste isn't satisfied, you eat more of something else, she says.
Her philosophies -- honoring your taste for savory food and eating smaller portions -- have trimmed her waist.
"We have taught ourselves that more is more and more is better and it's not necessarily so," she says.
She learned to cook, Angelou says, by watching her mother and grandmother.
"My grandmother cooked on a wood-burning stove. She was an excellent cook. She made angel food cake as light as a cloud in that oven heated by wood burning. She didn't know the temperature or have a gauge," Angelou says.
As a girl, Angelou collected the vegetables from the garden, washed them in the well and brought them to the kitchen.
"Then Mama would say 'Sit down and watch me.' And that is what I did," she says.
Her son, Guy, craves her fried chicken. One grandson, her lamb curry. The other, beef short ribs. Angelou particularly likes her crown roast pork because of the many dishes she can make with the leftovers.
Angelou says that she never wanted her books to become dusty masterpieces.
"I want my books in people's hands and in their conversations, in their thoughts and in their minds," she says. Her latest cookbook continues that legacy.
Original Joe's sausage, eggs and greens
2 pounds red or green Swiss chard
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound mild Italian sausage, casings removed
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups beef stock
6 large eggs
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1. Rinse the greens well. Cut the chard leaves into thin shreds; thinly slice the stems. You should have about 5 cups, lightly packed. Set the greens aside.
2. Place a wok or 12- to 14-inch skillet over high heat. Add the oil.
3. Crumble the sausage into the pan, stirring frequently until the meat is well browned, about 10 minutes.
4. Add the onions, garlic, mushrooms, nutmeg, pepper and oregano. Stir often, until the onions are soft.
5. Add the beef stock.
6. Stir in the greens, a portion at a time, until all the greens are in the pan and just wilted, about 10 minutes.
7. Beat the eggs lightly in a bowl. Add the eggs to the pan and stir over low heat just until softly set. Season to taste with salt. Transfer to a warm serving dish and sprinkle with the cheese.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 499 calories, 39 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates, 25 grams protein, 261 milligrams cholesterol, 1,743 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 70 percent of calories from fat.