Heroines Who Eat


          . . . With the cake’s long-awaited appearance, I endured another unfortunate rendition of “Happy Birthday”—not sung, but howled by a party that had consumed too much Chianti and moved on to cheap cognac.  My reward was four layers of fluffy chocolate cake, held together by tangy raspberry jam and covered with smooth buttercream.     (Shadows at Moose’s Run, Chapter Four)

*  *  * 

          Half-way through my container of General Tso’s chicken, I looked up to find him watching me.

          I put down my chopsticks.  “What?”

          “Nothing.  I’m just enjoying watching you eat.”  He held my gaze as the corners of his mouth turned up in a languid grin.  “And thinking what I’d like to do to you.”             (Shadows at Moose’s Run, Chapter Twenty-Five) 

*  *  *   

As I complete the final revisions to my novel Shadows at Moose’s Run, I am realizing how much my heroine eats. 

Before returning to her childhood home in the Colorado mountains, Maddie spends her final night in New York gorging on platters of lasagna with her best friends.  On her thirtieth birthday, her father presents her with a luscious chocolate cake.  She attempts (unsuccessfully) to win the heart of a childhood friend with her chicken cacciatore, and she devours an entire package of Oreos after breaking up with a new love.  All of this on top of plates of pierogi made by her Polish grandmother—a cure-all for the brokenhearted.  Oh—and Maddie also drinks wine.  Lots of wine.  And because I write fiction, Maddie never counts a calorie, or steps on a scale, or refuses that last slice of pizza.          

Lately I have stumbled across several novels within the genres of women’s fiction and chick-lit that depict heroines obsessing about their weight and their relationship with food.  Will Anna lose enough weight to fit into that little black dress, the one with which she hopes to seduce a positively devilish hero?  Will Lucy realize that the town heartthrob really does love her, despite her full figure?  And then there is the iconic Bridget Jones, who records her daily consumption of vices such as wine and “ciggies” in her diary.  I understand an author’s wish to tap into the real-life issues that concern female readers, but a heroine’s waistline just doesn’t interest me.  While I enjoy fiction that tackles difficult issues, there are some things I want a novel to transcend, and a heroine’s calorie count is one of them.

 I like novels in which food becomes central to the plot, not as a point of conflict for the protagonist or something she must overcome, but as a metaphor for other things:  the creation of self, burgeoning sexuality, falling in love, breaking from societal expectations, and emotional or professional development.  There are so many novels that do this successfully, but two come to mind: 

Laura Esquivel sets her quirky novel Like Water for Chocolate (1989) in rural Mexico at the turn of the twentieth century.  As the youngest daughter, Tita is expected to remain single and spend her life caring for her aging mother.  When Tita falls in love with Pedro and her mother insists that the unlucky suitor marry Tita’s sister, Tita takes her revenge—in the kitchen.  Each chapter of this lovely novel begins with a recipe, as cooking becomes Tita’s link to tradition, as well as her salvation.

In Sarah Strohmeyer’s Sweet Love (2009), forty-something, single mom Julie signs up for a course in desserts, offered by a renowned French chef at a local cooking school.  She never expects to meet fellow student Michael, who happens to be the first love she rejected years earlier, now freshly divorced.  Over sugar, chocolate, and mishaps in the kitchen, Julie and Michael deal with the misunderstanding that tore them apart years earlier.

And now . . . thinking of food, and heroines who eat . . . a recipe.

This week, I gave in to the craving for TexMex and made a crock pot full of shredded beef, which I used for tostadas.  The dish is healthy and relatively inexpensive to make, yet caloric enough even for my heroine Maddie. 

I must give credit to my friend and artist extraordinaire Elizabeth Diaz, who thought up a basic recipe for pulled pork.  After experimenting with a variety of ingredients, I settled on the final recipe below.  Since The Philosopher doesn’t eat pork, I normally use beef instead, which seems to work just as well. 


Pulled Pork Tostadas

  • 3 lb pork tenderloin (2 pieces, 1 average grocery store package) (or beef chuck roast)
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1T jalapeno pepper, finely minced
  • 1 14-oz can petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 4-oz cans diced green chilies (mild)
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • 1T chili powder
  • 1T cumin
  • ¼ t cayenne pepper
  • ½ t salt
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Corn tortillas
  • 1 14-oz can refried beans
  • 1-2 cups cheddar cheese
  • Optional toppings:  sliced avocado, diced tomatoes, sour cream, red or green salsa
  1. Combine the first twelve ingredients in a crock pot.  Cook on low for eight hours.
  2. At the end of the cooking time, shred the meat with two forks and mix thoroughly with the sauce.

 To Serve:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place corn tortillas directly on rack of oven for 2-3 minutes to warm.
  3. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil (this cuts down on cleaning time).  Place corn tortillas on baking sheet and top each with a layer of refried beans and cheese.
  4. Bake the tortillas until cheese is melted and beans are warm (10 minutes).
  5. Top each tortilla with pulled pork mixture.
  6. Finish off the plate with desired toppings.

 (Serves 4-6)


  1. My friend Elizabeth browns her meat in olive oil before putting it in the crockpot.  I’m too lazy to do this—and I think it defeats the purpose of a crock pot.  However, browning does bring out the flavors of the meat.
  2. If using pork, be sure to buy a tenderloin.  The Mother-in-Law tried this recipe using pork roast.  The meat would not shred.
  3. I tend not to measure my spices.  The quantities listed above are approximate values and merely a starting point.  You can increase amounts if you prefer more spice. 
  4. If you are concerned about gluten, be sure to check labels to make sure you are buying gluten-free.  You’d be surprised what some manufacturers will add to broth, sour cream, and canned veggies.
  5. If you are not concerned about gluten, try the following:  roll up the pork mixture in several large flour tortillas and place them in a baking dish.  Top with a jar of good quality salsa verde and the cheese of your choice.  Bake at 400 degrees until cheese is melted and bubbly.

 Let me know how this recipe works for you, or if you have suggestions for variations.  Also, I’d be interested in your recommendations for novels in which food or cooking becomes a central plot point and a metaphor for a heroine’s personal growth.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Noel Mattison
    Nov 12, 2011 @ 16:52:52

    I like this week’s blog and the recipe looks wonderful. I will try it.




  2. Barb Bender
    Nov 17, 2011 @ 23:03:43

    Wow, thought I’d eaten my fill of fabulous Mexican food in Mazatlan until I saw your visual! Great writing and photo. I’m going to start counting Maddie’s calories as I follow her escapades……



  3. thebratlife
    Nov 22, 2011 @ 21:07:47

    This recipe looks really yummy! I’m glad Maddie likes to eat…who doesn’t love a good pierogi?



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