My first editor told me not to use cliches, but sometimes things are cliche because they are true. It's with apologies to that editor that I write to the late Maurice Sendak, "Please don't go. We'll eat you up we love you so."
Sendak's book, Where the Wild Things Are, launched wild rumpuses in bedrooms everywhere, spurring the transformation of pillow forts and backyard play sets into towering wildernesses fueled only by the love of words and imagination and created the idea that you can come home again, and that home will always be a place where you will be well fed and welcomed.
Sendak is widely quoted saying, "Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, 'Dear Jim: I loved your card.' Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, 'Jim loved your card so much he ate it.' That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it."
In honor of that little boy, who loved a book, and its author, so much that he literally consumed whatever he could get from him, I offer a few favorite recipes inspired by his great literary works loved by children everywhere.
Sendak is quoted as saying, "You cannot write for children. They're much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them." Just as he refused to write for children, I propose refusing to cook for them. Chicken tenders and tacos aren't "kid" foods, unless you treat them as such. Just the same, don't limit pint-sized palates by calling certain fare "adult" food. Wouldn't you love to imagine that it was a child who figured out that snails were edible? This week, instead of cooking for yourself and for your children, just cook for your family. Eat together. Talk. See what happens. Start with Bacon and Broccoli Mac and Cheese.
In Where the Wild Things Are, Max sails "back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him and it was still hot.” Whether they're sailing for days to find their way home from the cardboard box on the front porch or simply retreating to warmth of Mom's kitchen, children everywhere can find solace in knowing that their plate of Creamy Slow-cooker Chicken will still be piping hot and that second helpings of hugs are free.
In Where the Wild Things Are, Sendak writes, "Then from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat, so he gave up being king of the wild things." Inspiring your kids to give up their albeit imaginary royal birthright takes more than take-out; so don't make them choose. Instead, offer them something that reminds them of home and keeps them feeling like kings; let their noses lead them to the table with King Ranch Chicken. The slow-cooker version of this classic recipe ensures the dish will still be warm when they get home. And remember, even young, kids are learning that the smell of dinner on the stove is a call to the dinner table. To be with you. Savor that!
In his book, Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months, Sendak writes, "“Each month is gay, each season nice, when eating chicken soup with rice”. Make each day nice for you kids by making Quick Chicken Noodle Soup.
In an interview with The Guardian from 2011, writer Emma Brockes notes, "Sendak is in search of what he calls a 'yummy death'. William Blake set the standard, jumping up from his death bed at the last minute to start singing. 'A happy death,' says Sendak. 'It can be done.' He lifts his eyebrows to two peaks. 'If you're William Blake and totally crazy.'" I can think of no better way to celebrate his passing with food than by savoring Death by Caramel Bars, because there are two things about Sendak I know: his humor was as dark as his illustrations were brilliant, and he seemed to prefer a straight shooter. Maurice, we hope you found your "yummy death" to be full of peace and, if possible, sweets.
Sendak is quoted as having said, "I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more." Maurice, our tears today are for you!