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To enjoy meals, slow down and ignore the rules, says poet Maya Angelou. Here, she celebrates her 82nd birthday at her home in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Getty Images)

Maya Angelou's Cooking Advice: Ignore The Rules

Dec 16, 2010 (Morning Edition)

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When it comes to America's approach to food,poet Maya Angelou says too much rushing around — and too many rules — are enough to crush good cooking. Eating good food, she says, should be a time to enlighten the spirit.

Talking with Morning Edition guest host Don Gonyea about the food of her childhood in Stamps, Ark., Angelou says her family always ate vegetables from her grandmother's garden.

"Dinner time was generally boiled; meats were smoked meats," she says. "If there was an old rooster, it might get boiled. And we'd have boiled chicken, and maybe dumplings."

Yet that dinner table was much more than a place to break bread.

"I'm concerned that Americans are losing that place of meeting," she says. "There are very few times we can be more intimate as to share food together."

Angelou has worked that spirit into her new cookbook, Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart.

A Wide Variety

The recipes have ties to many different regions and traditions, something Angelou attributes to her wide-ranging travels. As a result, she says, "I cook in different languages."

"I wanted to offer to the reader a chance to actually be in Mexico or in Stockholm or in South America or in Mississippi," she says. "The book offers nice little visits to different parts of the world."

Of her recipe for "California Green Chili and Cheese Pie," Angelou says the comfort-food dish helps break some of the rules associated with cooking and eating.

"It's great for dinner. It's also great for lunch. And it would knock a cup of coffee off the table for breakfast," she says.

"You can eat anything at any time," she says. "Who made the rule that you have to have eggs in the morning, and steak at night?"

Good Cooking, And Writing

Angelou, of course, is well-known as a talented writer and poet. And she says she applies the same skills to her cooking.

"You need the best ingredients when you're going to cook," she says. "The writer has to take some nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, et cetera, and boil them up in such a way that you can throw them against the wall and they'll bounce."

"When you cook," she says, "put all these things together in a way that the person who eats says, 'Mmm, this is really good.' "

The author also has some very basic advice for readers who pick up her book: "First, sit down. And give yourself a half-hour to read something. Have more patience with yourself."

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