Genre Hopping with Mandy Naglich

Edith/Maddie here, writing from north of Boston and loving the tastes of high-summer produce.

I saw a notice earlier this year about a new book focusing on tasting coming out. Many cozy mystery authors, including Barb and me, include recipes in our books. I thought it would be fun to invite over an author who writes about the enjoyment of eating. Mandy Naglich’s How to Taste: A Guide to Discovering Flavors and Savoring Life came out at the end of June, and I can’t wait to dive into it. She’s giving away a copy to one lucky commenter.

I posed the following questions for Mandy.

What genres do you write in?
I write exclusively non-fiction, both narrative and service-focused journalism. I have some poetry stuffed in notebooks and journals around my apartment but for now those are just for me! 
What drew you to the genre you write?
I went to school for journalism. I’ve always been drawn to inform people through my writing. With the new book I’m hopeful that my research and reporting will help people live a more fulfilling and joyful life. 
What sets your book apart from what is out there?
There are many books focused on tasting one medium like “tasting tea” or “tasting whiskey” and of course “tasting wine.” However, before my book there was no book that focuses on getting in touch with your senses and learning to taste everything generally. 

With all the food enthusiasts out there, there was definitely space in the market for a book exploring taste. And it’s aimed toward total beginners so it’s accessible to anyone interested in getting more pleasure from the experience of eating and drinking (and that’s all of us right??). 
Do you write a series or standalones? Why?
Standalones for now. I would love to expand on my taste research in a follow-up book, but we’ll see what happens! 
What are you working on now?
I’m working on an event series touring the country to give tasting workshops, demonstrations, and speaking events to spread the word on my research and the book. Writing for live events is certainly different than writing for a book and it’s just as rewarding. I’m looking forward to hosting more events and reaching a wider audience through the rest of the year before I think about future book projects. 
What are you reading right now?
I’m almost finished with Oliver Sack’s autobiography On the Move. I’ve always admired his ability to blend human stories and science writing and I can’t believe I just discovered he wrote an autobiography, almost a decade after it was published, ha! 
I tend to have a separate book I’m listening to on audiobook and at the moment it’s Heartburn by Nora Ephron. Meryl Streep narrates the audiobook and puts all her dramatic efforts to work in the role. Between Nora’s friendly writing and Meryl’s engaging performance I don’t even mind the long drives I’m taking on book tour. 
And finally my “beside the bed” book, the one I read a couple pages of each night before going to bed is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I love her writing style, it’s descriptive yet easy to read and to the point. The characters jump off the page as real people, even though so far they are experiencing some harrowing situations of loss and hardship. 
Do you have a favorite quote or life motto?
I love the Maya Angelou quote “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” I just change one word and it becomes my motto of sorts: “You can’t use up curiosity. The more you use, the more you have.” 
I’ve always been driven by my personal curiosity and I love sharing what I find with other people. As long as I’m finding and sharing stories with an element of the thrill of discovery I think I’ll always find happiness and success in writing. 

I’m also an ardent stoic and begin most days reading from Seneca or Marcus Aurelius. There are so many quotes by both writers that I’ve highlighted, rewritten, and recited. Two that come to mind are “Happy is the man who can make others better, not merely when he is in their company, but even when he is in their thoughts.” – Seneca “The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius 
It’s a lofty goal to be continuously improving, but I think it is a worthy one! 
Favorite writing space?
I work out of The Writers Room in NYC. It’s a beautiful, very quiet, grant-supported space for working writers and I have churned out endless pages at the desks there. When the quiet becomes too much it’s a quick walk to Washington Square Park to clear my head and one of my favorite cafes Daily Provisions is close by. There’s nothing like a little street noise and sunshine to jumpstart my creativity and then it’s back to the writing desk. 

I also love to write in any quiet hotel room! There is something about a clean generic space that allows me to feel comfortable and productive. I turned out a huge portion of the edits on How to Taste in the Thompson Hotel in Savannah, Georgia. Something about the water view out the window and a nice big writing desk let me really get to work! 
Favorite deadline snack?
Little treats definitely motivate me to hit word counts! A nice glass at of Champagne at the end of a day or week of writing feels like a little celebration of the work. Plus, something about a glass of sparkling always makes me feel like it’s a special occasion, even if it’s just hitting a Wednesday deadline. Pommery is my favorite brand at the moment – it pairs with other treats like a little cheese plate or an almond croissant beautifully. If you’re going to write a book about tasting you definitely get great practice building a tasty reward.
While I’m writing I love salt and vinegar chicharrones or salt and vinegar almonds! 
What do you see when you look up from writing? 
If I get the right seat in The Writers Room I get a stunning view of the Empire State Building! I’ve been in New York nearly 10 years and I have to say, for me, the city skyline just doesn’t get old. I still stare at it in wonder and think about the millions of people in all those buildings creating things, sharing ideas, and building their lives. It’s an inspiring energy if you remember to stop for a second and take it in. 

If I’m feeling stuck creatively or a little scared of taking next steps I might see a sticky note that says “Do you want to stay a caterpillar?” I’m not sure where I first picked up the concept but I love the idea of a caterpillar needing to wrap itself in what must be scary darkness in order to transition into a new phase of life as a beautiful butterfly. Perhaps it’s a little cliche but it’s a reminder that if you follow what you feel like you’re meant to do, even if it’s intimidating or unknown, you’ll see all the beauty you’re capable of.

Readers: What tastes do you love? Ask Mandy questions! She’ll send one lucky commenter a signed copy of the new book.

Mandy Naglich is a certified taster, Advanced Cicerone®, National Homebrew Competition Gold Medalist, drinks educator, and writer. Her first book, How to Taste: A Guide to Discovering Flavor and Savoring Life, chronicles her adventures in the world of professional tasting and the methods anyone can use to get in touch with their senses. She also writes for a variety of print and online publications including VinePair, Taste of Home, Food & Wine, Vice, Wine Enthusiast, and more. Mandy lives, writes, and brews in New York City, but she documents her drinks adventures around the world at @drinkswithmandy.

19 Thoughts

  1. Thank you Wickeds for introducing me to a new to me author. ” How to Taste: A Guide to Discovering Flavors and Savoring Life” sounds like a fabulous book and I’d very much love the opportunity to read it. As with most things in life, we need to slow down, realize what we are eating and enjoy the amazing flavors and textures instead of gulping down food.

    For me, my favorite tastes are most often sweet with a hint of salty or some other unusual combination. I love exploring new foods. Which is kind of funny since before I was 25, I was purely a meat and tater girl. (37 days in the hospital eating hospital food will change that.) So the first bite of a new recipe is exciting because of the anticipation to see if it’s like I thought it would be – or better. I think the first bite of anything (especially something that has all our senses awakened by it’s smell, memory, etc.) is always the best. I’ve found if I slow down, then the other bites can still deliver that same taste most times.

    Thank you for the chance to win a copy!
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. I was a very picky eater growing up, too! It’s amazing how things can change, especially when you make an effort to be more adventurous. Cheers!

  2. What a great idea for a book! With my Cheese Shop Mystery series, I’ve been tasting cheese for a while now but I don’t have the tasting abilities that cheesemongers do. So this book interests me very much. Her writing life in NYC is enviable. All so interesting!

    1. I bet you’d be surprised how your tasting skills match up with other people! Just a little focused tasting goes a long way. I’ll bet palate can teach people all kinds of things about cheese. And I love the sound of Cheese Shop Mysteries, I’m excited to look them up!

  3. How interesting! I’ve only ever seen books on tasting wine or beer, but it makes sense that there would be a “science” to tasting in general.

    I do know the things I enjoy most are on the salty and tangy end of the spectrum.

  4. Welcome to the Wickeds, Mandy! I’ve been interested in the possibilities of using taste in fiction ever since my daughter had a roommate who is a super-taster. The roommate parlayed that into a job as a product manager at a major smoothie chain. I always thought combining that concept with the idea of a medieval food tester for the King would be fun.

    1. Our sense of taste and smell are there to detect danger and differences in our environment! A medieval food taster is one of the only jobs that uses these senses the way they were originally formed, haha!

  5. Welcome to the blog! Your book sounds amazing! My daughter works in the wine industry which has really opened my eyes to subtle flavors in things. I love sage and rosemary.

    1. Ohh that’s amazing! Scientists have studied the brains of wine specialists and there is observable growth in the areas of both smell and memory in just six weeks! It’s fascinating how much taste affects all areas of our lives. I’m sure she knows that!

  6. I’m been eating much healthier the past few months and noticed I love the taste of fresh veggies and fruits. I didn’t appreciate the flavors as much when my diet was full of processed foods. Such an eye opener.

    1. Another factor: Our human brains naturally draw us to the crunch of a fresh vegetable, but the artificial crunch of things like potato chips is much more intense. Soon the crunchiness of nature isn’t enough for us anymore!

  7. You had me at the word “taste.” I’ve long been fascinated with all the aspects of this sense, and how the other senses (the presentation of the dish, its texture, aroma, and sound as you crunch) affect the flavor of food. (Have you read Harold McGee’s NOSE DIVE, about all the smells of the world? It’s terrific!)

  8. What a great book! I try (not too well) to practice mindful eating. Your book would be a great complement to that practice. I tend to salty/bold. Anchovies, olives, that sort of thing, but I won’t say no to dark chocolate!

  9. i don’t a favorite taste as it varies by mood and time of day. i do love your take on the quote and also appreciate how a nice glass of wine serves as a motivator – though for me it is sauvagine blanc currently.

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