On Movies: 'The Hunger Games' inspires a cookbook

with a copy of her book. She calls the compilation of 150-plus recipes "a creation of love."
with a copy of her book. She calls the compilation of 150-plus recipes "a creation of love." (Emily Ansara Baines)
Posted: March 25, 2012

Last week, late one morning on a break from class, Emily Ansara Baines could be found seated at a table in the cafeteria of the Los Angeles-area school where she works as a substitute teacher.

She was not eating Mockingjay flatbread crackers, or Prim's basil-wrapped goat cheese balls, or Rue's roasted parsnips, although she could tell you how to make them if you asked. Baines is the author of The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook (Adams Media, $19.95), a food-centric fan's tribute to the mega-selling Suzanne Collins trilogy. The book just happens to be on shelves as The Hunger Games movie, starring Jennifer Lawrence as the iron-willed teenager Katniss Everdeen, opens everywhere this weekend.

"I'm not eating, I'm just chilling," says Baines, who in addition to teaching middle school kids is a baker, caterer, and writer who managed to combine her talents - and her passion for Collins' novels, set in a dystopian, postapocalyptic North America - to do a cookbook.

The collection of 150-plus recipes includes butter-and-cream-heavy desserts that would settle nicely into the oversize tummy of a pampered Capitol kingpin, and hearty fare made from foraged herbs and critters found in the mountain country surrounding Katniss' District 12 home.

Baines wants to make it clear that she's not "trying to ride the coattails" of Collins and her trilogy.

"As a writer myself, I would find it really annoying if someone did that," she says, chirping with sincerity. (Baines studied creative writing at the University of Southern California with teacher scribes Aimee Bender and T.C. Boyle.)

"I hope she sees it as an action of love, or a creation of love. . . . I had a lot of fun doing it, and it never really occurred to me - even when I had a publisher - I never thought I would be successful, or even get any attention. I was thinking that this whole thing was pretty ridiculous, actually, so it shocked me when people were suddenly interested."

And people have been interested. Baines has been on television preparing dishes, and has been interviewed by the press and blogged about by bloggers. And the book is selling quite nicely, thank you.

And the students in her seventh-grade class want to talk to her about Peeta and Gale, and whether she knows Collins personally.

"It's a nice surprise," she acknowledges, "but again, I just want to make sure she knows. I told the publishers, if you ever talk to her lawyers, let her know that this isn't me just trying to exploit her success."

Baines says that she was turned on to The Hunger Games books after expressing her frustration with another young-adult fiction phenomenon turned film franchise: The Twilight Saga.

"I like to write young-adult fiction - I haven't published anything yet, but, knock on wood, one day - and I was really upset by the Twilight series," she explains. "It had a girl that was giving up everything for a man . . . and I thought that was a really bad role model. And then my friend's mom, who's a librarian, said, 'Have you read this series called The Hunger Games?'

". . . And I love them, because it's just such a great role model for girls - and boys. . . . Everybody just assumes that with a female protagonist, guys aren't going to want to read it. But at least at the school where I'm subbing, the boys are more into it than the girls.

"And Katniss doesn't give up anything for her guy. She'll have her romance, but she's always true to herself . . . . I read so many young-adult stories, and they're always like the girl meets a guy and is immediately clumsy and dumb around the guy. It drives me nuts!

" . . . So, I'd rather her be obstinate, which Katniss is . . . . She's got an opinion, and she's sticking to it."

So Baines was reading the books - The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay - while she was living and working in New York, before she moved back home to Southern California last year.

"I was working as an in-house chef/caterer for a postproduction sound company in New York," Baines recalls. "My job, every day, was to come up with recipes - I had to cook something new every day . . . and put out food for our clients and our celebrities and all that stuff.

"And so, I was reading it, and Collins describes the bread that Peeta burns on purpose for Katniss, and I was like, 'Oh, that sounds really good, I wonder if I can make that?' "

And that's how it started. Before she knew it, she had a few Hunger Games-inspired recipes, a publisher, and a deadline.

Some of the more, um, gamy recipes in The Hunger Games proved challenging for Baines, especially since, for a long while, she'd stopped eating meat.

"The wild-game ones were the hardest," she says. "I don't hunt, so I had to do a lot of research and a lot of talking to people . . . . Luckily, when I was in New York, I had coworkers and friends who went upstate and hunted, that was like a thing they did! I didn't even realize it was possible. And they would bring me back meat."

None of her friends, however, used bow and arrow to stalk squirrel in the woods. But Katniss Everdeen, of course, does.

"Getting squirrel meat was really hard," says Baines, who has four squirrel recipes in her book, including Mr. Mellark's favorite, fried squirrel.

"The one time I tried buying it online, the person literally sent me a dead squirrel in a box - not skinned or anything."

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.

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