Though Twin Peaks and Gilmore Girls were released a decade apart—the former in 1990, the latter at the turn of the millennium—both shows have maintained equally pious, dedicated fanbases. As of a few years ago, Netflix made all episodes of each show available for streaming. It was announced last year that the original creators of each show would helm reboots: the recently released Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life from Netflix, and next year’s Twin Peaks revival on Showtime. Two unofficial cookbooks released in the span of two recent months—Kristi Carlson’s Eat Like a Gilmore: The Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of the Gilmore Girls and Lindsey Bowden’s Damn Fine Cherry Pie: The Unauthorized Cookbook Inspired by the TV Show Twin Peaks—are the progeny of this unceasing cultural obsession.
I spent my weekend unfurling these two cookbooks and their recipes—each has over a hundred—with the two shows blaring on the Apple TV in the background. Both were shows that I had seen before yet abandoned for no conscious reason; I thought Gilmore Girls was pleasing, if a bit of a piffle, while I found myself, like many others, transfixed by Twin Peaks when I began watching it in college.
I never lost my love for Twin Peaks, though it’d been years since I saw it. I’d fallen out of touch with Gilmore Girls entirely until a few months ago. I began to slowly plod my way through its episodes once again after facing the mind-boggling girth of its fandom in person through a visit to a pop-up Luke’s Diner. (I’m afraid that I couldn’t get through the first episode of the new series, which began with a reunion between the two main characters but played out like a dress rehearsal.) To my chagrin, I realized that I actually liked the show.
It’s not lost on me that these two shows are tonally incongruous. Twin Peaks orbits around a murder of a woman in a small town in the 1990s. Gilmore Girls is about a single mother who is raising her teenage daughter against the current of the aughts. There are narrative commonalities—uhhh, they both have diners, you may be thinking—but that's awfully thin connective tissue.
But there is a reason, I think, as to why both shows have returned in this moment. These two shows offered competing fantasies of American suburbia, one macabre and the other anodyne. That their popularity has crested in 2016 demonstrates we still have a demand for both fantasies. These books represent the essence of each series spit back at us, filtered through the sensibilities of their most ardent fans. For me, this undertaking had a tease of its own, as if asking me: Which world—at least, as they're imagined in these cookbooks—do I want to inhabit more?
Eat Like a Gilmore: The Unofficial Cookbook for Fans of the Gilmore Girls
I began with Eat Like a Gilmore for a few reasons. Its press release, and opening pages, contained promises of comfort and ease, and I am a real novice. The very deterrents that once drew me away from the so-called food world—that it was populated by white women whose lives did not remotely resemble mine, giving rise to a host of insecurities I'd rather not face—could be directly applied to a show like Gilmore Girls. In fact, this could very well explain why my passing fondness for the show never calcified into the biblical knowledge its deepest fans possess. Perhaps if I began with Eat Like a Gilmore, I thought, I’d be more forgiving of its flaws.
I stepped into this aware of my own biases, viewing this cookbook with a heavy dose of suspicion. I stared at the book's ostentatiously bland cover for what felt like fifteen minutes, jaw agape. And the interiors didn't inspire much more confidence: Each chapter begins with what feels like a collage of Lilly Pulitzer doilies that would adorn a nondescript college dorm room.
The press release explains how Carlson wanted “to encourage people to cook, not turn them off by requiring too many expensive machines.” The book intends, like the series it borrows its name from, to be accessible. On the surface, its dogma was one of inclusivity. This would be a perfect inroad for someone like me.
“Back before it became ‘cool’ to watch and love Gilmore Girls," Carlson writes in her introduction, “it was kind of the nerdy, cat lady thing to watch.” The first few pages painstakingly detail this book’s inception. Carlson, an avid watcher of the show since its premiere in 2000, became fidgety and restless in waiting for someone to write a Gilmore Girls cookbook after its cancellation, so she decided to mount a Kickstarter campaign to do so herself. It gained support at a breakneck pace, and this brought her into the purview of two Gilmore Girls fans at the tiny publisher house Skyhorse Publishing. “Ultimately, this book is for you: the fans," she tells us. "I hope these recipes help make Stars Hollow a bit more tangible in your life by bringing its food into your home.”
I leafed through to the list of the cookbook’s contributors that followed the introduction. There’s quite a battalion of Gilmore Girls acolytes—mostly bloggers and other mildly popular online personalities—who lent their expertise to this book. The first we meet speaks in incessantly twee language, writing of her habitat as “on the interwebs,” describing herself with gerunds attached to beverages (coffee drinkin’, beer guzzlin’ "kind of gal”), and couching her affinity for coffee in terms of romantic relationships.
The first section of recipes in the books is penned in this same voice, and it contains a sampling of coffee drinks. The scribe of this section instructs me to name my coffee machine and give it a bath. When it comes to grinding coffee, she writes, in a section entitled “The Coffee Grind,” that, “No, I am not talking about a 90s dance show.” In another, she asks me to find my “Soul Coffee Mate.”
A recipe that caught my eye in this passage was the Chai Latte. I was expecting the worst. I’m a stickler for the authenticity of chai; I am South Asian. The chai's place in this particular book was something of a humorous test, as if asking me, just how insular can the Gilmore Girls fandom be? The chai is also described, in the book, as the drink for the Stars Hollow misfit. It was easy to imagine myself as such. After all, one of the frequent—and justified—criticisms of Gilmore Girls is that it’s a show filled with characters who may not be aware of their own privileges, a line of critique that’s more permissible to mount in 2016 than it was a decade ago at the peak of its popularity. The recipe is standard and correct, requiring the same crucial steps that most laboriously strained chai demands. It was not, as I feared, the war crime of cross-cultural solipsism that American chai can often be.
This gave me hope. As I kept reading, though, it dawned on me that each recipe is prefaced with an anecdotal paragraph of where, exactly, this food appears in the series. Oh, Sookie loves this one after she goes ice skating. Lorelai had shingles one time; here’s what she ate. After a while, the cookbook starts to feel medicinally cumbersome. The appeal of each recipe in the book rests on its proximity to the Gilmore Girls canon; with that factor removed from the equation, there is not much left. The anecdotal prefaces before each recipe begin to read as justifications for the cookbook’s existence. Eat Like a Gilmore's undoing is the fact that it is self-conscious without being self-aware. It wears the mask of being good-natured and welcoming, but—and though I doubt it intended to be—it ends up feeling needlessly exclusionary. It is less a cookbook than the private diary of fanatics.
Still, I heeded the call to try some Cereal Combos. “The Cereal Combo is a great way to add some sparkle to a humdrum cereal routine. Combining a healthy cereal with one or two sugary cereals creates the best of both worlds—nutrition and fun!” What a promise! There are various mutations that the book offers, but the first called for half-cups of three cereals—Cap’N Crunch, Rice Krispies, and Frosted Mini Wheats—I had in my arsenal in the form of small boxes from Foodtown, decaying in the cabinet alongside stale Ritz crackers. The concoction was not enough to get me to overcome my general obstinance towards sugary cereals.
I then made the Dessert Sushi from “Lorelai’s Asia,” born out of Lorelai’s desire to recreate a continental experience for Rory after a trip to Asia gets unceremoniously cancelled, made from Fruit by the Foot, marshmallow creme, Red Licorice Twists, Tootsie Rolls, Butterfingers Bites, Jujubes, Junior Mints—quite the bevy of Halloween candy. I remembered the last time I was asked to do something similar: In second grade, when my teacher first taught me what sushi was by giving us candy to play with.
If there is one recipe that epitomizes the gestalt of the Gilmore Girls cookbook, it is the Chicken Chow Mein Sandwich. The first step? “Call or use a food-ordering app on your mobile phone to contact a local Chinese restaurant.” How cute. I live across the street from a Chinese take-out place, so this wouldn’t be too difficult. After picking up my order, I toasted two buns and put the Chow Mein in between them. This was, perhaps, the first time I found Chow Mein distinctly displeasurable. The book imagines a world wherein a deliveryman is at your fingertips, where all Americans live in the radius of a delivery zone. The exceptions to this rule—the aforementioned chai, or a Mushroom Soup with white wine, another recipe I tried—are anomalies in a book that prides itself on marketing this brand of privilege and presenting it is everyday, normal, a rhythm of life to aspire towards. It’s a philosophy that’s even contained in the title. One eats like a Gilmore; one does not cook like a Gilmore. Someone cooks for you.
Damn Fine Cherry Pie is a book with a minimalist aesthetic; compared to that of Eat Like a Gilmore, it is practically puritanical. The book’s cover is bold but austere, black typeface against an exclamatory red. The cookbook’s interiors mirror this visual philosophy: Chapter 4, entitled “White Lodge Family Dining,” is a bare two-page spread with a broken-heart necklace on one side against an ivory background. The next page has a fish doused in a pot of coffee. Maddy Ferguson’s Cherry Cola Ham, one of the most jarringly photographed of the book’s entries, looks like a body at a morgue. The book is one wherein the bizarre is presented with quotidian matter-of-factness.
Structurally, Damn Fine Cherry Pie is the foil to Eat Like a Gilmore. The language of its introduction is sparse and to-the-point, sentimental only where it needs to be. “It was 1990 and I was 14 years old when Twin Peaks first aired in the UK,” Bowden writes. “I was addicted from the start.” Bowden, I should add, organized the Twin Peaks UK Festival in 2010, a Comic Con-style event that has been going strong ever since. Crucially, she does not begin her book with long-winded, back-patting explanations of this festival—it's a literal afterthought in her book, more information on the festival coming in the closing pages, along with short testimonials for the coterie of people who helped Bowden realize this vision.
Each recipe in the book is tied to Twin Peaks thematically and in spirit, but the success of these dishes is not contingent on this thread. Bowden's interpretation of what food means in this fictive universe is less rigid, more flexible. “I wanted to play around with the idea of food that is wholesome and American on the surface—tempting, comforting and classic—but also explore the darker, more seductive themes in the programme.”
These recipes are unencumbered by the explanatory grandstanding that plagues Carlson’s book. Instead, nearly half of the recipes are tethered to a certain character, from the Log Lady’s Sugar Cookies to Laura Palmer’s Turkey Melt Burger; everything you need to know is in their names. Some don't have any backstories at all.
I eased my way in to creating the corndogs. I'd decided to keep my apartment window ajar so that I wouldn't set the fire alarm off in my building. On paper, the corndogs appeared unlike any store-bought variety I’d had before in my life, their texture more flaky and fried, less palpably synthetic. I doused some franks in a cayenne, chile, and jalapeño crust, and fried them in a deep saucepan full of oil. Frying meat atop a stove was one of approximately three tasks I'd accomplished before in my remarkably short culinary career, so I knew I had a smaller chance of failing seismically. It seemed a lot easier than, for example, soaking a voluptuous ham in homemade cherry soda. Though I feared the outcome—I have close to no spice tolerance, and a tautological fear of oily foods—I fried the corndogs without burning them. I didn't want to throw them away.
I tried Leland Palmer’s Bubblegum Ice Cream, leaving out the blue food dye. The only time I’d made ice cream thus prior was in seventh grade science class, and I remember the outcome being depressingly salty, so I made a point of adhering to the recipe’s call to add a mere pinch of salt. I'd made this ice cream in a Ziploc bag; all I remember was that involved a lot of turbulent shaking, that it was physically demanding, my science teacher suggesting that I throw my body into it.
This recipe, though, called for an ice cream maker! Incredible. I didn't even know those were sold; I'd never seen one, and so I asked a friend who'd inherited a bunch of cooking gadgets from her former roommate. I borrowed her Cusinart, and, admittedly, I'd enlisted her help for this one, not trusting myself with this machine that I feared would slice off a crucial limb. She cradled me through the process of putting the mix of cream, yolks, sugar, and salt in a saucepan atop a stove. I then asked her to spoon the custard into the ice cream maker and churn it before setting it in a tupperware container in the freezer. This is where the recipe lost me. It instructed me to "beat the mixture every 30 minutes until smooth," which I found too tiresome. After two go-arounds, I'd decided I had enough, terribly dissatisfied with the unchangingly slushy consistency. I wish this recipe upon a cook who's more patient than I am.
This depleted me of energy, so I made Dick Tremaynee’s Scotch Ginger Highball, with scotch, lemon juice, sugar syrup, and some Fentiman’s Ginger Beer (I used this as a substitute for the recipe's call for ginger ale); I didn't keel over in a drunken stupor as a result of this. Lovely. All of this happened while the episodes of Twin Peaks washed over me like some televisual muscle relaxant, atmospherically absorbing with their blazing synths. This helped sustain a certain mood, but the recipes, I found, stood on their own.
I'd been priming myself for the titular Shelly Johnson's Cherry Pie, which I attempted the next morning. I figured I wasn’t “doing my job” if I didn’t at least try this recipe, though I understood the undertaking to be herculean, perhaps even more than that of the Bubblegum Ice Cream. My history with pie-making is rather distressing: One of my most vivid childhood traumas is attempting an apple pie one Thanksgiving with my mother, only for its interior to be watery and inedible, particles of cinnamon floating in liquid.
I feared that my cherry pie would be as turgid and limp as my first apple pie, and so I took great care to follow the steps, being skimpy and precise with the liquid. (The recipe demanded that I carve chevrons into the pie—are you kidding me?) The recipe called for whiskey rather than water. The confluence of these factors gave rise to such anxiety—about a potentially enflamed oven, about a soupy pie—that, after creating a filling I was satisfied with, I took the pie out before it was truly browned enough about three times, resulting in something that was terribly undercooked. I threw the actual pie out. I decided that this wasn’t the book’s fault, but my own sheepishness and spells of self-doubt. I'd try it again.
There’s an increasingly popular dictum that cooking is a practice born out of diversion. It’s a way of staving off life’s inevitable, gaping pains. Food is an “escape.” Some of our own readers have come to associate Food52 as the destination for this inclination, rooted in the belief that a food site is apolitical by nature, and that cooking is an apolitical practice divorced from all else that goes on in the world.
Cooking has never served this purpose for me. It was always a matter of necessity, utilitarian, and—only if time or circumstance allowed for it—pleasurable enough to act as a salve. If anything, this practice of acclimating myself with these two cookbooks emboldened my stance on cooking.
Upon first glance, both books conform to this ideal of food as salve purely because they’re products of fictive universes. But these books, like their televisual counterparts, pose a question for anyone who seeks solace in them: Do you want to escape your problems or, do you want to better understand them? I know there are those who will have more mileage with the Gilmore Girls cookbook than I. Perhaps they’ll feel more welcome than I did, yet its pretense of inclusivity rang with the backhanded falseness of a Hallmark card. Fandom, at its worst, can feel cultish. I felt more at home in Damn Fine Cherry Pie's fantasies of America; it is a book wherein the food itself is not reliant on the depth of your knowledge and love for a show. The fandom should serve as a counterweight to the actual food you’re cooking, not its substitute.