WHEN WE last spoke with beloved author Mary Kay Andrews in 2012, she’d just launched her 19th novel Spring Fever, which climbed to No. 5 on the New York Times Bestseller List and could be seen peeking out of beach bags everywhere as the season's delightfully unrequired summer reading.
Since then, the prolific Andrews—also known by her real name, Kathy Trochek—has published five (or is it six?) more pop-lit chart-toppers, ever popular for their plucky female protagonists, hilarious dialogue and heartfelt friendships. Her fiction often takes place at the beach, inspired by Trochek’s Florida childhood and her longtime love affair with Tybee Island, where she and her husband have had a real-life beach house for over 30 years. The wonderful memories and delicious meals made there have fed the vision for MKA’s latest soon-to-be bestseller, The Beach House Cookbook.
It may be the author’s first offering of non-fiction since her days as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but her signature charm shines through like the summer sun. A colorful, casual tome full of favorite recipes any coastal Southerner will find comforting, The Beach House Cookbook was styled and shot right in her own kitchen, giving readers a taste of Mary’s (or is it Kathy? “Oh, call me anything,” she laughs) genuine affability and hospitality. Grits, greens and local seafood figure prominently in the pages, but don’t expect anything fussy—this is the beach, and bare feet and paper plates are perfectly acceptable.
We caught up with the part-time Tybee local in between book tour stops to dish about her creative team, vacation states of mind, and why she’s raising funds for Meals on Wheels this Saturday, May 20.
So, why a cookbook and why now?
I’ve always loved to cook, and my husband and I love to entertain. The timing was just right. Fans have asked for a cookbook for a while now, and I was coming off a pretty grueling book tour with The Weekenders, which was last year's novel. I just thought, "This is the year," and it just came together.
We also had this great team available to us in Savannah. Elizabeth Demos is a magazine stylist who works with Southern Living, Country Living, Better Homes & Gardens—just about every magazine that looks beautiful. There’s a terrific food photographer based in Savannah, Mary Britton Senseney, and our recipe tester and food stylist, Ashley Strickland Freeman, is from Savannah as well. They’d already done four or five cookbooks together, and they came in and made it so easy.
This definitely Southern cooking, but do you consider it specific to Tybee?
Of course, that’s where our beach house is! We still live full-time in Atlanta, but we spend as much time here as we can. The cookbook is aimed at anyone who just wants to feel like they’re at the beach—you don’t have to have a beach house, you can be in the mountains, in your backyard. They’re easy, breezy recipes with a coastal flair.
What makes a good beach recipe?
Something that’s fresh and fun and flavorful, but fast.
When you’re on vacation—or in a vacation state of mind—you don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen chopping and slicing and dicing. You want something to share with family and friends, because that’s what beach entertaining is about. There are no precious ingredients here—nothing you couldn’t find at the IGA on Tybee.
We entertain all the time—it’s very spontaneous, very informal. My husband and son are great fishermen, and we keep a boat at Hogan’s Marina on Wilmington Island. They’ll go out for the day and come back with trout, redfish, flounder, or we’ll fish or crab off a friend’s dock. Then we’ll call the neighbors and say “Hey, we’re having crab cakes tonight!” Or, “We stopped at Scuba Steve’s on the way in and we’re going to have shrimp and grits or fish tacos.” Someone will bring a salad or dessert, and ta-da, it’s done.
Why did you decide to make this Saturday’s book signing at Seaside Sisters a benefit for Meals on Wheels?
This cookbook is about feeding family and friends, and I’m very concerned with the current cuts that are being considered by this administration. People who are seniors with low incomes will be harmed if Meals on Wheels no longer exists. I think hunger is terrible sin for society and a terrible waste—it just doesn’t have to be.
Meals on Wheels brings wholesome, nutritious meals to folks who couldn’t otherwise get out to shop and cook for themselves. They don’t have a car, they’re not physically able, they don’t have access.
The other wonderful part is that volunteers who bring these meals also bring cheer to a senior or someone in need. For some, that’s the only contact they have that day with someone outside their home.
There will be a silent auction and a raffle at Saturday’s benefit, and a portion of the proceeds from book sales will go Tybee’s Meals on Wheels program.
So what’s the first thing you’ll cook when finally have some time to kick off your heels and put on some flip flops?
I love to bake, especially with my grandchildren, and there’s a terrific butterscotch brownie recipe in the cookbook. We love to eat fresh seafood, so I’ll definitely be making some crab cakes—the blue crabs should be coming into season soon, and we’ll be crabbing off the dock!