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Lit a la mode: Designer re-creates 5 famous fictitious dishes

July 31, 2012 at 11:42 AM ET

Dinah Fried /
The Mad Hatter's tea party in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

Whenever graphic designer Dinah Fried reads a book, she always seems to remember the scenes involving food best — from Oliver Twist's gruel dinners to Holden Caulfield's lunch counter stopovers. Fried thinks she’s probably not alone.

Culinary imagery from literature became the inspiration for Fried's Fictitious Dishes series, which comprises five minimalist-style images of meals: Along with "Oliver Twist" and "The Catcher in the Rye," there's "Alice in Wonderland," "Moby Dick" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." The project developed from the 31-year-old's MFA thesis project at the Rhode Island School of Design, "Novel Reading," which explores new ways of reading and thinking about novels.

Dinah Fried /
"She made three big open rye-bread sandwiches with cheese, caviar [capers], and a hard-boiled egg." – "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

“I think you can tell a lot about somebody by what they eat, and the same goes in books,” Fried, who graduated in June, told TODAY.com.

To re-create each scene, Fried paid special attention to details that reflected the novels' distinctive time periods. Limited by an art student's budget, she hunted around thrift stores and flea markets for special items, and even raided the homes of family and friends.

Dinah Fried /
"I'm a very light eater. I really am. That's why I'm so damn skinny. I was supposed to be on this diet where you eat a lot of starches and crap, to gain weight and all, but I didn't ever do it. When I'm out somewhere, I generally just eat a Swiss cheese sandwich and a malted milk. It isn't much, but you get quite a lot of vitamins in the malted milk." – Holden Caulfield, Chapter 15, "The Catcher in the Rye"

One object proved particularly troublesome to track down: a pewter beer mug for her "Moby Dick" spread. “That one took me a long time because I was obsessed with something I saw in my mind,” she said. But Fried didn’t need to look too far — her “foodie” father found one in an old box in the basement.

Dinah Fried /
"The room in which the boys were fed, was a large stone hall, with a copper at one end: out of which the master, dressed in an apron for the purpose, and assisted by one or two women, ladled the gruel at mealtimes. Of this festive composition each boy had one porringer, and no more — except on occasions of great public rejoicing, when he had two ounces and a quarter of bread besides." – Chapter 2, "Oliver Twist"

Like most people, Fried's interest in food (and novel reading) started in childhood. Though she doesn’t consider herself a “foodie,” the artist does believe her father’s longtime interest in cooking has had something to do with her own preoccupation with fictional (and real) meals.

“I grew up in a family where both of my parents cooked a lot,” she said. “Cooking is my father’s form of creative relief when he comes home at the end of the day — he always emails me about what he’s had.”

Dinah Fried /
"But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt." – Chapter 15, "Moby Dick"

Fried now finds her own creative relief by connecting the sensual experiences of eating and reading in her art.

“They both transport us in really magical ways,” she told TODAY.com “Reading is basically like eating literature — you’re consuming something.”

Do you have a favorite fictitious meal?

Danika Fears is a TODAY.com intern who vividly remembers savoring food passages as a child (and dying for a nibble of Turkish delight in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe").

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