Wednesday, August 27, 2008

To the Sea

We're off to Truro, Massachusetts in the morning for a few days
of unplugged r&r.

Lyrics to Patti Page's "Old Cape Cod"

If you're fond of sand dunes and salty air
Quaint little villages here and there
(You're sure) You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod
(Cape Cod, that old Cape Cod)

If you like the taste of a lobster stew
Served by a window with an ocean view
(You're sure) You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod

Winding roads that seem to beckon you
Miles of green beneath a sky of blue
Church bells chimin' on a Sunday morn
Remind you of the town where you were born

If you spend an evening you'll want to stay
Watching the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod

(aah, aah)

If you spend an evening you'll want to stay (on Cape Cod Bay)
Watching the moonlight on Cape Cod Bay
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod
You're sure to fall in love
You're sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Official Stripper Name

According to the Facebook What's Your Stripper Name? application, my stripper name is Xena Heavenwhip. This is better than when the Facebook What Vegetable Are You? application declared me a turnip.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Healing Lifestyles & Spas article

Here's my little article about Canyon Ranch in the September issue of Healing Lifestyles & Spas. I'm not particularly proud of it as a piece of writing, but am grateful that being a travel writer gave me an excuse and the means to go on the adventure. I'm also honored to share the contributors page this month with Deborah Madison, who wrote an article about ancient grains.

A Taste of My Own Medicine

Me performing in Camille Roy's Bye Bye Brunhilde at New Langton Arts
in San Francisco circa 1990.

My old [edit: longtime, dear] friend Robin Tremblay-McGaw interviewed me about growing up in San Francisco and acting in experimental theater for the new poetry blog, X Poetics.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Interview with Nani Power

Photo by Marion Ettlinger

Nani Power grew up in a small town in Virginia. She studied fine arts/painting in her youth, at Bennington College, and later at Nadia Boulanger’s Ecole des Beaux-Artes Americaines in Fontainebleau, France. In her late thirties, she took a writing class at Georgetown University with Liam Callanan and went on to publish Crawling at Night (Grove/Atlantic Monthly, 2001), a New York Times Notable Book of The Year and a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Award, as well as the British Orange Award. It has been translated into seven languages and is in film production.

Her first novel was inspired by a brief stint working as a chef at a Japanese restaurant. She felt haunted by the cultural difficulties an old chef encountered. She explains, “Although he had been educated so well in the art of sushi, because of his faulty English he was treated like an old fool and I could see the pain in his eyes.” From this emerged a powerful tale of urban alienation and love set in a Manhattan cityscape. She adds, “I was deeply affected by the respectful Japanese attitude towards food as a cultural icon. The intense dedication and perfection amazed me. And the chefs were mindful of my respect, teaching me as much as I wanted to learn.”

Her second novel, The Good Remains (Grove/Atlantic Monthly, 2002), was also a New York Times Notable Book of The Year, and a finalist for The Virginia Library Award. “In this book,” she explains, “I strove to paint an entirely different landscape than Crawling at Night. While Crawling at Night was about urban alienation, The Good Remains was about the connectedness of a small town. I also wished to pay tribute to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The Sea of Tears, her third novel, was published in January 2005 by Counterpoint Press. “I felt a need to explore the only still ‘forbidden’ territory in writing—exploring the realm of true sentiment and feeling, without being hackneyed. A certain cynicism has been lauded in our culture as intellectualism, and I reject that concept. I also wanted to humanize characters from the Middle East, who I felt were being pigeonholed and overlooked culturally in the post 9/11 era.”

Her newest book is a travel/food memoir titled Feed the Hungry. It was published this summer by Simon and Schuster.


What inspired you to write a memoir after three novels?

Nani: I started thinking about family recipes and what they meant to me, which led me to remembering lots of things surrounding those recipes. And I’ve been really interested in all my writing in how food creates and fosters memory. That even a bad recipe can be as loved as something good, because it’s churned in nostalgia and love. I had a friend who loved burned food because his mother couldn’t cook. I kind of like the taste of an unmelted slice of butter on cold toast because my grandmother made it that way. Makes you wonder whether we actually "fall" in love or create love around reality.

I also love reading books with recipes because somehow you become involved in the world of the book even more. And then, lastly, I found myself looking at my family’s methods of coping and wanting to understand it more closely. I don't know if I understood more, but I saw my family more three dimensionally, and therefore with more compassion.

Gina: What is a Yellow Bird cocktail?

Nani: Well, it’s this luscious tropical yellow salve my family gulped down by the gallons when we would go to the Bahamas. It has lots of fruit juices, Galliano, and banana liqueur and as kids we loved to suck down the last bit left in my parent’s glasses. Plus, it always had a maraschino cherry in it, which, I’ve learned as a parent, produces some kind of ineffable food euphoria in kids.

Gina: Please share with my blog readers some of your thoughts about rice.

Nani: It’s amazing the many coats that lil’ ol’ grain can wear. I discovered it's really important in sushi culture, maybe more so than even the fish, if that is possible. Sushi chefs initially suss out the quality of a sushi bar by the rice and the omelette (tamago) preparation. Perfect rice tossed with the right combo of vinegar, salt, and sugar really complements the right slice of toro, a mushy version degrades it. Then, later on, I discovered Persian cuisine and found a new style of rice—basmati rice melded with so many flavors—saffron, rosewater, barberries (think tiny cranberries), sour cherries...a typical Persian feast would include at least four different rice pilafs. I think rice has a soothing quality as well. Both of the above cultures eat a thin rice porridge when they are sick, and feed it to their children as their first food.

Gina: We met at the Sewanee Writers' Conference nine years ago. It's incredible to me how many people from that summer went on to publish books. In what ways did participating in that conference impact your life?

Nani: Basically, it kicked my ass energetically. I had kind of just started writing, had about 30 pages of a novel on my computer. When I saw the level of ambition there, I realized I had to get serious if I was going to do this. I kind of lost the amateur spirit and kicked into high gear. Everyone there seemed so driven and accomplished (including you, I remember that). Plus, I felt so at home. I loved that everyone there loved writing as much as I did.

I also learned that I really love air conditioning.

Gina: What are you writing now?

Nani: I’m working on a novel and also a book about Indian vegetarian cooking that I’ve learned from various Indian women in my neighborhood.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Daughter's Earliest Memory is of Virgin of Guadalupe-shaped Jello

Annalena and I went back-to-school shopping at the Holyoke Mall. High school these days is all about skinny jeans. We popped into Borders where I picked up the September issue of Saveur that has a wonderful cover story about watermelon traditions from around the world.

It got me thinking, again, about Jello (which I know is technically spelled Jell-O, but I can't bring myself to be that corporate here) and I told her that I want to write a story about Mexican Jello.

She said that she remembers Mexican Jello from nursery school in Pátzcuaro when she was two years old. Everyday at lunch they'd eat gelatina shaped liked the Virgin of Guadalupe. She remembers guessing each day what color it would be.

The video below doesn't show any Virgin of Guadalupe Jello, but it does illustrate a bit of the wonder that is Mexican gelatina artistica.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

North Plain Farm Pig Roast

The Stanton Brothers' annual end-of-summer local food extravaganza will take place on Saturday, September 6, 4pm to 8pm at their North Plain Farm (205 North Plain Road in Great Barrington). Last year I drove past while the party was underway and it looked like a really good time. I hope to attend the festivities this year. On the menu: heritage breed roast pig, pasture-raised roast chicken, grass-fed veal calf (described on the invitation as "Yum!!"), Taft Farm sweet corn (which I can attest firsthand to being delicious), vegetables galore from Farm Girl Farm (where I haven't been, but my friend Hope subscribes to their CSA and I've told her to tell them that I'd buy a Farm Girl Farm t-shirt in a heartbeat if they had one and I'm sure I'm not the only person who would), local cheeses, local beer, local hard cider.

$30 adults until August 31 ($35 thereafter) and kids 16 and under pay their age. It's BYOP (Bring Your Own Plate) 'cause they're saving the planet. Be there. For information and tickets, call Sean Stanton at 413-528-2092.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shelley Memorial Movie Club Goes to Wilco at Tanglewood

Jamie, Emily, Georgene, me, and Lisa
(sorely missed: Chandler and Kathleen!)

This photo doesn't do justice to our Wilco picnic, which even at Tanglewood prompted oohs and aahs from passersby. That's my Barefoot Contessa Fresh Corn Salad (with corn cooked Dan's mom's way) in the upper right of the table...yes, we had a proper table, a card table sawed down to picnic size thanks to Jamie.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Current Reading: Submersion Journalism, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, and I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen, plus Dinner

A smart, psychic publicist at The New Press sent me a review copy of Submersion Journalism: Reporting in the Radical First Person from Harper's Magazine edited by Bill Wasik as she thought I might want to blog about it. She was right; investigative reporters are my heroes. I can't wait to read it.

But first I need to finish
Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop and I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger by Amy Wilentz.

And before that, I need to make dinner. There were squash blossoms at the farmers' market, so I'm thinking squash blossom quesadillas (minus the
epazote and made with cheddar rather than queso blanco, but still: yum).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Nani Power's Feed the Hungry: A Memoir with Recipes

Nani will be visiting this blog soon for an interview. In the meantime, I have an extra copy of her new memoir to give to anyone who'd like it. The first person who posts a comment or sends me an e-mail requesting it, gets it.

Nani on cooking and writing: "These impulses, cooking and writing come from the basic seed of love. We have been moved, touched, by the sensual experience of a great meal, a moving book. We would like somehow to harness this power and give it to others…stories start to tumble out as quickly as the memories of food, because they are all intertwined, food and memory, love and taste, all piecemeal of this lovely sensual world we live in…"

You can read more excerpts and see family photos on her father's blog.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Proud Pickles

Ta da.

...I promise I'll stop talking about pickles soon, but as fate would have it, this afternoon at Happy Nails (which, by the way, is far more pleasant than Lucky Nails) while my toes were being painted Sit Under The Apple Tree green, I picked up the June/July issue of Domino and read an illuminating interview with haute pickler Rick Field. He recommends three of my favorite artisan food companies: June Taylor Jams, Real Pickles, and Hawthorne Valley Farm.

He offered this excellent tip: When the Mean Beans are gone, take thinly sliced carrots or daikon and place them in the jar with the remaining liquid. Refrigerate for four days and you'll have "yummy, zesty" veggies. I have never actually bought his products even though they look so appealing because they're so freaking expensive, but this culinary recycling tip might be enough justification to push me over the edge. I do like a spicy pickled green bean.

Plus he mentioned a really interesting sounding book: Pickled: Vegetables, Fruits, Roots, More--Preserving a World of Tastes and Traditions by Lucy Norris. She doesn't seem to have a website, but here is an interview with her about Asian pickles. Turns out she was a founder of the New York Food Museum's New York City International Pickle Day, which is coming right up on September 14th on the Lower East Side.

Friday, August 8, 2008

In a Pickleless Pickle

I'm sorry to report that last Saturday's farmers' market cucumbers now sit limp in my refrigerator, but I managed to procure the Ball Mason jars and pickling spices this week and for the first time since May, have a full weekend off, so pickle hope still springs.

Meanwhile, our neighbors saw a giant black bear in their backyard this afternoon, Waiting for Godot is everything one hopes it could be, my beefsteak tomatoes actually grew and are ripening on the vine, and we're looking forward to a few days on the Cape at the end of the month. I've never been to the Cape. Is there lobster every which way there like in Maine?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hello, Neighbors (Part Two)

Welcome, Berkshire Eagle readers.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

More Pickles!

My friend Jenny just sent me this scan of a New York Times recipe for Dill Cucumber Slices adapted from Blue Hill at Stone Barns. It's fancy with champagne vinegar, but doesn't look difficult. If you drag and drop the image to your desktop and set the page orientation to landscape, it prints out legibly.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Gone By, Gone Bye, Gone Buy

No more peas or radishes at the Great Barrington Farmers' Market. We're on to high summer peaches, nectarines, blueberries, corn, long last...tomatoes. Nothing says east coast summer more to me than tomato-mayo-salt sandwiches on white bread.

New at the market this week: cucumbers. I might make Margaret's pickles. In the meantime, I'll day dream of sipping a Charlotte Voisey Cucumber and Lavender Sour while catching up on laundry and other chores this afternoon.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Warm Three Pea and Radish Salad

I'm hoping it's still pea and radish season at the farmers' market tomorrow. If so, the following recipe by Susan Russo of Food Blogga (who also took the beautiful photo above) is on the menu. Doesn't it look refreshing?

Warm Three Pea and Radish Salad

Makes 4 side servings.

2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp butter
1 ½ cup radishes, thinly sliced
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (or carton juice)
A couple of pinches of orange zest
2 cups snow peas
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 cup shelled English peas
½ cup fresh dill, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt butter. Add the shallot; sauté 2-3 minutes. Add radishes, and sauté 1 minute more. Add the orange juice and zest. Once it begins to heat up and bubble, lower the heat, and add the snow peas and sugar snap peas, and cook 1 minute. Add the English peas, and cook another 30 seconds. Turn off heat as peas are best when al dente. Add the fresh dill, and season generously with salt and pepper. Garnish with orange zest, if desired.

Note: If you’d like the dressing a little bit thicker, then simply dissolve about 1 tsp of cornstarch in a little bit of water and add with the orange juice.

Serve as a side salad or over a cooked grain, such as couscous, for a more complete meal.