Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Squash Mania at Taft Farm

The Economic Collapse Calls for Soup

Note: Not my tableware.

I'm going to break in the Dutch oven
today with Irish beef stew. This recipe and photo come via Elise at Simply Recipes Food and Cooking Blog. I'm going to substitute
leftover Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale for the Guinness.

Irish Beef Stew Recipe

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds stew beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
  • I cup of Guinness beer
  • 1 cup of fine red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cups 1/2-inch pieces peeled carrots
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


1 Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add beef and sauté until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add beef stock, Guinness, red wine, tomato paste, sugar, thyme, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaves. Stir to combine. Bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, then cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

2 While the meat and stock is simmering, melt butter in another large pot over medium heat. Add potatoes, onion and carrots. Sauté vegetables until golden, about 20 minutes. Set aside until the beef stew in step one has simmered for one hour.

3 Add vegetables to beef stew. Simmer uncovered until vegetables and beef are very tender, about 40 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Tilt pan and spoon off fat. Transfer stew to serving bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. (Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Salt and pepper to taste. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before serving.)

Serves 4 to 6.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Writer Procrastination

I stumbled upon this useful article about ways of thinking that lead to writing procrastination while "researching" Twitter. Those of you procrastinating by reading my blog might want to read it, too. Ahem and amen.

Your Favorite Dutch Oven Recipes?

Dutch oven and Goose on the porch.

Last night during dinner with my mother-in-law in Connecticut, I mentioned my plan to be all about soup this winter. Dave and Annalena rolled their eyes. Babs asked if I have a Dutch oven. I replied that I have a large pot, like for pasta. She said I need a Dutch oven and that she had an extra one she could give me. So now I have this beautiful blue Dutch oven. What should I cook with it?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Expat Shopping List

A week from today, I'm flying to San Miguel de Allende to visit my mom who lives there. She's asked me to bring down crunchy peanut butter and steel cut oats. It's funny what one misses living in a foreign country.

When we lived in Mexico and friends asked what they could bring us, I always requested Peet's coffee or California wine. Ten years later, good coffee and wine are available in San Miguel, but crunchy peanut butter and steel cut oats remain elusive or they're imported and crazy expensive at gourmet foods shops ("gourmet" should be in quotes, as these stores stock things like US$12 boxes of Hamburger Helper for desperate homesick expatriates).

I'm also going to pack some Berkshire Bark and horseradish mustard, both of which will be appreciated taste treats from el norte.

P.S. Those of you considering fleeing the country if Obama doesn't win might want to check out Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad. (I contributed the opening essay.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Name Game Meme

The world does seem to be coming to an end and I suspect I'm not the only person craving distraction. This fun meme comes via fellow Lowellite, Rachael.

1.Your rock star name (first pet, current car/motorcycle):
Mecca Outback

2.Your gangsta name (favorite ice cream flavor, favorite type of shoe):
Mint Chip Boot

3.Your soap opera name (middle name, city where you were born): None Sarasota

4.Your Star Wars name (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 of your first name):

5. Superhero name (favorite color, favorite drink):
Spring Green Au Lait

6. NASCAR name (the first names of your grandfathers):
Ralph Joseph

7.Dancer name (the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy):
Thé Vert Cajeta

8.TV weather anchor name (your 5th grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter):
Atkinson Atlanta

9.Spy name (your favorite season/holiday, flower):
Day of the Dead Peony

10.Cartoon name:(favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now):
Mango Sweater

11.Hippie name (what you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree):
Au Lait Banyan

12.Movie star name (first pet, first street where you lived):
Mecca Siesta

Discipline, Anyone?

Jenny Holzer
from the Survival Series
Times Square, New York, 1985–86

Jenny Holzer has 2626 followers on Twitter, while she herself is following only one person, Guy Debord, who is dead. Hmmmmmmm. No wonder she's so productive.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tweet, Tweet, Tweet

I don't know how long I'll keep it up, but for now you can find me on the road to ruin...http://twitter.com/ginahyams

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Horseradish Apple Slaw

I've been craving coleslaw with a horseradish kick lately, nostalgic for Fog City Diner's spicy version and lamenting that I sold my copy of the Fog City Diner Cookbook when we moved to Mexico 11 years ago, as the recipe doesn't seem to be online.

The following recipe from a Real Simple e-newsletter appeared in my in-box today. It looks good, though I'll use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.

Horseradish Apple Slaw

1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/2 head napa or green cabbage, shredded (4 cups)
2 crisp apples (such as Braeburn or Granny Smith), cut into matchstick-size strips
1 bunch scallions (white and light green parts), thinly sliced

In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream, horseradish, vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add the cabbage, apples, and scallions and toss.

To Twitter or Not to Twitter?

There's a wave of Twitter washing over my world these days and much seductive peer pressure to join the action. Twitter seems like the Facebook status line on steroids, like 21st century haiku, like something I'd much prefer to do than, say, earn a living.

Novelist Tayari Jones posted on Facebook last week that she was cutting back on Twitter. She un-installed the application TweetDeck from her computer, as her life had started feeling like a constant cocktail party (and she loves cocktail parties).

I'm tempted and conflicted. For those of you who tweet, here's my question: Is there any point to doing it in moderation? Is it even possible to do in moderation or is Twitter heroin for people like us?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Guido's Celebrity Sighting

I heard about some ungracious backstage behavior when he performed here earlier this summer and thus gather he may not really be the nicest person...yet my heart skipped a beat this afternoon when I saw D.H. in line for the butcher at Guido's. I was tempted to sidle up to him and strike up a conversation about turducken, but contained myself, as this is the Berkshires where we let our celebrities buy their grass-fed beef in peace.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Dar Williams to Perform at the Mahaiwe

Dar Williams will perform at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington on October 3. I've been immersing myself in her music this afternoon to prepare questions for a blog e-interview with her. Stay tuned...

Video interview with Dar Williams about the making of her new album, Promised Land.

Three Cheers for the Splatto Festival Chorus

There was some seriously inspired and mysterious free jazz juju emanating live from the WBCR studio in Great Barrington yesterday. For more photos and a link to a recording of the broadcast, click here.

The Players:
Dave Barrett (saxophones)
Michael Bisio (bass)
Ed Mann (vibes, percussion, electronics)
Todd Reynolds (violin and laptop)

The Visionary:
Paul Rapp

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jane Iredale Makeup Makeover Magic and Your Charming Future Horse Farm Home

Yesterday my Shelley Memorial Movie Club friend, Jamie Puntin, who works as a sales representative for Jane Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, volunteered to do the makeup for my new website author photo. I sat on a stool in her sunny kitchen while she worked her makeover magic.

The after shot above is more Barbie than I wish to project professionally, but thumbs up to the dewy glow of the makeup. I wore my glasses for the official portrait session conducted in a photobooth at the Berkshire Museum.

Jamie's extraordinary home, by the way, is for sale. One of you Californians should trade your insanely over-priced two-bedroom bungalow for her horse farm located just up the road from pristine Lake Garfield in Monterey.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Best Applesauce Ever

Paige lent me her food mill to make applesauce with our bounty of Macintosh apples. It couldn't be easier to make or more delicious. Core and half a bunch of apples, cook them down for a couple of hours with a little water and a few cinnamon sticks, mill the mush, and add a little sugar. Voila.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dave Blows His Horns

My husband, Dave Barrett (right), with the Splatter Trio.

After a too-long hiatus, Dave is dipping his toe back into free jazz musical mayhem. He will improvise with Michael Bisio - bass (Charles Gayle, Joe McPhee), Ed Mann - percussion (Frank Zappa), and Todd Reynolds - violin (Ethel, Bang on a Can All Stars, Silk Road Ensemble) this Friday, September 19th from 3 pm to 4:30 pm Eastern. The concert will be streamed live on WBCR-LP. Seeing the line-up of incredible players, his old friend Gino wrote, "That's not dipping your toe in -- that's diving off a cliff."

Me & JT

Photo by Bess Hochstein

Hats off to the staff of the Red Lion Inn for so beautifully hosting today's Good Morning America live broadcast. It was an epic undertaking. Click here for more photos of the concert.

Friday, September 12, 2008

JT & Yo-Yo to Perform on Red Lion Inn Porch

Next Monday, September 15th, James Taylor and Yo-Yo Ma will perform live on the porch of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge as part of Good Morning America's "50 States in 50 Days" whistle-stop tour. See Rural Intelligence for more details about the broadcast.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Goose at Goose Pond

Laundry and freelance writer world domination can wait 'til tomorrow. Goose and I spent my first day of freedom in Tyringham, picking blackberries and wandering down to Goose Pond with Bess and her Corgies, Hobbs and Duffy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Knight of Wands

Today's Facebook Daily Tarot message for me is:

"The Knight of Wands card suggests that my power today lies in rising to the occasion. I keep my options open and am ready to 'use it or lose it.' I set trends or may be considered a 'fashionista' and I initiate exciting opportunities to get attention, conquer fears, enhance reputation or image, or to express or inspire liberation--often by extreme measures. I am empowered by ambition or the 'zest in quest' and I transform through charismatic communication of passion."

A fine and fitting omen. Today is my last day at the theater festival. I am officially open for business as a freelance writer and marketing/public relations consultant. I'm thrilled, terrified, and hopeful about beginning this next chapter of my life.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What Sort of Apples Are These?

We have a massive, two-story tall apple tree that's now loaded with motley, but edible sweet-tart fruit. Do any of you know what sort of apples they are? What might I do with them other than make a 1000 pies?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Summer People-Free Great Barrington Farmers' Market

Husk cherries from the Great Barrington Farmers' Market
and Truro beach treasures

The market was heirloom tomato heaven this morning. We townies were smug and smiling about having the place to ourselves again.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Interview with James Collins

James Collins is the author of Beginners Greek, which the New York Times dubbed "a great big sunny lemon chiffon pie of a novel." His beautifully crafted, literate romantic comedy was a New York Times bestseller and published in the U.K., as well as translated into French, German, Italian, Spanish, Danish, Israeli, Hungarian, and Dutch.

James was formerly an editor at Time and Spy and has contributed to The New Yorker and other magazines. He grew up in New York City and now lives in Virginia with his family. Beginner's Greek was his first novel.

Gina: I know this is your first published novel, but had you written other fiction? How long did you think about writing this book before you finally sat down to write it?

James: About twenty years ago, when I was in my late twenties, I was encouraged by a friend to write a short story, really just for fun, which I did. (I can still remember the first line: “On a clear day in early spring, the buildings in New York, seen from a distance, seem oddly still, flat and unreal.”) Other than that, though, I had written no fiction since twelfth grade before starting work on the novel.

I guess you would say that I had been thinking about writing a novel since I was seven years old. As for this novel specifically, there were a couple of germs of ideas that I was turning over in my mind for a couple of years, but I didn’t really concentrate on the book or start thinking it through until I actually started writing it.

Gina: How did your background as a journalist and editor impact your approach to the novel?

James: I think my experience as a journalist and editor was important in a variety of ways. Most simply, the training of writing on deadlines helped me to force myself to get the words down, even if I was struggling. Then, I had had a lot of practice cutting and rewriting pieces quite dramatically, heartlessly and quickly, and having those muscles, I think I was able to work over the manuscript of the book much more effectively. I think too that it was good to have written a lot of expository prose. That was especially useful in my case, since the novel is in the third person and it has fairly long expository passages, but in almost any novel except the most impressionistic the writer is presenting information or making an argument at certain points, so being able to write expository prose well is a good skill to have, even if you use it only to make the skeleton of the passage.

Also, I think working in journalism helped my sentences. Poets are supposed to be the most precise writers and journalists are supposed to be the loosest, but I am astonished how often I read lines in poems that are far vaguer and poorly written than would be allowed in a good piece of journalism. In journalism, you have to be pithy, you have to be precise about details, and you have to dump the images that are just too awkward and wordy—all good habits for a novelist.

What I have said above relates to the mechanics of writing, but I’m sure the reason you asked was because you were interested in the broader and deeper ways in which working in journalism affected my writing of the novel. That’s harder to describe. I guess the simplest thing to say was that journalism reinforced the bias I already had toward narrative and realism. In journalism you go out and find out stuff about the real world and then you use that material to tell a story. I enjoyed doing that and I suppose that over the years I became more convinced that in novel writing, too, it was important to tell a story and to bring in aspects of the real world, or at least for the author to show some knowledge of the real world. I am not dogmatic about this, and Beginner’s Greek is by no means totally realistic, but overall, I prefer novels in the realistic, narrative tradition.

Gina: What were your models/inspirations for the structure of this book?

James: My inspirations for the structure were Shakespeare, Wilde, Wodehouse, Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, and any number of others. Really, I just took what I thought was the basic structure of comedies: two young people in love; perhaps another couple that serves as a contrast to the first; complications and twists and surprises.

Gina: I find the cover of the hardback to be singularly appealing and I'm not entirely sure why. Retro, yet not and the surprising green hair. Did you have a hand in the design?

James: I agree that it is a wonderful image: sort of pop and bold but also elegant. I can’t take any credit at all for it, though.

Gina: Have the movie rights sold?

James: There have been discussions but nothing has happened.

Gina: What's next?

James: I have just begun work on what I think is a promising reported story for the New Yorker, and I hope that works out because I definitely want to continue to do journalism. Then I have a lot of ideas for fiction and have started working on a couple of things, one which would probably be a story and the other a shortish novel. They are set in New York among the same kind of people as the characters in Beginner’s Greek, but they aren’t comic—to the contrary, in fact. One reason people seemed to like Beginner’s Greek was that it was so optimistic, and I worry about alienating my legions of fans by revealing my true pessimistic self, but for the moment I’m carrying on.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ang Lee Needs More Hippies

There will be another Taking Woodstock casting call tomorrow from 10am to 8pm at the Lebanon Valley Speedway Clubhouse (1746 Route 20 in New Lebanon, NY). According to this article in the Berkshire Eagle, the film plans to hire 6,000 extras at $100 per day -- in particular, the casting director is recruiting college-age-looking 18-to-30-year-olds who pass for members of the 1960s counterculture. I'm still waiting for my call to play a disgruntled townie. Meanwhile, Annalena got her hair trimmed in anticipation of her first day of high school, but it's still long enough if Ang needs an underage hippie.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Festival of Books at Spencertown Academy Art Center

September 5-7 and 12-14, 2008

The third annual Festival of Books at Spencertown Academy Art Center (located just over the border in Spencertown, NY) is a celebration of books and reading for the whole community. The theme this year is "The Immigrant Experience in American Literature and History." Over twenty distinguished writers of memoir, poetry, fiction, and journalism will read and discuss their work within a larger conversation about previous generations of immigrants who came seeking the American Dream and the experience of more recent immigrants in the post 9/11 world.

The stellar lineup includes Yassin Aref, Russell Banks, Da Chen, Laura Chester, Stephen Downes, Mary Gordon, John Fass Morton, Rebecca Flowers, Alan Gelb, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Elizabeth Hess, Lucia Nevai, Julia Pomeroy, Ariel Sabar, Sadia Shepard, Carl Strock, Mark Teague, Lily Tuck, and Shelia Weller.

There will be panel discussions, readings, and book signings, a gallery exhibition of book art by Buzz Spector, children's events including a visit from Clifford, the Big Red Dog, and a giant book sale of over 10,000 new and gently used books. Lots of free events. Click here for the full schedule.

New York State Writers Institute Offering Free Workshops with Rebecca Wolff and Lydia Davis

The New York State Writers Institute is offering the following free workshops led by Rebecca Wolff and Lydia Davis. The noncredit workshops are open, on a competitive basis to the community-at-large, as well as to members of the University community.

Mixed-genre or Hybrid Writing Workshop
offered by Writer-in-Residence Rebecca Wolff

New York State Writers Institute Writer-in-Residence Rebecca Wolff will conduct a workshop in mixed-genre, or hybrid writing during the fall 2008 semester. Too often we find ourselves distracted from the real work of creative expression by over-concentration on definitions of form and style. Is it a prose poem or a very short story? A poem or an interview? A memoir or a novel-in-verse? Journalism or creative nonfiction or could we call it simple “prose”? In this workshop participants will view texts with generous eyes that see more similarity than difference. Participants are encouraged to bring in projects that have already begun, as well as to develop new ideas within the context of the group.

The workshop is scheduled for eight Monday nights (October 20, 27, November 3, 17, 24, December 1, 8, 15) from 6 to 9 p.m. The class will take place on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. The workshop is offered free of charge for non-credit, and will be limited to ten writers. To be considered, submit manuscripts to the Writers Institute according to the guidelines listed at the link below. Due to the volume of manuscripts received from previous workshops, we must insist that you follow the guidelines exactly.

Fiction Master Class Workshop
offered by MacArthur Fellow Lydia Davis

New York State Writers Institute Distinguished Writer-in-Residence and MacArthur Fellow Lydia Davis will conduct a Fiction Master Class Workshop during the fall 2008 semester. The workshop is intended for advanced writers —writers who have at least one publication in a literary journal. It will be an intensive five-session workshop.

The Fiction Master Class Workshop is scheduled for Tuesday evenings (November 4, 11, 18, 25, December 2) from 6 to 9 p.m. Classes will be held on the University at Albany’s uptown campus. The workshop is offered free of charge for no credit, and will be limited to ten writers, made up of both non-University writers and a few UAlbany students who are enrolled in the English Department’s Masters or Doctoral programs. This workshop is not open to students who have taken it previously.

For application guidelines, click here.

Thanks to Bess for the forwarding the info. I won't be able to attend the workshops myself, but they seem like wonderful opportunities for somebodies.