Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Monday, September 29, 2008

NPR in the NYT

I'm a big fan of NPR. Even though they once bumped an interview with me, I've moved on. (Just wish I could find another use for that material that went from journeying to my sister's backyard to pick figs to searching for the perfect fig in my New Jersey neighborhood, with photographs...)

Today's papers are filled with financial news, of course. Here's an interesting article about This American Life, worth reading. Smart use of Craig's List resources, no?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Falls and Food

Falls, as in New York City waterfalls, dominated my weekend. Click here for some great pictures and more info.

OK, fall as in foliage too. As the first maple trees just begin to turn, we know beautiful color isn't far behind in the northeast, and we did see a few nice trees turning. But the 4 waterfalls installed in New York this summer struck my fancy and I mostly wanted to see them. Luckily I have accomodating family members who went along for the fun. Plus, we managed to squeeze in a pretty fabulous dinner at the River Cafe ( listed as prime territory for viewing). On the taxi from Manhattan we could see all 4 waterfalls and the one closest to the restaurant was spectacular lit up (see below for our own picture). Almost missed seeing the lighted falls because the waiter (who was otherwise very accomplished) claimed the lights stayed on until 10. They don't. Seeing them in lights was worth parading through the dining room at 8:50, sneaking outside before we'd finished my chocolate dessert shaped like the Brooklyn Bridge, with Happy Birthday written across it in script icing. Yum.

Also on the menu, a special scallop appetizer with sauteed "sunchokes." Sunchokes AKA Jerusalum Artichokes are one of my absolute all-time favorite foods. One of the best cooks I'll probably ever know, my sister's mother-in-law Christine Carlson, grew these babies in her garden, cleaned them (no easy feat) and turned them into pickles that made my trips to Mississippi worthwhile. Once I saw "sunchokes" (I think that's what they are called in New Jersey?) at my local King's Supermarket and thought about buying a few and attempting Christine's pickles. But the dirt, the peeling, the pickling was way too labor intensive and I put them aside. Wish I'd had the River Cafe's appetizer recipe back then because sliced and sauteed seems well within my culinary skills.

So, a little new fall color, a weekend filled with family and food, and the spectacular man-made out-of-plumbing-pipes-art waterfalls. Can't get much better than that!

Thanks for the great picture, Steve!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Writing History

OK, I'm not really writing history...what I mean is historical fiction--reading and writing. I love it and always have. In my 11th grade American History class we could score extra points with my teacher Mrs. Brown for books read. And historical fiction counted. Can you believe that?

The first really long book (1037 pages) I read was Gone With the Wind.

So I love the genre and think it's a great way to get kids excited about a time period. Who knows, maybe they'll even turn to a non-fiction book about the period. Stranger things have happened.

I just finished THE LACEMAKER AND THE PRINCESS, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Picked it up at the local library because the cover intrigued me and it was standing on the "new arrivals" shelf. Although not brand-new (2007 pub date), it was new to me. And I can't remember ever reading a kid's book set in Versailles, 1788. The French Revolution for young readers! Of course, it's really about a friendship between two young girls, one of whom just happens to be the Princess. Marie Antoinette figures in there and though she never actually says "Let them eat cake!" you do get the picture. A fast, well written book.

One children's literature text in my collection, by Donna Norton, says this about historical fiction: "It is not just dates, accomplishments and battles; it is people, famous and unknown." Of course.

Next up on my reading list? Brooklyn Bridge. Click here for an interview with Karen Hesse. Last night I got to page 6 and laughed out loud. "Uncle Meyer is a free thinker. He, Mama, Papa, they sit around the kitchen table. Yakita, yakita. The world twists its ankle in a pothold, Uncle Meyer calls a meeting." What a great voice.

How I love to relive the past, vicariously. Thanks, Mrs. Brown.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Friday Night Lights

I've spent a lot of time at Friday night high school football teams. My first love played in high school and college, and all my friends and I were in our school's Pep Squad. No naturally, the first book I dreamed up for kids features a pain-in-the-neck big sister who's in the Pep Squad and a hunky football player, all backstory of course. Write what you know, as long as it doesn't embarrass the family, right? OK, maybe those stupid Pep Squad uniforms were a little embarrassing. For those of you who have no clue, the Pep Squad marches around cheering and decorating players' lockers and front yards.

What, you never watched Friday Night Lights? Or, even better, read the book it was based on?

So guess what our family and friends did last Friday night? We gathered in front of ESPN-U's Game of the Week to watch the South Panola Tigers beat a Florida team with a long winning streak. And to listen to my gifted brother-in-law AKA The Voice of the Tigers call the game. To do that we had to tune the computer to and the TV to ESPN, but it worked. We got to hear George, whose day job is a Mississippi State Supreme Court Justice, explain the game with great enthusiasm. Just doesn't get much better. Go Tigers!

Here's the picture my niece Meredith shared with the family. Thanks, Mere.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


My sister and brother both just emailed this picture of the restaurant I recalled fondly in my Southern food blog entry. For more info, check out Tom Fitzmorris's website about restaurants in and nearby New Orleans.
I know, I know, nothing to do with writing. Unless you count observation of details, choosing your setting, writing about conflict, and all those other things we are supposed to pay attention to and remember. Because in that case, this picture says a lot.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Beautiful September Day

Today started out as one of those clear-skied cool almost fall mornings. My list of errands was long and straightforward. Bank, cleaners, library, friend's house-- that sort of thing. An early stop was the Chatham library.

When we moved to New Jersey, I spent my first five years minding the reference desk of that wonderful spot right in the middle of town. As I walked the brick commemorative path near the playground, I considered my New Jersey hometown. On this beautiful day, moms with babies paraded up sidewalks. A grandfather in a bright red cardigan followed his toddler down the slide. It was a great day to be walking, surrounded by happy people enjoying their friends and families.

I turned the corner and headed toward the steps, and I noticed a new park filled with yellow Black-eyed Susans and purple cosmos had sprung up outside the library's big side window. The park was surrounded by small American flags.

I've been away from Chatham for a while and didn't realize that the September 11th Memorial Park had already been built, landscaped and dedicated. Two beams from the World Trade Center 9 feet 11 inches apart rise up in the center of the garden. Names of the thirteen local citizens who perished that day are engraved on markers. Here's an article and pictures from our local paper.

What I remember about Chatham and September 11 was the day I came back to town. I had been stranded since before the attacks, visiting my friend Kay in Paris. Sounds glamourous and exciting but it was mostly frightening and sad. I finally was able to fly home, into Newark. I returned to Chatham the day our town held a candlelight vigil for the victims. As I drove into town that day, the sidewalks were filled with kids, grownups, dogs, babies in strollers-- all walking to the athletic field where the service was held. All walking so quietly with such profound sadness. But all going the same place, to do something together.

Today one man was at the Memorial sitting on the new wooden bench, watching the sun reflecting off the little fountain in the middle. In the distance, happy playground noises and busy street sounds surrounded us. I walked slowly around the circle, noting the names. Roses tied in a yellow ribbon rested on one of the markers. I remembered our family stories from that day, not something we'll ever forget. Nobody in our town or in the surrounding towns that sent parents and children off on the train that day or who waited at home with their TVs will ever forget.

But today the voices of children playing and parents laughing in beautiful late summer sunshine was a happy backdrop for Chatham's September 11 Memorial.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Eating Our Way Home

I've just returned from a journey home. Traveling the Mississippi Delta with my sister was like stepping back in time, to a time we actually never realized existed. Stay tuned for more on this topic, with pictures.

What I love about going back to Mississippi is eating the food of my childhood. Here are a few things we sampled, in no particular order, during my three-day visit:
Shrimp and grits, onion rings, cheese dip, crab dip, Diet Dr. Pepper and Nabs, brown butterbeans cooked in fatback, turnip greens cooked in fatback, cornbread muffins, cornbread sticks, fried okra, okra with tomotoes and onions, ice tea, redfish cooked in "Wooster" sauce, melba toast with butter, Mile High Coconut Pie, yellow squash cooked with onions (and fatback), Rendezvous Sausage Platter.
That's about all I can even bear to remember right now without jumping back on an airplane and going back for the Two Sisters fried chicken we missed in Jackson.

On the way back to New Jersey, I had lots of airplane time to read and was glad we'd picked up the latest Oxford American at Turnrow Books in Greenwood (more on that later also, maybe with pictures). One of my favorite things about returning to the South is sampling and remembering the food. And my absolute favorite food writer in the world is John T. Edge. If you've never read his books and essays, you're missing something almost as good as actually being there. I've reviewed his books including this one about DONUTS.

In the summer 2008 Oxford American, Mr. Edge writes about Middendorf's, a place our family never missed when we traveled from Mississippi to New Orleans: "...for three generations women have worked with cutlass-tipped knives, shaving fish into vellum filets that... emerge from the fry vats...tasting like the lovely and raspy offspring of a bag of Lays and a net of channel cats."
Now, you can't get much better than that. And I don't just mean the catfish he's just eaten.

The last time we stopped at Middendorf's it was too early in the morning to eat catfish but we were showing my Yankee offspring what it is I love about the South and did the tourist drive-by of this nearby market:

Yes, that's a sign advertising coon meat, which I have never knowingly eaten and don't intend to, and alligator meat which I suspect I have eaten, well disguised and not lately.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Strunk and White via Yardley

Wow. Great piece by Jonathan Yardley in today's Washington Post about writing, language and that famous little book, The Elements of Style. (NB, no comma needed after language...)
Strunk's opinion (and Yardley's) on word slumming, on misused and incorrect contemporary words and phrases. "If every word or device that achieved currency were immediately authenticated, simply on the grounds of popularity, the language would be as chaotic as a ball game with no foul lines. "

I could go on quoting forever, but you really need to read the article.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Art of the Essay

Having spent the week pondering non-fiction, I've now decided that a lot of what I need to know can be found in William Zinsser's book On Writing Well. The date I carefully wrote on the endpapers of my copy is December, 1982, which must be when this slim volume came into my collection. I wish I'd taken better note of the book's advice then.
But it took the encouragement of what I now think of as my Essay Writing critique group before I attempted a personal essay. Thankfully, I had some great writers guiding me through this genre. Just google fellow member Lee Stokes Hilton on the New York Times website and read any one of her essays. I'm partial to her Gumbo piece, gumbo being near to my heart. Plus I participated in her greens ribboning tutorial during one particularly important gumbo afternoon. Not only is Lee an accomplished writer, she's a terrific cook. We don't call her the Kitchen Goddess for nothing.

So now she and I are applyingfor the Writers in Paradise conference in January and, should we both be accepted, we have to come up with longer-than-our-usual essays to workshop. That's why I've pulled Zinsser off the shelf to reread. "Up to 25 pages" sounds intimidating even if the workshop topic is Life Into Words.

I stopped skimming the book and started absorbing every single thought when I came to Chapter 12: Writing About a Place because no matter what I write- fiction, non-fiction, email, letters and even this blog- PLACE is always there.

"People and places are the twin pillars on which most nonfiction is built," says Zinsser.
For me, that reads characters and setting, family and home.
So now I'll get down to the details. Smells, concrete prose- statistics and names and signs, oddities and tackiness. I think I can do this.

Twenty-five pages still seems like a lot.