Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A walking tour of the Brooklyn Dodgers

Nearly one third of all World Series baseball games have been played in New York City. Twenty-eight of those games were played in the confines of tiny Ebbet’s Field (4.5 acres in size compared to Yankee stadium’s 11), formerly in Flatbush, and once home to the Brooklyn Dodgers. No longer a dollhouse-sized ballpark, the historic park was replaced by towering brick apartment buildings, and is now an area referred to by realtors as Crown Heights. 

The Municipal Art Society tour of Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn began along the waterfront, in Brooklyn Heights, facing the Manhattan skyline. As we looked across the East River at the Wall Street beacons, we glanced over at our equally towering tour guide, Peter Laskowich, in navy khakis, heavy thick soled black oxfords, and a blue hat with an NY logo. With copious notes, on striped yellow legal paper, held close in his right hand, Peter started us deep into the story of Robinson and the Dodgers: “The Dodgers are not welcome back in New York,” he said. “They left, so we hate their guts.” His words may have felt like the hazing those scrappy Dodgers experienced while they lived in the shadow of the “big city.”

Read the full story. Originally published on Untapped Cities New York.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Author Interview: Leanne Shapton

Illustrator and author, Leanne Shapton, wrote Swimming Studies, an endearing book about the life of a swimmer trying to make it to the Olympics. It nicely fits in drawings, photographs and written memories. I interviewed the author a few weeks before she won the 2012 NBCC award for autobiography and you can listen to it here. Her past works include Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Relativity of Small (Or, the Affairs of Men): Two Novellas

Book review

Panio Gianopoulos
A Familiar Beast
(NOUVELLA, 2012)

Carissa Halston
The Mere Weight of Words

Stories of male infidelity have been around since the first recorded narratives, and we continue to find new ways to tell them. Here from the small press universe are two novellas, each compelling tales of complicated relationships, which succeed in different ways.

A Familiar Beast by Panio Gianopoulos (Nouvella Press) is just a little bigger than a passport, but the design elements—a heavy, seemingly impervious cover and an illustration of giant deer antlers cupped around the title—are metaphorical pointers to the rigors of daily life.

On page one we meet Marcus, set adrift after cheating on his pregnant wife with a coworker at his father-in-law’s structural engineering firm. He knows not what to do nor how to carry on. We learn of Marcus’ indiscretion via former friends, who are forced to take sides in a battle of the sexes that Marcus has clearly lost. With nowhere to turn, our disgraced narrator laments those who “leaked their derision like potted plants overfilled by amateur gardeners.” Gianopoulos’s exacting prose had me re-reading lines and laughing along with the narrator—even in his misery.

Read the full review, originally published in The Brooklyn Rail.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review: A Second Birth

Book Review: Ru by Kim Thuy Translated by Sheila Fischman (Bloomsbury Press, 2012)

When winter comes, I find myself drawn to books with a strong authorial voice that matches my inward thoughts: Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust; To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf; The Lover, by Marguerite Duras, to name just a few. Joining these is Kim Thuy’s Ru, a recently translated novel that tells the story of a young girl growing up in a fractured Saigon, eventually forced to run with her family all the way to Canada.

Ru, the title of Kim Thuy’s new novel, means lullaby in Vietnamese, the author’s native language, and in Quebec, the author’s second home, the word refers to a small stream, The double-lull of the title quickly becomes a thousand shreds of firecrackers that “coloured the ground red, like the petals of cherry blossoms, or like the blood of the two million soldiers,” as our introduction to our 10-year-old narrator, Nguyen An Tinh, is underway. We’re told it is the Year of the Monkey and, more importantly, the year of the Tet Offensive.

Read the rest of the review, originally published on The Brooklyn Rail.

Book Review: A Fork by Any Other Name

Book Review: Consider the Fork, A History of How We Cook and Eat

“There are fork cultures and there are chopstick cultures; but all the peoples of the world use spoons.” And so, after an introduction on the usefulness of wooden spoons, we dive into Consider the Fork, A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson. In this book, Wilson, a food critic and historian, tackles what she calls the technology of the kitchen; namely why we use what we use to prepare, cook, and eat, and how that has evolved both our cultures and our diet over the past centuries.

 But before we talk spoons, let’s dish about knives. I had never given much thought to the utilitarian utensil before reading this book, but knives are inherently dangerous. In fact, as Wilson points out, they are tools of violence. In medieval and Renaissance Europe you carried your knife on your body at all times. Wilson tells us, “Almost everyone had a personal eating knife in a sheath dangling from a belt.” These knives could be used to eat as well as, perhaps, pin someone against a wall. Yet times began to change, knives got duller, which both altered social skills (no picking food out of your teeth with your dagger) as well as the food (the duller the knife, the softer the food). What were these knives made of? Metal, of course. However, most metals have adverse reactions to certain foods, namely fish. This wasn’t resolved until the advent of stainless steel, in the twentieth century, which Wilson calls “another step towards domesticating the knife.”

Read the rest of the review, originally published on the Inquisitive Eater.

Book Review: Ye Olde Guidebook

Book Review: The Epicure’s Almanack: Eating and Drinking in Regency London

Your dream, if you’re a book out of print, is that some benevolent author discovers you and brings you back to life. Epicure’s Almanack: Eating and Drinking in Regency London is just that book. And Janet Ing Freeman is just that fairy god author. As an example of some of the earliest guidebooks from its time, The Epicure’s Almanack (yelp before it was yelp) was first published in 1815.

Ralph Rylance, the author of this guidebook, was working as a freelance reader, translator, indexer and editor, when he was contacted by a local publisher who had just produced a popular guidebook, The Picture of London, which aimed at the curiosities in and near London. Rylance was engaged to produce a companion piece to The Picturethat focused solely on food, drink and lodging.

It took Rylance almost two years to finish the book and when it finally came out, the publisher spent thirty guineas to advertise its arrival. Despite the financial support, the book was deemed a failure when, after almost two years, it had sold fewer than three hundred copies. The remaining print run was pulped and Rylance went back to freelancing. Flash forward almost two hundred years and you can now read an early example of dining reviews.

Read the rest of the review, originally published on the Inquisitive Eater.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Q & A with author Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic

I "sat down" last week (aka sent questions via email) to author Stephanie V. W. Lucianovic about her most recent book,  Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate. Read her answers to my nitpicky questions below.

LZ: What was the moment when it struck you to write a book about your history of being a picky eater?

SL: It wasn’t so much my moment as it was my husband’s. We were eating at one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants (NOPA in San Francisco), and I commented that, since there was a time I despised cooked vegetables, I couldn’t believe I was getting so much pure joy and comfort out of the amazing brothy vegetable soup I ordered. “Let’s talk seriously about you writing a book,” was Mark’s response.

LZ: Are there still foods you steer clear of?

SL: Most certainly, and here’s my list from the book: succotash, raisins, bananas, oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, polenta, the skin of tomatoes, caviar, offal, innards, feet, ears, flan, tofu, red peppers, yellow peppers, cooked green peppers, string beans, some fish, figs, dates, most melon, stews, braises, gelatinous desserts, things with heads, rabbit, veal, dill, black licorice, tarragon, lemongrass, coleslaw, mozzarella cheese, mayonnaise, rice pudding, some leafy greens, cooked cherries, and more.

If I had to, I’d be able to eat those foods. I just prefer not to.

LZ: As a past picky eating child, and now a mother, do you push your son to eat a wide range of foods?

SL: I don’t push him, but I introduce him to foods. If he’s not interested, fine. I try very hard not to make it an issue, but I also don’t decide to never offer that food again. It will show up on another day. I’ll usually fill his plate with 3-4 things, one of which I know he’ll like, the others being more of a crapshoot.

But with kids, it’s so up and down. For instance, just last night he finished his entire serving of roasted broccoli (the recipe is in the book). What you should know is that I’ve made this for him multiple times, and he’s taken one bite, two bites, and left the rest. He’s also had nights where he hasn’t taken any bites. For him to finish every last smoked paprika-drenched floret on his plate was unprecedented and I was thrilled. However, I know there will still be nights when he doesn’t do that. Kids have moods and they’re largely not in control of choosing what they get to eat.

LZ: In the book we learn of several possible reasons for children (and adults) picky-ness, and you say at the end that you don't know why you were picky. Now that you've had some distance from writing the book, do you have any further thoughts on your picky eating provenance?

SL: I really don’t. As I said in the book, I know that my picky eating came from a variety of factors and that there wasn’t just once source alone. I do think my dislike of vegetables was heavily influenced by eating mostly frozen vegetables. However, frozen vegetables are what was available back then and no amount of butter or salt can mask that blandness. I firmly believe that having access and knowing the best ways to cook fresh, in-season vegetables has made a huge difference in my life.

I remember the one time my mother was able to coax a few tomatoes out of our Minnesota garden. I ate them sliced with salt and though I thought I hated tomatoes, those straight-from-the-garden specimens were the best things I ever tasted.

LZ: Now that your picky eating secret is out, do your friends treat you differently at dinner parties?

SL: Some have teased me about serving a raisin-filled dinner and needing to check their bookshelves after I leave.

LZ: Have you heard from any famous picky eaters?

SL: Gosh, I can’t even think of any famous picky eaters except Anderson Cooper, though I’m sure they’re out there! But no, I haven’t heard from Anderson Cooper directly, though I did make an appeal to him in a column I wrote for CNN where I told him I could help him rewire his neural pathways which could help him like more vegetables.

I also heard through the San Francisco foodie grapevine that Dave Eggers is known to be a picky eater, but he hasn’t come to me with any secret confessions.

LZ: What are you working on now?

SL: Preparing my son for pre-school and enjoying the hell out of not having a looming 60,000-word deadline! 

Q & A originally published on The Inquisitive Eater.