SILENCE HAS A NAME - Poetry Chapbook and CD, with Music by Mark Hanley

Friday, December 31, 2010

A Memoir of Delinquent Repasts

I don't know any family that matches mine when it comes to our relationship to food. There simply was no comparison, no one came even close. As an 11-year old, I would cross the street from St. A's to Breslow's Stationery Store every day and buy my first snacks of the afternoon -- a Slim Jim and a cherry pie. I absolutely had to have the experience of the chewy salty meat, and then the burst of syrupy cherries. The only question was -- which first? Once home, I mixed Cheetos in a large mixing bowl with mayonnaise and strawberry jelly, and downed that concoction as if it was bliss itself.

We were a ravenous household of teens. Ale used to eat cans of tuna, and, disturbingly, leave the empty cans like carcasses, under her bed. After a night of partying, she'd come home and lay her mitts on whatever big dish sat in the fridge. Once it was a pot roast, and you could see her teeth marks and the gnarled missing sections, evidence of her ravaging, the next day. I don't remember what it is my sister Mar used to gorge on -- besides pot. My brothers were known to each down 36 to 40 clams easy at a clambake and could each devour their own Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. Ale was known to go through an entire Sunday breakfast box of Dunkin' Donuts, and, I heard, after school, used to panhandle in front of the local Baskin and Robbins, and sometimes hold up kids for their change, just to get her daily fix -- a banana split.

Mind you, we were a slender, athletic bunch then, but this is how we ate. Besides consuming alcohol in unholy quantities, my brother John could devour just about anything. There were times we all sat to dinner at the kitchen table, and noticed knives and forks missing from our place sets. I wonder now if my mother wasn't just trying to scrimp on the silverware, knowing it might well dissappear into somebody's gullet for good, or even be used as a weapon. We were like that, and our mother went so far as to lock the kitchen snacks' cabinet. No question about it, without that lock, all the bags of Cheetos and Fritos, the Planters' Peanuts and Nestle's Crunch bars that were meant to be used for lunch snacks and as hors d'oeuvres at the cocktail hour would have been downed in a day.

In college, I found strangely disgusting combinations comforting -- Mateuse wine with saltines and fondue; Vodka and Tang; strawberry ice cream filched from the school cafeteria dipped in fondue. I made sure my mother sent emergency boxes of Slim Jims and cashews. As a runaway on Cape Cod, I am convinced I single-handedly emptied out every Seven Eleven of its bags of cashews. One winter night, I went everywhere and simply could not find a single bag of those nuts. My hors d'oeuvres were Spam and Tavola Red, the cheapest wine there was -- at under five bucks -- then.

After I quit drinking in my early 20s, I spent a whole year consuming about a pound of cheese and a pound of nuts a day, and only nuts and chocolates on the weekends. I believe this was my own version of the Atkins Diet. Then I passed two or three kidney stones and started rethinking my diet. I haven't stopped thinking about it since then and trying to refine it.

When I look back, I can't figure out who or what to blame for not knowing how to eat properly. I remember being an eight-year old in Key Biscayne, when we first arrived in the states, opening up the fridge and kicking back with a box of Velveeta cheese and a fat sausage of liverwurst. Once I'd finished digging into the Velveeta and processed meat, I would step outside in the one-piece bathing suit I wore everywhere but to bed. If it rained, I planted myself under the roof gutters to shower blissfully in nature. I felt so free, alive and lucky to have everything I wanted. Ah yes, I must have thought to myself, thinking of my new friends, Velveeta and liverwurst, I do so love the U.S.A!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter's Yellow Split Pea Soup

Know that shelling out a recipe is not easy for me. I'd much rather philosophize about food, or relay a culinary read or adventure. But tonight's repast was so right, so perfect for the moment, so apropos, I simply had to pass it on.

Late this afternoon we went out into the blowing snow and frigid temperatures to shoot some pictures and video, and after we returned, in the heels of lightning and thunder-- even as it snowed -- nothing seemed more of a respite, or more perfect to concoct at the stove than old-fashioned pea soup.

Thank god I had some yellow split peas left, which by the way, I prefer to the green variety.

With no time to let the peas soak, I simply tossed what was left of the bag -- about two fistfuls -- in a colander -- and popped them in a quart of sea-salted boiling water. Personally, I prefer a thick soup, so this recipe is about that.

While the split yellow peas in water perked on low, I brought out my trusty cutting board and my big Tramontina chef's cutting knife, what was left of some vegetables in my frig -- the heel of a celery bunch, an organic carrot, a quarter of a sweet onion, a couple of portobello mushrooms and a couple of strips of Fully Cooked frozen Oscar Mayer bacon. I chopped these up and a couple of garlic cloves and threw them into a pan with some olive oil, sauteed the blend, and finally, added a splash of Tamari. I waited until the soup was thick, near ready, then scooped out three or four heaping serving spoons of the sauteed mix and dumped it into the soup, setting the timer for half an hour. I placed the remaining healthy portion of veggies into a container to store after they had cooled -- to add as garnish to scrambled eggs, to a salad, or even to eat solo, rolled into a pita.

The split pea soup served four. You can garnish it with Turkish paprika. It was just what this wickedly cold night called for.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Failed Fondue

Very little can make one feel like more of a failure than a foiled recipe. Such was my fate this Christmas day. I failed at making my first fondue. It's not even that complicated. Particular, yes, but not complicated.

On the bright side, I know now what I did wrong. You need real wine. The fake stuff just doesn't do it. You simply can't replace the bright, tart taste of dry white wine with any other ingredients. Not lemon juice, not Fre de-alcoholized white wine. You must use the real thing.

Secondly, not only did I place too much faux wine in the pot; after placing handfuls of shredded Swiss Cheese, Brie and Gouda, I let the mixture boil.

You're not supposed to let the wine with cheese boil.

It was not the cheese I was supposed to use, and because I let it boil, it also clumped. These were my third and fourth mistakes.

I wasn't even sure of the other prescribed touches -- the added nutmeg, pepper and lemon juice. And the two tablespoons of flour. Was it too much nutmeg? Should the flour have been cornstarch?

Fortunately, I have learned a few things. If I can find Ementhaler Cheese, which I never heard of before researching fondue, I must add that to my concoction, along with the Gruyere I also couldn't find at the local A & P during my late night search. Cheese is a delicate substance in its way, as are the best foods, like chocolate, when you start playing with them in extreme temperatures.

I'm simply determined to find this Ementhaler Cheese of which I've never heard.

And determined to include dry white wine. And to find an interesting, yet simple fondue recipe, and try again.

Ƈa va. Such is life. I turn the page on my foiled faux fondue!

Christmas Wishes

Some of us woke up this morning asking, what happened? Did I drink that much? Did I really say and do that? Oh, I remember the days. And boy, did I sublimate last night at the wickedly fine party I attended. Delicious fun. More of everything that I can recall in years. Not just pastas and dips -- even vegetarian ones, made of guacamole -- and cheeses galore, and olives, all favorites, but choices of pies. A brilliant hostess, Ann, part genius mind, part genius cook and mother, laid out chocolate cream pies, pecan pies, cream puffs, gingerbread cookies and chocolates as if for Santa and his elves. Children unwrapped gigantic gifts and adults unraveled with laughter and drink.

I have very funny friends. They always make me laugh. They can be counted on to make a party. They are really remarkably talented that way. On special occasions, they also drink. All the stuff, the best of the best I used to drink, and some stuff I wish I had tasted when I could. Every time they downed a shot, I had to remind myself of what I might feel like tomorrow if I drank that. Ninety proof Padron Tequila -- where was that in my drinking days? And that bourbon whose mere scent put me over the edge. It's OK to enjoy vicariously what I can't have. I learned long ago I can't have everything. That's what makes me not a child.

My friends drink and party like there's no tomorrow. Like I used to in my 20s. None of us are that age anymore. And one of us is gone this year. We toasted to him. Dear Joe, someone else you could always count on for a laugh and smile. We toasted to him. He too used to eat like the best of them, and he actually drank less. But life took him anyway. Took him so fast, he surely didn't know what happened. He probably went out laughing or smiling over something in memory.

It's great to have friends who, when you think of them, always make you smile or laugh. My friends always make me do that. But some also worry me. I'd love to see them live a long time, full of happiness and love to give and also to receive. Maybe it's a thought I shouldn't dwell on, but it dances in the back of my mind, behind all the merriment every time we get together and dive over the edge into cascades of endless bliss and good times.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Big Christmas Questions

I don't know about you but I develop strange impulses around the holidays. Suddenly, just as everyone seems to be looking cheerful and happy -- even about eating more than twice their weight in food and gaining many extra pounds -- I get the impulse to fast and join a nunnery. It's really how I often feel about the holidays. The "what do I cook?" dilemma sometimes brings me to the point of imagining serving celery stalks, dip and your basic red Hawaiian Punch instead of all the usual brouhaha. Of course I won't do that, of course I wouldn't, I tell myself. And yet, I am my mother's daughter, and my mother, one holiday, when dad was expecting a big fat turkey and stuffing yet again, my dear mother, a Latin American, who was obviously -- on that occasion anyway -- fed up with the idea of having to serve up yet again another North American traditional meal, wheeled out a silver tray under which was no turkey, no stuffing, no ma'm, but arroz con pollo, chicken and rice, that savory, familiar South American staple. Woah, you should have seen the fallen expression on my daddy's face, on all our faces. Then a few of us laughed, those few who saw the humor. But not daddy.

So, I have my fantasies. I'm sure it will probably be turkey or ham again this Christmas. Maybe fried turkey. A new friend informed me that he fried an 18-pounder this past Thanksgiving in about an hour and a half! Ladies consider. This man did the frying in a big pot in the backyard. He did the cooking!

The trouble with this fried turkey idea for Christmas is primarily that at the moment we are experiencing temperatures the likes of which would probably prune the dick of a polar bear. My friends or neighbors would probably have me committed if they saw me making a fire in the backyard and placing a bald chicken, turkey or capon in the pot, while nordic winds whisked snow all around.

Ain't gonna happen this year.

Maybe next Thanksgiving.

Which brings me back to the Big Question, the one that has me alternately wanting to fast and wanting to flee -- What will I cook this Christmas?

Maybe I should ask myself, what would I feed hungry multitudes who came to my door, starved, really hungry for lack of having had a proper meal all year? What if once again this holiday, we opt to invite those who have nowhere to go over to our place for a meal? What, I should ask myself, would they want to eat, besides a big, traditional feast -- Turkey, potatoes, squash, gravy, string beans, stuffing, pumpkin pie. Who doesn't like this? Who doesn't dream of the best family moments they ever had or those moments and the family they wished they'd had when eating this stuff.

Of course this is what I'll make and serve this holiday, while the carolers sing and the tree twinkles bright. But you can bet in the back of my mind as I pull the turkey out from the oven, I'll be thinking of my mother and smiling big.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Call to Digital Responsibility

I'm beginning to think that owning a computer is akin to owning a gun. And maybe a license should be required before we're allowed to launch relationships with our PCs. It's what I'm thinking after reading Douglas Rushkoff's thoughtful and thought-provoking Program or be Programmed, subtitled Ten Commands for a Digital Age, a punchy paperback just shy of 150 pages published by O/R Books.

Wiry and high energy, clad in a leather jacket and wire rims, Rushkoff looked like a young Woody Allen dressed as James Dean the evening I heard him read from the Intro to his book in a Manhattan bar. A columnist for The Daily Beast (one of my online staples), Rushkoff has written numerous best-sellers on the subject of media, made documentaries, aired commentaries on NPR, published opeds in The New York Times, and appeared on television's The Colbert Report. This is not somebody whose pages one scans like a Web site or whose words on media one tends to dismiss.

Rushkoff challenges us to think about the way digital technologies affect us and claims that to date "we have very little understanding of what is happening to us and how to cope." We are not dealing at all well with "the digital tsunami" in which we are immersed.

While much of what he states has been said before -- digital technologies depersonalize, for example --Rushkoff goes further and deeper, as he both understands and can explain technology. The reader is left with a quavering sense that we are in the midst of a technological high alert, a crisis only few recognize.

We must challenge ourselves with questions like: Digital technology demands immediate responses, but are we aware of our choices? Rushkoff isn't saying technology and the Internet are bad, but they require us to put our values on the line, and we need to recognize their power over us.

It's true that those addicted to the Internet seem to be in a constant state of stand by and react as if the virtual world in which they participate is somehow real. This isn't so. The Internet can't replace life or relationships, although it can create illusions about both. According to Rushkoff, recent studies involving young people, for example, indicate there's definitely a blurring line between youths' sense of what is real and what is virtual.

Computers are easy to learn. Programming is powerful. Communication is extraordinarily delicate and nuanced, and technology is changing its nature as well as who we are and what we do. We would be wise to better examine our relationship to our digital world.

Rushkoff's book is a wake up call. If we don't look at our digital technologies more closely, if we fail to deal with them more consciously and responsibly, they will own us and determine our futures. We have a choice we must make about who, or what, takes the lead in our evolution.

A note about O/R Books, a progressive book publisher that doesn't (alas) accept unsolicited manuscripts. It publishes about two elegant books a month by writers as diverse as Chris Lehman, Eileen Myles and Gordon Lish, all of whom are names immediately recognizeable if you are tuned in at all to technology, culture or media. Check out the OR Books Web site: http://www.orbooks.com/. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Eloquence and Beauty

We attended the New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) MUSE Awards Luncheon at the Hilton in New York City today only to have our collective breath taken away by the extraordinary loveliness and eloquence of actor/activist/director Marsha Hunt, who received a MUSE Award this year for her courage, dedication and inspiring work on behalf of so many causes, including that of world hunger and poverty. A stunning, vital and unbotoxed beauty at 93, she is the epitome of my idea of true success, a model of integrity, the honoree that shone most boldly and brightly for me.

In her speech, Hunt called women directors to be more compassionate in their vision and to help end the "sclock and shock" trend of current filmmaking. She received a standing ovation and was virtually swamped afterwards by women of all ages in the media and entertainment business.

Hunt, who signed on with Paramount Pictures in 1934 at the age of 18, starred in more than 50 films before being stopped short by McCarthyism in the 1950s. She was among 30 well known Hollywood personalities that included Danny Kaye, John Huston and Lauren Bacall who flew to D.C. to protest Congress and were asked to denounce their activities. Hunt refused -- not in order to support Communism, but to defend her basic rights of speech and freedom. She remains a concerned activist on issues such as poverty, peace and global pollution, serves on numerous Boards, including a board of mental health center in San Fernando Valley and has been aligned with the United Nations helping communities around the world for years. Since 1980, she has been the honorary mayor of Sherman Oaks, California. Marsha Hunt's Sweet Adversity, a documentary about her life by Zelda Can Dance Productions has just been completed, and we also met director/producer Roger C. Memos, who flew in from Los Angeles for the NYWIFT event.

For more information about Hunt or the documentary about her life and work, see http://www.hollywoodandart.com/zeldacandance.html

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Rewards of Courage and Persistence

Kara Richardson Whitely has written a bold and riveting memoir that tells about her struggle with food, and her surmounting obstacles as she prepares to walk up Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, while raising money for an AIDS cause for children in Africa. I had the pleasure of meeting Kara at a recent Mediabistro event in New York City, which she attended with her husband Chris, in order to promote her book. Kara credits Mediabistro and its workshops with helping to write this daunting memoir.

Kara, a journalist who lives in New Jersey, has struggled with weight issues all her life. Her descriptions of reaching 350 pounds, then losing weight as she works out and prepares for her trek abroad are uncompromisingly honest and refreshing. She doesn't claim to offer diet prescriptions, but she does share what worked for her. "It took Weight Watchers here, Oprah's Boot Camp there, South Beach bars from time to time, a 4 p.m. ritual of eating Luna Bars, and working out (a lot) to get rid of one hundred pounds. I had to find out what worked for me. Sometimes nothing did."

As if losing lots of weight and working out weren't challenges enough, Kara climbs mountains and determines to walk up Kilimanjaro. Her steadfast preparation for that walk is admirable. She and Chris scale down and up the Grand Canyon and take on Vermont's Mount Mansfield and Camel Hump; but climbing isn't all that's involved. The two must take a slew of shots to ward off diseases and buy prescriptions that may save their lives. Even finding the right clothes to fit her body for that walk is a challenge. Kara, clearly willing to do whatever it takes, even takes a last minute trip to do altitude training in Telluride, Colorado.

The rewards of her efforts are immediate. After raising $12,000 for Global Alliance for Africa, Kara and Chris have the opportunity to see what sorts of help their contribution will give to families in Africa who, for example, must count on rain for their drinking water. When the two ask what is the best way to help, the director informs them, "Tell people about Africa."

By the time, Kara, Chris and friends finally embark on their adventure, the reader knows Kara is as ready as she can be, given the unforeseen. Kara finds she is both resilient and strong. When others encounter altitude sickness, for example, she is fine. When the going gets hard, she reminds herself of why she is making the trek to the top, to help AIDS orphans in Africa. "The meditation of steps, breath and the songs from our porters," carry the team up the mountain. The trekkers battle diseases like diarrhea and the trials of insomnia, and the struggle intensifies as they reach the third summit, Jamaica Rocks, at 5,500 meters above sea level. Slowly, slowly, the group reaches Gilman's Point, at 5,686 meters. Uhuru Peak, the actual summit, is 1,000 meters higher, and when Kara and Chris finally get there, the reader, knowing full well what it took, revels in the many levels of exhilaration Kara experiences having fulfilled her quest.

Fat Woman on the Mountain is an engaging and inspiring read. Far more than about the challenge of losing weight, it's about overcoming external and internal obstacles to fulfill an important and rewarding dream. As a how-to in this department, it's one of a kind, a gem.

For more information about Kara 's adventures or her book, see http://www.fatwomanonthemountain.com/.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holiday Cheating

Vegetarians never win on Thanksgiving and Christmas, so those of us who cook might as well "suck it up," as my brother Bill likes to say, and serve the meat -- in this case, poultry. This year it was capon, not turkey, and we kept our celebration small. A capon is a castrated rooster whose castration process sounds like a religious ceremony -- caponization. In any case, the bird is tender, and, I might add, rather expensive. The bird is considered less aggressive. This may be a consideration if you are faced with feeding bilious friends or family members who generally chow down on the kinds of meat that make you more aggressive or tense.

Capón, as I like to call him (with an accent egu over the o), was an 8-pounder, and the French relative of a famous American gangster -- and less aggressive, of course. I could see he also, like his fellow bird, the turkey, had innards that needed to be removed, and I cast them aside. I slathered Capón with maple syrup and tamari, a concoction that gave his crust a warm, toasty look, and a light, lovely taste -- I was told.

Along with the requisite fowl, we had stuffing, and I am proud of mine. It's hearty, lush and moist. As I am trying to keep cholesterol levels down in our household, after chopping up sweet onion, fresh celery, baby portobello mushrooms and apple bits, I sauteed them not in butter, but olive oil. Once the ingredients were made tender in the pan, I added a splash of tamari.

Into the big pot filled with an inch of water went the Pepperidge Farm stuffing. I stirred until the stuffing was slightly moist, then added my sauteed brew and stirred some more. I would have added golden raisins, but certain people with whom I reside don't like raisins in their stuffing, so, in order to please the masses, I withheld the raisins and gnoshed on them instead.

The two major sins one can commit with stuffing are making it dry and/or tossing everything into it but the kitchen sink. Please resist the temptation to do either.

As Capón reached the end of his cooking cycle -- about two and half hours -- I tossed some fresh stuffing from a box into the pan in which he was cooking and let the stuff simmer in juices for a while, then scooped out a couple of serving spoon's worth to add to the stuffing mix on the stove.  Capón higher fat content makes him perfect for basting.

The stuffing was moist and to die for. Did I eat it? -- You bet. As for Capón himself, I'm afraid he is almost gone. I did not partake of him, although I did usurp his juices in the stuffing. Although I am a vegetarian, this Thanksgiving, and only in this way, I cheated.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

La Fontana Di Trevi Redux

If you ever have the chance, see Federico Fellini's 1960 film, La Dolce Vita. There's a wonderful scene where Anita Eckberg steps fully clothed into the Fontana di Trevi in Rome and bathes, or rather, luxuriates in its famous waters. Her delight has probably been matched more than once by diners at the Fontana di Trevi Restaurant in Leonia, New Jersey, and certainly it was matched my mine when I dined there two nights ago. The restaurant is named after the famous fountain in Rome and a restaurant of the same name once situated in Manhattan between 6th and 7th avenues that Andrew Calegari used to manage, and which the famous and not so famous often frequented after enjoying theater and concerts at nearby Carnegie Hall. The Fontana in Manhattan closed, but a few years ago, Andrew spotted twin brick storefronts in Leonia, the home of the restaurant's founder Robert Mai, and decided this was the ideal site to reopen La Fontana. The ceiling was raised, the walls painted earthy tones, and antique lamps and mirrors hung. Most of the original staff, including executive chef Hector Fresneros, was brought over. The restaurant, which opened last September, features an Old World menu, with about a dozen pasta dishes, a focus on chicken and veal, and some grand and simple surprises.

La Fontana's Caesar is legendary, and I couldn't wait to try it. It's prepared tableside, and is so fine that, according to Sara, Andrew's wife, the restaurant's diminutive hostess, baker and bread maker, customers literally cross oceans to enjoy it. I don't doubt it. The anchovies, garlic and crumbs are gently crushed by pestle in a wooden bowl, combined with a raw egg yolk, balsamic dressing, mustard and olive oil, tossed with pepper and fresh grated Parmesan over robust Romaine leaves; add a few more croutons, and presto. What a result!

I also enjoyed a simple Portobello mushroom doused in olive oil on a bed of Arugula leaves, but that was all, as I wanted to focus on desserts. We sampled three: a pure chocolate heaven, a soufflé with a rich moist center that was topped with vanilla ice cream that is normally vanilla gelato, but the kitchen was out of the latter; a bread pudding with imported panettone that was simply to die for; and a delightful strawberry crisp that was Sara's gift to us. The homemade dessert menu includes a classic tiramisu, a favorite that I will order next time.

Since it's opening, Fontana Di Trevi has garnered considerable attention, and it is easy to see why. It is now open for lunch, Tuesdays through Fridays, and I hear the lunch menu offers light and hearty options and is incredibly reasonable.

There's a saying that if you toss a coin into the actual Fontana Di Trevi, you will return to Rome. Perhaps if I drop a coin into a glass of water at Leonia's Fontana Di Trevi, I will be sure to come back there again. It's a luxury not to be missed.

Fontana Di Trevi is situated at 248 Fort Lee Road. For reservations, call 201-242-9040.

Monday, November 8, 2010

An Illuminated Past

Just Kids creates a frame around all the work of Patti Smith, the writer of this elegant memoir about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer who died of AIDS in 1989, as well as the work of Mapplethorpe himself. Both artists were each other's muses, visionaries whose work, however different it was from one another, challenged established mores and shone with a unique brightness, and darkness. Their work was more than edgy. It was new. Mapplethorpe took leaps no one had taken before him, elevating gay pornography to the rank of art as he chronicled his own relationship to a world that repelled at the same time it forced one to look. Smith is a poet, writer, artist, photographer, rock and roller whose unique web of art was influenced by Mapplethorpe.

Smith's remembrances are tenderly wrought, with attention to detail that sometimes takes the breath away. It's not just Smith and Mapplethorpe who come alive as youths, but the extraordinary times in which they lived and which the two seem to transform with the urgency of their desire to transcend limitations and become artists of the first rank. It's not just the New York of their era we see shifting as they move, breathe and influence others and themselves, but everything in this brilliant retrospective.

The exquisite detail of Smith's remembrances, her trip to Paris in 1973, for example, when she slept in an attic room at L'Hotel des Etrangers, as she waited to visit Rimbaud's grave and Jim Morrison's, seep one in the richest and most delicate pictorial soup into which the reader sinks with Smith, as layer after layer of sacred time and knowledge are peeled away, until there is only art.  

Smith reawakened my interest in Mapplethorpe. His work tended to repel me, even as I saw its beauty. There was one occasion in the mid 90s when I worked at a bookstore in Ithaca when I opened a large book of his photographs and chanced upon the series of a penis bound by a cord to the point of bleeding. I'd been listening to jazz, something I love, feeling totally open and in my element. The combination of books and jazz and the quietude of the section of the bookstore in which I worked had placed me in a kind of ecstasy. I was so happy there, and free to explore, and it was in this state that I came upon those photographs of Mapplethorpe which disturbed me to the core. I had no name for what I saw or witnessed. I felt like something sacred had not so much been upturned as been violated. I felt I'd seen a rape, close up, and all I could do was ask, why, for what? There was no answer for me, and so there and then, I closed the book on Mapplethorpe -- not because I couldn't understand the work, but because of how the images made me feel -- I wanted no part of it.

But it was lovely to see in Just Friends how Mapplethorpe was, as a young man in particular, how hungry they both were to be artists and how open they were together, and how brave in their art and explorations. I've often felt that artists and writers should create a frame around their work whenever it's published or shown, that poems should never appear alone in collections without context, a word or two, or even an image of the poet, something that shows how the creation arose, from whence it came. In Just Friends, Smith has created a wildly elegant frame around her friend and muse, around their life together. This is a work of art, not just a gift to Mapplethorpe, but to everyone who reads it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Chocolate, Good and Bad

It's hard to imagine there could be bad chocolate, but I just had a disappointing experience I'd like to tell you about. I'm not going to blame it on the brand. I think it was something else.

I've been fond of Lindt Truffles for a long time. I love the prettily wrapped balls of chocolate and the lovely bags in varying shades of blue in which they come. My favorites have been the white chocolate and the dark chocolate Lindor truffles with the smooth creamy filling. We had a perfect experience of the Lindor variety, then went for another two bags at the local Walgreen. Those bags remain open but untouched two weeks after being bought, their goods barely sampled. Those chocolates will probably never get eaten, as they were hard and unappetizing and the cream just wasn't there -- literally.

I'm not blaming this on our taste buds, but on the heat or combination of temperatures to which these particular chocolates were exposed. After being purchased, they sat in the car in heat while we were at a movie -- Fall had not yet spread its cold hands through our car interior. Later that evening, the now semi-melted chocolate went into our refrigerator, hardening into wrinkly, ugly looking things. You could also taste the fat in the chocolate -- This, I will blame on the brand or on the particular batch we bought.

We generally first cool these particular truffles in the fridge. But you can't mess with temperatures with the chocolate too much. We should have bought the two bags after, not before the movie.

I am ever mindful of chocolate. I have a charming little book on the subject sitting alongside my laptop to remind me of what I like whenever I'm bored or distracted. The book, by Sarah Moss and Alexander Badenach, called Chocolate, is part of The Edible Series.

Did you know that cacao beans were used as currency in the 1500s? In 1528, Fernando Cortez returned to Spain with beans from his plantation in Mexico. The Spanish would mix the bitter cocoa liquid with sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and cinnamon. In 1828, Conrad Van Heuten invented the cocoa press to squeeze out the cocoa butter, making for a more consistent, smoother beverage. Van Heuten was the first to treat cocoa with alkali. The very first milk chocolate was made by Swiss chocolate maker, Daniel Peter in 1875.

I love chocolate, but as someone who also likes pure foods, I'm a fan these days of Green & Black's Organic chocolate, which even includes a vegan dark chocolate variety. Each of the brand's types of chocolate has varying degrees of fat, which comes from the cocoa butter. Although you find fat in chocolate, it's a rich source of antioxidants, which help purify the system.

The best way to savor chocolate is to start with a clean palate, even though I have enjoyed it with espresso. Just place a small square on your tongue and let it melt slowly. The best chocolates taste silky and smooth. There are many varieties, but it seems to me a double treat when you find one that's not only good for you, purely made, but incredibly tasty too!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting Down with Palahniuk

I picked up a collection of Chuck Palahniuk's essays recently. I didn't know anything about his work, but the buzz in the back of my head was that he's good. Guys like him, I suspected. He wrote Fight Club, which became a movie that became a hit of sorts.

In Stranger Than Fiction, Palahniuk tells the story about the summer he injected himself with anabolic steroids and (for a minute) felt himself to be a super man; the story about his experience on a navy boat where being gay is an invisible elephant; the story about tractors ramming each other mercilessly; and the one about wrestlers all but killing themselves and each other. And that crazy Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival, where people get naked and weird. In one story, disquieting psychic friends see through to crisis moments in Palahniuk's and his friends' pasts, but he dismisses their perceptions. There are portraits too of actor Juliette Lewis and others who think they know who they are, but who remain shadowy, in psychic distress.

Like Palahniuk himself.

Chuck Palahniuk's background is ragingly dark. His grandfather shot his wife and would have killed his son, Chuck's father, if he'd seen him, but he was hiding under the bed. The grandfather shot his wife then himself. Chuck's father married and divorced Chuck's mother only to wind up getting killed years later, along with his girlfriend, by her ex. Palahniuk's memories of his father are like a horror show.

He's a brooding minimalist who skims over the surface of things, scrubbing an appearance fairly well with his words, calling it truth. But he's not interested in the truth of truth, but in being cynical and hard, much in the way Hemingway was, or got. He's interested in being manly too, but not so manly that it betrays something too deep in himself. Even though he gives the impression of daring and curiosity on his adventures, he's actually pretty cautious and doesn't dig so deep, but lingers on the periphery charting the course of a ball or a fist or rickocheting time until (you get the impression) he gets the feeling of a thing being done, and closes with a thoughtful epiphany.

The thing is, I don't care if he's good. I can sniff out a good truth teller and a good liar and he's neither, and for me, you have to be one or the other to be a good storyteller. He sees things only partway, offering up only glimpses of himself, doing the best that he can to avoid what a thing is completely, and perhaps who he is too. Even if a great writer never gives details about himself or herself, you know who they are at heart in their work, well enough to like or despise them. I come away with details but no sense of the man save as a shadow like the Hulk.

Anyway, he revels in these worlds of men. There's the story about the summer he injected himself with anabolic steroids and (for a minute) felt himself to be a super man; the story about his experience on a navy boat where being gay is an invisible elephant; the story about tractors ramming each other mercilessly across a vast field; and the one about wrestlers all but killing themselves and each other. And that crazy Rock Creek Lodge Testicle Festival, where people get naked and weird. In one story, disquieting psychic friends see through to crisis moments in Palahniuk's and his friends' pasts, but he dismisses their perceptions. There are portraits too, of actor Juliette Lewis and others who think they know who they are, but who remain shadowy, in psychic distress.

Like Palahniuk.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Punk Activism Brings Down the House

I love Patti Smith's poetry. I wasn't a part of the punk rock scene of the 70s when Smith's music first began blowing away people's minds. I was too busy hiding in the Berkshires. I'd heard of Smith, but didn't start getting into her work until I chanced upon her poetry, which happened to be published alongside mine in The Cafe Review in the late 90s. From that moment on, I couldn't stop digging her music and poems. I believe she's also an artist, multi-dimensional, and that's no surprise.

I had the chance to film her tonight, performing, as part of a special benefit event for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA), hosted by the Puffin Foundation at the Museum of the City of New York. She followed the great Pete Seeger and Guy Davis (who is the son of Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis), a powerful Blues artist and musician.

One can't say enough about Seeger, whose commitment as a musician to peace and social justice causes defies description and belief. He's been around as a professional more than 70 years, and has been singing about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and its struggle to save Spain from Franco for 60 years. As someone said at tonight's event, Seeger is "America's own troubadour." He sings because he loves it and loves America. And he makes everyone sing along with him. It's really beautiful to see all that history skimming across his face when he performs.

But here's the thing, although I was there as a professional to film the event, as a fan, I was really there to see Patti. Afterward, I got to meet her and chat with her a bit about her book, Just Kids, which was just nominated for The National Book Award. The book chronicles her coming of age as an artist with friend Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer who died of AIDS in 1989. The 2009 film, Dream of Life, an intimate portrait of Smith's journey as an artist, was also nominated for an Emmy.

Smith is more than a poet, artist, singer, performer and songwriter. She's humble, calm and graceful and wouldn't allow herself to be classified an activist, but dedicated her performances to activists, starting with Seeger. She read from Auguries of Innocence, her most recent volume of poetry, and sang for protesters, prefacing, "The thing is, with activists, they're not getting out there to win, win, win. They're getting out there, knowing they're going to lose, lose, lose."

Poetic and punk, dramatic and low key, Smith is larger than life, an ageless rebel. I especially like that she hasn't let time or trends, opinion or praise compromise her power and grace.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Birthday Thoughts and Wishes

Oct. 15 is my birthday, and I share it with Nieszche, P.D. Wodehouse, Barry McGuire, and, well, as my sister Marcela put it in her voice note today, "the list goes downhill from there." So, on this occasion, I'm going to indulge in a highly personal post. It's my privilege, after all.

Today my niece Kerry's second son, Bode, arrived. How can you beat that for the greatest birthday present ever. I went out to a wonderful dinner and received plenty of thoughful calls and cards and highly personalized and lovely Facebook messages, some from friends I haven't seen in way too long. And there's an invitation to a premier on Oct. 25th, extending my birthday well into the future. I'd like to keep celebrating like that.

In return for all the love, I have a smattering of thoughts I'd like to share back. My current biggest concern is how to help youth, and really encourage and support them. Recently, a gay college student jumped off the GWB after being cruelly outed by his roommate on the Internet. His story made headlines around the world, and I wish he knew the care he catalyzed, and hadn't had to die to get people to care. It's a world where too much that is tragic happens to the young, and where it's harder than ever to grow up with hope. It's a world thriving with technology but struggling to communicate, where people often sit across from one another in restaurants texting on their cell phones or emailing other people while ignoring one another.

I ask myself often: What kind of a world are we ushering our kids into? Where is the intimacy, trust and love? We have to show it to them, support their sharing and creativity, demonstrate the humanity that is there and encourage them to have faith that it will be there for them when they need it most.

Two organizations that are doing truly valuable work with teens are worthy of mentioning here. One is The Trevor Project, dedicated to combatting suicide prevention among LGBT teens. It provides an online community, statistics and helpful resources for families and teens. The other, J.K. Livin, started by actor Matthew McConaughey in 1993, helps kids create healthy lifestyles. The Foundation has partnered with Communities in Schools (CIS), the country's largest dropout prevention organization. Celebrity support is helping these organizations grow, but they are looking for help from regular folks too.

Whether you have children or not -- and I don't -- you simply can't deny the importance of passing along a peaceful, kind and helpful legacy to the young, as they ARE our future.

Although I never had kids, I've been blessed as a teacher to know some of the most awesome students, kids I saw flower before my very eyes -- when they were encouraged and supported  -- and incredibly loving and blessed nephews and nieces. Their talents aside, they are loving and kind --they think of others; they want to help their neighbors -- even across the globe. They believe in the power of love and hope.

I don't worry about them so much as I do those kids without guidance or hope, turning to drugs or fantasizing about dying as if it's an ultimate high. Big news -- You don't come down or return when you jump off a bridge. These are the kids that worry me, and some are gay and some are not. But they are all burdened with tremendous pressure, more than ever before. We made their world, and we have to help them bear the burden of it in these very challenging times.

I'm convinced I have to help. Those of us who were delinquent youths, or drug or alcohol abusers, those of us who made it through into our adulthood know how challenging growing up can be. It's more challenging now, and it's not terribly complicated: The young need our help, and we can't turn our backs on them or let them grow up alone.

Please, if anyone has suggestions about how to help struggling youth locally, share your ideas with me. I know there's a lot one can do. But your suggestions and experience mean a lot and can add to the pot of caring.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Napa Valley Surprises

I had just finished saying two days before that you can't find a decent restaurant in a mall. Never say never. We stepped into Napa Valley Grille in the Garden State Plaza, after discovering to our chagrin that a favorite eatery blending the fire of cuisine from south of the border with Japanese dishes had closed. Who would have thought that turning then toward something new would lead to a kind of boon.

Napa Valley's interior suggests California's spaciousness with its vista of wide tables covered with white tablecloths; low lights add warmth and displays of California wines are everywhere, including racks set into the wall overhead. I was delighted to discover a very vegetarian friendly menu, and we approached ordering as if at a Tapas restaurant. Our water had just been poured, and we were promptly served a plate of delicious peppery breads with sides of olive paste and olive oil.

We ordered a few appetizers to sample variety. The grilled Portobello mushrooms served over chic pea fries with goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette were my personal favorite. My partner preferred the dish of sweet roasted garlic with goat cheese and a subtle and sweet tomato chutney and Parmesan chips. Our waiter didn't blink when we asked him to substitute the blue cheese with goat cheese, and he was extremely helpful answering questions throughout our meal. We also ordered a satisfying plate of fresh mozzarella and fresh roasted peppers over baby arugula with balsamic dressing that is pretty much standard fare for me whenever I dine at an Italian place. We closed the meal with creme brule and a pistachio gelato with caramel topping -- both desserts were delicate and extraordinary -- and some very fine espressos.

Napas Valley Grille recently launched a Sunday brunch that runs until three and has been very successful, according to the manager. Sample small plates include waffles and cream, Grand Marnier French toast, and huevos rancheros burrito, to name three, and soon there will be jazz.

Try Napas if you want to enjoy some fine samplings of western and southwestern cuisine along with some good conversation. The menu is tasty, varied and generous.

Napas Valley Grille has a location in Paramus on the east coast, somewhere in the wiles of Minnesota and also in Los Angeles.

Monday, September 27, 2010

What's the Matter with Caesar?

Next time you order an "award-winning" salad at a mall restaurant, no matter how cool the restaurant name may seem or how much of the moment, don't expect award-winning taste. You probably won't get it.

As you've probably gathered by now, I'm particularly hopeful about getting good food when I dine out. And I have my compulsions and likes.  Sunday afternoon, we went out to a place called Papa razzi -- because I like the name -- and I felt compelled to order their "award winning "Caesar, over and above some very fine sounding pasta dishes and other combos that might have attracted a vegetarian like me.

I wasn't that hungry. And I wanted the salad, a variety that I particularly like, and to see what made it so special.

I do love Caesars. I get a masochistic thrill out of ordering a pile of Romaine leaves tossed with sprinkles of cheese and crumbs of bread that usually runs me about eight bucks a plate. But here's the real reason I order Caesars. It's one of those supremely simple dishes that really can be exquisitely made. As the story goes with eggs with me, I'm also in search of the perfect Caesar. It's a love thing.

When I lived in Connecticut, I had a girlfriend with whom I used to lunch two or three times a week, and it was always Caesar. Seems like we enjoyed some mighty fine ones up and down Fairfield County, in Greenwich, New Canaan, Westport and Weston in the late 1990s, and maybe that stint with Caesars spoiled me with the dish for good. I didn't eat out as often as my pal did, but whenever we went for our pedis and manis together, we went for our Caesars too.

The best Caesars I've had seemed casual enough, until you pop a leaf of lettuce in your mouth. You can see there's dressing, and its taste is definitive and refreshing -- and the crunch of croutons, satisfying. Afterwards, you feel like you've had a meal.

The Caesar I had at Papa razzi yesterday did not make my top 10 list or even come close. It was pretty forgettable. And that in itself is a sin for a dish so simple.

Although they were crispy, the leaves tasted like water and it was that rather than the flavor of dressing that seeped into my mouth. Secondly, the anchovy dressing didn't taste remotely like anchovies -- more like a thimbleful of lightly peppered mayonaisse.  And the salad was topped with thin slivers of oily crackers so painful to bite and so awkward, that with each chew, I felt I was massacring the lining inside my cheeks. The only good part of the salad was the decent parmesan.

The three unforgiveables with salad are: yellowy leaves, watery leaves and an unappetizing appearance. This Caesar looked well enough, but it wasn't savory.

I'm glad I wasn't that hungry.

I'm not going to review the place from which my Caesar came. I loathe reviews. Who the eff is anybody to walk in anywhere and start tearing down what in some cases has taken somebody or a group of people a lifetime to create. But I am going to suggest that any joint that opts to write "award-winning" next to the Caesar on its menu better make sure it not only presents an eye-catching fancy, but a salad that tastes as good as it looks!

But here's what I have to say to the cooks at Papa razzi's. Make a decent dressing for chrissakes -- get water off the leaves and get some croutons or chips that are not only incredibly tasty, but crumble easily. A Caesar should be a work of art with a unique and memorable combination of tastes! Tart, crunchy and delightful.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Passion for Politics and People

        James Dette has created a colorful and authentic portrait in Rollmops, A Novel of Local Politics, in the process demonstrating a keen ear for dialogue and the details that make up diverse characters. In Hoboken politician, Johnny Kavanaugh, Dette has created a familiar protagonist whose folly and trials, the reader eagerly follows.  Anyone who's ever attended a council meeting or been involved with local politics, will recognize the humor and classic elements of this scene:

       "'Of course,' came a voice from the rear. 'The realtors are going to cash in.' There was a murmur of agreement accompanied by the tapping of the president's pencil.
       'Please,' said Maurice. 'Everyone will have a chance to speak. Mr. Davidson, please get to the point.' He wanted to avoid a long speech supporting the project.
       'Thank you. I will.' Sensing the mood of the audience, Davidson said, 'I just want to object to the Councilman Kavanaugh's characterization of the developers as greedy.'
        Without waiting for Maurice's recognition, Johnny responded, 'As my mother would say, Mr. Davidson, 'Those developers would skin a gnat for its tallow.'"
        Dette is currently at work on a novel titled, The Tree in Calle Sulaco, set in the mid 1960s that will combine politics and love, American oil interests and indigenous rights; its climax "portends events in Latin America for decades to come," Dette has written. According to Dette, his work for the American Institute for Free Labor Development in Ecuador "provided the grist for this novel."

        He resides in Weehawken, New Jersey, and has published travel articles, commentaries and opinion pieces for such venues as The New York Times, Street News and The Record. Rollmops is his first novel and is available through Full Court Press and Amazon.com.

Arya's Double Cheese and Veggie OMelet

           This is of course the perfect meal to enjoy with a cup of steaming espresso on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

           As most of you who read my blog know, I've been on a quest to create the perfect omelet. This one is as close as I've come. The ingredients: four scrambled eggs, sauteed portobello mushrooms with a bit of fresh garlic and a dash of tamari sauteed in olive oil; mozzarella cheese, Hungarian paprika --it has a duskier flavor than the usual variety -- fresh spinach leaves, sprinklings of parmesan and pepper.

          It works!
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Where's That Decent Veggie Burger?

I was at a diner last night with some friends and felt compelled to order yet again one of those meals I know will leave me feeling empty, despite how it looks on the menu. Veggie burgers always look appetizing, but rarely taste as well as they look.

I know this, and yet I am driven to keep trying.

What is it about a veggie burger? I can't tell you how many kinds I've tried, and how rarely I have actually enjoyed one. I've tasted the cardboard type, the hockey puck variety, the kind that crumbles at the touch, and the kind that tastes like a cross between your cat's dry food and your dog's canned food.

The best veggie burger I ever had was in a little shop in Boardman, Ohio, called The Flaming Ice Cube. The burger was juicy, fat, delicious. It still crumbled, but The Flaming Ice Cube's variety is as close to perfection as they come.

I do know vegetarian burgers are the only kind for me. The last time I had a McDonald's burger, I was 20 and the thing I ate, made of horse meat or something like it, sat in my gut for about three days. I knew then that I simply couldn't do cheap burgers any more. It would be a while before I'd go vegetarian, but I still love burgers and I'm still looking for a vegetarian one that will do.

I looked up a few recipes to see what's going on. Part of the challenge is getting the food binder right. Some binder ingredients -- like brown rice and seitan -- can feel like lead. The answer is to boil or steam the seitan before adding it to the mix. Lighter binders can be made using egg whites, lentils and bread crumbs.

Here are some standard ingredients for those of you who want to try putting together your own veggie burger: brown lentils and brown rice, dried thyme and dry mustard, eggs, garlic, black pepper, parsley, mushrooms, onion, shredded beets, carrots and zucchini and textured veggie protein, tomato paste and soy sauce or Tamari.

Personally, I prefer Tamari. It's like a rich soy sauce, without wheat., and I use it on everything. My favorite salad dressing is a blend of tamari and olive oil. I season stir fry dishes and soups with tamari; I've even used it on eggs. I've used it on everything but drinks, although I can actually fathom adding it like tabasco to some late night wild concoction. I could even add it to Diet Coke, for an extra sweet zing!

The next time I make my own veggie burger at home, I'm going to add Tamari and coke to the mix. If it doesn't work, I'm going to toss chopped garlic, onions, peppers, seitan, lentils, tomato paste, tamari and a splash of coca cola into a pan and get down with some sloppy joes!

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Nightmare Turns to Hope

Lost No More, A Mother's Spiritual Journey Through Her Son's Addiction, by Marilyn Burns M.S., L.P.C.C. and Christopher Burns is the most compelling memoir on the subject of drug addiction and its effect on loved ones that I've read. It's no-holds barred and gut-wrenching, and the reader won't be spared. But at the end of the grueling feelings and processes, after the last page is turned, the reader also finds she has gained illumination and understanding about the devastation of the disease and the power that hope and faith can have in combatting it. One marvels at the courage it took to write this story, which turns out to be a one-of-a-kind primer on how to survive the unfathomable -- the loss of a child through drug abuse.

Most of the popular memoirs on drug and alcohol abuse such as Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation, and Augusten Burroughs's Dry, were written by addicts and alcoholics who survived their periods of insanity and could recount them, looking back with wry humor and wisdom. Chris Burns did not survive his addiction, but it is clear his spirit lives on, and his mother, Marilyn, a mental health counselor, makes a valiant effort channeling it and her attempts to save her son, for the reader. A single mother who raised two sons on her own, she never let up trying to support and understand her son's multiple problems, which included ADD/ADHD and addiction to opiates.

After years of struggling with addiction, Chris succumbed from a heart attack induced by drugs in April 2007 at the age of 23. Anyone who has suffered from addiction or has been impacted by the disease knows that no amount of brilliant effort or consistent love can prevent the addict from using, unless he himself makes that choice. At the same time, it is deeply poignant to realize as one reads excerpts from Chris's letters to his mother, how much he wanted to stop abusing drugs and to become the healthy, happy young man he believed he was meant to be and how aware he was of the perils of his disease. This cautionary tale seems doubly tragic when one realizes how much Chris loved his mother and family and how much he wanted to survive addiction.

According to recent statistics, opiate use is up among youth across the U.S. Last month, the online version of University of Washington News reported that in 2009, 160 out of 253 deaths from drug overdoses in King County were from opiates. By comparison, in 1997, there were only 21 prescription-type opiate deaths in that county. A recent online post by Addiction Recovery Legal Services (ARL), a Web site dedicated to helping to families of addicts, states that "five people in Florida die every day as a direct result of prescription drug overdoses, including from hydrocodone (e.g. vicodin) and oxycodone (e.g. oxycontin)." At one point in his journey with drug abuse, Chris was in Florida, trying, but failing to get his life underway. One of the most powerful moments in the book occurs as Marilyn describes an instinctive search she makes of her son's apartment, a search that confirms her worst fears, leading as it does to the discovery, on her birthday no less, that her son is using heroin.

Lost No More is as much a story of harrowing loss as it is of relentless hope. While there is no longer hope for Chris's recovery from drugs, it is clear his spirit and power of love live on through his mother's words, his memory and the lessons of his experience.

Lost No More is available through http://www.amazon.com/, and additional information on the book can be accessed via http://www.lostnomore.us/.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Paris Ahoy!

"It's amazing how you can make the right decision for all the wrong reasons," Elizabeth Bard, Lunch in Paris

You can argue the opposite, which is truer to the way I've lived: It's amazing how you can make the wrong decision for all the right reasons. But let's not live with regret. Je ne regret rien! It's nasty, and one has to forgive oneself for making mistakes, gargantuan as they may sometimes feel. We're human after all, just hungry humans browsing the bookstores of life and art and time.

Speaking of which, while perusing the Food & Cooking section at my local Borders today, I realized I've had enough of reading about famous chefs whose faces and names have been played out by the media. I wonder whether these stars still take a slow or mindful approach to cuisine, or if they ever did. Or whether they're dominated by anything besides the need to make a bigger buck. And so, today, I went searching for the new name, an author I did not know that might have something fresh to tell me about the art of cooking and a place I'd like to visit -- in this case, visit once more.

Elizabeth Bard's Lunch in Paris, A Love Story with Recipes is pithy and delightful, immediately engrossing. If you love falling in love, enjoy romantic tales, have visited or wish to see Paris and dine on fabulous, rich, simple food, you'll want to pluck this off the shelf. Bard's adventures launch with her fateful first date, lunch with Gwendal, a Frenchman doing Ph.D. research on how to archive film and video on the Internet. Elizabeth and Gwendal proceed to his apartment to have tea and make love. The rest of the story is about the recipes Bard encounters as her romance with Paris and Gwendal unfold.

Gwendal introduces her to simple, yet provocative dishes: "Student" Charlotte, or Charlotte Aux Abricots (Ladyfingers), Pasta a la Gwendal, with minced vegetables olive oil, garlic and onion. Over the next months and years, Paris unfurls recipes and magic. There are infinite varieties of croissants, yogurt cakes, and of course chocolate desserts like chocolate souffle cake. There are lively descriptions of sidestreet cafes and delicate and insouciant meals. The experience of spending weekends with Gwendal, season after season, leads to the inevitable moment when Bard finds herself standing in her clod-hopper high school sneakers with the man of her dreams on a wintry Parisian street as he affirms simply and unequivically that he loves her and wants to marry her.

Parisian fare plays an important role through Bard's courtship and marriage, but after the melt-in-your mouth meats and fancy desserts, it all comes down to cheese. You can't talk about food in France without mentioning cheese. Among other things, the wedding party gets to relish a peppery Salers, goat cheese, and comte, which is a bit like sweetened Parmesan.

Bard, an ex-pat, awakens the reader to a Paris of dreams, where one encounters not only a variety of intriguing dishes, all of which seems to include, pepper, garlic, olive oil and butter, those staples of fine cuisine, but a unique assortment of friends too -- like the refined Katherine, the devlish Kekla, and the emphatically French, Axelle.

Lunch in Paris reminded me of a simple maxim that has held true for me over the years, that people who pay attention to the kinds of food they prepare and serve at home, who go out of their way to please and to surprise, also pay attention to the art of love. It only stands to reason that in the city of love, there is also extraordinary food.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Joy of E-Lit

The Joy of E-Lit

I spend so much of the day in front of a computer,  I have to ask myself why I'm so preoccupied with telling you about books, the kind one cradles in one's palms, like an infant, and not the lit to which I'm privy daily on the Internet.

I'm a child of hands-on lit, as opposed to the kind you access on Kindle and other wireless reading devices. But, I realize, I'm always reviewing lit, in a way, posting links on Facebook and Twitter, texting everybody about my latest and best Internet finds. Not a day goes by that I don't post at least a handful of links to something that in the moment feels like the most amazing new discovery. The best E-lit is fresh and timely.

On my fave e-lit list this week is a stunning review by Charles McNulty, the L.A. Times theater critic, of Dream of Life, Steven Sebring's 2008 film about avant garde poet/rocker Patti Smith. McNulty's understanding of Smith, her journey and 1960s New York was so in-depth, astute and sensitive, I simply had to "comment." I'm ashamed to admit that before reading the byline I assumed the writer was a woman.

But hey. On the Internet, it's always more about What I read than Who wrote it.

I read a handful of books a week, and literally dozens of articles a day, and scan dozens a day, and you can bet this wouldn't be without the props of a computer or laptop. Haven't experts already proven the Internet improves reading ability?

It's not just cool articles I pore over, but helpful, inspiring blogs, many on social media. I'm fascinated by the increasingly abbreviated language spawned by social media networking, and equally with the role that youth plays in evolving our language and attraction to things techie. Reading my niece's facebook posts, I note that letters can be used like art, and rarely used keys such as * can carry a host of meanings. You can always count on kids to create fresh values.

Thanks to our Blackberries and computers we can speak economically about just about anything. Or we can go on about it. Who's to stop us? The electronic rant is the new silent song of the masses, the deliverance of the individual from the shackles of nine-to-five, and just about any kind of oppression -- momentary, illusionary or real.

Our language is increasingly abbreviated, symbolic. Beyond math and the alphabet. What do all these conflagrations of meek, rarely used keys combined with ordinary expressions mean to our styles of evolving communication? What do they mean to kids, and to our future? How will they impact how we speak and communicate tomorrow?

I'm a fan of The New Yorker. I love a long read in a chaise lounge under the sun or the dim light of a reading lamp in the wee hours. I cherish stories that have arcs and characters and take a while to read and digest. But I also know that anything as charged as the coils of tweets going out all over the Internet universe have something vital to say about who we are and how we live. Studying them is a revelation about how fast our culture changes, and also about our illusions of change.

New styles of communication seem as easy to learn and enjoy as breakfast cereal for the kids who conjure them as they go along. Yesterday's language is, well, just that. Minimalism plus a jazz twist, a dadaist urge to upturn what came before is what I see happening now -- text novels, tweeting can be performance art in sound bites. They can also be plagiaristic, meta-fiction, forgettable. But they have acquired the power to arouse us, our interests, curiosity, thought and ire -- often for justifiable causes. And for this, if nothing else, we must thank them.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Riding the Meritocracy

I just read the latest U.S. News university ranking, which places Princeton after Harvard and before Yale. My niece Gabriela turned down Harvard and Princeton for Yale, and her older sister turned down a $38,000 offer from Columbia, also to attend Yale, and just graduated from that institution. Personally, I would have considered disowning my daughter for turning down such a sum of money, and making me pay through the teeth for her education. Hopefully, the Wall Street firm where she is currently ensconced acquiring the tools that greedy people in power use to derail economies, will also provide her with the means to feed back some of the thousands of dollars her parents spent on her education. But, who am I to judge? I'm not the mother. Just the aunt. And I can't brag about my kid going to Yale or any ivy league institution, because I don't have kids, thank god. I'm still trying to recover from my own education.

Perhaps many people are.

Certainly Walter Kirn is. Kirn made the unwise choice (for himself), but wise (for us) decision to attend Princeton in the 1970s, and lived to tell about it. Lost in the Meritocracy paints Princeton as anything but the romantic intellectual brothel for the elite that I imagined it to be,  the home of great talents such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wandered its halls briefly, and certainly took away attitude if nothing else from the experience.

I am happy to report that Lost in the Meritocracy is seeped in the author's experiences of drugs, alcohol and lost youth, and is therefore just my kind of read -- even after all these years of no longer being a booze belle or drug freak. I wonder if it's because I never got over the trauma of college too, the first time around at one of the Catholic seven sisters' schools. I might have written a book about how much I hated my descent into alcohol and dope (I didn't), and on my book cover would be the image of a lovely maroon and gray disembodied skirt, or perhaps a cluster of disembodied nuns' headdresses -- Kirn's book features an orange and black Princeton sweatshirt. Only a sophisticated, spoiled guy can publish a rant about how bad school was for him and get paid well for it, heck, have it published in the Atlantic magazine, then a book that made best seller lists. Where did Kirn learn all the sophisticated tricks of the literary trade? -- Minnesota from which he seems embarrassed to have sprung? I doubt it. Perhaps Princeton. Lost in the Meritocracy seems like one smart letter of application to me, "Please accept me even though I'm deriding you. Look how cleverly I'm doing it!" I may be crossing my legs in the opposite direction, but I'm flirting with you!

"Percentile is destiny in America," declares Kirn early on in this dramatic personal testament of scholarly waywardness. He confirms what I have long suspected, that most universities are filled with automatons who don't have the slightest clue about what they are doing or what knowledge is. But is this news?

He goes on to say: "Four years after that bus ride I'm slumped on an old sofa in the library of my Princeton eating club, waiting to feel the effects of a black capsule that someone said would help me finish writing my overdue application for a Rhodes scholarship. At the other end of the sofa sits my good friend Adam (all names in this piece have been changed)—a Jewish science whiz from the New York suburbs who ate magic mushrooms one evening, had a vision, and switched from pre-med to English literature. Adam should be reading Dubliners, which he'll be tested on early tomorrow morning, but he's preoccupied with an experiment. He's smashing Percocet tablets with a hammer and trying to smoke the powder through a water pipe. I have other companions in estrangement, way out here on the bell curve's leading edge, where our talent for multiple-choice tests has landed us without even the sketchiest survival instructions. Our club isn't one of the rich, exclusive outfits, where the pedigreed children of the establishment eat chocolate-dipped strawberries off silver trays carried by black waiters in starched white uniforms, but one that anyone can join, where geeks and misfits line up with plastic plates for veggie burgers and canned fruit salad."

I remember a few years back when I was teaching at Cornell and came upon a computer lab filled with students typing madly. I had a brief hallucinogenic moment of clarity in which I understood as clearly and completely as I know I'm here typing this right now that these kids were at that moment all of one mind in trying to find the fastest way possible to produce something, anything their profs would like, and nothing more and nothing less than that. There was no curiosity in the air, no hint of a search for genuine knowledge, no trace of passionate engagement. And believe it or not, at the time, I was shocked by that. My sense was that most if not all these kids viewed being at Cornell as a small penance to pay before getting to the real business of life -- being loosed upon the world to make fabulous dollars -- the ability to make fabulous dollars of course being the proof of one's serviceability in the world. If one is a true genius, one makes money, lots of it. That's the premier American belief. No doubt about it.

The Great Gatsby, the greatest American novel ever written, said it all. Here's how to take a fast ride to the top even if it means killing somebody along the way: Whom did you kill on your way to make a buck today, dear?

But let's get back to the issue at hand, which is our colleges and universities and their lack of spirit and humanity. It's no mystery or exaggeration that academic pressure can break students -- at all levels of education. Stress at Princeton made Kirn aphasic for a time. He brought himself back by reciting dictionary words and their definitions. A double PhD from Harvard informed me recently that while attending Harvard in the 1960s, there were "many suicides, most of them women who were in the minority anyway and couldn't bear to get a less than perfect grade." There were so many in fact that my friend decided to finish up her degrees outside Harvard. My niece, the one who was accepted at Harvard, said she rejected it because she heard so many admonishing stories from other students who had gotten in, only to find themselves overwhelmed by the "oppressive burden" of being there that seems to hang in the very air.

Unfortunately, the public doesn't hear much about student failures unless they make the news.  It's also true that if stress doesn't break you in college, it could later. But not every graduate student turns into a Craig's list killer.

It's interesting how for all of his dramatic posturing and often humorous replay of his angst-ridden years at Princeton, such a bright man as Kirn doesn't care enough to offer solutions or even pose questions about America's poisonous meritocracy. It's like he's smoking his cigar, sipping on his Cointreau, sitting in some club, tossing his story out to whoever will listen. He doesn't really care how it falls. He's got his condo and his paycheck, after all. You out there, you're on your own.

Of course the questions are cliche, but they need to be asked over and over again until somebody, somewhere comes up with solutions: Why do so many students and teachers not care about education? Why do students and teachers alike self-destruct in the system? Where does care begin? What is it we must teach first in school, even before first grade?

What if, from the beginning, we taught kindness and consideration instead of competition, and the value of human life, of life in general over and above the primacy of the dollar. Maybe there would be two or three students sharing a computer in a lab come college time, getting nurturance from accidental body heat instead of suffering isolation, and thus drinking themselves to death, or diving from the Empire State building, or into Ithaca's falls -- as is the style at Cornell -- just because they failed to make a grade.

We have to rethink what it is we value, and stop putting such a high premium on information -- as if it's knowledge, it's not. And on high rankings. Minds aren't computers, and the education system has to genuinely consider the hearts and entire beings of those it purports to nurture.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


"Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet
but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat."
- Will Holt

The song about the lemon was written by Holt and recorded by the folk group, Peter, Paul and Mary, by Trini Lopez and others in the 1960s. It was also used in a Pledge furniture cleaning commercial. 

Imitation is the highest flattery. Like the fruit, the song found many uses. 

The lemon is one versatile fruit with an amazing number of culinary and non-culinary uses. If you're a kid or have a kid's heart, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a lemon is lemonade. If you're an adult, you might think of a bad car -- although, I hope not!

Check out some of the myriad uses for that magical little yellow oval: Lemon juice can be used to highlight your hair, remove stains, clear blemishes and blackheads, cure colds, clean kitchen appliances, deodorize and disinfect.

Who knew?

The lemon is said to have originated in India. It's often a garnish for tasty dishes. Have you ever tasted pickled lemons, a Moroccan delicacy?

And what of lemon meringue pie!

I associate lemons with my all-favorite drink, espresso. I love the delicate art of making and drinking espresso, and also enjoy my drink served with a tiny lemon rind sliver. The tartness adds zing to many after-dinner drinks.

One of my favorite lunch spots, Centro, in Fairfield, Connecticut, decorates tables with a water decanter on which sits a wholesome lemon. The sight of it always seems to beckon me to come, sit and enjoy a light, delicious meal.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sketches of Spain

Spain, now considered the new France, is renowned for all kinds of delightful foods, many of which I would never dream of approaching with a knife and fork. Spain's cows yield some of the best veal, and the country is also known for wild boar and fish. Last but not least is the fine wine, Albariño being one of the most popular.

The fact that I'm a non-drinking vegetarian in no way diminishes my love for Spain or my desire to go there. It's deep in my roots. My grandmother on my mother's side, a Breton, was from Spain, and her lineage of gifted musicians and writers traces back to that country. I would love to go to Spain and eat there. To see flamenco and jotas, danced by real gypsies -- if there are any left. I was raised dancing jotas and watching my mother -- who was a dancer before she became a writer -- dance flamencos, red heels sending dust into the air, denting the wood platform in her studio. Her handsome head cocked, she raised her arms, fingers snapping fire. She aroused the sleeping world with the rat-a-tat of her castanets. When my parents traveled to Spain years ago, my mother got up on a stage to dance with gypsies and my father, Iowa-born and conservative by nature, was so moved, he even clapped his hands to the music -- perhaps even to the rhythm!

When I go to Spain, I will be sure to dine at Restaurante Solla in Pontevedra. Chef Pepe Solla's signature dish -- a poached egg with black olives on toast -- is one of those items on my dream menu. What does Pontevedra look like? What does it feel like? I dream of strolling in sandals along cobble-stoned streets alongside the sea, a stick of fresh bread under my arm, the waft of peasant food leading me on. I can taste those olive-laced eggs now.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Nature of -- Sublime

We're taught to believe life is a Kodak moment, and most of us spend much of our lives trying to hold on to all the good times. It takes maturity to be in the moment and to move on, and maturity is one of those qualities I've discovered I like in Bourdain.

I've been trying to figure out what it is exactly that endears me to the man, and believe me, it's more than just charm and good looks. Despite the fact that he claims to be jaded, he always comes off as an eager host on his series, No Reservations. Even as he's being feted and dined by professional chefs, friends of friends, and indigenous people around the globe, he seems intent upon offering up his experiences to the viewer in the most authentic light, and treating them as what they are --  rarities and treasures.

I'm also drawn to the raconteur, share-all quality, the "tell-it-like-is-Joe" who is happy to be where he is and proud to share it with you. Bourdain tends to search out what's cool or unusual about a place and a cuisine. Despite his facility with words and people, his ability to fit in virtually anywhere, he continually scrutinizes himself, and this I also find appealing:

How did I come to be worthy of this great meal? Who am I to critique it? How can I honor such fanciful cuisine? Why do I, Tony of Leonia, get such a ride? The perennial teen toeing the cliff's edge of an illegal high, Bourdain still challenges himself with the important questions. He is at his most interesting and original when playing the philosophe, analyzing the guts of what really happened, how he really feels about an event, how he "got there," what it all means. The probing, the stripping down, the upturning processes can be unnerving, but the viewer -- and reader -- sense the danger, feel the risk, and want to hop on board and see experiences through with him. Stripping back facades, getting underneath their skin, getting underneath even his audience's skin has become a trademark of Bourdain's, distinguishing him as an author and as host on his series.

In a chapter titled, "It's Not You, It's Me" in Medium Raw B recalls his disappointment with a dining experience at Alinea, a restaurant run by the great Grant Achatz, who once worked with Chef Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, where Bourdain claims to have experienced "the greatest single meal" of his life. He describes the 22-course extravaganza that he cherished so much and its aftermath, in grueling detail:

"Is there something fundamentally, ethically wrong about a meal as Pantagruelian in its ambition and proportion? Other than the people are starving in Africa argument, and the ' 250,000 people lost their jobs in America last month alone' argument, there's the fact that they must necessarily trim off about 80 percent of the fish or bird, to serve that perfectly oblong nugget of deliciousness on the plate. There's the unavoidable observation that it's simply more food and alcohol than the human body is designed to handle. That you will, after even the best of times, the most wonderful of such meals, need to flop onto your bed, stomach roiling with reflux; the beginnings of a truly awful hangover forming in your skull, farting and belching like a medieval friar.

'Is this the appropriate end, the inevitable result of genius? Of an otherwise sublime experience?

'Must it end like this.'"

The question of the hour hits home, bringing the reader to an awareness of what in Buddhist terms is known as samsaric reality -- The realization that no matter how sublime an experience, its flipside lingers just around the bend. Indulge in a great meal, expect indigestion. At the edge of bliss lies suffering. No matter how extraordinary an experience, it disappears like sand between your fingers -- and sometimes, as in the case of a meal, leaves you -- literally!

Beyond Bourdain's spectacular meals, beyond the high at the end of all of our rainbows, inescapable as death, lies emptiness.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Taking Snarky to New Heights

Anybody who knows me or reads this blog knows I'm a fan of Bourdain's. I fell upon his show, No Reservations and was smitten; then read his books, Kitchen Confidential; A Cook's Tour; The Nasty Bits, and the infatuation grew. As a writer, he's hot. He's made an art of the rant, and is as willing and eager to skewer himself as others. "See, what I've done and do to myself. Don't mind me," he seems to tell us.

But of course we do mind. And of course he wants us to.

Who wouldn't adore his colorful digs into his past and the characters who people it? When he's the extravagant bad boy, flourishing all his feathers, he's hard to beat. The tone of most of his reminiscences, the stuff of his previous books, is a cross between mea culpa and kimo no sabe, meaning, "Me, I'm just a charming asshole, what can I tell you?"

It's a different story altogether, however, when Bourdain is out for someone else's blood. The humor and gusto turn rank and vile. I feel as if I'm being lowered into a Draculean dungeon where there is only one beast trying desperately to have fun. And it's not pretty.

Not that Bourdain is out to please. His writing and charm have never been about that. But what's with the no-holds-barred assaults on sextegarians. Give 'em a break, man.

Medium Raw, A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, Bourdain's latest diatribe of excess, delivers everything you'd expect -- and some. Personally, I can live without the climactic sequence in the first chapter of a time he sat down to eat with some famous names in the biz, and partook of a sizzling ortolan, a finch-like bird that costs upwards of 250-dollars in France -- due to the fact it's a protected species. His vivid description of biting with relish into the bones of that bird and sucking out its guts offends every aspect of my Buddhist vegetarian heart, even though I have to hand it to Bourdain.  He can write; he will tell you what that experience was like in vivid MGM detail, like it or not.

In Medium Raw, you get plenty of rants. One, about his drug-soaked past hopping islands with a nutty heiress; mostly, you get riffs on who is and who is not worthy of B's respect -- this man who claims to feel so unworthy himself, such an outsider in this world. Yet he wields his opinion like a ninja with a razor-sharp cleaver.

Bourdain devotes an entire chapter to skewering Alice Waters, the owner of Chez Panisse and promoter of "Edible Schoolyards" and local foods that are sustainable, and aims 15-pages of bile at GQ food writer Alan Richman, who made the mistakes of negatively critiquing Les Halles, the restaurant in which Bourdain worked years ago, and questioning the authenticity of Creole cuisine -- the latter, in 2006.

All of this seems snarky indeed -- snarky being Bourdain's favorite critical word. If there's one thing Bourdain makes clear is that he's a self-proclaimed outsider who doesn't feel worthy to sit at the same table as his peers. At the same time, he expects you to listen to what he knows and to believe him. He's the authority without authority, the everyman who's won the lotto and whose opinion now, on account of his good luck, is worth gold. Even when he turns nasty, and maybe because he turns nasty, he is worth gold. This is a country after all in which a single negative rant can make a person famous.

Which is not to say that Bourdain is not really eloquent. He is. Or not right. He may be. But those nasty repasts are hard to take and I'd much rather partake of the savvy, playful host who invites everyone to his table, savoring differences and taking issue with none.

What Bourdain does best is write well about the food he loves and the cultures and traditions from which those foods come, and in this regard, Medium Raw does not disappoint. It makes you salivate and smile and long to go where the man has traveled and do what he has done.

For example, here's a description in Medium Raw of an early morning jaunt to a Parisian boulangerie for fresh baked baguettes:

"They're too hot to eat but you grab one anyway, tearing it open gingerly, then dropping two fingers full of butter inside. It instantly melts into liquid -- running into the grooves and inner spaces of white interior. You grab it like a sandwich and bite, teeth making a cracking sound as you crunch through  the crust. You haven't eaten since yesterday lunch, your palate is asleep and just not ready for so  much sensation. The reaction is violent. It hurts. Butter floods your head and you think for a second you are  going to pass out."

I find my relationship with Bourdain runs like this. When I like him, it's a love fest. When I don't, I want to toss everything in my kitchen cupboards at him. Why do I think I am not alone?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Good Morning Sunshine!

July 27, 2010

As a Colombian with an addiction for top shelf espresso, I have the right to post this. As a recovering alcoholic, I don't. Still the idea fascinates me. I am sure those of you who read this will steer clear of this narcotic temptation (thus keeping me from bad karma for passing it along), and just indulge, if you must, on one of those mornings when all you have to do is lolligag in bed with a partner alongside a basket of croissants and one of these drinks while watching The Thin Man -- because that's about all you'll be good for.

Did you know, by the by, that a pinch of salt in your java will cut the bitterness? The Hungarians, Turks and Northern Swedes do it. Try a splash of salt in the filter when prepping an espresso. Then, if you want to skip the alcoholic jolt and go right to bliss, grab a square of fine chocolate to nibble on while sipping your brew. That's jolt enough for me! But, read on java freaks. This one's for you.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Supreme Espresso To Go

June 30, 2010

Check out this super handy, futuristic beauty. An espresso machine to go. Enjoy the link. Or for quicker access, double click one of the comments to the right for a full view of this blog page from The New York Times.


Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Edging Toward Grace

June 7, 2010

"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost." -- Henry James

The James quote about the writer's task appears in a story by Jay McInerney in How It Ended, New and Collected Stories, published in 2009. I came upon the collection Sunday at a local Borders while running from a brewing storm that never delivered. Thankfully, the stories did.

McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis and Tama Janowitz were part of the literary bratpack of the 80s. Janowitz and McInerney, based in New York, focused on the travails of colorful and jaded characters on their home turf, while Ellis tapped the soul malaise and ennui of white youth on the West coast. I read McInerney's Bright Lights in the 80s in one sitting, and found it fast-paced, real and riveting.

The 26 stories in How It Ended were written over the period of as many years, and take place mostly in New York City. McInerney's characters revel in postmodern angst, and are of all classes and habits. Among them -- the girl with a shaved head and tattooed scalp of "It's Six A.M., Do You Know Where You Are?"; the coke head and prostitute in "The Queen and I"; the cheating husband and pill-popping wife of "I Love You, Honey," a story about lies, faith and deception set in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. These characters dream of leading different lives, of being someone other than who they are, of waking up somewhere other than where they really live, and dabble in their illusions. Sometimes their fantasies come true, as in "The Queen and I." But it's longing for them that seems to matter more. More often than not, dreams are mere remainders of a past that cannot be recaptured.

"You remember another Sunday morning in your old apartment on Cornelia Street when you woke to the smell of bread from the bakery downstairs. There was the smell of bread every morning, but this one you remember. You turned to see your wife sleeping beside you. Her mouth was open and her hair fell down across the pillow to your shoulder. The tanned skin of her shoulder was the color of bread fresh from the oven. Slowly, and with a growing sense of exhilaration, you remembered who you were..." -- from "It's Six A.M., Do You Know Where You Are?"

It's not just who you are, but where you come from that matters. "The Waiter," a subtle and elegant story about class that transpires in a cafe, is largely comprised of a conversation between a young man and two women, one of whom is European, and recalls the work of Ernest Hemingway. McInerney also admires F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose subjects were also class, greed and the human heart.

In the early 80s, after getting fired from his job as "fact-checker" at The New Yorker, McInerney was lucky enough to study under Raymond Carver, a master of the short story form, and Tobias Wolff at Syracuse University. Although McInerney has said he finds the short story form daunting, the stories in How It Ended explore important issues with grace and depth and prove he is at home in the genre.