What authors teach beyond their pages

So… I’ve been remiss in blogging in recent weeks due to the computer issues, but I’ve been remiss in recent months in blogging about some cool readings. Time to fix. (Still working on computer stuff, though.)

1. Gary Shteyngart.

Saw him speak this spring at the Folger and he was very funny. I had forgotten how artists were allowed to be so funny. He did the voices of his characters. He made lots of jokes about his writing technique. He referenced Web amusement, and when I searches, his funny trailer for Super Sad True Love Story turned up. We fall in love with idea of artist as tortured master, Picasso and Brian Wilson (if now with broadband Internet), and we begin to separate a sense of humor from success. It was nice to receive a reminder the two can be meshed without issue.

2. Adam Ross.

He was at the Folger with Shteyngart. He was serious — friendly, had his fun moments, but mostly serious. He was wound tightly on stage, focused on explaining his book the right way. But then the interviewer asked about bookstores in his city, Nashville. The last one died, and Ann Patchett had taken it upon herself to open a replacement. Ross was happy about the new one but angry about what the town had lost. He nearly came to ranting. Yet, knowing where he was, he kept some dignified reserve. I had forgotten artists could be passionate about the world around them and not just the world in their pages.

3. Giada De Laurentiis.

Sometimes you need that one last, clear look to end a crush. If you’ve read this blog for a long time, you know I’ve been a fan of Giada. Even when she said Georgetown was just outside of Washington, I’d never given up on her. Until when I saw her at Sixth and I, and she was an automaton. Responding to crowd questions positively but guardedly and with good words for her corporate tie-ins. Caveat: The interviewer was a print editor, uncomfortable on stage and in directly addressing an odd subject. But a machine is a machine is a machine is a lesson.


4. Jennifer Egan.

Openness. She answered questions for almost as long as she read, taking each one at length and being disappointed when organizers cut her off. And consider where she was! At the main Arlington library, in front of an audience of several hundred, none who had paid anything to get in. They all just wanted to be there, and so did she. To see one of the country’s greatest authors in such a place was a testament of Egan, to libraries and to everyone who loved them. She wanted to be there and so did we, and such friendly expectations are rare, so rare.


5. Colin Powell.

A few weeks ago at Sixth and I. There were some protesters outside. Inside, the crowd seemed mixed, half fans, half withholding judgment as the NPR interviewer talked to him. There was long discussion of his boyhood, and the educational goals he pushes for now, and the Iraq war. When he answered the war questions, those in the pews were attentive and gave little response. There were moments when cheers broke out but they were few. Were they politely negative? No. Were they skeptical? No. Were they human? Yes. Here was a man answering seemingly as best he could and an audience that knew it did not have to answer to anyone. However your politics ran, you could grasp the person speaking for himself and going to bed with the consequences.


Mindful eating blisses me out

Even though taking 10 or 20 minutes between bites of a meal sounds incredibly hard, in this week’s New York Times article about silent, slow, Buddhist-based “mindful eating,” I think my stress levels are lower just reading this paragraph. I even like the random link to the pasta topic.

Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam.

Few things in writing relax the brain like a long sentence followed by a string of short sentences followed by another long and measured line.

In related news, did I buy tickets for Giada’s coming visit to Sixth and I? Of course. Blog-category love translates to tickets. This means I am seeing Giada and Springsteen back-to-back nights. My spring is made.

Also, first I get to see Tina Fey talk there, and now Giada? Sixth and I, thank you very much. Now get back to work on booking Maura Tierney.

I want to eat the entire bulleted list

Pecorino cheese rivals the parm in my heart, and now Serious Eats writes about it. The only thing that could make the cheese better would be Giada misprouncing it adoringly. Thanks to Jess for the link.

–Try a fresh, young or medium-aged pecorino with fresh pears and a drizzle of Italian chestnut or acacia honey, a classic combination that is enjoyed throughout Tuscany and beyond.

–Pair an aged Pecorino stagionato with a bowl of toasted walnuts, or a rustic loaf of walnut bread, toasted and warm–the bitter edge of the walnuts compliments the rich, nutty flavor of the cheese perfectly.

–Grate lots of Pecorino (young, old, or both) into ravioli filling for fresh pasta. Try fresh ricotta, sheep’s milk if you can find it, with chopped, sautéed swiss chard a bit of grated nutmeg.

If the economic crisis makes me love Giada more, okay then

TiVo: “For the week ending March 1, 2009, we clearly needed more laughs in our lives as America’s Funniest Home Videos gained the most Season Pass adds. Also in the Top 5 climbers was Everyday Italian — perhaps because it’s programming only a (sexy?) mama could make.”

Also, we welcome Giada to the blogosphere. She has work to do.

Andrew Ellicott is right but dead and neither hot nor funny

The TV cook of my dreams did herself no favors when she visited my city for a show and described Georgetown as “just outside of D.C.” But then she stood in her kitchen and made something else, and I could forgive. The moment leapt to mind in the first minutes of Get Smart. Steve Carell entered the Smithsonian Castle, walked through Natural History’s Henry the Elephant rotunda and headed down a set of stairs into the American History museum, shuttered two years now. 

Upshot No. 1: Fiction is acceptable way of screwing up Washington’s geography, but if you’re gonna go, go all the way. I wanted the Wright Flyer and Calder mobile in a Carell-hangs-on-funny-flying-things scene. Upshot No. 2: Moving the great elephant a few feet to the side if the rotunda in the late ’90s renovation of Natural History has to be one of the smartest museum renovation moves ever. In other news, American History reopens this month, and I have high hopes. Upshot No. 3: Get Smart, now on DVD, was more entertaining than it had any right to be. It simultaneously made me want to watch The Office, The Rocketeer, The Rock’s singing, and Anne Hathaway in anything, anything at all.

Oh, Giada

She brings me Everyday Italian, and I enjoy it because that’s exactly what I have in kitchen cupboards. Pastas, sauces, cheese, and wine glasses. There are other things, but they’re a minority. My fridge is just as boring. Or tasty.

So Giada and I get along.

I’ve been reclaiming my e-mail the last few days, both the inbox and the spam filter. They both turned up finds. One was an e-mail I’d sent myself from work — subject line “giada” with a work link inside.

I thought the link was a story the paper had written about her, slipping in and out of dresses ahead of some event, seemingly always verging on the accented ingredient name-dropping she does to great effect. I remembered in the story that even in real life Giada couldn’t help her constant overexplaining. Like her overly rich and European-seeming friends she feeds at the end of each episode, despite their clearly expensive pants having no business mixing tomato sauces and the outdoors, the explanation effect is offputting if you want to like her. You worry that if she were in your kitchen, you’d offer her wine and she’d start on a story about wine and her grandmother. In this story, her grandmother would not have a beloved drinking problem, drop anything, steal anything, or be immediately to Lucy’s left when you watch the grape-stomping scene — the only valid reasons to postpone accepting a glass of wine.

But I was wrong about the link. It wasn’t the story but an excerpt from her new book. The receipt was “Spaghetti with Pinot Grigio and Seafood.” It contained zero superfluous explanation, not a word more than necessary to complete the instructions.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for 3 minutes, until tender but not brown. Add the sun–dried tomatoes and cook for another minute. Add the wine, shrimp, and clams and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until the shrimp are pink and the clams have opened, about 7 minutes. Discard any clams that have not opened.

Add the spaghetti to the skillet with the seafood mixture. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine, then gently fold in the arugula. Mound the pasta on a serving platter and serve immediately.

Finishing my own plate of pasta, I went looking for the story. Quickly found it. She was in a dress shop.

“I’m petite, but most petite women don’t have breasts and curves. I have a hard time getting clothes that fit right, and for some reason the pieces I have from him, it’s as if he sculpted them for me,” Giada said. A grandmother story followed.

If you ever watch the Food Network

Via the always terrific but especially recently on fire Pop Candy, food writer Michael Ruhlman hands over his blog keys to Tony Bourdain, and Bourdain doesn’t let him down. If you’re a Bourdain fan or ever watch Food Network, even for a minute before changing the channel, the post is a must-read. He begins:

I actually WATCH Food Network now and again, more often than not drawn in by the progressive horrors on screen. I find myself riveted by its awfulness, like watching a multi-car accident in slow motion. Mesmerized at the ascent of the Ready-Made bobblehead personalities, and the not-so-subtle shunting aside of the Old School chefs, I find myself de-constructing the not-terrible shows, imagining behind the scenes struggles and frustrations, and obsessing unhealthily on the Truly Awful ones.

Chef-by-chef remarks follow, including respect for Emeril, props for my girl Giada, a Triscuits reference for Rachael Ray (I thought I was the only one who found it odd to have her picture on the front and back of the box), and unbridled hatred of Sandra Lee.

To wit: “I would likely be arrested if I suggested on television that any children watching should promptly go to a wooded area with a gun and harm themselves. What’s the difference between that and Sandra suggesting we fill our mouths with Ritz Crackers, jam a can of Cheez Wiz in after and press hard? None that I can see.”

The first time I saw Sandra Lee on TV, I think it was during a holiday appearance she made on CNN, back when I was working there. We all remember how happy I was that season, but the only thing I can remember from that day was pure confusion. What was she making?

With Bourdain, it’s time to read the books. While I came to his work late, finding No Reservations playing the deprived National Geographic role in my life that Dave Attell’s Insomniac once filled, Jess has always touted the books as funny gritty foodie masterpieces. Which, if accurate, fits my continuing love of funny people, gritty movies, eating, and Monsterpiece Theater.

First, to work through the books already in progress….

This person claims there are five pictures of Rachael Ray on a Triscuits box. I don’t remember that many, but it’s possible. Also, Giada turns up in the paper this week. How I missed her chat on the site in 2004, I have no idea.

Finally, the Muppets Wiki has a comprehensive rundown of Monsterpiece Theater episodes, includes synopses, photos and — best of all — YouTube links.

Alistair Cookie also gets his own page, featuring a classic work of description: “Though seemingly more sedate and urbane, Alistair Cookie is still a Cookie Monster, devouring baked goods, props — and in the revamped opening in the 1990s, noisily consuming cookies over the theme, while offering judicious comments on the texture.”