Gina Hyams Author

Author Archives: gina

Interview with Kaarin “Pook” Lemstrom-Sheedy of pookstyle gift shop in Chatham, New York

p o o k s t y l e at 2 Park Row in  Chatham, New York, is one of the most charming gift shops around. It’s owned by Kaarin “Pook” Lemstrom-Sheedy, a veteran bookstore and museum shop retailer, who shares space with Park Row Gallery & Framing. She says she’s having the time of her life with the shop and her joy shines through in the gifts she stocks. 

Kaarin “Pook” Lemstrom-Sheedy

Prior to launching p o o k s t y l e in 2010,  Kaarin managed the iconic Scribner Bookstore and Barnes & Noble 128 Fifth Avenue Sales Annex in Manhattan, and she designed and ran museum gift shops at the Whitney Museum of American Art, MASS MoCA, the Mount, and Hancock Shaker Village.

Gina: What defines p o o k s t y l e?

Kaarin: Clean, modern designs from the U.S. and around the world, with a pinch of humor and a dash of whimsy thrown in for good measure. “Pook” is the name my father gave me as a baby, and prior to opening p o o k s t y l e, the only people who called me by that name were my family and very oldest and closest friends, so I had to think carefully about releasing it into the world. Happily, it has been a very pleasant and good experience. I’ve met many other pooks and pookies—both two and four legged! Customers usually ask if they can call me pook once they know what it means, and I always say yes!

My shop has been described (by Rural Intelligence) as a “museum store without a museum” and I think that’s quite fitting; it seems my roots are showing. One of my guiding philosophies, a holdover from my museum years, is the desire to offer “something for everyone” and I therefore have a fairly broad range of price points—everything from a $300 Japanese copper teapot to a “folding ruler” for $6.

p o o k s t y l e offers things that I love, like, and/or believe in. My hope is that others will share my enthusiasms, and so far, anyway, so good! I should also add that at the shop’s core, shoppers will find many Scandinavian products. This “flavor” comes from my childhood in Amesbury, Massachusetts—my Dad was a Finn and my Mom an Olson, so growing up, there were many Scandinavian things in our home.

Gina: What makes a great gift?

Kaarin: Something that the giver feels good about giving—whether it’s because they know it’s just the right fit for the recipient, or because it’s something they have discovered and feel delighted and excited about personally and can then pass that delight along in the giving. 

Gina: What are your thoughts on fun hostess/host gifts?

Kaarin: Things that are attractive, maybe a little out of the ordinary, but also useful. For example, I carry a wonderful line of felt coasters from DAFF of Germany, in a whole range of fabulous colors. I encourage my customers to mix and match—have a little fun and at the same time customize and personalize the gift for your recipient. I carry at all times a variety of delicious Swedish jams—gooseberry, lingonberry, black currant. Always a lovely and tasty offering—and again, most useful. 

Gina: What’s the best gift anyone ever gave you?

Kaarin: When my now husband, then boyfriend, Bob, and I were dating, he gave me a flute one Christmas, something that had been on my Xmas list—along with a harpsichord (hey, a girl could dream!) —for many years. I believe it was a little beyond my parents means to buy me either one, much as they would have liked to, so when I opened that gift on Christmas Day, with my family all around me, my mother and I began to cry! My Mom later said that was when she knew that Bob was the “one for me.” 43 years later (41 wed, 2 dating), I’d say she had it right.

A walk around the shop with Kaarin…

Kaarin: These are Swedish mini Shea butter soaps: lingonberry (lingon), blueberry (blabar), and  cloudberry (hjortron) and Swedish egg white facial soap. I’m very fussy about smells, but I love the fresh, light scent of these Swedish bars. I’ve been giving the egg white facial bar to an 89-year-old friend of my late Mom’s for years, and she swears that it works wonders on her aged skin! Great stocking stuffers, all. 

Kaarin: I love the whimsical design of the B clock—the “B” theme as in bees, birds, and bunnies, the element of surprise when customers realize that it is made of lightweight recycled cardboard. It’s elegance created from everyday, humble materials—love that formula! 

Kaarin: p o o k s t y l e features an ever changing selection of used and rare design books pulled from sister store, Berkshire Books (which my husband Bob helms, and which is located right around the corner at 2 Park Row), as well as one-of-a-kind, unusual, hand-selected titles sprinkled throughout the shop.

Kaarin: A Cabinet of Curiosities at p o o k s t y l e includes rolls of colored cotton string, footed ceramic vessels by Cape Cod potter Frances Kate Johnson, tiny glass vases, angel ornaments from Denmark, red and white Yule candles from Sweden, and felt Moomim purses. On the counter are bundles of the most wonderful, longest-lasting white taper candles from Sweden (which are a p o o k s t y l e staple).

Kaarin: As long as there’s a p o o k s t y l e, there will be rubber stamps and art supplies! This is a terrific new Year of Holidays Stamp Carving Kit from Yellow Owl Workshop, creators and champions of clever rubber stamps of all kinds. There are also handsomely boxed brass key rings from Areaware (old keys being another p o o k s t y l e passion). Color Appeel crayons, ridiculously awesome crayon sticks with fun peel-to-reveal action. The Tea Towel Stencil Kits include two blank 100% cotton tea towels, drawing stencils, and fabric markers. Choose either the veggie or cat motif and have a ball creating your one-of-a-kind tea towel masterpieces! 

Kaarin: A typical p o o k s t y l e mix of fun and whimsical gifts: Melamine portrait plates from London’s National Gallery, classic folding Swedish ruler, brightly colored fabric watches, rubber stamp kits, ink stamp pads in a wide variety of colors, Sturdy cork coasters: choose from We Heart Canada, Chickadee, Snow Shoes. Boxed Cubeots (“a wooden puzzle with a playful personality”).

Kaarin: Here are soft lamb’s wool throws in pink and grey from Klippan, Sweden and a round, ingeniously designed scarf hanger from Japan. The cheerfully colored plastic bins were originally designed as baskets for marketing (veggies in particular stay fresh and intact), but there are any number of uses for these sturdy, light weight containers. I use mine as an elegant guest room wastebasket! 

Kaarin: A delightful tiny village contained in a matchbox. Made in the Netherlands, the 17 wooden pieces can be arranged in endless combinations. A sweet, diminutive stocking stuffer! 

Kaarin: In keeping with my “something for everyone” philosophy, p o o k s t y l e carries a selection of playful and unusual jewelry in a variety of price points. Fun, affordable readers fly out of the store. Available in four different color combinations, many customers buy one of every color and then place them throughout the house, ever at the ready!

Kaarin: These beautiful dreamcatchers are made from vintage Canadian laces. No two alike and they’re available in two sizes. Sweet dreams nearly certain.

Art Historian Ann Bermingham on Dogs in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century British Art (or, what my English springer spaniel Goose’s ancestors were up to)

For the past several years, I’ve made an artistic practice of photographing my English springer spaniel, Goose, during our walks in the Berkshire woods in western Massachusetts. My friend, Anne Burt, suggested that these photographs are kin to eighteenth and nineteenth century British paintings of dogs in nature and I was curious to know more about this tradition.

Goose by Gina Hyams, 2014

Anne put me in touch with her art historian aunt, Ann Bermingham, who kindly agreed to participate in this blog interview about the topic.

Ann Bermingham

Ann Bermingham teaches art history at the University of California Santa Barbara. She specializes in British art and has written on landscape painting, women artists, the history of drawing, portraiture, domestic architecture and the work of Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable, J.M.W. Turner and others.

Gina: What inspired you to become an expert in eighteenth and nineteenth century British animal painting?  What is it about that era of art that fascinates you?

Ann: Actually I not a specialist in animal painting, I am a specialist in British art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and animal painting goes with the territory. British art is incredibly diverse in terms of the subjects it treats. This is because unlike so much Continental art of the period, British art was not produced for a King or a court but for a market. The market’s wide range of patrons with their varied tastes and interests helps to account for the unusual, even eccentric, subjects taken up by British artists. This artistic variety attracted me.

I’ve also been interested in our relationship to nature since the industrial revolution. Britain was the first industrialized nation in the world. Starting with the eighteenth-century when industry beings to transform Britain noticeably, rural subjects such as landscape, and I’d include animals, become prominent in British art. One might think of this as nostalgia for something that is being lost or changed, but I think it has more to do with a need to use the aesthetic to recreate nature in a new ways that acknowledge loss while also accommodating it.

Animal painting is a good example.  There was a tremendous interest in animals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Some of this was economic—the improved breeding of livestock and sporting animals like race horses—and some of it was imperial—the fascination with exotic animals from all over the globe—and some was philosophical—the ethical issues raised by animals in relation to mankind—did they feel pain, were they intelligent, did they have souls, etc. The economic, imperial and philosophical interest in animals results in new ways of depicting them. We see that in the work of the two greatest British animal (and dog) painters George Stubbs (1724-1806) and Edwin Landseer (1802-1873).

Gina: Who are your favorite dog painters? What sorts of dogs did they paint and what were they trying to express through their art?

Ann: Because of their acute sensitivity to the changing place of animals in society, Stubbs and Landseer are my favorite dog painters. Before them, dogs appeared in art largely as symbols of fidelity. They rest at the feet of married women or gaze up adoringly at their male masters. Stubbs and Landseer move beyond the symbolic and depict dogs in new ways.

Stubbs is the scientist. He began his career as an artist by dissecting horses in order to understand them anatomically so as to represent them accurately. His working assumption was that nature was always superior to art and so he directed his attention away from the older traditions of animal painting and relied on his own observation. In doing so he set animal painting on a new path. He painted famous Newmarket racehorses, exotic animals in the Royal menagerie, and of course dogs. His dogs were for the most part bred for hunting—pointers, spaniels and foxhounds.

In his depiction of these dogs Stubbs concentrates on their anatomy and their characteristic markings and postures. The point is to describe the breed and Stubbs’s genius is to make all of this naturalism visually interesting. In his painting of Five of Lord Rockingham’s Foxhounds in a Landscape (1762) he arranges the dogs so that we clearly see their markings and physical features, but he also makes these elements aesthetic.

Five Hounds in a Landscape by George Stubbs, 1762

(image via Dog Art Today)

There is a crisp rhythm to the line of the dogs with their repeating dark ears, spots, pointed noses and curved tails. The eye moves across the frieze of dogs to the “climax” of the composition, the place where the two white bodied hounds, a male and female, meet nose to nose.

Like this painting of foxhounds, many of Stubbs’s dog paintings are really portraits of specific dogs belonging to friends and patrons. An interesting example of this, and one that goes a bit against the grain of Stubbs’s usual treatment of animals, is his painting of a Spanish Dog belonging to Mr. Cosway chasing a Butterfly (1775).

Spanish Dog belonging to Mr Cosway chasing a Butterfly by George Stubbs, 1775

(image via Flax Farm)

Richard Cosway was a fellow artist and something of a fop. His little dog is a breed known as the Papillion because its fringed, perky ears looked like the wings of a butterfly. It was a favorite breed of royalty and popular in France. Stubbs shows Cosway’s dog chasing a butterfly to underscore the name of the breed and to suggest something of its playful nature. Unlike so many of the dogs painted by Stubbs, which tend to be working dogs, this dog is clearly a pet, a lap dog, and in this sense the painting points to some of the period’s more expressive representations of dogs as pets such as Gainsborough’s portrait of the Duke of Buccleuch with his dog (1770).  

Duke of Buccleuch with his dog by Gainsborough, 1770

(image via Clan MacFarlane Genealogy)

What any dog fancier must see when they look at Stubbs’s paintings is how many of the breeds he represents have either gone extinct like the English Water Spaniel, or have evolved into modern breeds.

Water Spaniel by George Stubbs, 1769

(image via Yale Center for British Art)

This later point is particularly true of the spaniels he depicts which in many cases seem to be the ancestors of your dog, Goose.  

Land Spaniel by George Stubbs

(image via Wyldwood Springer Spaniels)

If Stubbs sets animal painting on the path of naturalism, Edwin Landseer turns that path in the direction of sentiment.  Landseer is interested in character and dogs become his medium for exploring it. Dignity and Impudence (1839) is a perfect example.

Dignity and Impudence by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, 1839

(image via Tate)

Here the dignified bloodhound is wittily contrasted with the scruffy, feisty—“impudent” —little terrier. Both dogs belonged to a friend of Landseer’s and so again we’re dealing with portraits. But this is not so much the portrait of a breed as it is a depiction of a breed’s personality or temperament.

To see the difference compare Landseer’s depiction of a Newfoundland dog (1831) with Stubbs’s depiction of the same breed (1803).

Distinguished Member of the Humane Society by Sir Edwin Landseer

(image via Wikipedia)

Portrait of a New Foundland dog by George Stubbs, 1803

(image via Landseer van Bellandseer)

In the case of Stubbs we see the display of all the signs of the breed but we have no sense of what this breed is like. Is it hyper, domineering, timid, slobbering, snappish? We don’t know, and Stubbs doesn’t really tell us. In Landseer we have the physical appearance of the dog described perfectly accurately, but we get more; there’s something in the dog’s gaze and the set of his large thoughtful head that suggests a noble nature. This is a portrait of a dog known as Bob that survived a shipwreck and went on to rescue people from drowning. The setting tells us he is a water dog and the title, A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, tells us he is a heroic rescue dog. Just as in the case of Dignity and Impudence, the title is essential in creating the effect of the dog’s character.

In a sense Landseer is the Charles Dickens of animal painting, creating vivid, memorable characters in dramatic, sentimental, and amusing narratives. Even class gets it’s due in pendants like High Life and Low Life (1829) where an elegant, long-boned deerhound in an aristocratic interior is contrasted with a squat bulldog pugnaciously guarding a butcher’s doorstep.

High Life by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, 1829

(image via Tate)

Low Life by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, 1829

(image via Tate)

In the 1950’s Walt Disney would translate this kind of Landseer narrative of class into Lady and the Tramp.

Landseer gets a bad rap these days because he is seen as projecting human characteristics onto dogs. This is certainly true, but not a reason I think to reject him. He interests me because his work points to a new relationship with animals, one that sees them as more like us than not. The science of the day supported this. If animals were like people then people were like animals. Charles Darwin believed that not only did human beings have a direct kinship with other animals, but that animals had social, mental and moral lives too. In The Descent of Man (1871), he wrote: “There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.”In the nineteenth-century anthropomorphism (this tendency to see animals in human terms) is responsible for changes in the law, which protected animals from wanton cruelty. These laws begin in 1839 with the London Police Act and culminate in 1911 with the Protection of Animals Act and the founding of the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA).

Today we tend to respect dogs for their difference from us—we don’t need to humanize them (although it’s hard not to given our inheritance from the nineteenth century) in order to love and appreciate them. They are fine in all of their essential dogginess. I see this in your photos of Goose. Like Stubbs many of your portraits show him outside sniffing fallen logs, or running on country lanes and just enjoying being a dog outdoors.

What you don’t show Goose doing is hunting, and this sets your work off from that of many earlier artists. For them the portrait of the dog had to display the purpose of the breed—hunting, rescue, herding—by showing them doing their characteristic work. For instance, George Armfield (1808-1893) was a Welshman who had a great fondness for painting spaniels hunting game. He shows them splashing through water and racing through the underbrush. He occasionally depicts them resting by firesides and nestling with their littermates, but for the most part his portraits are action packed and depict the dog doing the work it was bred to do.

Spaniels Putting Up a Mallard by George Armfield

(image via Rehs Galleries)

Goose is not shown “at work” but rather at play. In this sense, he’s more a child than an adult. This points to a sensibility that also distinguishes our relationships with animals from those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Dogs and cats are now part of our families, children (or maybe grandchildren) to be enjoyed and indulged. I’m struck by how many people today refer to themselves as their pet’s “Mom” or “Dad.” I think even Landseer might be surprised by that.

Gina: Can you direct me to any paintings of my English springer spaniel Goose’s ancestors?18

Ann: Goose comes from a distinguished line of sporting dogs.  Spaniels originate in Spain, hence their name. In the eighteenth century, spaniels were split into three categories: land spaniels, water spaniels and toy spaniels. The land spaniels were split into two further types, the cocker spaniel and the springer spaniel. Springers were the large dogs born in a cocker spaniel litter. The cockers would be used to sniff through the underbrush for woodcocks while the larger dogs would be used to “spring” game from the brush so that it could be shot. The English springer spaniel was recognized as a breed distinct from the English cocker spaniel in 1902.

The English cocker spaniel is different from the American cocker; it has a longer snout and a slimmer, less cobby body. English springer spaniels carry these same physical characteristics. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries different types of land and water spaniels were interbred in Britain and one of the ancestors of Goose, in addition to the cocker spaniel, is the Norfolk water spaniel, a type which is now extinct.

Brown and White Norfolk or Water Spaniel by Stubbs, 1778

(image via Yale Centerfor British Art)

Gina: Thanks so much. What’s your next project?

Ann: I’ve been interested in the cottage as a vernacular form of domestic architecture. Traditionally, cottages were the homes of peasants and agrarian workers. However, at the end of the eighteenth century they came to have great appeal to the middle classes. All you have to do is recall in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility Robert Ferrars waxing enthusiastically to Elinor Dashwood about the “comfort” and “elegance” of the cottage to get a sense of how much an object of middle-class fantasy it had become. I’ve already told some of that story, but I’d like to look at the cottage now in relation to the development of working class housing in the early industrial revolution. It’s the root form not only for suburban villas but also for worker housing, so I’m interested in exploring this other aspect of the cottage’s history. There is a lot of interesting research to do, so it’s a topic that I imagine will keep me busy for a while.

Goose by Gina Hyams, 2014

 

Leigh Hyams Studio Residency in San Miguel de Allende: 2016 Application Guidelines

Leigh’s family established the Leigh Hyams Studio Residency to give an artist a free month-long creative retreat at Leigh’s casita in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The furnished casita has a painting studio, simple kitchen, one bedroom, Talavera tile-filled bathroom, and an extensive collection of art books, as well as access to the patio garden and roof terrace. Everything you need, including organic groceries and art supplies, is within walking distance. For more information about the house and neighborhood, see Casa Duende.

Leigh painting in her casita studio circa 2008

GUIDELINES

1. Applicants must have some connection to Leigh – be it that they were her student, friend, or fan.

2. The residency will take place May of 2016 and will include rent, utilities, housekeeping three times a week, and assistance as needed from the bilingual property manager.

3. The residency is for one person (no friends, no family, no pets) so that you, the artist, can focus on your art without distraction.

4. The artist is responsible for his or her own transportation to Mexico, food, and art supplies.

HOW TO APPLY

Application deadline: February 5, 2016.

Answer these questions:

1. How are you connected to Leigh?

2. What would you do with a month in Leigh’s studio?

3. Please tell us about your art.

Email application to: ginahyams@gmail.com.

Casita bedroom

Day bed in the casita studio

Casita kitchen

Casita dining area

Casita studio

Casita bathroom

German edition of my Country Living Decorating with White book

A bit of thrill arrived in yesterday’s mail.

New cover for the German edition. I like it.

It’s curious that Busse Collection shortened the title, but didn’t translate it.

Interior page

 

Author Seeks Tanglewood Picnic Photos for Book

Author Gina Hyams is creating a book titled The Tanglewood Picnic: Music and Outdoor Feasts in the Berkshires. The gift book will celebrate the tradition of picnics held on the Lawn during concerts at Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer campus in Lenox, Massachusetts. The book will be both a charming historic document and inspiration for over-the-top picnic style. It is scheduled for publication summer 2015.

Hyams seeks photos of Tanglewood picnics (both lavish and modest), favorite picnic recipes, outdoor dining tips, and related picnic ephemera (such as invitations and menus) from all eras of the festival’s eight-decade history. Submissions of multiple images are welcome. She is particularly interested to hear from people who have made a beloved tradition of picnicking on the Lawn.

Due to print quality restrictions, only high-resolution images can be considered for inclusion (300dpi+ — either scanned or photographed with an iPhone or digital camera). If you have prints and don’t have access to a scanner, Gina will be happy to scan images and return the originals. Email her at the address below and she’ll send you her snail mail address.

Please note caption information, including as much of the following as is known: date, occasion, names of people in the image, types of foods pictured, the name of the photographer, and estate to credit as necessary.

Please also answer this question: What do you love about Tanglewood picnics?

Include your name, address, and phone number.

Submissions will be considered for both print publication and posting on the project’s blog: TanglewoodPicnicBook.tumblr.com.

Deadline for submissions: September 30, 2014.

Email submissions to:

tanglewoodpicnic@gmail.com

Gina Hyams is a Berkshire-based writer and editor who specializes in food, travel, and the arts. She has published eleven books, among them Country Living Decorating with White (Hearst), In a Mexican Garden: Courtyards, Pools, and Open-Air Living Rooms (Chronicle Books), and Pie Contest in a Box: Everything You Need to Host a Pie Contest (Andrews McMeel Publishing). Hyams was a contributing editor to Berkshire Living and a correspondent for Fodor’s Travel Publications. Her essays and articles have appeared in Huffington Post, Newsweek, San Francisco, Organic Style, Ideal Destinations, Healing Lifestyles & Spas, and Salon, as well as broadcast on National Public Radio. For more information, see www.ginahyams.com.

Announcing the 2014 Leigh Hyams Studio Residency Recipient: Painter Carolyn Miller

We are pleased to announce that Carolyn Miller of San Francisco is the recipient of the 2014 Leigh Hyams Studio Residency.

Here’s how Carolyn plans to use her May retreat in San Miguel de Allende:

“After being initially intimidated at trying to paint where Leigh painted, and finding it hard to be in the casita when she is no longer there, I believe I would be energized by her dedication to her work and as a result I would paint some large canvases. Last September I had a solo show at Canessa Gallery in San Francisco, and one of the paintings was of my mother’s famous dahlia bed at my childhood home in Missouri. On one of Leigh’s visits from Mexico I had told her I wanted to paint that dahlia bed, and she encouraged me to do. I tried to do that painting then and failed, but last year I did complete a large painting and named it ‘My Mother’s Dahlia Bed, for Leigh.’ After that painting sold, I decided I wanted to do several other paintings of the same subject. I also would like to do a series on the Missouri woods, and a series of Missouri rivers. I’m interested these days in large canvases, 48 by 48 inches, that would eventually be stretched.

Because the Canessa show went well, I would like to try for another show there, probably with another person, so a month of time to paint would allow me to gather some new work toward that end. Some other ideas I have for paintings include abstracts based on the sidewalks in San Miguel, because when I was there I became fascinated with the colors and patterns in the native stone. I would also like to do some paintings of the flowers, vegetables, and fruits sold in the mercado, some of which I sketched when I was staying in the casita. I would also like to experiment with some streetscapes and interiors, two kinds of painting I have almost never done but have always wanted to try.

Recently I’ve been taking a long time to do each painting and have found it hard to find the time to paint, but I believe that if I had an entire month to devote to painting I could achieve much more, as I did in the days when I took part in Leigh’s classes and workshops.”

 

Update June 16, 2014

To see photos of the works in progress Carolyn painted during her residency, please click here.

“My Mother’s Dahlia Bed, for Leigh” by Carolyn Miller

Announcing the Leigh Hyams Studio Residency in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Leigh’s family has established the Leigh Hyams Studio Residency to give an artist a free month-long creative retreat at Leigh’s casita in San Miguel de Allende. The furnished casita has a painting studio, simple kitchen, one bedroom, Talavera tile-filled bathroom, and an extensive collection of art books. Everything you need, including organic groceries and art supplies, is within walking distance. For photos of the house and more information about the neighborhood, see Casa Duende.

 

GUIDELINES

1. Applicants must have some connection to Leigh – be it that they were her student, friend, or fan.

2. The residency will take place May of 2014 and will include rent, utilities, and housekeeping three times a week.

3. The residency is for one person (no friends, no family, no pets) so that you, the artist, can focus on your art without distraction.

4. The artist is responsible for his or her own transportation to Mexico, food, and art supplies.

HOW TO APPLY

Application deadline: February 1, 2014. The winner will be announced by February 15, 2014.

Answer these questions:

1. How are you connected to Leigh?

2. What would you do with a month in Leigh’s studio?

3. Please tell us about your art.

Email application to: ginahyams@gmail.com.

Interview with Author Kate Lebo about Pie and Poetry

Kate Lebo makes poems and pies in Seattle. Her writing has appeared in Best New Poets, Gastronomica, and Poetry Northwest. When Kate is not creating poems, she is hosting her semi-secret pie social, Pie Stand, around the US, teaching creative writing at the University of Washington and Richard Hugo House, and pie-making at Pie School, her cliché-busting pastry academy.

Chin Music Press recently published her debut collection, A Commonplace Book of Pie, with illustrations by Jessica Lynn Bonin. An eclectic mix of prose poems, fantasy zodiac, humor, and recipes, the book explores the tension between the container and the contained while considering the real and imagined relationships between pie and those who love it.

A Commonplace Book of Pie from Kate Lebo on Vimeo.

Gina: Please talk to me about pie as poetic muse. What is it about pie that sparks your imagination?

Kate: Pie offers a sweet structure for me to work within and push against, a whole list of pie varieties that each come with their cultural and seasonal associations, assumptions that can be turned upside down, moods that can be illustrated with food, or little known facts that can reinvigorate a pie we thought we knew. I started with pumpkin pie and, like anyone at a feast, couldn’t stop there. As the collection grew, I began to see how pie, as commonplace as it is, is a powerful metaphor for what we reveal and conceal, what we contain, how we contain it. Crust keeps the secret of its filling, but invites us to cut it open and reveal all.

And pie has a certain universal delight to it. For the same reason you have fun reading the poems, I had fun writing them.

Gina: I gather A Commonplace Book of Pie evolved through several iterations. Please tell me the history, and how you ended up publishing with Chin Music Press. Your book seems quite different than the other titles they publish.

Kate: A Commonplace Book of Pie started as a handmade zine, just one part of an otherwise ephemeral collaboration with the sculptor Brian Schoneman. Pie was our common place, and we used it in the project to make an approachable, playful sculpture. The zine gathered bits and pieces of pie lore and aphorism together, set them with recipes, and complicated things with 10 prose poems, each describing what sort of person you were if you liked a particular kind of pie. The idea was to have fun with a shared love of food, but it was also to go deeper into that food than mere enjoyment, to ask the audience to consider how food tells a story about who they are.

I continued to print and handbind the zine for a couple years after that, selling it in indie bookstores and at events. I kept writing pie poems. In part because I wanted to make poems, and the structure was there, waiting for me to fulfill it, and in part because I wanted to figure out what this project was about, why people responded to it with such energy, why I’d chosen to write poetry about something as sweet as pie. Most of the ideas I’ve mentioned here have become clear to me only through writing the full manuscript, which now has 25 poems, two master recipes for fruit pies, 5 recipes to get you going, and a smattering of quotes and pie ephemera. And illustrations. This book wouldn’t be complete without Jessica Lynn Bonin’s incredible paintings, which capture the materials and process of pie-making in a way words never could. A Commonplace Book of Pie owes its inspiration and its culmination to collaboration–with two incredible artists, and with Chin Music Press, my publisher.

While I was writing the book, I kept an eye out for presses that published beautiful, affordable books that mixed genres. When I saw Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer, which came out in 2011 on Chin Music Press, I knew I’d met my match. I pitched ACBOP to them first. Two or three weeks later, they took it! I wasn’t expecting publication to be that simple. I think our shared interests made things easy as, well, you know. We’ve worked as a team to get the book out into the world, setting up an unconventional and ambitious book tour that’s as comfortable in Whole Foods as it is in literary venues. The subject matter of A Commonplace Book of Pie is unusual for Chin Music, but the multi-genre, visual form is right up their alley.

Gina: I loved your riffs on pie personality types. Several years ago, I had the idea of a dating app or website that would match people based on their pie personality profiles. I’ll never get around to that idea, so feel free to run with it if you like. In your book, you define lots of different pie personalities, but you don’t say which one you most identify with. So, what sort of pie are you, Kate Lebo?

Kate: Ha! I’ll never tell. Okay, I’ll tell. There’s bits of me in all the poems, though none of them are about me. Sometimes I’m cherry. Sometimes I’m mud. That line about “the chocolate pie-lover would like to convince you that her height is three inches above the crown of her head”–that’s totally me. I’m trying to do that right now.

Gina: Your book trailer is charming and well done. How did you create it?

Kate: Thank you! I’ve been so lucky to work with Stringbean Productions, a film crew based in Seattle, Washington, on videos like Bliss and Taste of Pie School (you can find all our videos here). We reunited for this book trailer with the idea of weaving impromptu tales of pie personalities from complete strangers, old friends, and local personalities. We camped out in Victor Steinbrueck park on the Seattle waterfront on a hot day in July. Interviewed anyone who would stand still and say something about pie. We filmed in just about every part of town, in backyards and front yards and parks. Our editor cut the best bits together to make a short film that captured an otherwise hard-to-summarize book. There’s absolutely no way I could have made that film on my own–I’m just the idea lady. Erik, Jean, Katie, and Doran just blow me away with their teamwork and vision.

Gina: Writing Pie Contest in a Box put my in touch with the wonderfully generous pie mafia sisterhood. What’s your connection to author/pie entrepreneur Beth Howard (queen bee of said sisterhood)?

Kate: I believe we met through a Facebook group, Pie Nation, which has introduced me to a whole community of writers and bakers nationwide. In the summer of 2011, I stayed with Beth at the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, helped out at her Pitchfork Pie Stand, and wrote part of the manuscript for A Commonplace Book of Pie. It was a dreamy week. She says “your hands are your best tools.” I couldn’t agree more.

Gina: What’s next for you?

Kate: A cookbook! Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour & Butter will be out on Sasquatch Books this Fall 2014.


 

Interview with Author Andrea Lawson Gray about “Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions, and Recipes”

Andrea Lawson Gray

San Francisco-based author and chef Andrea Lawson Gray collaborated with Adriana Almazán Lahl on a wonderful new book titled Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions, and Recipes (Rowman & Littlefield, 2013). It delves into the foods of Mexico’s many holidays, each chapter featuring historical and cultural background information, along with recipes and photographs. This comprehensive volume explores both major and lesser-known fiestas, as well as rites of passage celebrations, such as quinceñeras, weddings, and funerals.

 

Andrea is the proprietor of Tres Señoritas Gourmet, a caterer specializing in authentic Mexican cuisine and Una Señorita Gourmet, a private, in-home culinary service. She writes a column on Mexican cuisine for the Examiner.com and a blog on food in San Francisco’s Mission district, My Mission: Tastes of San Francisco. A single mother of three children, she also volunteers at International High School of San Francisco, working on diversity and social justice issues. She is building a small hotel and cooking school in Tenango de Valle, Mexico, called Casa La Tia that she hopes to open in the summer of 2016.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Gina: What are the roots of your passion for Mexican cuisine and how did you learn to cook it?

 

Andrea: My passion for Mexican cuisine really comes from my passion for Mexico, its people who are just so hospitable, noble, and humble at the same time and value the land and their traditions in a way that I think we have forgotten here. The cuisine is such a natural extension of all this that I actually had a yearning to become immersed in the cuisine as I became more and more immersed in Mexican culture. It really drew me in.

 

Gina: How did Celebracions Mexicanas come to be and how long did it take? Had you written much before?

 

Andrea: I had been writing a column for the Examiner.com for several years on Mexican food and Mexican restaurants. I had planned to write a book when I moved to Mexico; I wasn’t sure what exactly it would be about, but as I tracked the interest in my columns I found that whenever I wrote about Mexican food for a specific Mexican holiday, I attracted the most readers. So it came to me that I had the topic for my book, but I still planned to write it when I moved to Mexico (which will be in 2016).

 

Then I received an email from Ken Albala, who was to become my editor— he was looking for a writer for a book on Chinese cuisine. I never let an email go unanswered, so I replied, almost as a joke “I actually don’t know enough about Chinese cuisine to take on your project (even though I did own a Chinese restaurant in NYC…but I was the frontend person, not in the kitchen), but if you ever want to do a book on Mexican cuisine, I’m your gal.” He replied that I should submit a book proposal. I had never done one before. The rest, as they say, is history! I had NO idea that my book was the first of its kind until I read the description on Amazon: “the first book to bring the richness and authenticity of the foods of Mexico’s main holidays and celebrations to the American home cook.” I couldn’t believe it!

 

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

Gina: How did your collaboration with Adriana work?

 

Andrea: As soon as I got Ken’s email, I knew I needed a collaborator to provide recipes. I am well-versed in Mexican cooking, but I wanted someone’s family recipes. All my Mexican friends, well, at least the women, have notebooks of their mother’s and grandmother’s recipes. I met Adriana and (several other amazing Latina ladies who cook) when I interviewed her for a piece I wrote for my column on La Cocina, the business incubator that gave her her start. Of all the women I had met for my article, Adriana was the first to come to mind. When I approached her, she said, “I have been waiting my whole life to write a cookbook!”

 

Almazán Family Cookbook

Gina: What did your research for the book entail?

 

Andrea: I began by locating original texts. Fortunately, there are several really wonderful sources, starting with Bernardino de Sahagun’s Florentine Codex, recorded between 1545 and 1590, when he first met the Aztecs right after the Spanish landed. There has been lots of scholarship on the subject, so many of the more important texts, like the Florentine Codex, have even been translated into English. My Spanish is good, but reading Spanish as it appeared in the colonial era is a bit of a stretch for me. There are wonderful texts from the height of the Spanish occupation, written by women with a great eye for detail, and these are widely quoted in the book. Fascinating material! And in December of last year, Adriana went to Mexico and was able to go to several libraries…that was invaluable.

 

Chile en Nogada

Gina: How did you source the photos?

 

Andrea: Everything about this project was blessed! First, Adriana not only had the culinary education and recipes to make the book really shine, she also minored in photography at the University in Mexico City, and is an excellent food photographer and stylist. I also have a food styling background from a previous career as a creative director (something I never imagined I would be tapping into again).

As for the amazing in-country photos of Mexico’s indigenous people, Jorge Ontiveros, our photographer, has a passion for this and was excited about the opportunity to share his work in this country, where it had never been seen before. Many of the photographs in the book were from a collection he already had, and he was able to take other photos we needed for the book, for specific holidays.

 

Gina: How did you find a publisher? Did an editor there help shape the development of the book?

 

Andrea: Our editor, Ken Albala, already had a series with Alta Mira Press, the Food Studies and Gastronomy arm of Rowman & Littlefield. He presented the proposal to the publisher for us. He was also invaluable in guiding me in terms of voice for the book, recommending sources, and across the board. We were just so lucky…we couldn’t have wished for an editor more versed in our topic!

 

Gina: What’s your favorite Mexican celebration and why? Please share a related recipe.

 

Andrea: My favorite time of year to be in Mexico is for Dia de Los Muertos, as the altars start to appear in the pueblos and the puestos (market stalls) sell special chocolates and alfreniques (sugar skulls). I love Adriana’s recipe for pumpkin mole, made with chiles, chocolate, and pumpkin purée, but my favorite from our chapter on Day of the Dead is for Marigold Patties in Tomato Stew, because this is not something we really cook with here, marigold petals (cempazuchil), the traditional Day of the Dead flowers. Their bright orange-yellow color represents the brightness of the sun, and their aroma is believed to attract the souls of the dead to the altars prepared in their honor.

 

Marigold Patties in Tomato Stew

Tortitas de Cempazuchil en Caldillo

(SERVES 6–8)

 

1 lb chicken breast, cooked and shredded (see recipe below)

1 egg white

10 cempazuchitl flowers, petals only (edible marigolds, should be organic)

1/2 cup Mexican sour cream

1 sprig epazote

1/2 tbsp Mexican oregano

Salt to taste

White pepper to taste

2 cups of Tomato Caldillo (See recipe below)

2–6 tbsp oil

MIX shredded chicken with egg whites and the petals of 4 flowers, finely chopped. Add cream, epazote, oregano, salt, and pepper; mix well. Form 2-inch patties. Chop the remaining flower petals and cover patties with the petals. Prepare Tomato Caldillo.

Add oil to a sauté pan and fry patties (you will need to continue adding oil, 2 tbsp at a time, as you remove cooked patties and add new ones to the sauté pan). Cook 2 minutes on each side. Drain well on a paper towel and add to Tomato Caldillo. Serve with rice, beans, and warm tortillas.

 

Chicken Stock, plus Shredded Chicken

(MAKES ABOUT 1 GALLON OF STOCK, 5 POUNDS SHREDDED CHICKEN)

 

1 ½ gallons water

6 chicken legs and 6 chicken thighs, with skin and bones (about 4–6 pounds)

1 head garlic, roasted

½ onion

½ tsp whole black peppercorns (or 1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper)

2 carrots, peeled

1 celery stalk

1 sprig fresh cilantro

1 bay leaf

1–2 tbsp salt

If time allows, first roast chicken in a pan in the oven at 350° for 30–45 minutes to get a stronger flavor. Bring the water to a boil and add the chicken. As it returns to a boil, skim the foam and particles that rise to the top with a slotted spoon and discard. Add the garlic, onion, peppercorns, carrots, celery, cilantro, bay leaf, and salt. Lower heat to medium and simmer for 30–45 minutes or until the chicken is tender. (If chicken has been previously roasted, remove after 30 minutes.) Remove the chicken and cool. Strain the stock and reserve. It will keep for 2–3 days in the refrigerator, up to 3 months in the freezer. For convenience, you may want to reduce stock and freeze.

When cool enough to handle, shred the chicken by hand—not with a knife. The meat should not be too finely shredded.

 

Tomato Stock / Caldillo de Tomate 

(MAKES 4 CUPS)

 

¼ cup minced onion

1 garlic clove, puréed

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup tomato purée (see below)

3 cups chicken stock (see above)

1 large sprig of cilantro

1 large bay leaf

Salt to taste

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil, add tomato purée, and cook for 12–15 minutes on medium high until it changes color and volume is reduced by half. Add chicken stock, cilantro, bay leaf, and salt. Allow to boil for at least 10 more minutes to season well. Your stock is ready to be used in any recipe. Use it within 48 hours or freeze for up to 3 months

 

Fresh Tomato Purée

(MAKES ½ CUP)

 

3 small tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

½ onion

Blend all ingredients until smooth; strain and reserve. Use immediately or within a day. Or keep refrigerated for 2 days. You can also freeze for up to 1 month


Gina: I understand you’re building a home in Mexico. Please tell me about it. How far along are you? What are your hopes for the property?

 

Andrea: Yes, about seven or eight years ago, I went to visit friends in Tenango de Valle, in the state of Mexico, about half an hour from Toluca. I arrived at the Mexico City airport and we drove through an area known as La Marquesa on our way to Tenango and I instantly had this feeling of familiarity—that I was taking a trip that I had been preparing for all my life. When I arrived, I knew this was where I wanted to live.

 

Casa La Tia Kitchen

The idea of opening a casa de huesperas or guest house, and cooking school came later, as I thought about how I would earn a living in Mexico. This also seemed like a great way to share my love of Mexico and Mexican cuisine with many of my friends here in the U.S. The area where my house is doesn’t have a significant American population, at all. I like to say that if you ask where “la gabacha” (the foreigner) lives, people just point to my neighborhood. I began construction of Casa La Tia in what was just a cornfield five years ago, and now we have plumbing, electricity, and the house is almost complete. All five bedrooms and four bathrooms are done, as is the kitchen, which is colonial style and has a parilla instead of a traditional stove. The entire kitchen is covered with hand-cut hand-painted Talavera tile produced in Metepec, about a half an hour away.

 

Gina: Do you plan to write another book?

 

Andrea: Yes, I am working on the proposal as I write this. It’s a book more specific to sustainability and using all the parts of the plant, animal, or even seeds in some cases, but through the lens of Mexican cuisine. The topic was actually recommended to me by one of my readers! I think the timing is perfect, and there should be a lot of interest!

Dog Meets Lamp

Dave brought this dog lamp home to the Berkshires from Artes de México in San Miguel de Allende last night. Here is Goose’s reaction.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Instagram
Copyright © Gina Hyams