Gina Hyams Author

Category Archives: writing

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.

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.

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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!

Björk: Words to Live By

“When I was asked to do a film about an introverted blind person who thinks heaven is inside a song I said yes, because I was going down that road anyway.”

— Björk (Talk magazine, October 2001)

This quote surfaced when I cleaned my office today. I jotted it down on October 12, 2001 as I thought it mirrored my own career path. It still rings true to me now. For example, this morning somebody contacted me about editing a museum catalogue for an exhibition about cars of the future. Of course my answer is yes.

 

Praise for Pie Contest in a Box

“Know any competitive bakers? This nifty kit provides everything you need—badges, ribbons, scorecards, and recipes—to find out whose pie really takes the cake.”

–Lindsay Hunt, Real Simple

“a perfect little gift” –Jackie Burrell, San Jose Mercury News

“Pie Contest in a Box offers an incredibly exciting and tasty way to determine pie favorites, while keeping the fun close to home and your heart. There is concise information to guide you through your own contest and essential tools, including pie toppers, scorecards, judge ribbons and four prize ribbons. This is a fun gift and a great way to settle a baking rivalry.” –Anne-Marie Seltzer, Arlington Advocate

“Pie contest glory! Best advice ever…” –Amy Rogers, WFAEats (and here’s a link to Amy’s essay about using the kit.)

“…In this compact little box, you will find a small handbook that packs a big punch, filled with pie-centric chapters, as well as tips and recipes from champion pie bakers (Black Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie anyone?). The box also includes 12 pie toppers, 60 scorecards, five judge ribbons, and four prize ribbons. There are tons of contest theme possibilities: fruit pies, unusual ingredient pies, single flavor pies, meat pies, or pies that use only local ingredients. A pie contest is the perfect activity for your next family-get together, office party, or a night in with friends. Create some new memories—and recipes—and enjoy a slice (or five) of pie!” –Noelle A. DeMarco, Create & Decorate

“Sounds like fun!” –The Cookbook Man, Sarasota Pelican Press

“Pie Contest in a Box: Competitive Baking with a Soul” –Dan Shaw, Rural Intelligence

“…perfect summer cottage activity. Only thing missing is the pie.” –John Tanasychuk, Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel

“Now it’s your turn to put your pie where your mouth is with this clever pie book.” –Diane Cowen and Greg Morago, Houston Chronicle

“I admit, I raised my eyebrows when I unpacked a new gift item called Pie Contest In A Box…Second reaction: Oh, so what. This could be fun. I think I’ll actually use the contents of the box — score sheets, pie toppers, and ribbons — to liven up a contest this summer for my pie-baking kids, or maybe bring it along for a summer vacation with friends. But the handbook in the box is the part that seems the most useful…” –Rebekah Denn, Al Dente

“This sounds like a really fun way to spend a summer afternoon…” –Donna Maurillo,Santa Cruz Sentinel

“Ooohh one of my FAVORITE new items! Hot off the presses…Pie Contest in a Box! It includes everything you need to host a pie contest — what a fun tradition to start for summer!” –Ann Lopatin Cantrell of Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store in Brooklyn, New York

“Gina Hyams has put together a fabulous fun book/gift: Pie Contest in a Box: Everything You Need to Host a Pie Contest. There’s a great book inside, with recipes, pie history, and plenty of inspiration for gathering your friends together to see who can make the best pie. Plus, ribbons! And scorecards! This would be a great party.” –Shauna James Ahern, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

“So fun! …So, if you love pie…and parties…and contests…I think this is a fabulous kit to get you started.” –Heather, Girlichef.com

“Let’s have ribbons fluttering from the sky to all the great pies out there!…This is a truly fun-filled package, and includes the essential tools such as scorecards, flags to i.d. the pies, ribbons to identify judges, and ribbons to award. It would make a great gift for a baker, or a kid – what fun it would be for kids to hold a pie contest this summer! Or how about a pie contest as a neighborhood block party?” –Dorothy Reinhold, shockinglydelicious.com

“…could be incredibly useful wherever food markets, block parties, and 4-H fairs thrive.” –Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

“Invite me! To be a judge. My favorite is strawberry-rhubarb. You win.” –Jane Feltes, The Hairpin

 


Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others

I’m looking forward to participating in the Out of the Mouths of Babes reading and panel discussion at Bard College at Simon’s Rock Blodgett Hall on Friday, March 2 at 7:00pm. This event is part of the month-long Berkshire Festival of Women Writers.  Please check out the websites for lots more info.

Interview with Amy “Poor Girl Gourmet” McCoy

Cookbook Author Amy McCoy

As a successful freelance producer for network and cable television, Amy McCoy once enjoyed gourmet food with little concern for price. Then the recession hit and the freelance work all but disappeared. But in the economic downturn, she found her mission: to eat the best food she could while spending as little as possible. To that end, she created her blog, which led to her book, Poor Girl Gourmet. Amy and her husband live on a gentleman’s farm in southeastern Massachusetts.

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Gina: Do you have any formal culinary training in your background? How did you develop your recipes?

Amy: I’m a home cook, so all of my training comes from family, reading about food, and from a desire to learn more and improve my technique as I grew older.

When I was a child, my mother’s mother owned an Italian restaurant in Rhode Island, which she and her husband later relocated to my hometown in Massachusetts. My Nana’s recipes were the recipes on the menu, and that was an accomplishment that I really admired as a child. My mother raised four children as a single mother, so eating well on a budget was always a focus in our home, and, because my mother was influenced by her mother, she was also a fabulous cook and baker. The torch – or gas burner flame – was passed on to me, and I started cooking and creating recipes during high school, the first recipe being a recreation of my Nana’s red sauce. I still remember how proud I was when I tasted it and realized that it tasted just like hers.

Throughout college and into adult life, I continued creating recipes. They started out simply–oftentimes more an assemblage of items than a proper recipe, like a favorite dish from my early 20s, tortellini with pesto, broccoli, and shrimp, which used frozen tortellini and jarred pesto–and as my technique improved, so did my recipes.

Some recipes, such as that first recreation of my Nana’s red sauce, are inspired by dishes my family makes, while others are inspired by meals that I’ve eaten at restaurants, or are centered around a particular flavor that I’m craving, or a vegetable in my garden, or the season.

So I may start thinking, ‘you know, that butternut squash that’s in the cold cellar would be good with Italian sausage. Oh, and I still have sage from the garden, too.’ Which leads me to Rigatoni with Roasted Butternut Squash with Italian Sausage and Fried Sage.

Or I crave my mother’s meatballs, and update them with my own touches for Mom’s Meatballs and Not My Nana’s Red Sauce. Or after eating pea puree as a side dish in a restaurant, it inspires me to think of other uses for pea puree–and that leads to Pea Puree Lasagnette. I think inspiration can come from anywhere, really, and that’s one of the most exciting things about developing recipes–it’s a creative process, so it satisfies that desire to create (which I always seem to be carrying around with me), and then you get to share it with your friends and family for them to enjoy, too. What could be better?

Gina: What surprised you about the process of adapting your blog posts to book form?

Amy: Because I knew that I wasn’t writing a memoir with recipes from the outset, there wasn’t a lot of surprise in writing the book. On the blog, I tend to write long, storytelling posts that are followed by a recipe. For the book, I knew that an involved introduction to a recipe wasn’t what the reader would expect, so the headnotes were greatly whittled down–rather than reading two pages of story, there are maybe two paragraphs–and because the majority of the recipes were developed for the book, they hadn’t appeared on the blog, so it was easy to adjust my writing style to be more along the lines of the expected cookbook format–a brief (or as brief as I can muster!) introduction, followed by the recipe.

One really wonderful aspect of writing the book was that my editor at Andrews McMeel, Lane Butler, gave me the freedom to keep the conversational style I use in the recipe methods on the blog for the recipe methods in the book. This also allowed me to keep my personality in the writing without having those long, storytelling introductions. And ending up with a 500 page, 82-recipe cookbook.

Gina: It’s challenging to eat well on a budget during winter in New England. What sorts of dishes do you focus on when the farmers’ markets aren’t in season?

Amy: We are really, really, really fortunate to have a fabulous wintertime farmers’ market nearby in Rhode Island, so we are able to get excellent quality, locally-grown, inexpensive produce throughout the winter. The Providence Wintertime Farmers Market is held in an old factory building in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, which is just 15 minutes from our house, and every type of root vegetable is available, along with other good winter keepers, so I’m able to get not-so-perfect apples from the local orchard for $1.00 per pound, or a head of cabbage for a dollar, and winter greens for $2.50 to $3.00 per bunch. My husband and I also grow a lot of food in our garden, so we have enough potatoes to get through the winter, along with winter squashes, though if we were to buy those items at the wintertime farmers market, they’re still inexpensive.

I know that there are skeptics who feel that shopping at the farmers’ market is more expensive than the grocery store, but even in the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, I found the prices to be reasonable: apples for $1.00 to $1.49 per pound, bunches of fresh herbs for a dollar, and winter greens for $2.49 a bunch.

The key to shopping at the farmers’ market on a budget is to know that you won’t be buying specialty items, like morels, or ramps, or asparagus. Instead, stay focused on the basics, like onions, apples, cabbage, winter squash, and kale during the winter, and summer squash, zucchini, corn, and tomatoes (just be sure to select a variety that works for your budget) during the summer. And definitely try to grow something on your own, even just one potted herb. This winter, our rosemary plant is working wonders for us by adding flavor to roasts and soups, and because we paid less than $3.00 for the baby plant last spring, we’ve more than made our money back. Treated properly, this rosemary plant will keep on giving for years to come.

Gina: What are your favorite cookbooks?

Amy: I love Donna Hay’s cookbooks and magazine. Her approach to cooking is simple, with clean flavors, and I love that she comes up with work-arounds for dishes that are considered time-consuming or difficult, such as oven-baked risotto and blender Bearnaise sauce. Her food styling is also stunning, and makes for a great, end of a long day, soothing and inspiring glance.

Sicilian cooking fascinates me, and I really enjoy British food writer Clarissa Hyman’s Cucina Siciliana. Her recipes are easy to follow and the photography is lush. The whole book makes me want to spend many, many months in Sicily, cooking and taking photographs.

Gina: What are you working on now?

Amy: It’s been a whirlwind since Poor Girl Gourmet came out last summer, and I’m still doing events in support of the book, which I love. It’s so much fun to get out into different places and chat about food with other people who love good food. I do hope to follow up with another cookbook soon, and am currently exploring freelance writing and recipe development work, all while working on the blog, and eating well, of course!

Gina To Teach Blogging Workshop at San Miguel Writers Conference February 2011

I’m teaching a workshop called “Introduction to Blogging: Finding You Blogging Voice” as part of the San Miguel Writers Conference on February 21 and 22, 2011. Click here for details and here to register (scroll down to green button). Below is the general press release about the conference.

The fountain at Cafe de la Parroquia is one of my favorites in San Miguel. It's always decorated with flowers.

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Sandra Cisneros to Headline 6th Annual San Miguel Writers Conference

Conference is fully bilingual and geared to writers and readers

San Miguel de Allende Mexico. Sandra Cisneros, author of the million-copy best seller, The House on Mango Street, and a widely acclaimed authority on Chicano/a and bicultural issues will keynote the Sixth Annual San Miguel International Bilingual Writers’ Conference, to be held February 18 to 20, 2011 in historic San Miguel de Allende,  MX. Her keynote is entitled, ” Living in los Tiempos de Sustos.” Cisneros heads up a faculty of forty-two distinguished writers that includes Elinor Lipman, author of nine much-beloved novels, and Mexican author Mónica Lavín, who recently received the prestigious, $500,000 peso Elena Poniatowska Prize – awarded by the Mexico City government – for her novel, Yo la peor (I, the Worst) about Sor Juana de la Cruz.

“San Miguel has long served as a writer’s muse and thus is the perfect setting for a writers’ conference,” noted Susan Page the bestselling author of If I’m so Wonderful, Why am I Still Single? and the founder of the conference.  “Writers have long been drawn to the magic here and San Miguel has seduced everyone from Tom Robbins to the Dalai Lama.”  “After last year’s conference,” Page continued, “featured speaker and author of The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver said, ‘San Miguel is full of unexpected riches, different from any other place in Mexico, and the conversations inspired by this conference were exceptional.’”

For Writers

Topics geared to writers at this year’s conference will include among the 36 sessions  discussions on travel writing, crime fiction, feature articles, personal essays, screen writing, and poetry.  Writers may also enter the manuscript contest. The winning ten writers receive a free individual consultation with top literary agent, Kristin Nelson.

For Readers

Readers also will find much to savor with sessions on everything from Francine Prose’s book, Reading Like a Writer, to an Introduction to Chicano literature, to appreciating modern poetry, to a whole workshop on the important African American book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. ” For the annual San Miguel Big Read, during December and January, everyone in San Miguel will be encouraged to read the featured novel for the conference, Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros, and to join one of many book discussion groups around town.

Conference is Bilingual

The need for literary events in Spanish was dramatically presented in a 2005 UNESCO report outlining the low numbers of readers in Mexico. According to the report, Mexicans read on average just over two books per year, while Swedes, for example, finish that many every month.

Since its inception, the San Miguel Literary Sala, which produces the Conference, has been committed to including Mexicans in its literary offerings, and encouraging them to discover the pleasures of reading.  All conference general sessions are simultaneously translated with earphones, and many of the workshops are offered in Spanish.

Additionally,  the conference will include an intensive workshop in creative writing for thirty San Miguel high school students, who can also participate in the entire Conference for free.

Registration

The cost of the entire three-day Conference is only $325 USD until January 20, when the price goes up to $375. This includes seven meals, a carnitas fest in the country, and the spectacular Mexican Fiesta. Last year’s keynote speaker, Barbara Kingsolver, was so enchanted by the Fiesta that she wrote about it in an essay in the paperback edition of her novel, The Lacuna, and called it ” . . . one of the ten best parties I have attended in my life, and I’m sure I can’t remember the other nine.”

More information on the conference can be found at www.sanmiguelwritersconference.org.

Interview with Daniel May, Author of “Chemo Honeymoon”

Author Daniel May has enjoyed a broad range of life experiences–college football kicking specialist, indoor rowing competitor, martial artist, wine expert, restaurateur, and truck driver, to name just a few. In January of 2008, he drove six hundred miles to make dinner for Andrea, his high school sweetheart with whom he’d recently reconnected via the Internet after more than 30 years. A week later, she asked him to marry her. And then they found out that he had Hodgkin Lymphoma. His new memoir, Chemo Honeymoon: A Romantic Medical Odyssey, recounts their whirlwind rekindled romance, PET-scans, CT-scans, biopsies, exploratory surgery, wedding, and Berkshires honeymoon tucked in between medical procedures.

Danny and Andrea on their wedding day.

Gina: What’s your writing background previous to this book?

Danny: I wrote two wine books and several years’ worth of monthly wine articles for Berkshire HomeStyle magazine. Wine really lends itself to writing—we can transcribe music and chemical reactions for posterity, and record events with photos and film; however, we are limited to language when it comes to memorializing the taste of a particular wine.

Gina: Did you keep a journal during your cancer treatments? When did you decide to write the memoir and why?

Danny: No, I didn’t keep a journal, per se, but I started writing the actual book early on. My family insisted that I do so after I described to them the particulars of my bone marrow biopsy. I have a compulsive need to understand the underlying science of everything around me, and so I read as much as I could understand about cancer treatments. My doctors were very helpful with this. And after going to such lengths to explain cancer to myself, I wanted to share what I had learned with my fellow patients and their families. When it comes to things like cancer, knowledge often displaces fear.

Gina: Why did you decide to self-publish and how has the experience been for you so far? What company did you work with?

Danny: As you know, literary agents have long been the gatekeepers. They are also scared to death, I have reason to suspect, about the potential implications of e-publishing. Perhaps because of this, I couldn’t get even one agent to read a single page of Chemo Honeymoon. And when I have worked with agents and editors in the past, I’ve seen my work manipulated beyond recognition. An old girlfriend who works in the publishing industry suggested Amazon’s new Createspace program to me… “the wave of the future,” she called it. And so I am selling my actual words in their raw, unedited state, printed to order by Amazon. They’ve been terrific to work with!

Gina: You decided to stay in the Berkshires for your cancer treatments rather than go to Boston or New York. It does seem that a lot of people here are under the impression that they have to go to a city for quality care when faced with catastrophic illness. Please tell me about your decision and medical experience here.

Danny: Being treated in the Berkshires wasn’t completely by choice. Simply put, I couldn’t afford to miss the time at work that commuting to Boston or New York would have required. But I soon realized that decades of research and high-speed e-communication has made it possible for oncologists in outlying regions like the Berkshires to offer a level of treatment identical to that offered in the big cities. I also figured out that my doctors were highly respected in their specialties. I had a lot of confidence in them.

Gina: You write about Guido’s customers’ sometimes-inappropriate comments when you lost your hair during chemo. I remember seeing you behind the fish counter during that time and registering your illness and, since we don’t know each other well, not knowing what, if anything, to say. I also remember seeing you in line at Fuel Coffee Shop, after your hair started growing back, and feeling compelled to speak up and tell you that you looked good. Great Barrington is a small town. What is the proper cancer etiquette?

Danny: When in doubt, don’t say anything unless you have cancer yourself and perhaps recognize someone from the chemo salon. If you are close enough friends that you should know, they will have told you already. By the way, I once tried to commiserate with a bald man who turned out to be just bald.

Danny undergoing a cancer treatment.

Gina: You mention in the book that pink champagne is your favorite wine. Please tell me about the kind you like best and what it tastes like. When did you first experience it? (I love, by the way, your sommelier description of barium sulfate.)

Danny: I’ll never forget my first sip of Domaine Chandon “Blanc de Noirs” in 1981. 100% Pinot Noir… Varietally-correct Californian fruitiness with bubbles imparted by the traditional French methode champenoise. Now they also bottle a pinker-yet “Brut Rosé.” I also love Mumm Cuvée Napa Blanc de Noir and Gruet’s New Mexico bottlings. It seems that these French champagne houses operating in the US have the upper hand in this category.

Gina: You served “Rebecca’s Breads” at your wedding reception, calling her “the pre-eminent guerilla baker in the Berkshires.” What does it mean to be a guerilla baker and where can I find her?

Danny: Rebecca baked drop-dead fabulous breads in her home oven… very unofficial vis-à-vis the governmental authorities that regulate such things. She did all her business by email, personal delivery, and cash. From what I hear, she no longer bakes. It’s the Berkshires’ loss.

Gina: If the movie rights sell to Chemo Honeymoon, who should play you and Andrea?

Danny: Laura Leighton (of Melrose Place) should play Andrea; they are actually  second cousins. Me? I can’t say. I’m not much of a film or TV buff, so anyone I could think of would be too big a star to play an “everyman.” Brad Pitt would definitely be overkill.

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