Wednesday, August 20, 2014

COOKING SCHOOL: No Experience Necessary #foodie @NormanVanAken

Lucy with Chef Norman
LUCY BURDETTE: Last winter at an artisan market at The Restaurant Store, where I was signing books, I met Chef Norman Van Aken. It was great timing, as I was writing about a chef for DEATH WITH ALL THE TRIMMINGS, and he lent me some “telling” details about his career. As often happens at these events, he bought my book and I bought his--a new memoir called NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. It went onto my TBR pile and only last week made its way to the top. He had quite a wild life, hurtling across the country to work furious stints at different restaurants, including many in Key West. Unlike many of today’s young chefs, he never went to culinary school. He learned from the chefs above him and he studied cookbooks to stretch his recipes and his techniques. The book was very entertaining reading, and would especially appeal to lovers of Key West or foodies or people who’ve wondered about what the cooking life might be like. 

Reading Chef Norman’s memoir got me thinking about one of my early jobs. During and after college, I worked in a restaurant called the Alchemist and Barrister in Princeton, New Jersey. A bunch of us college kids waited on the tables in the front of the house, while two big black men from Trenton, named Moses and Joe, worked the stoves in the back. We waitresses were young and cute (or so we thought) and we learned that the tips were better if we wore stacked heels and clingy black dresses. In the kitchen, the cooks slaved at the stove and the grill, finishing fifths of hard liquor across the evening, pretty much toasting themselves by the end of each night. 

Lucy with Chef Joe
There were three specialties of the house--a blue cheese burger with red relish, a prime rib, and seafood Newburg in a gloppy orange sauce. If we servers had to return a prime rib to the kitchen because it wasn’t done to the diner’s satisfaction, the chefs became enraged. I can remember Chef Joe (though we never called him anything but Joe) turning a rejected slab of too-rare meat over on the plate, dosing it with a scoop of au jus and yelling: “You’ve got to cook it at the table, baby, cook it at the table.”

 The whole restaurant staff drank like proverbial fish, including the owners. One night, after a fight between the cooks and one of the bosses--I’m guessing it had to do with a raise--both the chefs walked out. Either we had to close the business, or someone else had to cook. It certainly never occurred to me (or probably any of the other waitstaff) that the cooks had a reasonable beef and we should back them up and walk out too. Instead, I volunteered to take over at the stove--we stuck with burgers and salads, none of the fancier dishes the restaurant was known for. I’ve never been so hot and tired in my life. And I wasn’t paid very well for the rescue either. And that unglamorous evening was the closest I came to professional cooking. But strangely enough, I write about it now...

Did you ever have a road not taken wind around and end up in your life anyway?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Paw and Order #SpencerQuinn #ChettheDog

LUCY BURDETTE: We love Spencer Quinn books here at Jungle Red, and before those, we loved Peter Abrahams books. And lucky us, now Spencer/Peter is here visiting! First of all welcome, Spencer (we'll call you that since we're talking dogs today), please tell us a little about the new book.

SPENCER QUINN: Thanks for inviting me over, Jungle Red people! In Paw and Order, seventh in the Chet and Bernie series, C & B visit Suzie Sanchez in Washington DC. She's Bernie's girlfriend from back home in Arizona, but she's taken a job reporting for the Washington Post - "a no brainer" as Bernie puts it,
which is the best kind of brainer out there, in Chet's opinion
. Things go bad from the get-go, when Bernie mistakes Eben St. John, a mysterious Brit, for a love interest of Suzie's, when in fact he's only a source.

Then something not good happens to Eben, and the instrument of that not-good is a gun belonging to Bernie. You see where this is going? Yes, into the maze of an international conspiracy Le Carre or Graham Greene style, except seen through the eyes of a member of the nation within the nation, as Bernie refers to the dog population of the USA. Don't want to spoil the story, so all that I'll add is that it features what I'm sure is literature's first and only dog-versus-drone scene.

LUCY: How do you get into the head of Chet the Dog in order to write his character? Is he based on a real dog?

SPENCER: Now we come to the fun of this job! I use my imagination. Or it uses me. I just start telling the story in Chet's voice. There's so much discussion of plotting, reversals, point of view, etc. Is there enough about the imagination, the best club in the bag, in my opinion? Chet's not based on a real dog, but I couldn't have written him without having had lots of dogs in my life.

LUCY: One of things people love about mystery series is the way the characters grow and change. Could you talk about the challenge of this with a dog as the character?

SPENCER: Growth and change are not Chet's thing! He likes people to stay in place. So what the reader sees as growth and change are often puzzlements to him. Perhaps just one more of the payoffs I stumbled upon in this
narrative form.

(The photo is me on tour: me playing Bernie; a lovely member of the nation within (as Bernie refers to dogs) called Sadie, playing Chet: and a Porsche playing the Porsche.)

LUCY: You've written both stand-alones and series, including suspense and YA.What are the challenges and joys of each?

SPENCER:  I like doing different things. Doesn't it keep you fresh? One thing about novel writing, as opposed to playing professional baseball, for example: if you take care of yourself you can still be doing it at 80.

LUCY: What's up next for you?

SPENCER: I'm continuing with Chet and Bernie, of course. PAW AND ORDER, just out now, will be followed by book 8 next summer or fall. But also, I'm starting a middle-grade, dog-narrated mystery series for Scholastic. Book one in the Bowser and Birdie series, WOOF, comes out next summer.

LUCY: And Hank would like to know (in fact we all would!), when you came up with the idea of Chet the Dog, did your agent love it immediately?

SPENCER: Hi, Hank! Well, the answer is I sent DOG ON IT, book one, into her without warning. But yes, I recall a positive reaction.

Follow Chet and Bernie on their website, or Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Go, you chicken fat, go!" #atthegym

LUCY BURDETTE: The scene. Junior high school gym class. The action. The gym teacher tells the class to drop to the floor and give her 50 sit ups. (Or was it 100? Could it have been 100?) We do our crunches and one by one stand back up. I know I didn't do 50, but I'm hoping she won't notice. The gym teacher hisses: “I know you people didn't do 50. If you didn't finish drop now and finish.” The class freezes, not a rustle. When I can no longer stand the agony of knowing that I lied, I drop to the ground and students around me begin to drop too. So that's my first memory of gym class. 
Love the girls watching!

My high school gym days weren’t much better. I think we could have won hands-down for the most hideous uniforms. They were one piece salmon jobs that snapped on and off. And white wool socks. And white sneakers that had to be polished with white shoe polish to pass inspection.

And I was no high school athletic star either--though I partly blame this on the pre-Title 9 days, when women were cheerleaders and men, athletes. All that aside, my only “D” in 12 years of school was in volleyball. (Hey, I was short back then!)

Lucy dancing
The only way I finally got to wear a cool uniform was by joining the Highlander dancers, who performed with the only All-Girl Bagpipe band in the whole country!

How about you guys? Gym rats? 

HALLIE EPHRON: What I remember about my first gym classes is having to line up. Endlessly line up. Alphabetically. Or in size places. The teacher (Mrs. Downey of the black pageboy and flesh-colored opaque hose) picked two girls as team captains and they chose teams. I wasn't popular but I was a good athlete, so I did not end up getting picked last, but it was excruciating for the girls who did. It was a shaming ritual.
Ball skills?

Then we practiced something called "ball skills." Lining up (again) in teams and tossing a single ball from a girl on one team (who then ran to the back of her line) to the girl on the other team (who ran to the back...). There must have been a ball shortage. Oh yeah, we also played dodge ball, but all I learned from that was how to duck.

By high school there were quasi-real sports, like a version of basketball where you could only bounce the ball 3 times before you passed it. Insane girls' rules.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I can't recall gym classes much before high school, though I remember my dread in junior high during the winter, when it seemed we girls had to play volleyball every day. I have depth perception issues due to my wonkey vision, and I was unathletic to begin with, so I was always getting nailed with the volleyball, which seemed to appear from out of nowhere right before it smacked me in the face.

In high school, we had a fabulous phys ed program: diving, square dancing, cross country skiing, kayaking. I loved it, except for the mandatory showers, which meant a mob of girls five deep around the dryers and outlets (this was in the days of Farrah Fawcett hair; no self-respecting teen would be caught dead without at least fifteen minutes of blow-drying invested in her hair.

The Boy and Youngest, who've gone through our public school system (Smithie went to an all-girl's high school) have co-ed gym classes, which are also not called gym classes any more, but "Lifetime Physical Activities." Interestingly enough, Youngest has no qualms whatsoever about being seen by boys looking all sweaty and disheveled. This may be the ultimate triumph of Title Nine!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: There was something so sadistic about gym class, starting with the teachers, who seemed to love to trade in shame.. There was the shaming if you didn't bring your gym uniform or swimsuit. There was the shame of being picked for teams (even if you weren't picked last, you felt sorry for the girl who did). And then there was the pain of being hit in dodgeball, where all kinds of aggressions were unleashed. Then there were the showers, where every new development of an adolescent body was commented on....
This is why I do yoga now!

I'm sometimes the class parent for the kiddo's gym class, and I'm glad to say it's a mostly happy time for them. Maybe because it's co-ed now? After running around the track eight times (one mile), they get to choose their activity—basketball, relay races, volleyball, or soccer. Having a choice seems nice.

what Rhys looked like on pommel horse:)

RHYS BOWEN: I have to confess that I loved gym, loved sports. We had a well equipped gymnasium at my all-girls school and I was quite good at flying over the horse and walking along the balance beam. 

On rainy days we played this great game. All the equipment was placed around the gym and we weren't allowed to touch the ground. one girl was IT and had to catch the rest of us. When we were caught we also became IT. It was  huge adrenalin rush to grab the rope and swing across to the bars as someone lunged at my feet. These days it would never be allowed for insurance reasons!

I was also on the tennis and netball teams, ditto in college. But then I always remember PE classes being supportive. I suppose that's the difference if it's all girls.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, FORGET about it. We had to wear little red jump shortsuits, that snapped up the front, and they were grotesque. As if that wasn't bad enough, they were--oh, gosh, it was just horrible. With gym shoes, and SOCKS and there was just no way they weren't ridiculous, and humiliating.

And THEN we had to do calisthenics (it wasn't called "working out," it was just called "gym" or "stupid gym") to this RECORD called Chicken Fat. Does anyone remember it? It was HORRIBLE, I am sorry to be so capitalized, but what can I say. It was a guy singing, kind of a marching beat, and it began: "Sit-ups, every morning. Ten times! In a row!" Or something like that. The chorus, which we were ordered to sing along with as we huffed and puffed, was "GO you chicken fat, GO a-WAY, Go you chicken fat, go

I cannot begin to describe how much we hated this.

Now, fifty years later, seriously, I heard that exact same song on TV as a commercial for something, something good, like Nike, and I leaped from my chair. CHICKEN FAT! I yelled.

Jonathan was completely baffled. As you might imagine. Anyway, this song instantly made me want to start doing jumping jacks (what good were those?) and pushups (which I still cannot do) and march in place (I nailed that part) and oddly, it made me very happy. And I knew all the words. Turns out the "guy" singing it was Robert Preston (who knew?) and the song is pretty funny. 

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Oh, the horror. Our gym suits were white, snap-up-the-front one-piece things and the bottoms had elastic around the leg holes. Bloomers!!! Absolutely hideous. Even the cool girls looked awful, which should have been some compensation but wasn't. Gym was endless humiliation for me. I was short, had boobs when most of the other girls didn't, which meant endless taunting, and uncoordinated. Always picked last for anything. Could not catch a ball or hit anything with a stick. Those classes (and the teachers were always the sadistic ones) took any joy out of physical movement.

I want to be in Mattie's class.

Chicken Fat and stupid red jump suit. Which we NEVER washed. Anyone else?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The House of Seven Teapots

RHYS: My mother collected purses. She had purses in every shape, color, fabric and brand. A purse to match any outfit or occasion. I must have been a miserable failure as a daughter as I tend to buy one purse I like and use it until it starts to look old and worn. Currently I have a bronze leather cross body bag with enough pockets for everything.  I also have a brilliant purse for travel which is safe from pick pockets, identity thieves etc.  A little evening purse when needed. But that’s about it.
    I had a friend who wore matching earrings and necklace with every outfit. Again I’m a hopeless case as I tend to put in a pair of gold hoops and wear them for months. So I’m trying to think—do I have a weakness, something unnecessary that I have to have in large numbers? Well books. I also like pretty sandals. But no more than necessary. I guess I was born sensible.

    My husband, on the other hand, is constantly in pursuit of the perfect cup of tea. He buys different teas and blends them—a little more Ceylon here, a little more Darjeeling there. Even a dash of Chinese Keemun for the smoky flavor.And to make this tea to perfection he buys teapots. At this moment we have seven teapots in our California  house, not to mention at least three in Arizona. (The two silver teapots are stowed away, wrapped in baize, for ceremonial occasions).  Not one, apparently, produces the perfect cup of tea yet so we are still on a quest every time we are in England.
    So I’m curious, Reds, where is your weakness? What do you collect more of than you need? (I’m sure Hank will say she needs all those black suits and high heeled

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I NEED all those black suits and high heels.  (Rhys is ALWAYS right!)  But you know what I also have too many of? WAAAAY too many of?  Paper bags. Shiny glossy paper shopping bags.  It is RIDICULOUS. But I cannot bring my self to throw them away.

Oh, and T-shirts. Here's one--what do you vote, toss or keep? And then I have about a million others for you to vote on. (I'll do a blog about them next time.)

LUCY BURDETTE: Aside from books, which you saw very plainly last week, my weakness has to be shoes. Not fancy shoes, with elegant heels, but sturdy shoes that accept my orthotics. And sandals--mostly Mephisto--because I can walk anywhere in them. I panic if my Asolo clunkers are starting to wear down and I don't have a pair in reserve because these are what keep my chronic plantar fasciitis at bay.

What makes this worse is I don't throw away any of the shoes I used to be able to wear. Here are the ones I wore to my first wedding, back in 1979.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: We have limited space for stuff, so we tend to live pretty simply. (Well, the kiddo does not live simply — but that's a whole other post...) My husband, however, is a collector of puppets. We have a bunch of Bil Baird originals, as well as puppets from Thailand, Bali, Nigeria, and India. I also love street art/outsider art and have started collecting original Faile ( and Stucky ( pieces. They go with the puppets! 

In terms of our bar, I love collecting really odd bottles — creme de violette, yellow chartreuse, velvet falernum. Our bar looks like it's set up for a Potions Class at Hogwarts!
 RHYS: Potions class at Hogwarts! Love it. So would my grandkids. Potions are a specialty of theirs.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Your mother and I are kindred spirits, Rhys. For me, it's handbags. I cannot resist. I love buttery, elegant leather bags, colorful quilted bags, funky vintage bags. I get them everywhere from high-end boutiques to Goodwill. I'm rigorous about clothing: if I don't wear something within a season, out it goes, but I will keep my purses and satchels and clutches forever, even if I only carry one once a year. Here's a picture of my overloaded vanity, which has become purse central - and keep in mind, I also have them stored above my chest of drawers and on the top shelf of Youngest's closet (if she starts collecting bags too, we'll be in trouble.)

RHYS: Julia, we have a six bedroom house and have now stared things in all the former kids' closets (mainly John's file boxes, but also clothes, craft materials etc).

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  My daughter laments that I do not have the shoe gene...  Like Lucy, I have developed plantar faciitis--mine is in my left foot. But I have held on to shoes with heels that I cannot wear for years.  A couple of weeks ago I girded my loins and gave them all to Goodwill. No handbag thing, either. Like Rhys, I tend to buy one and carry it until it wears out. I might get really wild and have one for summer and one for winter!

Things I do accumulate? Art. There is not a blank wall in my house. I've collected London Transport posters for years, and many are now very collectible. But I CANNOT buy any more. There is no place to put them.

And Rhys knows about the teapot fetish.  I just did a rough count in my head.... I have at least a dozen, maybe fifteen.  And I have this last year found THE PERFECT TEAPOT. They are made by Emma Bridgewater in the UK (if you are tempted to order one, wait until they do a special with 10 pound shipping to the US. By the time take they off the VAT, your shipping will be free.) So I now have two of them, and salivate over the catalog. Why do I need more teapots????  Why do we need anything that's not absolutely necessary?

Because they're beautiful and it makes me happy to use them and to look at them.

Just don't get me started on tea...

RHYS: So we've shared our strange obsessions. Now it's time to share yours. Who collects way too many of what item?
(And Hank, that NBC shirt from the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Wow, that's certainly a collectors item! Worth putting on eBay and then buying more shoes!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Penny Pike on Death of a Crabby Cook

RHYS: This has been a fun week for me with various friends as guests while my vision finally gets into focus after cataract surgery on Tuesday. Today it's another of my favorite people, Penny Warmer. Penny and I have toured together and had adventures over the years. I've loved everything she's written and her wicked sense of humor.
So I'm delighted to help celebrate the launch of her new series today under her new name PENNY PIKE.  So Welcome Penny and tell us all about Crabby Cooks!


            I have heartburn.
It’s from all the research I’ve been doing for the first book in my new series, DEATH OF A CRABBY COOK, featuring food trucks and food festivals. But if eating a lot of different foods is the price I must pay to make sure my story is authentic, then so be it. Could be worse. I could be writing a book about insects and have to do research on the larvae cycle of the tse-tse fly. Luckily I chose food.
I had my first food truck experience a couple of years ago before the “meals on wheels” phenomenon swept the country. I was in Napa, CA, doing research for another book (AKA drinking a lot of wine), and spotted a circle of colorful trucks offering intriguing specialties. I decided to try some plein air dining.
Now, I’m not the adventurous type when it comes to trying new foods. When I go out to dinner, I order the same foods at the same restaurants—rigatoni Bolognese at the Italian place,  cheese enchilada at the Mexican place, and teriyaki at the Japanese place. So I was a little hesitant to sample the wares from trucks named Kung Fu Tacos, Happy Dumplings, The Boneyard, Fins on the Hoof, Me So Hungry, and Naked Chorizo.
Turned out I liked just about everything!
            Now that food trucks have finally come to my hometown, I can please my inner glutton every weekend—and combine it with research for my new series. I head over planning to have just “one bite” of everything, and end up stuffed to the gills.
Here’s my typical game plan: I start my research at Cluck it Up, ordered garlic parmesan wings, and called that the appetizer. Next stop: the Grilled Cheese Bandit, where the sandwiches are named after folk legends like Jesse James and Butch Cassidy. I had the Giuliani (a folk legend?), a grilled mozzarella, parmesan, tomato and pesto sandwich, and called it lunch.
After that it was a blur. A Peruvian pork sandwich from Sanguchon. A burrito cone from Twister. A Coca Cola braised pork sandwich from the Chairman. And I’d only made it half way through the trucks. Luckily I had just enough room for dessert. I managed to down two cream puffs from the Pacific Puffs truck—chocolate and salted caramel—before I spotted the Frozen Kuhsterd truck and had to have the ice-creamy sundae with caramel, chocolate and salted almonds. I knew, with a hospital located right across the street, I could seek medical attention after this food orgy if needed.
These visits to the local food trucks were my inspiration to write a series set among the food truck community. I created Darcy Burnett, a total foodie who loves to eat, but barely knows how to heat a frozen dinner in the microwave. To complicate things, I made her a restaurant reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, suddenly downsized, and desperately in need of a job. While eating a therapeutic Caramel Espresso Cream Puff whipped up by Jake Miller from the Dream Puff Truck—and recognizing a hot food trend when she sees one—she’s inspired to write a cookbook full of food truck recipes.
Her first source is the upcoming San Francisco Seafood Fest. Darcy plans to use her journalistic skills to gather recipes for everything from Crab Mac and Cheese from her aunt’s Big Yellow School Bus food truck, to Hangtown Oyster Omelets from the Bacon is the New Black truck. Combined with the local food festivals—The Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival, Gilroy Garlic Festival, Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival—she’s sure the book will be a best-seller, filled with recipes for such tasty treats as “Red Velvet Whoopee Pies,” “Garlic Ice Cream,” Key Lime Cream Puffs,” “Cronut Dossaints” (croissants crossed with donuts) and so on.  (Recipes included in the book!)
Writing DEATH OF A CRABBY COOK was such an inspiration, I’m thinking of opening my own food truck.  I plan to serve Vanilla Zantac, Chocolate Prilosec, Curry Maalox, Grilled Pepto, and Tums-on-a-Stick. I think it will be a hit.

RHYS: And we’re sure THIS book will be a best-seller, Penny. Now I’m ready to drive around the Bay Area trying your favorite food trucks.
So how about it Reds—do you have a favorite food truck? I have to confess to liking the sinfully cholesterol-laden Navajo flatbread that shows up at Arizona art festivals.