Wednesday, September 28, 2011
ENTER THE DRAGON
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've been fortunate enough to know Crescent Dragonwagon (if you're curious about the name--and who wouldn't be--you can read about it HERE) for almost twenty years. She was, once upon a time, the best of all innkeepers at a magical place called Dairy Hollow House in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is where we met, but in the years since our paths have crossed in several strange and interesting ways.
Crescent now lives in Vermont, and I'll let her describe herself for you, as I couldn't do it better. "Your basic ultra-prolific trans-genre'd writer (novels, children's books, cookbooks/culinary memoir, poetry) who also leads workships in which participants go from I've-always-wanted-to-write-BUT into fearless action. Plus, makes one hell of a rockin' cornbread. It's dragonisma!"
And she is brilliant at all those things. I've been cooking from Crescent's Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Book almost as long as I've known her. It's my favorite cookbook, and I've given it to everyone I know who cooks. (And some who don't, in hopes that they will.) So I think we'll start with the cookbooks, and expand from there.
DEBS: Can you tell us about the new cookbook coming out this year?
CRESCENT DRAGONWAGON: Bean by Bean will be out in mid-December. What's it about? On the one hand, cassoulet... Dahl... Chili Mole... Elsie's Cuban black bean soup... Senegalese peanut butter stew... vegetable-bean hash with poached eggs... Peter Rabbit's Salad... Three Sisters Salad with Green Beans, Fresh Corn, & Zucchini Ribbons...socca... Peanut-Butter Banana Cream Pie...
On the other hand, much more.
Deb, my deep fondness for beans has its roots in my early days as a home cook and a young, newly-on-my-own frequently impoverished freelance writer.
That there could be an ingredient which was so inexpensive yet so reliably satisfying, and so amenable to diverse incarnations --- soup, chili, salad, side-dish, even dessert --- was a great discovery for me. Not only could I eat well for not too much money, I could entertain and feed others, which as you know, is something I've always loved doing. Eventually a skinny little cookbook, my second, grew out of -it. It was Workman Publishing's first cookbook. It was called The Bean Book, had a spiral binding, and retailed for $2.45. This was 1972. I was 20 when it came out.
Fast forward 39 years (and they did fast-forward). Along the way I became, among other things, an ardent gardener (legumes are the one agricultural plant family which actually enriches, rather than depletes, the soil in which it grows), a vegetarian (protein!), an innkeeper in a part of the country which reveres beans and cornbread. I also kept growing as a cook and a traveler; Indian, Asian, African & European winds blew through my kitchen.
Bean by Bean is a cornucopia of all this: as with all my cookbooks, they're seasoned with lore, how-to, anecdotes, silliness (the sidebar 'Beans That Aren't" includes not only coffee, chocolate, and vanilla beans, but Mr. Bean and jelly-beans), memoir... and recipes. Also as always: I fall in love with the ingredient or dish I'm focused on, and just keep on discovering and reinventing. Beans are generous, as a plant and as an ingredient (I just roasted a few pounds of them from my own garden, with garlic and tomato, and froze them last night, for the winter). I hope to infuse those who read and cook from the book with this sense of generous possibility.
And it's with Workman, who did the first one so long ago.
DEBS: The soups from the Soup and Bread Book that are the staples in our house are the bean ones! Especially the Black-eyed Pea Soup. Fabulous. And the Skillet Sizzled Cornbread. Oh. My. The best ever. But before I get out my cast iron skillet, let's talk about the new children's book. I've had a peek at the illustrations, and they are gorgeous!
CRESCENT: "My little one/lay down your head/ it's time for rest/ it's time for bed... You tell me,/ 'I'm not sleepy now'./ 'Just try,' I say, You ask me how... " So begins All the Awake Animals, in which a mother tells her child, animal by animal and letter by letter, how every creature is getting sleepier... or is already asleep. "Baby bison is bedded down by the barn, beside her brother... Cat's curled up on a crimson couch cushion..." It ends with another small, rhymed exchange between mother and now-very-sleepy child. I've seen the rough sketches, by David McPhail, and they are luscious, gorgeous, perfect, warm, cozy, but with just a little mystery...
This is my first picture book in nearly a decade, so I'm thrilled. It's also my first ever with Little, Brown.
DEBS: AND can you tell at least a bit about Fearless, as I think our readers will love it. We have a lot of aspiring writers who read the blog.
CRESCENT: Basically, participants discover --- experientially, as they write over the weekend; not just abstractly --- how to use uncomfortable feelings, such as fear, anxiety, uncertainty as forces to power creation, rather than stop it.
As Jerri Farris, who's taken Fearless twice, said, "Now I laugh at my limitations on the way to work. "
DEBS: HERE is a link to a wonderful pictorial essay on Facebook that explains the genesis of Fearless Writing. (I'm not actually sure I want to share this, as I think anyone who reads it will want to sign up. Then Fearless will be booked up for the next decade, and there won't be any room for me . . .)
For more about Crescent and her work, there are two wonderful blogs:
Nothing is Wasted on the Writer: Living, loving, writing, reading, thinking. Listening, tasting, sniffing. Cozying up to mystery at midlife. I think we're all part of the narrative life tells itself.
Deep Feast: writing the world through food: if you want answers to the big questions (identity, life, love, death), start by talking to your dinner. Oh, yeah: recipes, too.
I'm addicted to both. Hope you all will be, too!