Author

Felicity LuHill

Browsing

Food & Writing: Alex Lanz

This is the first edition of a new column in which TIE Deputy Editor, Felicity LuHill, interviews writers about food.

Alex Lanz is a New School MFA alum with a flare for books, food and all things Communist. For the interview, they suggested we meet for ramen at Ramen-Ya before wandering over to The Housing Works book sale. For those who don’t know, Ramen-Ya has two locations in the West Village. I initially went to the wrong location. The right location is Ramen-Ya Samurai Edition. This Ramen-Ya has Takoyaki (pictured above).

After eating most of my spicy pork ramen with tofu noodles, as well as a substantial portion of Alex’s takoyaki, my appetite was sated enough that I could start asking my questions.

Felicity: So what do you enjoy eating while reading or writing?

Alex: A handy snack like chips, maybe pretzels

Felicity: Do you have a favorite kind of chip?

Alex: Oh yeah, unsalted potato. Unruffled. You know, I’m a boring person. But actually what I really like to do is drink tea, because I like to think it satisfies my appetite without having to eat any solid food.

Felicity: Why do you want to do that?

Alex: Because I’m too lazy to prepare food or find it. Also, I wanna get on with my book at the moment! So I brew up some black tea. That’s my snack of choice. Or wine.

Felicity: What’s your favorite “broke artist” meal?

Alex: Broke artist meal? Oh, that would be just a fried vegetable omelet, maybe throw in some mushrooms in there. You can also fry some ground pork and throw it over a bowl of rice, then drop a raw egg yolk on it. And there’s always Top Ramen with egg.

Felicity: Interesting. I didn’t think about that. I was thinking like a one-dollar pizza kind of thing.

Alex: In that case, in terms of eating out while broke, yeah, I do McDonalds. Two bacon cheeseburgers, two bacon McDoubles.

Felicity: That’s a good deal! Alright, what food do you think is the most fun to write about?

Alex: Food I would never actually find myself eating. Once I had a story in which people ate fried oysters with white wine, or maybe it was oyster sautéed in mushrooms and such. Also, fruit. Fruit’s fun to describe.

Felicity: Yeah, I think stone fruit is really fun to describe. Like peaches.

Alex: Or melons and gourds.

Felicity: What’s your favorite piece of writing/art that has to do with food?

Alex: Well, my mind immediately goes to the early scene in Gravity’s Rainbow with the bananas. If you’ve read it, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Felicity: I haven’t, but I want to! Ok, what is your ideal meal, finances put aside? You could have however many courses you want.

Alex: That would be the General Tso’s Chicken that was served in the Chinese restaurant near my parents’ house with some strawberry Faygo soda, and the best sashimi salmon belly cuts in the world, without rice, and soy sauce on the side. I’d be all set.

Felicity: If you had to live off of one food for the rest of your life what would it be?

Alex: Oh, pizza.

Felicity: Pizza!

Alex: I never get tired of pizza. I pledge allegiance to the pizza.

Felicity: That’s so funny, because I feel like most of your answers are Asian food.

Alex: My aunt also makes spectacular homemade egg rolls that I’ve enjoyed since I was little.

Felicity: Can you describe what you eat in a typical day? Or maybe talk about the most frequent food that you eat like throughout a week?

Alex: Sure, I just keep some bread and lunch meats at home, so it’s going to be ham and swiss sandwiches. And if I don’t have that at home, I’ll buy it at the deli. Otherwise, probably make a run to Checkers across the street, and just get some disgusting fast food. But that’s ok, I eat it because it’s delicious. And those fries are to die for. Otherwise, I keep yogurt at home too. That’s about it. It’s not good eating at all.

Felicity: So what do you think is the most writerly alcoholic beverage?

Alex: Whiskey!

Felicity: Whiskey. Like Ernest Hemingway.

Alex: I don’t know about Hemingway, but I guess so. I’m not a big Hemingway girl but… absolutely, whiskey is so good. Corn that you can drink. But, you know, I used to like clear liquor, until gin and tonic betrayed me, but I think clear liquor is making a dialectical come back these days.

Felicity: Do you have a favorite book?

Alex: Thomas the Obscure by Maurice Blanchot.

Felicity: What food do you think would best represent Thomas the Obscure?

Alex: Something really unpleasant and unappetizing. A poorly prepared risotto with licorice sauce, slimy mushrooms, and flakes of seaweed. Pair that up with a white wine that came in a plastic bottle.

Felicity: That sounds pretty unappetizing.

After finishing up our meal Alex got to talking about their writing ritual, which, as you may have guessed, is very food-centric.

Alex: I only write in the café. I have a curse where any coffee shop that I’m a regular at, eventually shuts down despite my patronage or maybe because. But, my favorite chain—it’s a Korean chain—the Café Bené, because I like the way they do their dirty chai, which is my caffeine of choice. I think they put in extra ginger

Felicity: Ginger in chai?

Alex: Yeah, along with the herbs. It’s spicy. It’s nice. And they also have really good waffles. And the banana whipped cream waffle is my waffle of choice. So I have that. Just a page or two.

Felicity: Yeah, and you do that everyday?

Alex: Yeah.

Felicity: Nice! That sounds like a great writing ritual. I wish I had something like that.

Alex: I’m in the habit of writing first thing in the morning. Before I came to the program, I had a flair for writing, obviously, but I didn’t have discipline. I wrote great papers, but I put them off till hours beforehand like everybody else. I didn’t proofread them, because I couldn’t bear to look over my own work, because it was so bad. Thank god, by the time of thesis semester I had a routine established. Just two pages a day, first thing in the morning. If you sleep in past noon, you’re not writing today. And you might be thinking, “Really Lanz? Two pages?” Two pages a day adds up! So by halfway through the semester I had fifty pages. By the end of the year you have almost a thousand.

Felicity: That’s really good. So it’s almost like at this point, you associate breakfast with writing your daily two pages.

When I was done with my questions, we did a lightening round, pairing alcoholic beverages with writers. Here’s what Alex came up with: 

Red Wine – Jeanette Winterson

Gin – Djuna Barnes

Vodka – Ursula K. Le Guin

Beer – Audre Lorde

An Artisanal, Handcrafted Cocktail – William H. Glass, “the greatest American writer who isn’t Toni Morrison”

Martini – John Barth

Manhattan – Christa Wolf

Blue Hawaii – M. NoubeSe Philip, “the best poet of the millennium right now”

Vodka Cranberry – Gertrude Stein

Straight Vermouth – Gertrude Stein (after I fought him over the vodka cranberry diagnosis)

Absinthe – Malcolm Lowry

Vodka Cranberry – César Aira (to replace the previous vodka cranberry decision)

Stout Veer – Roberto Bolaño

Irish Coffee – Clarice Lispector

Alex: Now I feel like I need more representation, like I haven’t said any Asian writers, because I don’t really read a lot of Asian writers. Except Monica Youn and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.


Alex Lanz grew up in Portland, Oregon and works as a transcriber in Brooklyn. Their work has appeared in Atticus Review, Enrtopy Mag, and the Seventh Wave, and is forthcoming in SHANTIH. Twitter @MimosaMaoist.





 
Felicity is a Second Year Creative Writing MFA Candidate at The New School. She is also the Deputy Editor for The Inquisitive Eater and the Digital Strategist for Barbershop Books. Along with The New School Blog, her writing has been published with Barbershop Books, Healthy Materials Lab, and Enchantress Magazine, where she was also an editor. Felicity enjoys writing in all forms. You can find her on Twitter @charmingfelic

Featured image via Pixabay.

Story of the Month: ‘Body’s in Trouble,’ by Annakeara Stinson

The theme of October 2017 prose of the month is "Food & Costume." 
This story has been excerpted from a longer piece by the same name. 

 

The Burgett Hotel’s lobby was a grand, high-ceilinged room with marble floors and naked angels in the ceiling. Healthy standing plants and buttoned green velvet couches lined the walls. The staff, all men with cat licked hair, waited along the walls, satin hands behind their backs. A young harpist in a glittering sheath played “Every Breath You Take” on a tucked away platform. Rose paused for a moment next to the entrance before walking through. It was an older crowd, for sure. A sea of glossy heads populating the tables at the entrance café. Smooth skin in soft sweaters, unscuffed shoes and tortoise shell glasses on each side of candelabras. The smell of gardenia powder and steak. No one spoke above a whisper.

Rose planned to beeline to the elevator, her head down, as she held the sides of her skirt, thinking that might dampen the conspicuousness. Her dress’s corset amplified her bust, flattened out the front of the rich black velvet skirt, merely the centerpiece to a larger operation: a six-layered petticoat, a mountainous largesse of the crinoline, an itchy bouquet of sleeves that ballooned at the shoulders, and, not to mention, a doily-pin headpiece.

When Rose stepped forward, a white-blonde haired man in a sailor’s blazer, standing with his wife and an extensive leather luggage collection, looked up and said loudly, “What the hell?” She thought there was hush in the crowd. She was beginning to get dizzy. Was it possible, she wondered, that people were not thinking how strange she looked, but instead how magnificent? Even over the static of her gown in friction with the carpet and leveling a vase of pussy willows. She heard a woman’s voice chuckle out in superior tone,“Good Christ, Harvey, it’s cos-play.”

 

Was it possible, she wondered, that people were not thinking how strange she looked, but instead how magnificent?

 

Rose reminded herself of the twelve hundred dollars and the possibility for tip. It would pay her rent for the month and then some. In just a few hours. We will not touch or engage in any physical / sexual contact, Collagio’s email said after they connected on Seeking Arrangements. He just wanted her to dress up in a Victorian ballgown and eat with him. Talk to him “in character.”

She had promised herself she’d keep her apartment come hell or high water. Her wages as a hair washer were barely, barely keeping her fed and in transit. She reminded herself that she needed this. She didn’t have any other options.

She prayed it would just be her on the elevator but on the third floor two men walked in. She tried to catch a glance but was unsuccessful. Both had exceptionally precise haircuts. Neither had any interest in Rose or her dress. Was this a New York thing? Rose wondered. Walking about in period clothes?

Rose admitted that part of her wished they would ogle her, giggle, stare a little, give her some kind of encouragement. She thought of the time, as a child, she lifted her skirt and pulled back the crotch of her Chip and Dale underwear, revealing her vagina lips to her little church friend, Owen. She stretched them out so the dark grapefruit interior, the ridged sail of her clit, gleamed proudly like it was saying “Hi!” She expected him to be as thrilled to see it as he was to show it. Instead, he cried.

When the elevator arrived at the suite, opening its golden doors to the pearl expanse of what appeared to be a massive apartment, Rose’s hand hovered with the key that could have sent her right back down to the lobby and out into the streets, all the way back home. Her heart was in her mouth, pounding. She thought of her mom and that fucking Ron guy, how they were probably warming up some yellow rice and watching CSI Miami. How her mother would laugh if she knew where she was.

 

✕          ✕          ✕          ✕

 

When she had been sitting alone on a bursting pink tufted couch in the suite’s sitting room for almost fifteen minutes, Rose finally gave in and reached her hand into the crystal bowl of fresh figs sitting on the mahogany side table and bit one in half. The flesh of it tugged stubbornly before the jelly interior and hard little seeds burst and crunched into her molars.

The man who had greeted her and instructed her to wait was nowhere in sight. He had introduced himself as Rusty. She wondered if Rusty might be reporting to Collagio about her, warning him, “She’s a lunker, sir.”

Rose stared down at the little lines of red her shoes were etching into her feet. An antique Turkish rug of cream and blue sprawled out before her, four worn horses jumping towards a centered turquoise sun. It was bleached, likely due to the natural light from the two tall walls of windows. How do they keep such a rug clean? Rose wondered.

“Madame?” She heard Rusty’s voice and shot to attention but couldn’t see where it was coming from. Though she noticed the wall opposite her had opened, right where the portrait of a young boy in blue pantaloons with an Irish setter had hung. Rose rose and swallowed her anxious laughter. It was warm. A hot, single stream of sweat ran from her hairline to asscrack. She smelled peanut butter, the scent of her own body odor.

It was too dark to see the dining room’s outermost perimeter, but Rose saw the lit, silver-dressed dining table for two covered in linen that special shade of old blood. The table at which Collagio now sat and ate. Had he been having a first course while she waited in the next room?

Collagio saw Rose and stood, placing his napkin to the side of a shallow bowl of mint green soup as crumbles of bread tumbled down into his suit coat. She observed immediately how clumsily he moved.

“Mr…Collagio,” she surprised herself. Her voice came out soft and breathy.

“Madame Karen.” She had given him a fake name. Collagio gave her a very slight bow gesturing for her to sit. His arms gestured like a Muppet. Like someone else was in control. Perhaps it was Rusty, she thought, who now stood unblinking next to the table, his face lit like a crypt keeper by the chandelier made of actual candles.

“You look…” Collagio’s voice was feathered and painfully gentle. He quivered and could not, for the life of him, finish his sentence.

“Thanks.” Rose lowered herself into an awkward, slow curtsy, shuffled her dress to sit, and took a long, long sip from her water goblet.

“Would you like a beverage, Madame Karen? Some wine?”

Rose cleared her throat. She tried to keep herself from squinting as though she were trying to decipher an abstract painting or one of those Magic Eye posters. While he was a large, tall man, like she imagined, he hunched his shoulders down gently and to the right just so, as though to intentionally make himself appear smaller. He wore a wrinkled blazer with a T-shirt of a Degas ballerina underneath, light wash jeans, and grey, brand new New Balance sneakers. She couldn’t place his age. His skin was soft and poreless but it drooped over his bones like a longtime acquaintance of gravity. His wet acorn eyes blinked, glossy and rapid, behind spectacles with gargantuan rims. His thinning brown hair gathered in the back in a low ponytail, crisp strands escaping behind his ears. The aspiring hair stylist inside her would have liked to deep condition and chop it. He fidgeted like a kid.

 

She couldn’t place his age. His skin was soft and poreless but it drooped over his bones like a longtime acquaintance of gravity.

 

“Some champagne would be gorgeous — much thanks.” Much thanks? What she actually wanted was a strong Ike Turner, what her mother drank. She yearned for the tang and taste of something familiar. She watched as Collagio nodded to Rusty, who walked backwards towards what Rose could only imagine, or hope, was the kitchen. And then they were alone together. In silence. Collagio cleared phlegm from his throat and she gripped the sides of her chair, feeling waves of nausea and the forshadowing of a nervous shit.

“The food here is exquisite, Miss Karen, and please, if you want something that isn’t on the menu, they will make it for you.”

“How generous.”

“Have you been enjoying your evening so far?”

“A beautiful evening.” Although she was intending to stay in character, Rose became hyper with questions. She wanted to know how he grew up, if he had children, hobbies, lovers. And what was it about sitting opposite her while she was dressed like this that excited him so? She wondered if it was actually the costume and the dirty talk, or simply the fact that he got a woman, a stranger, to do these things, to make herself up in such a laborious manner for him. Did those other women need to do this like Rose did? Or did they want to?

“I’m glad it’s been to your liking.”

“Indeed, yes, indeed it has been.”

“Have you stayed at The Burgett, before?”

“I can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure.”

“It’s one of the finest.”

Rose tried to gauge, looking at him, if the way he spoke was at all suggestive, not knowing at what point things might veer sexy. Rose pictured Collagio hovering above her on an expansive four poster. Busting her out of her corset, eating her breasts like he was diving face first into a layered cake, tossing her petticoats towards her head in fevered waves. Could she enjoy it?

Collagio’s head was still hung in a bow, but his eyebrows tried desperately to drag his gaze up to meet her eyes. He took a sip of his wine and somehow sent a butter knife spinning to the floor in the process. His other hand, peppered with white and tan speckles of pigmentation, lay stretched and flat on the linen. It really was a big hand, Rose noticed. He could likely wrap his fingers entirely around her neck. His middle finger would touch the crown of her head if he palmed her face.

 

✕          ✕          ✕          ✕

 

While Rose declined a meal, considering her corset, Collagio’s salmon came in a tower hovering above a vegetable collection and a crayon yellow glaze Rose couldn’t discern. She watched his mannerisms change as he ate. Attempts at decorum or reserve fled the moment before a bite, when Collagio opened his mouth in a way that made Rose think of a goblin. Smacking as he chewed, his lips were as wet as if he’d put on deep red gloss. When he took a sip of his drink, she noticed he left a milky thumbprint of perspiration on the glass when he set it back down.

“Would you like a taste, Karen?” Rose adjusted the sides of her skirt, which were working their way up on either side like two smiling mushrooms.

“Oh, no, thank you. Thanks, no.”

“Another drink?”

“Absolutely.”

Rusty materialized, placing another flute next to her. She wondered what the relationship between the two of them was like when no one else was around. She had a rather obtrusive vision of Rusty giving Collagio a gentle sponge bath, taking a sopping washcloth to some bacne.

“Can I ask you what you do, Mr. Collagio?”

“Just Collagio.”

“Collagio.”

“I’m a publisher of books.”

“Anything I’ve heard of?”

“I would think so.”

“…so you like to read?”

“I do. Do you?” He looked up at her, finally full on. His eyes gave her a dull, dark stare. Her show of curiosity had shifted his discomfort to annoyance. Rose dug her fingernails into her palm. She guessed that he wouldn’t be interested in her extensive knowledge of graphic novels or Science Fiction. She exhaled slowly. She turned her chin slightly up at him. She looked at him with a purposeful blink, hoping it came across as flirting.

“I’m in the middle of Middlemarch.”

“One of my favorites.”

“One of the greatest novels of this or any age.” So people say, thought Rose. He smiled in agreement with them.

“You must spend hours reading in your parlour.”

“When I’m not doing needlepoint or singing for father, yes.”

“You’re an artist, then.” He took the remaining bite of his salmon, and Rose watched a piece of fatty silver skin hang off his fork. “I would very much like to eat at your house.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t go so far — “

“No need to be humble around me, my lady.”

“I suppose I have…artistic tendencies.” Rose batted her lashes once again. Realizing that she wouldn’t have to sidestep questions about herself, that he didn’t care about her family, her search for work, the trashy town she hailed from, how she quit school three credits shy. It began to relax her. She thought about how only hours before she was in her apartment, in dirty jeans, dissecting a Hot Pocket with a knife and fork while watching old House of Style episodes on YouTube. How she smoked six menthols that day and had a can of Coke as the rented gown hung on the back of her door in a plastic dry cleaning bag like a prom dress. But for all Collagio knew, she was a woman born rich who wore gowns and had servants and a stable of horses. Someone who read the Romantics.

“And your old father, do you cook for him?”

“I can barely cream my tea, good sir. We have servants.”

“What does the cook make for you?”

“Lots of meat. Big cakes.” Rusty showed up just then with a crystal ramekin of vanilla pudding, a single glazed raspberry at it’s center. Rose imagined the inside of his mouth, the alchemy of taste those foods must be making.

 

Rose imagined the inside of his mouth, the alchemy of taste those foods must be making.

 

“Scrumptious.”

“I’ll call on you as a guest.”

Collagio cracked his neck with a quick snap and filled his wine glass all the way to the top. We’re certainly getting braver, Rose thought.

“I have one stipulation to my accepting.”

“Of course.”

“Make sure your father is gone.” He swallowed a heap of his pudding and laughed with a feral look, white cream at the edges of his mouth, and it prompted Rose to laugh, too. Her legs began to tingle slightly. They felt numb and ashamed. The way she did when she felt turned on by a scene in a film that wasn’t sexual, or when she was touched on her neck, even by an animal or a strange woman on the subway, unexpectedly, accidentally, and became aroused on impact.

“Now tell me how you put on that dress you’re wearing.”

“Oh, this?”

“Yes, that.”

“Well, first I put on the white stockings, all the way up to my thighs.”

“And however did you get that waist so tight? All by yourself?”

“You’re making me blush, sir.” Rose’s heart started to beat faster. She enjoyed watching him as he became aroused. The look on his face! His eyebrows knit together, the flush of heat and sprinkling of sweat across his forehead. She sucked in her bottom lip and bit down hard.

“My dresser helps me tie up sir. She’s very, very good at it.”

“And does she ever accidentally… touch your breasts, Miss Karen?”

“She does touch my breasts, sir.” Rose cleared her throat. “But I don’t think it’s by accident.”

“Why is that?”

“Because she massages them with ylang ylang oil.”

Rose watched Collagio’s chest grow. He let out a strong breath and put his spoon down on the table. She couldn’t tell if the pleased sound that accompanied this exhalation was for his dessert or for her. Collagio ran his palms over the greased hair on his scalp, then dropped his arms to his sides and closed his eyes. He fell silent. For a brief moment, Rose worried he was having a stroke. She thought of Owen again, as Collagio sat there, unspeaking, whimpering slightly, looking for his words.

She thought of her father, too. When the two of them used to play in the yard together before he died. How he picked her up above his head one night and kissed her crotch, twice, three times, once with a flick of his tongue, over her underwear of course, but with the sound of lip smacks, like he did when he kissed her forehead. Something Rose knew, as she got older, was inappropriate, but something she did, if she were honest, remember with fondness.

“You might have guessed I’m an unusual man, Miss Karen.”

“No…”

“I don’t have much family left.” Rose’s heart started beating hard, wondering where this was going. His voice had changed suddenly.

“No cousins or anything?”

“Just Rusty, my assistant Genevieve. And my—”

“I’m sure she’s great. Rusty seems great.”

“I spend a great deal of my time alone.”

“I get that, sir.”

“You do?”

“Yes. I do, too.”

He smiled at her. “I have something else to ask of you, Karen.”

“Ok.”

“When we are finished with our wine, and after you have a bowl of this incredible pudding, I would like to take you upstairs.”

 

✕          ✕          ✕          ✕

 

He held the door open for her when they arrived at the suite’s bedroom, bowing before she crossed the threshold. He poured her a drink before he sat down in a much oversized white chair, one that dwarfed his giant frame.

“Take a moment for yourself, please, Karen,” he said, and she did, going into the bathroom, reapplying her lips, removing her headpiece, letting her hair down. She wondered if he would mind her hairless crotch, if he was the kind that wanted a wild, plentiful bush like that famous old painting of a French vagina.

Where the mirrored walls met in the corner of the sink, Rose could see the familiar effect of her image repeating, this version of herself getting smaller and becoming itself forever. She swallowed and her throat was dry, unlike her hands. She had made this choice. Every step of the way. She had chosen every moment leading up to this one, leading her to exactly where she was. She knew the others never did this. Which must have meant there was something particular about her, that he wanted to try this, that he wanted her differently. She told herself she was doing this poor man a service.

“Do you mind if we put on some music, sir?” Rose asked him when she came back out.

“Of course, Karen.”

“Play ‘Body’s In Trouble,’ ok?” From an artist her mother turned her on to. By the time the song was over, she would forget what she was doing.

“Now. Slowly, very slowly, I would like it if you could,” Collagio hesitated. “If you could undress yourself, Karen. You can lift the layers of those skirts and show me what you have underneath there.” His voice seemed suddenly drier, deeper. Rose flinched and closed her eyes, turning her back to him.

“First – tell me what I’m doing to you, Karen,” Collagio said, as the song began. Rose stretched her neck to each side and rolled it. She imagined the scenario for a moment before she told him.

He would grab her from behind and eat her neck. He would lift her body with one hand like a shot put and toss her across the room onto the bed, knocking over figs, the room service cart, the glass bottles of Pepsi and sparkling water on the nightstand. Maybe she would hit the headboard and her forehead would start ever so slightly to bleed. Neither would care.

 

He would lift her body with one hand like a shot put and toss her across the room onto the bed, knocking over figs, the room service cart, the glass bottles of Pepsi and sparkling water on the nightstand.

 

He would pull her thighs and her ass and her hip carriage to his lips and nibble it, the beat of his breath on her clitiros and the tiny pinches of his teeth on her vulva lips. His fingers going in to spread inside her like he was holding a ripe orange, stretching her wall muscles until they ached.

“Oh, sir, you’re scratching those long…”

Before Rose could finish her sentence, she heard him yell out. Suddenly paralyzed, she could feel the heat of her heartbeat in the cartilage of her ears. Anything erotic she felt evaporated in a cold snap and turned to panic. She turned around and the sound continued, the heaving, the guttural moans, sniffles. He was crying.

“Sir?”

“She’s dying.”

“I’m sorry — what?”

“My wife is dying, Karen.”

“Oh, god.”

“She’ll be completely gone in the coming weeks.”

Rose stayed perfectly still. She sat in the chair, facing him. Collagio had collapsed into himself, curled like he’d been punched.

“I wanted to see a woman’s body in the flesh, in perfect health,” he gasped for breath. “But I can’t.” Rose paused.

“If it makes you feel any better, I’m not that healthy. I’m a smoker.” Thank god, he let out the small breath of a laugh from his nose.

“Oh, Karen.”

“My name is actually Rose.”

“A beautiful name.”

Rose was unsure if she should touch him, find a hanky. She wanted somehow to make him stop crying, to make him feel better than he did.

“How about we do something else, then sir? ”

“I can’t Rose…like what?”

“How about I wash your hair?” She waited for an answer. “I’m a professional.”

 

✕          ✕          ✕          ✕

 

In the bathroom, Rose turned on the faucet and made the water the perfect temperature. She pulled a bathroom chair over to the deep thumbed bronze sink and covered it in towels. She removed the tiny black elastic from his thin ponytail, and attempted to give a little life to the strands. Collagio closed his eyes, relaxed, but throughout her cleansing, he continued to weep. Rose gave him a long and careful shampoo. When she finished, she took a warm washcloth to his face.

“This feels so nice, Rose,” he said.

She told him to towel off in the room, that she would rinse out the sink and then brush and cut his hair. But before she was done preparing, she heard a quiet click of the door, and knew he had left without saying goodbye.

When she came back into the empty room, Rose looked out at the city through the split in the linen curtains. The buildings were lit, and she noticed, after being in New York for only a few weeks, that it was never really dark enough to sleep well. Just like everyone said. Rose imagined kicking off her mint kitten heel through the window and hopping from roof to roof on those lit up buildings, like a raptor or a frog. All the people in the streets or in the windows of offices or penthouses would watch with their mouths catching flies, screaming, pointing and afraid of her, or happy for her, or both. Who is that girl? They would ask. Where is she going?


Annakeara is a writer who lives in Brooklyn. She is currently getting her MFA in Fiction from The New School.

Featured image via Pxhere.

Kenya’s Vegetable Evangelist Claims a Prize – and Takes on Climate Change

Photo by Isaiah Esipisu for Thomas Reuters Foundation

On the 2017 winner of the African Food Prize…

For 15 years, Felda Alividza and 21 other widows in this village in Kenya’s Vihiga County have grown something that might not sound that unusual: indigenous African vegetables.

But in a country where many farmers focus on raising kale, cabbage or spinach to sell locally – or higher earning broccoli and cauliflower – traditional African vegetables have often been overlooked, not least because seed for them can now be hard to find.

The Musiega Women Group, however, is one of more than 1,200 such cooperatives in western Kenya following the advice of Ruth Khasaya Oniang’o, an evangelist for a return of African indigenous vegetables and other crops to curb malnutrition and hunger.

Read on at Thomas Reuters Foundation.

Poet of the Month: ‘Yogyakarta,’ by Jennifer L. Knox

In the first hotel, an icky river of ants moving under the black wool blanket. In the houses, ceilings were low and the windows small—inside anywhere was always dark. Hawkers in the market needed lamps in their stalls by noon, but not when the light was more even, like dawn. On Idul Fitri, people who spoke English thanked us for coming, shook our hands, and the newspapers under their prayer rugs blew around turning the whole green world black and white. Leaded gas fumes made a wavy curtain of rainbows in the air. The railroad tracks, and a few blocks beyond, fried chicken, with its head still attached—amazing. You thought it was just OK. A jackfruit, like a blanched, pitted heart, hid in the milky soup. Tutti frutti ice cream at the Tip Top. We took in and in, spat nothing out—barely even words. We passed on the volcano trip—the bus left way too early. I learned to love bad books there, when I wasn’t swimming in the oddly pristine pool hidden behind two pillars and a wall of rocks alone.


Jennifer L. Knox is the author of four books of poems. Her work has appeared four times in The Best American Poetry series as well as in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and American Poetry Review. The Los Angeles Book Review said of her most recent book, Days of Shame & Failure, ‘”This panopoly of twenty-first century American human experience leaves the reader a different person.” She teaches poetry writing at Iowa State University and is currently at work on a culinary memoir. Jennifer is also the proprietor of Saltlickers, a small-batch, artisanal spice company.

Featured image via Pixabay.

‘The Old Lady a Favor,’ by Wynne Kontos

Every year on the anniversary of Tim’s death, my mother hosts a family dinner. After seven years I no longer feel sorry for her.

Oh kiddo, my bartender, Karen, says to me, though she isn’t that much older. Her bar near Washington Square smells like bleach.

My father told me people thought my parents were selfish when we were born. Manhattan was no place for children, but the reality was they couldn’t afford to move. Karen tells me those days were rough. I wonder what days she means.

A few witnesses told the police that a man on the street asked Tim for money. Some witnesses said Tim was drunk, or he was laughing. No one tried to intervene, the police said. There are two flights of stairs in the Lexington Avenue stop at 125th; Tim had probably broken bones being pushed down them. He was beaten to death at the bottom, his face so swollen and disfigured that the medical examiner warned my father, who came to make the ID. Maybe you should’ve done it, Karen once said to me. I didn’t go back to her for two weeks.

After Tim, Mom started saving newspaper clippings. The clips seemed to have no commonality. She stuffed them in white envelopes and lines the inside of her desk in the study. She ordered in all the groceries and called every deliveryman “Asahd,” an inappropriate racial epithet that she claimed not to remember when my father and I confronted her. She read only memoirs or the non-fiction pieces in The New Yorker. She began an active hatred for The New York Post, sharing this distaste with passers by on the street. It’s trash, it exploits people, she tells them, poking the cover.

Over deli sandwiches on the fourth year, I asked Dad to talk to Mom. He said to me, Your mother hurts.

I slouch over to Karen, who serves me Pabst Blue Ribbons with a shot of whiskey. Around one I slide off the barstool, the two wet fives too generous a tip given the student loans I live on.

At night I wrap myself tight in my bed sheets, even if it’s hotter than hell outside. I imagine the sheets are a thousand arms. I am the surviving daughter, the sister of a ghost.

In one of our last conversations, Tim told me about packing up his room on the day he moved out. Our mother had begged him to stay with tears in her eyes, and he told her to relax, he’d be back next week for dinner. “You’d think I killed her,” he said to me. He smiled as he spoke. “You would think I killed the old lady, but really I was doing her a favor.”

Two weeks after Tim told me this, he lay in his own blood for twenty minutes before EMTs arrived. She still sets him a place at the table.


Wynne Kontos is a licensed masters social worker and editorial assistant at Teachers and Writers’ Magazine, currently receiving her MFA at the New School. Her work is featured in the anthology, Love Sick: Teens Reflect On Growing Up with a Parent Who Has Cancer and Moonlit Wing, with interviews on the New School Blog and the One Story blog. She has performed her work with the writing collective Lost Lit and at the 25 East Gallery in Manhattan. She lives and works in New York City.

Featured image via Pixabay.

‘A Case for Not Doing Acid at the Beach,’ by Keri Smith


I’ll already be experiencing
so many emotions
being home
handling all that sunlight
preparing to burn
but there are those spots
on my shoulders I need to get checked
I will have convinced myself they’re cancer
before noon and I don’t want to think about that
in the sun and Kirk will start thinking of LA
because Miami reminds him of home
except here he fits in so well
and I stand out
white on white sand
and he’ll want to buy a ticket back there
or we’ll stay forever
get a job bartending on the beach
shaking daiquiris for retired ladies all afternoon
I’ll steal a car
end up in Publix
licking the floors out of gratitude.


Originally from Gainesville, Florida, Keri Smith received her MFA from the New School in 2017. She continues to live in Brooklyn, New York where she works as a bartender. Her first book will be out soon on Hanging Loose Press.

Featured image from Pexels.

‘A Feast for John Ashbery,’ by David Lehman, with recipe by Stacey Lehman

It may be heresy in this context to confess, but I don’t much like giving or even attending dinner parties. Too many things can go wrong, even beyond the possibility of a disaster in the kitchen sabotaging the meal. A couple whose marriage is on the rocks will choose this occasion to rehearse their resentments. A neglected spouse will get soused and say nasty things about broadcast journalism despite knowing that the hostess holds an executive position with one of the networks. A bore will launch an interminable rant, the burden of which is that free agency has killed baseball the way rock ‘n roll killed jazz and therefore American culture sucks and it’s your fault. A provocateur of either sex will try to get a rise out of the group by declaring, with regard to the attacks of September 11, that we had it coming. Or someone will call someone else a racist, a fascist, or a Republican, take your pick. Or perhaps a perfectly nice stranger will have brought a manuscript of poems hoping that I will recommend it for publication, blurb it, and write a letter of recommendation to the Guggenheim Foundation. I speak from experience. These things happen.

Yet I know that the truth is more complicated and that I could only have written the paragraph above in the cranky mood I’m currently in because my old trusty Toyota died on a country road this morning and I waited two hours for AAA to arrive and it’s eleven degrees today with snow flurries and brisk winds and I have two deadlines to meet and there’s no food in the house. That’s where I’m coming from, and it isn’t a pretty place. On the other hand I find that two jiggers of Knob Creek bourbon, a spoonful of Chambord liqueur, and a lot of ice will make the deadlines seem much more manageable, so in approved post-modernist fashion let me avail myself of such remedy – an improvement on the standard Manhattan (whiskey and sweet vermouth) — and start this piece all over, beginning with the beginning. Ah yes, that’s better.

It was a lovely September evening a month after Stacey and I were married by a judge before two witnesses in upstate New York, Stacey quoting Sammy Cahn (“Time after time / I tell myself that I’m / so lucky to be loving you”) and I opting for Johnny Mercer (“For you are the lover I have waited for, / the mate that fate had me created for”). It was a half hour after a reading at The New School in New York City featuring no fewer than twenty contributors to The Best American Poetry 2005 as well as that book’s guest editor (Paul Muldoon) and series editor yours truly. The event attracted a big crowd and went well. We even had a surprise for the audience, a last-minute addition to the program: John Ashbery, my favorite poet and many people’s candidate for the foremost poet in the land. The poets read their work with charm and conviction and amazingly no one exceeded his or her allotted time at the lectern.

To celebrate we went to the Café Loup, for an impromptu dinner party for all the evening’s participants. Stacey was there; John Ashbery was there with David Kermani; lots of other poets were there including Mark Bibbins, and we were sipping Tanqueray martinis (straight up, with olives) and feeling fine. I was seated next to John Ashbery, so I was even happier with my lot in life, and I must have been bragging about Stacey’s culinary prowess, because John — a gastronome of the highest order, who, when he lived in Paris as a young man, thought nothing of crossing the city to sample some obscure restaurant’s house specialty — grew animated. I had a sudden inspiration. Would John and David come to dinner? Done!

In the time-honored male manner I elected to leave the planning entirely to my wife. Stacey loves spending time with John and David, and the prospect of planning a princely menu excited her. Still, it didn’t take long for an element of dread to surface. Although she loves to cook, and I think she’s exceptional, Stacey would describe herself as merely a “decent home cook,” meaning she can get a healthy simple dinner on the table mid-week in under an hour. But when it comes to entertaining, she is seriously out of practice. Ever since moving to New York City in 1998 she has curtailed her entertaining because of the limits imposed by a small apartment with a tiny kitchen and no dishwasher.

We live on the top floor of a six-floor walkup, eighty steps from ground level, far too many for John, now 78, to climb. So where could we hold the dinner? I thought of Mark Bibbins, who lives with his tech-whiz companion Brian in a spacious Chelsea apartment with a wraparound porch. Like Stacey, Mark loves to cook and is very good at it, and he, too, is very fond of John and David. Mark and Brian agreed to collaborate with us, and after a flurry of e-mails with all parties, we settled on a Sunday night in November, the 13th to be exact, and we were in business. That was two months from now. I entered the information in my calendar and did my best to forget about it, which was just as well: Stacey proved herself capable of obsessing enough for two.

About a week later, Stacey proposed the broad outlines of a menu to Mark. The centerpiece would be her specialty, a dish she has prepared often enough so that it’s practically a guaranteed success: braised lamb shanks. Unfortunately, Mark replied with the news that he does not eat red meat. As far as he could tell, Stacey took this news in stride, assuring him that an alternative would be easy to figure out. In reality, however, panic set in, but panic of the productive kind, fueled by adrenaline, or so it seemed to this observer.

A frenzy of menu-planning and recipe-testing ensued. It was as if Stacey were Carême cooking for the Romanovs in St. Petersburg. She consulted the many cookbooks and cooking magazines she owns. She visited on-line recipe sources. She phoned friends. Just as at any given moment during a movie, or while attending a reading, I might be spied counting iambs on my fingers, or scribbling furiously in my notebook, Stacey would jot down menu options at odd moments. I found scraps of paper with cooking notes and shopping lists throughout our tiny apartment; on the desk, the kitchen cabinet, the coffee table. When she confessed her anxieties, I spoke my own lines as if veteran sit-com writers had scripted them for me: “Relax, sweetie. Anything you make will be wonderful.”

Stacey’s requirements were few but non-negotiable. First, she wanted the meal to have a decidedly French accent. She had told John about mastering several recipes from Patricia Wells’ first edition of her Food Lovers Guide to Paris; he was especially attentive to her description of a hazelnut praline soufflé she recalled eating in 1983 at a restaurant in the 18th arrondissement. She imagined her cooking inducing a nostalgic swoon: “This reminds me of the daube Frank O’Hara and I had at a cute bistro on the Rue du Bac in 1960.”

Second, she wanted to be able to prepare the main dish in advance so that once the guests arrived, she wouldn’t be distracted by the goings on in Mark’s open kitchen. Cooking while others watch makes her nervous. She didn’t want anyone peering over her shoulder while she tried to rescue a separating hollandaise or repair – gasp! – overcooked vegetables.

Finally, she wanted the meal to be elegant but casual, and seemingly effortless, as if she regularly whipped up such meals at a moment’s notice. Ideally, the entire evening would unfold as a marvel of spontaneity, with one glorious dish after another marching from kitchen to table. “Dinner for six, dear? No sweat. I’ll pull something together.”

My theory of a good dinner party is that much depends on the quality of the opening cocktails, and so I volunteered to take responsibility for this part of the meal. What to serve? Martinis were reliable but unimaginative; daiquiris were delicious, but I associate them with summer. My solution was to serve Bellinis. It’s not a difficult drink to make. You make it by adding peach brandy to good but inexpensive non-vintage champagne. It’s even better if you use white peach puree in addition to the brandy, and I knew that Stacey had frozen some that she had made in August using peaches from the farmers’ market in Ithaca, where we spend much of the summer. What’s more I had recently discovered Mathilde Liqueur Peches, a superb peach liqueur imported from France. The combination of these ingredients was sure to put everyone in a mood the opposite of which was mine when I sat down to write this piece a few hours ago.

Stacey’s theory of successful entertaining, much less liquid, is that it takes only one spectacular dish to impress the guests and leave the impression of complete kitchen mastery. If the dish is served at the beginning of the meal, it will prejudice the guests in favor of everything that follows. If it comes at the end, the diners will forget any preceding mediocrity. Everything else can be plain, as long as it tastes OK. One horrid dish will spoil everything.

The consultations with Mark continued. They agreed that duck in some fashion might make a good entrée. The only problem was that Stacey had never cooked duck. It wasn’t part of her cooking lexicon. Nevertheless, she gave it a shot. A vendor at the Wednesday farmers’ market on Chambers Street, near her office in lower Manhattan, sells free-range fowl of all kinds. One day, as I mounted the stairs to our apartment I heard a shrill alarm that grew louder with each flight until I realized it was coming from our home. Wisps of smoke curled out from under the front door. And there on a stepladder stood Stacey, screwdriver in hand, trying to disable the alarm. The shriveled carcass of the duck sat on the counter.

The duck breasts were a different story. They were delicious and they accommodated a variety of sauces. But they failed in both the prepare-in-advance and elegant-but-casual categories. Stacey does great things with chicken or seafood and rice dishes — Paella, Jambalaya — but these lacked the specifically French character she wanted the meal to have. Bouillabaisse? More suited to summer, she felt. Simple roast chicken? “Hasn’t that become a cliché?” Game hens with soy-citrus glaze, chicken breasts over wild mushrooms, whole fish baked in a salt-crust: for one reason or another: Stacey rejected all these and others.

I noticed that Stacey, when cooking, had taken to wearing a smock-like garment with ruffles and heart-shaped pockets, the kind you would see plump women wearing in old Life Magazine advertisements for Campbell’s Soup. When I asked her about it she explained that its provenance was the Sixth Avenue flea market and that it gave her confidence. “I feel like Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura Petrie to Dick Van Dyke’s Rob. The wife cooking to impress her husband’s boss.”

A different analogy occurred to me. Immersed as I was in writing an essay on Hitchcock for American Heritage magazine, I must ungallantly admit that I thought of Mrs. Oxley in Frenzy, who creates exotic but scary French dishes often involving an animal’s innards, which her longsuffering husband, the Chief Inspector, pretends to enjoy while longing for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

In truth Stacey’s nervousness was understandable. You see, Ashbery is the one person I know well whom I consider a genius. As a poet I owe much to his example, and as a journalist too: I reviewed books for “Newsweek” while John was the art critic there. When I launched The Best American Poetry in 1988 with the idea that a different guest editor, himself or herself a distinguished poet, would choose the contents each year, I asked John to serve as the guest editor of the inaugural volume. Not only did he select the poems and contribute a terrific introduction, but he also helped me create the template for the structure of subsequent volumes in the series.

Knowing the depth of my dedication to John, Stacey – herself a long-time admirer of John’s work – has come up with imaginative ways for us to celebrate our friendship with him. When Stacey and I went to Paris in 1998, we photographed the various apartment houses where John lived during his ten-year Paris sojourn, and on our return we made an album and gave it to him. This was Stacey’s idea. And on her birthday in 2003 we drove from Ithaca to Sodus, the rural village near Rochester where John grew up, and photographed the still-remaining “Ashbery Farms” sign near the corner of Maple Avenue and Lake Road. Later, John and David told us that they themselves made a pilgrimage to Sodus as a result of the photos we sent to them.





There is something about John that inspires people to want to do things for him. Perhaps it is just our gratitude for his presence – our love of his poems – or perhaps this is part of his personal charm, along with his reticence and his sometimes enigmatic and frequently brilliant off-the-cuff aphorisms. He has said that he feels poems are “going on all the time in my head and I occasionally snip off a length.” On spotting a difficult friend: “There goes B., wearing her resentments like an egret.” On going his own way: “Very often people don’t listen to you when you talk to them. It’s only when you talk to yourself that they prick up their ears.”

And both Stacey and I are tremendously fond of David, John’s companion for more than three decades. David is devoted to John in the customary sense of that phrase but with a scholar’s thoroughness and integrity. As a young librarian at Columbia, David prepared a comprehensive bibliography of John’s works, which was published in 1976. It’s an exemplary volume, and I have no doubt that the Ashbery Resource Center, which David has established, will prove a treasure trove for future scholars. Stacey thinks of David as a role model of sorts and has learned much from him about being the partner of a public figure. He is also the kind of person one would want to be seated beside at a formal dinner, an excellent conversationalist with an insatiable curiosity and an offbeat sense of humor. His opinion mattered to both of us.

At dinner one evening (seared tuna steaks with wasabi sauce, confit of sweet red and green pepper, and wild rice), Stacey announced that she had made a decision. With the aplomb of William Powell fingering the culprit in the climactic dinner scene in “The Thin Man,” she declared that she had figured out what to serve: Coq au vin. She ticked off the reasons. She had made it before, and while it’s not her favorite dish, she knew she could pull it off with a really good wine and “cippoline onions instead of those tiny boiling onions that take forever to peel.” If Mark would agree to allow a tiny bit of bacon for flavoring, there you had it. Coq au vin! It may seem anticlimactic to you, dear reader, but it made us happy.

This, then, was the menu:

Bellinis

Cheese Gougere
Endive Spears with Marjoram Pesto

* * *
Mark’s Crab Cakes with Corn Salsa
Coq Au Vin
Roasted New Potatoes
Homemade Crusty Rolls
Mark’s Green Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette
Nougat Glace with Raspberry Sauce

 

With entrée settled, Stacey proceeded to perfect the three dishes she was counting on to establish her reputation: the gougere, the homemade rolls, and the nougat glace. She had made these dishes many times in her pre-New York City days, but, like any smart cook, wanted to refresh her skills. She liked the gougere — simple, bite-sized savory puff pastries, served warm — because they’re delicious, pretty, and seem to require an element of magic. The homemade rolls were an obvious choice. Stacey is an experienced baker, who used to work on a cooperative farm in Williamstown, Massachusetts; while we were courting, she baked a braided Challah, froze it and shipped it to me so that it would arrive ready to eat. As for the nougat glace, it’s rarely seen on restaurant menus in the U. S. though it’s fairly common in France. It’s a sensual delight, a soft frozen confection studded with slivered almonds and pistachios that sits in a pool of raspberry puree. Whoever invented it – and there are several apocryphal tales — was inspired by the nougat candy comprising egg whites, almonds, pistachios, and lavender honey that has its origins in the Provençal town of Montelimar. It’s Stacey’s favorite dessert. Years earlier she had gone to great lengths to master it. In her kitchen she tried to duplicate the epiphany of the nougat glace she had tasted in Le Chanceliere during a long-ago bicycle trip through the Loire Valley. After many mishaps, she achieved success when Gourmet magazine published a recipe from the very restaurant where the dessert was served to her.

While Stacey went in pursuit of menu perfection, I thought little of the event until it was almost upon us. But I had an ace up my sleeve. Ever since last summer I have been making mixed-media collages and watercolor drawings, many of them in standard postcard size. There are high quality art supply stores where I live, and the practice of making these art works – while perhaps a crime drama airs on TV or Sinatra sings on FM radio – relaxes me. I have never done anything of the sort before, and I am sure I would have dropped the habit if the first or second or even the fifth person to whom I showed the collages had made a belittling remark or laughed derisively. To my amazement and pleasure everyone seems to like the works, including John, who had earned his living as an art critic from his Paris days when he reviewed museum and gallery exhibitions for the International Herald Tribune.

A day before the blessed event I made something for everyone. For Brian, I juxtaposed a newspaper photo of Marilyn Monroe with crossed-out lines of handwritten poetry and stripes of white and yellow on a crossword puzzle background. For David, I painted a luminous red moon and other things on a photograph of the New York City skyline on the night of the blackout of 1965, a November night like this one. (It was in fact the night before John Ashbery landed in New York after living in France for the better part of the previous ten years.) For John, who gave the title Your Name Here to a recent collection of his poems, I glued a photo of the Italian mannerist painter Francisco Parmigianino – whose Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror inspired Ashbery’s most famous single poem – to a fake American Express card made out to “your name here.” For Mark, who had distributed handsome silver matchbooks with Sky Lounge in black lettering on them when his book of that title was published, I made the matchbook the centerpiece of a collage. And for Stacey, I made an homage to Greta Garbo and bought a CD consisting of dance music by Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, and Cole Porter, which we would play that evening during the dinner. When the meal began, the collages in envelopes with the diners’ names on them would be on each person’s plate like an eccentric form of place cards.

At four thirty in the afternoon it occurred to me that I had not planned a toast. I like a challenge, and instead of a conventional toast, I decided to write one in the form of a sestina. I allocated one hour to the task, and this is what I came up with:

 

Dinner Party Sestina

The caller demanded to speak to John.
“He isn’t here.” “Who’s this?” “This is David.”
“David?” “Yes, but not that David.”
“Oh.” “I can see you’re an easy mark.”
“Forgive me.” “OK, but don’t tell Brian.”
“Brian left to buy champagne,” said Stacey.

The gang gathered around Stacey
the way poets at a reading gather around John.
“He isn’t here.” “Who’s this?” “This is O’Brien
and you’re Winston Smith.” “Quit it, David,”
whose penchant for one-liners and unremark-
able puns was noted by all. And in walked David

himself, looking less like Michelangelo’s David
each year, but happy now that he married Stacey.
“It seems that Cupid’s arrow hit the mark,” Mark.
said, not unself-referentially. Moments passed. “Hi, John,”
said a lovesick sheriff searching for a walnut, but Brian
set him straight. “If he’s John, I’m David.”

“And if I’m John, he’s David,” said David,
looking up from reading Elizabeth David’s
Provencal cookbook on loan from Brian,
who had previously borrowed it from Stacey.
“Has anyone brought a poem – I mean besides John?”
“And the twayne shall not converge,” said Mark,

a mystifying but nonetheless satisfying remark.
Everyone wondered how David
would respond. But David said nothing. John
took out an old Firesign Theater record to show David
who said, “not now,” and raised a toast to Stacey,
author of the meal chez Mark and Brian.

As brain is an anagram of Brian,
(I told Mark)
“yes cat” is an anagram of Stacey,
and there is a diva in every David,
though not every David
can be as avid as the day he first met John

on the page, in a sestina in which Popeye
cavorting with his crew stood for John
and David, Mark, Brian, Stacey, and the other David.

 

It was thrilling to write it, and to write it so swiftly, but when the moment came I uncharacteristically lost the nerve to read it. Instead I gave or e-mailed a copy to each person present on the following day.

The evening was beautiful, unseasonably warm, and when I arrived, sestina folded in jacket pocket, Stacey and Mark were in the kitchen, and the most wonderful aroma of wine and caramelized onion wafted in the air. Stacey was piping pate au choux onto a baking sheet for the gougere, Mark was misting the tablecloth with water to smooth the wrinkles, and Brian was checking the sound system and loading his playlist. Once Mark finished setting the table, I placed an envelope with collage inside on each plate, like an eccentric place card. And then we waited nervously for John and David to show up. We started on the Bellinis. I sampled the endive spears with marjoram pesto. Magnificent. Then the doorbell rang and there were David and John with two bottles of champagne (Piper Heidsieck, brut). We ate the gougere on the terrace. Rather than sauté the crab cakes as he usually does, Mark tossed them into a deep fryer, and rued the decision when muffled popping sounds issued from the kitchen. But the diners were oblivious to the noise and the crab cakes made a marvelous appetizer. Stacey worried that her coq au vin was too dry, especially the breasts, but it was popular with our guests. I had a leg and a thigh, which are the parts of the chicken that benefit most from being cooked slowly with an ample quantity of wine, mushrooms and onions, black pepper and garlic. I loved it — I love bistro cooking in general — and happily had seconds.

I remember little else of the occasion except that Mark took photographs with the tiniest digital camera I have ever seen and Stacey’s dessert was a heavenly highlight and John and Mark watch the Food Network as does Stacey, and all have opinions about the relative talents of Rachel Ray, Every Day Italian, and Emeril. Stacey talked about our recent trip to Poland, and David talked about trips he and John have made to far-flung places, and Brian turned out to be a music aficionado, and we talked about the dance music on the CD we brought and played, and John said that he had met Balanchine and he also commented admiringly on Emma McCagg’s portrait of Mark hanging on his foyer wall. Mark reminds me that while sipping cocktails and eating hors d’oeuvres on the terrace, John spotted “two of my neighbors in the act of sharing some horizontal affection. We’ve lived in the building for three years and never witnessed such a show. Maybe they knew he was coming.” A profile on John had appeared a few weeks earlier in The New Yorker, and when we talked about that, John said there was only one thing that concerned him and that was that his landlord would read the article and try to evict him for maintaining a residence in Hudson, NY. Everyone liked his or her present, and when the time came to clink glasses, John toasted Stacey and me “for getting married so we could have this celebration.” We couldn’t have asked for anything more.





 
How to Make Nougat Glace
By Stacey Lehman

The poet Jim Cummins is joining us for dinner tonight and I’ve decided to make this dessert again because it is always a success, can be made a day or two in advance, and lends itself to many variations. It’s basically a soft ice-cream; the Italian version is called a Semifreddo and there are many different recipes for it, some with whole eggs, others with just yolks, and this version which uses only the whites. I like it because the end result is a closer in color to nougat candy that inspired its creation (the crème de cassis gives it a faint pink blush). And I also like beating the egg-whites in the beautiful copper mixing bowl I recently found at the local thrift shop for $10.

The tricky part of the glace is the Italian Meringue which is more complicated to pull off than other kinds of meringue, such as the kind used to top a lemon meringue pie. It requires using a candy thermometer and boiling sugar and water until it reaches the “soft ball” stage, at which point it is added to the beaten egg whites. This is easy if one has a standing mixer; those using a hand mixer will have to watch the sugar syrup while simultaneously beating the whites. In either case, when it is time to add to the sugar to the whites, keep it away from the spinning beaters or you will have a web of hardened sugar candy mucking up your mixer. Instead, let the syrup drizzle down the side of the mixing bowl while you continue to beat the whites. You will be rewarded with stiff shiny peaks of sweet egg whites which hold the air even after you’ve folded in the whipped cream, nuts and other add-ins. Instead of folding in the liquor at the end, I beat it with the cream for more uniform distribution.

 
Nougat Glacè au Coulis de Framboise La Chanceliere
(adapted from Gourmet Magazine, October, 1986)

For the sauce
2 pints raspberries, picked over (or frozen raspberries, no sugar, defrosted)
1 cup sugar plus additional to taste if desired
fresh lemon juice to taste

For the ice cream
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites at room temperature
1 ½ cups well chilled heavy cream
1/3 cup crème de cassis
½ cup natural pistachio nuts blanched, oven-dried, and coarsely chopped
½ cup glacè cherries, coarsely chopped
2 oz. Extra dark fine chocolate, coarsely

 
Make the sauce: In a food processor puree the raspberries with 1 cup of the sugar and the lemon juice and puree the mixture with additional sugar if desired. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve into a bowl. Refrigerate.

Make the glacè: In a heavy saucepan combine the sugar and 6 tablespoons water and cook the mixture over moderate heat, stirring and washing down any sugar crystals clinging to the side with a brush dipped in cold water, until the sugar is dissolved.

Boil the mixture over moderately high heat, undisturbed, until a candy thermometer registers 245 F and remove the pan from the heat. While the syrup is boiling, in the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the egg whites at medium speed until they hold stiff peaks. With the motor running pour the syrup in a slow steady stream onto the whites and beat the meringue for 2 to 3 minutes more or until it holds stiff glossy peaks. Reduce the speed to low and beat the meringue for 8-10 minutes more, or until it is cooled to room temperature. In a chilled bowl with the electric mixer beat the cream until it holds soft peaks and fold it into the meringue with the liqueur, the pistachio nuts, and the slivered almonds until it is combined well.

Line a terrine, 11 ¼ by 4 ½ by 2 ½ inches with plastic wrap, leaving a 3-inch overhand on each long side, spoon the ice-cream mixture into the terrine, smoothing the top, and cover it with the overhang. Freeze the mixture for at least 6 hours or overnight. Unmold by inverting onto a serving platter and removing the plastic wrap. Slice. On each plate, pour ¼ cup of the raspberry sauce, and on it arrange 2 slices of the ice cream. Garnish.



Stacey & DL La Grenoulle 2016 David Lehman has taught in the New School’s MFA Writing Program since its inception in 1996. His new book of poetry is “Poems in the Manner Of,” coming from Scribner in March 2017.

Stacey Lehman is the managing editor of the Best American Poetry blog and website. Her writing about poetry, food, and film has appeared in Saveur, The Los Angeles Times, The Michigan Quarterly Review, on The Academy of American Poets website, and elsewhere. She is the Poet Laureate of the New York City Greenmarket and teaches “Food Narratives” at the New School.

Poet of the Month: ‘Field Guide Acknowledgements,’ by Jennifer L. Knox

Some plants’ names just came
to me like that! Even in Latin:
“Worry Wartius!” You’re getting
smarter, I assured myself in the hotel pool.
I was proud of myself: it’s hard to swim
and think at the same time. But soon
other names stopped sticking to
the chalkboard. Letters’ balls and sticks
ran into ranks, all fired up, it seemed,
to reveal the word then…nada. Ink drops
hovered, spun and (“I know I know you”)
sunk. “Careful!” you said just as
the crested lizard-snake sunk its fangs
in my arm. You knew to pinch the hinge,
snap its neck, and suck out the venom.
You knew but didn’t need its Latin name.


Jennifer L. Knox is the author of four books of poems. Her work has appeared four times in The Best American Poetry series as well as in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and American Poetry Review. The Los Angeles Book Review said of her most recent book, Days of Shame & Failure, ‘”This panopoly of twenty-first century American human experience leaves the reader a different person.” She teaches poetry writing at Iowa State University and is currently at work on a culinary memoir. Jennifer is also the proprietor of Saltlickers, a small-batch, artisanal spice company.

Featured image by Tontan Travel.

‘My Review of a Corporate Eden,’ by Sam Roos

The buffet is everything. Alpha and Omega. It presides from the massive cruise ship’s highest deck, encased in glass, like an aquarium with a make-your-own-pizza bar. It’s named “The Garden,” doubtless after Eden. But it belongs elsewhere in the Old Testament. This Garden is a Sodom of sodium, a Gomorrah of GMOs. It is the buffet of Babylon, towers of heretical onion rings reaching up towards God’s lips.

The longer I stared at the food, the more I realized the endless menu was just a collection of maybe sixty foodstuffs presented in different combinations. Seeing the same corporate chicken cutlets, in perfect uniform, appear in a dozen dishes at seven different ship-board restaurants is decidedly unappetizing.

There was a pile of sandwiches—roast beef, mustard and wilted lettuce on mealy brown bread—that were a staple of the lunch spread. I swear the sandwiches sitting there on my last day working as a cruise ship performer were the same ones I passed by on my first, somehow unchanged, as if unbeholden to the laws of nature or entropy.

There are a few rebel encampments of actual foods. Salad bars stand vigilant at port and starboard aft. Sadly these bars are Trojan horses, their presence an excuse to justify troughs of dressing. Passengers visit the salad bars almost exclusively for ranch, which they’d dump on top of anything; pizza, hamburgers, fried chicken, cocktail weenies, tacos, desserts, even the odd salad. But few people cruise for vegetables, and so, I became the salad bar’s only regular.

While I was able to take refuge from the recurring chicken and undying sandwiches via salads, it was not possible to hide from my fellow diners. Delirious passengers, overcome with the desire to consume as much cruise as they could, piled fried death onto their plates in incredible quantities. Five fistfuls of five kinds of french fries overflowed on a plateless tray. Six brownies and a diet coke was breakfast. A plastic water glass full to the brim with mayonnaise. There were no limits to their self-destructive creativity. They ate as much as humanly possible.

Once, I watched a woman stack eighteen (eighteen! I counted!) croissants onto a single plate, a wobbly monument to the intoxicating effects of Free Eats. I stared as she snatched up her plate and two croissants floated gently to the floor like the buttery wings of Icarus.

Let me pause for a moment to discuss the floor. I cannot overstate the repulsiveness of this floor. Barefoot children, rascal scooters and strange liquids, both culinary and personal, were but a few of the regular occurrences in the horde of unwashed persons that passed through, to say nothing of whatever sinister chemicals keep that floor a brilliant white.

I watched as the woman crouched, picked up the croissants from the floor and put them both in her mouth. They curled outwards, like the mandibles of an absurd French ant. She held them there as she marched off to rejoin whatever colony she belonged to. I doubt I will ever be able to look a croissant in the eye again.

But for all the horrors I saw, nothing was as viscerally upsetting as Monday night. Monday night, The Garden offers surf and turf. A full lobster and an eight ounce steak. Truly, the American dream. But, unlike everything else in The Garden, steak and lobster are rationed. It’s limited to one per person at a time, though you may get back in line for seconds, thirds, ninths. Though there seemed to be an unending supply of refills, once passengers were told there was some kind of limitation, they quickly turned on one another. With free steak and lobster on the line, they became wild animals, each one ready to kill to ensure their own heard was satiated. I felt like one of the monkeys in the beginning of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” libel to have my skull bashed in by a newly invented tool at any minute.

The Garden affirmed for me that man is doomed. If we cannot find peace in Eden, what chance do we have of making peace elsewhere? I have seen The Garden, and I weep for our future.

Though they do have two soft serve ice cream machines that are on twenty-four hours a day and do the swirl. Overall, I give it two out of five stars.

 


Sam Roos is a new resident of New York, where he attends The New School in pursuit of an MFA in fiction. He loves to write about the people and things he hates, and is currently working on a mystery novel about a stunt-school dropout and his sister trying to get their inheritance back from the charity their father left it to. For partisan political pandering, boston-sports-related hot-takes, and semi-erotic humorous musings, find Sam on Twitter, @Roostafarian.

Featured image: “The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah” by Pieter Schoubroeck.

Following the Family Tradition, Chris Darwin is Leading the Fight to Protect Animals from Extinction

Photo by Jane Dalton

 

Chris Darwin, a wildlife advocate, discusses the environmental impact of eating meat:

Great, great grandson of Charles Darwin says we must change our diet to prevent more wildlife dying off.

Chris Darwin, 56, had come to London from his home in Australia for a groundbreaking conference attempting to tackle the growing crisis of the world’s rapidly diminishing wildlife, and one of the key causes of that loss – worldwide demand for meat.

More than 50 of the best minds in the fields of ecology, agriculture, public health, biology, oceanography, eco-investment and food retailing joined forces over two days to brainstorm ideas on how to stem the rapid shrinkage of the natural world caused by damaging agricultural practices.

The Extinction and Livestock Conference, with at least 500 delegates, was the world’s first ever conference examining how modern meat production affects life on Earth, and, put simply, it was designed to find ways to revolutionise the world’s food and farming systems to prevent mass species extinctions.

“We have to stop this,” says Mr Darwin, and he recalls how his great, great grandfather regretted on his death not having done more for other animals – a sentiment that shaped his decision to turn around his “self-indulgent, selfish” life, which involved working in advertising, and do something for the planet.

Read on at Independent.