Speed Reading

As a rule, I am against "speed reading"—you know, the different kind of systems you can learn to read very quickly. Reading should be savored, like a good piece of cheesecake, or a fresh, ripe peach. The words should take you away to another time and place, or inside the mind of the characters.
This morning I heard an interesting tidbit on the radio. There’s a new speed reading program out there—it’s supposed to be the best one ever. While I disagree that you should use speed reading to get as much of your pleasure reading in as possible (what is it a contest? who are you reading against?), I do think several people in the publishing industry should pay attention and perhaps go through the training. Not that I am saying that editors should speed read while they are in the throes of REALLY editing a book, but while they are going through the heaps and mounds of manuscripts and proposals they get, it may serve them well. Same goes for agents. Of course, I have often heard or read that if you don’t catch their attention in the first paragraph,  they send you back your work anyway. Guess that’s another form of speed reading?
Of course, the reason I am so concerned about editors and agents reading quickly through everyone else’s work, is because I want them to get to MINE.  Waiting is the most difficult part of this business for me. And I constantly have to bite my tongue when I hear about how busy they are. I used to work as an editor and I know how true it is—the managing of continual deadlines, dreaded office meetings, the piles on manuscripts and mail….All of that. And yet, yet that seems kind of dreamy to me now as I manage a different kind of life with the same kind of deadlines, but at home, with my kids longing for my attention.  Next week, they will both be in school and I’ll have the luxury of focus—at least for a few hours every day.   

Friends along the way

One of the best things about this publishing a cookbook experience has been some of the really wonderful, creative, talented people I have met along the way.
Angela Tunner and I really connected on the "writing a cookbook while raising children" thing. She is an amazing and gifted person—as is clear in her new book. "SIMPLY SUMMER, GOURMET MEALS MADE DELICIOUSLY EASY WITH TIP FOR ELEGANT LIVING is a small, paperback book (easy to hold in your hands, filled will wonderful, easy-to-make recipes. She also offers numerous tips for shopping, life in the kitchen, and cooking (or NOT cooking), and doing it all with a certain measure of style and elegance. You can find out more about Angela and order her book at www.angelatunner.com You’ll see when you visit
her site that she is truly the Renaissance Gourmet—writer, photographer, artist, cook, and MOM.
On another front, Ed Anderson, the California photographer who took photos for the Mrs. Rowe book, has kept in touch with me and offers encouragement along the way. I was fascinated watching him take photos during the time he was in Virginia. But what has held me in awe of him is his eye for what makes a truly artful photograph. You just need to look through the book to see what I mean. There is one photo of hanging pans, in particular, that illustrates what I mean.  Who would even think to take a shot like that, let alone, make it look so grand? Check out his website www.edandersonphoto.com.
Here is one of his photos he sent to me recently with the note,  "Happy August."


This photo is courtesy of Ed Anderson, the photographer.

Touching Base

Here’s what’s new. It’s summer and my girls are home, so things have slowed down on the book promotion front. I am steadily getting more work from magazines, which is nice because they actually pay pretty well.  I’m waiting to hear about my book proposal for another cookbook. I am finding that so much about this writing books business is about hurrying up and waiting. Also, I think a large part of what keeps me going is not "just waiting" for the word from my agent. Keeping busy with my children and with other work has definitely helped. I’ll be writing about the journey of the new cookbook, along with the first Mrs. Rowe book as we move along.  Also, I am collecting my thoughts about a new project about my own food heritage. One of the things I am trying to do—in between breaking up fights between my daughters and making sure they are not watching too much television— is read.
I’ve read a wonderful book recently. "The Language of Baklava" by Diana Abu-Jaber is beautifully written and gives an honest glimpse into growing up in two cultures. Besides all that, the recipes are interesting and yummy.
I am also reading Michael Pollan’s "Omnivore’s Dilemma." It was my selection for my book club. I am kind of regretting it—it’s not light summer reading. And, so far, it’s really, really, depressing. The thing that keeps me reading is that he is such a good writer and what he has to say is extremely important, albeit unpleasant.   

Interview on A Chef’s Table

This Thursday, I will be heading up to James Madison University to their radio studio. I am going to be interviewed for A Chef’s Table, which is nationally syndicated show. I am not sure when the interview will air. But listen for it on your local NPR station.
I love radio. I used to sell ads for a radio station in Manassas, VA. I hated sellling, but I loved writing those ads. What a challenge to fit everything you need to say in 30 or 60 second segments—and to do it in a creative, catchy way.
But I have found it to be a bit discombobulating to be interviewed on radio. I think it’s the lack of visual cues and eye contact. This will be my third radio interview; I hope I’ve gotten the swing of it by now. At least this time it will be in a studio, away from my home, but the peson interviewing me will be in Philadelphia.
Once, I had to shoo my children off and not allow them in the house at all because I was being interviewed. Who wants to hear two rambunctious girls squealing in the background?
The other interview demanded a phone with a cord because of radio issues. Who has phones with cords anymore? (I do, now!) Thank goodness my kids were at school. I was SO sick for that interview, though, and I had taken a bunch of medicine. I didn’t want to be sniffling into the phone—but the medicine made me groggy. I fear I didn’t make a good interviewee.
So, the goal this week is stay healthy, even though my youngest daughter has a nasty head cold. The other goal is to not get too nervous about this.

What’s Next?

I have exactly two more promotional events scheduled for the Mrs. Rowe book. The first one is on Sat., Jan 27 at Melrose Public Library in Roanoke, Va. What an interesting, top-of-the-line library system. They’ve publicized the upcoming event in all 17 of their libraries, created bookmarks with a recipe on it, and alerted the local media. And they have ordered books, which means that I won’t have to lug boxes of books with me. I predict it will be well-attended—that is, if we continue to get such fine weather.
I am still not sure how my children will get to where they are supposed to be that day, however. We have only one vehicle that both girls can ride in safely. And I don’t drive the other one.
Emma has been accepted into the Saturday Enrichment Program at U. Va. (in Charlottesville) and will be studying–get this–writing. And Tess has ballet class at 11 in Waynesboro. And my gig is in Roanoke at 2:00. Roanoke is a couple of hours away. Okay. I think someone is going to have to miss something…
After I get through this, I have several months “off” until the Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. It should be great fun.
In the mean time, I just sent in a column to the News Leader, am finishing up an article on Mary Johnston for Virginia Living, and am waiting to hear back from Bark magazine. Ahhhh, the life of a freelancer. Mostly broke and always waiting.

Booksigning on Saturday

We’ve been asked back to the New Dominion Bookstore in Charliottesville, Va. We’ll be signing Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook there this Saturday, Dec. 16, at 10:30 a.m. The first time we were booked here it was raining and miserable. Only four people showed. We hope this Saturday will be a better day.
In the mean time, I am trying to make the most of the weekend time I have at home with my family. We’ve been cleaning up a bit, decorating for the holidays, walking the dog a lot, and this mornng we baked cookies. Okay, so we just bought the store dough and baked and decorated it. But the emphasis is on the experience, not on perfection, right?

Saveur State-of-Mind

I haven’t been posting in while. I have been very sick and very busy—all at once. Then there was Thanksgiving. I am finally getting back on my feet and have had several requests to come back to bookstores we have already signed at—and that’s a really good thing!
But the most amazing thing that’s happened is that Lily Binns wrote about the book in Saveur. I was shocked and almost fell out of my chair.
Saveur is my favorite food magazine. It’s one of the incredible publications that I discovered when I first started writing about Mrs. Rowe. I plunged into all sorts of food literature after attending the Symposium for Professional Food Writers. This magazine is full of really good food stories, chronicling foodways from all over the world. When I receive it in the mail, it’s a ritual for me to sit in my favorite chair and kick my feet up. Since money is such an issue for me because I am a stay-at-home mom and freelancer, I only allow myself one such luxury—the subscription to this magazine. And, the house could be falling apart. I don’t care. I am in my Saveur state-of-mind.
So, yesterday, there I was in my chair. Reading the Fare section, then turning the pages to the book review section. Last time, there was a little review of the Lee Brothers Cookbook. I was a bit jealous and thought longingly about seeing the Mrs. Rowe book in Saveur. Then I talked myself out of such high hopes. “Let’s see what books they have in this time,” I thought to myself, as I flipped through the pages.
My daughters were watching tv; my husband was in his chair. I let out some strange noise when I saw the picture of my book and could hardly read the thing because of the tears. My family rushed over to me. I handed Eric the magazine and he grinned from ear to ear. “Lily Binns,” he said.
Yes, Lily Binns. My heart burst with joy.

Successful Booksigning for the Mrs. Rowe’s REstaurant Cookbook at Barnes and Noble

What an awesome day we had yesterday at the Harrisonburg B & N booksigning!
We sold and signed about 25 books, but they had sold about 10 that day before we arrived on the scene. What made this event so successful?
A number of factors came together in just the right way. The biggest thing was Annie, the community relations manager at the store. She wrote up press releases, followed up with the press, and arranged an incredible display in one of the front windows of the store. When we arrived, Mike with his cookies, and me with my postcards and flyers, we were happy to find a table in the front of the store with nice arrangements of our books all around.
A local adjunct professor from James Madison University had assigned his photojournalism students our event. Crowds of young photographers surrounded us, which made us feel pretty special AND helped to create a little more excitement about the book.
Let’s also not forget that Theresa Curry of the Daily News Leader wrote a lovely piece about the book on Wednesday. Of course, there was a mention of the upcoming booksigning.
After our signing, Mike went off to fry oysters at Ever’s Country Buffet and I went to another local restaurant with my family. I wish I had gone to Ever’s….

Meditation on green beans

Note: This is not about the cookbook, though it is about food. This column was originally published in a great little newspaper—Augusta Country. I was inspired to share it by my new crop of pole beans—and the fact that now Emma is going to be in second grade. Enjoy…

One of the most exciting things about being a parent to me is introducing Emma, my 19-month old daughter, to some of my favorite things. It was with her in mind that we planted two 20-foot long rows of green beans this year. We thought we would outsmart her, you see, up until this time, she would not eat any green vegetable. Surely, we thought, she would not be able to resist one of summer’s most heralded crops.

I, myself, have some warm and not so warm memories about green beans as a child. I loved eating them—especially raw, just picked from the bush.

What I hated most about beans was picking them. Our garden sat down at the bottom of a hill, quite afar away from the house and very close to a dense patch of woods in which there was a stream that would rise on occasion and make every piece of ground a bit soggy. I really did not mind the physical act of picking them, but I was afraid of snakes. I don’t know if I seen one near the garden or what, but I was terrified. I remember crying and picking beans.

My father was not one suffer those tears—he thought I just wanted to get out of doing the work! (Years later, while chatting with a colleague of mine, she told me that she had the same experience. I knew then that Yolonda and I would become friends—it was extremely hard to find anybody among my Washington, D.C. colleagues who had ever even had a garden, let alone picked green beans, while crying, afraid of snakes.)

It is with this mixture of memories and attachments that I approach green beans every year. No. I am not afraid of snakes anymore, but I am afraid of backaches and just thought of canning in the summer heat the way my Mom and Dad did makes me anxious.

This year, a new friend Carolyn told me, “Why don’t you just blanch them and freeze them, that’s what my Mom does now.” What an oasis in my muddled, hectic life.

It occurs to me how grateful I am to have people like Carolyn and Yolonda in my life. They, too, appreciate the utter perfection and joy of a good green bean fresh from the garden. They also share in the same kind of memories about gardening—the satisfaction that comes from putting your hands in the earth, planting a seed, and watching plants miraculously grow. I admit, every year, I am amazed at the process. It brings out the child in me.

The more I learn about gardening and the history and folklore surrounding it, the more mystical it becomes for me. Even when you understand the science aspect to it, there is still something magical about it. When you think about it, where did the bean even come from ? When did people begin to cultivate it?

Well, according to the Food Museum, which is in Ireland and is mostly focused on potatoes, the green bean we enjoy today is actually a “Haricot”, a word we associate with the French language, but when applied to beans means a plant originating in South America. In fact, Haricot is an Aztec word, originally, ayacotl. Haricot beans include limas, black beans, pinto beans, white beans, green beans, kidney beans, even black-eyed peas, which are, in fact, beans. All these variations stem from an ancestral plant that has been dated back 9000 years.

Both Northern and Southern Native Americans made extensive use of the bean, then, as now. The haricot is botanically Phaseolus vulgaris, and encompasses most of the beans we think of as beans.
According to “Eating in America,” the Native Americans of the eastern United States probably developed their own beans independently. They were already widespread when the first explorers reached the coast. String beans existed, also; Cherokee women wound them into long chains and hung them up to dry in the sum, producing what we’re later called “Leather britches beans.” Within a century after the discovery of America, several beans developed by the Indians were being exported to the Old World.
So, those of us that herald the coming of green beans from our gardens, and make its planting, cooking, and preserving a part of our yearly ritual are in essence taking part in an ancient earth practice.

For my family in Pennsylvania, part of the ritual was boiling green beans with potatoes and adding a slab of bacon or ham to it. Now that I am a vegetarian, I add something called liquid smoke, which adds the flavor without all the fat.

So, when Emma and I began picking beans one sunny Saturday, we were both participating in not only our family ritual, but also an age-old human family ritual. I could almost hear Native American drums beating, and voices rising in unison, singing while picking. Oh, I was feeling my Earth Mother roots and so at one with the universe as I watched my baby pick a bean. Well, Emma took a bite of one, set it aside, then took a bite out of another, set it aside, until she became bored and just walked away. Kind of anticlimactic.

Later, beans cooked and ready for the table, her father and I awaited in eager anticipation—our daughter’s first meal with green beans that we had planted and picked. It brought back memories for us both. Is there anything better than the first batch of green beans cooked just right? Well, according to Emma, who would not even take a bite, there’s plenty—starting with macaroni and cheese.