Two weeks ago Sunday, I was having pizza in Boston, Massachusett, with a group of seven smart young food-centric women. 'Smart' both in the sense of intelligent/on-it; and of being well turned-out, in a low-key way, even for Sunday pizza. And 'young' in the sense of, compared to me.
They were in their mid-twenties, early thirties; I'm 59. And they were part of Bloggers Who Brunch ("We are bloggers. We are brunchers. We are a community.") Here we are, left to right: Elina Holbrook, Emily Olson, Liz , Renee Hirschberg, Elizabeth Ginsburg, me, Erin Morgan, Bianca Garcia. Photo by David Koff.
David and I couldn't have asked for a better finale to what had turned out to be a 15-minutes-of-fame kind of half-week.
The brunch was much- (and well-, as it turned out) photographed by theBrunchettes, for it was a working occasion: about which each would do a photo-illustrated post. These posts, each distinct, were part restaurant-review and part personal take on the conversation, which rambled from sustainability, to recipes, to publishing, to the role of curiosity and the need to question assumptions, to which of the fab pizzas provided by Ducali's we liked best.
Elizabeth G, who sat next to me and blogs at FreeFoodBoston, wa, it turned out, a second-generation fan; her mother had introduced my work to her. When I learned that Erin's blog is A Girl and Her Mutt, I asked her if she knew the song Walkin' My Dog (real title: "The Dog Song") byNellie McKay. She didn't, and I promised to send her a link, and did (with the unfortunate result that I have not been able to get it out of my head since). " !" she Tweeted me. Brave new, sweet new world. But maybe not so new. When, in answer to "How did you get to Arkansas and the Ozarks?" I heard myself answering, "Well, the issues today which are being discussed in terms of sustainability, locavorism, the farm-to-table movement, Slow Food, were, at the time I moved to the South, talked about as self-sufficiency and back-to-the-land…" I had the simultaneous thought, not without wonder, what's old is new, what's new is old, every human being recreates his or her own vision of the same questions, each answer is both unique and universal…
One of the young women, the feisty Bianca Garcia (far right in the big picture above, striped shirt), asked me a seemingly simple question: "How long did it take you to write the book?"
Simple, but almost impossible to answer simply.
At least, not with truthfulness or accuracy.
"The book" Bianca referenced was my latest, Bean by Bean, published in early February 2012. It's what had brought me to Boston. David and I were there, courtesy of it and its publisher, Workman Publishing.
I have published six books, over a 40 year period, with Workman. If years of lasting publisher-author relations were measured comoparatively, like dog-years to human years, this pretty much means Workman and I have been together since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
And the first book Workman and I did together? Which was also their very first cookbook? It was called The Bean Book, and it was published in 1972.
Why kick off Bean by Bean's tour in Boston? Well, besides being known as 'Beantown', it's the home of Boston University. Which is in turn the home of WBUR. Which is the NPR-affiliate where a number of national programs (Car Talk, Here and Now), are produced. And one of those is On Point with Tom Ashbrook.
When Rebcca Carslisle, Workman's publicist, another smart-in-both-ways young woman, called to tell me On Point wanted to interview me, she was over the moon. "And it happened so fast!" she said, amazed and exultant. "The book proofs must have no more than landed on their desk when my phone was ringing." (Click here to hear Tom's interview with me, and a few of those listeners who called in).
Then she added, in a tone conveying now-this-is-serious-I'm-not-kidding-around, "This is a tremendous oppotunity, Crescent."
Tremendous. I thought about that word.
Having been interviewed by the good, the bad, and the lazy ("Why beans?" or "Tell us about your book, Ms. Dragonwagon"), I can hardly overstate what a difference a good, smart, enthusiastic,curious, well-informed host makes, for the interviewee as well as listeners. A difference, we might say, that is tremendous. Tom, as listeners know, is such a host.
And, it takes a village. In this case, a cracker-jack staff/production team, including a hilarious smart-ass producer, Stefano H. Kotsonis (left, a Julie's Peanut Butter Cup Brownie in hand). And, thankfully, a very decent kitchen in the station. (Try cooking and/or serving good food at a radio or television station where there's just a microwave and a break table, far from the studio. I have done this, and many more comically almost-impossible, culinary gigs. And lived to tell about it, but barely).
Now, on my internal personal scale of tremendosity is: will something be fun? Smart, funny, kind, interesting, fun, with genuine back-and-forth: these mark the experiences and people I seek out, try to fill my life with. Me and the On Point team pretty much converged on all these points. Much as producers and hosts from several other shows converged on the WBUR kitchen after the show for further conversation around voracious, happy snacking on the leftovers of the dishes we'd brought to On Point.
But there are other scales, obviously, besides the personal. David, for one, takes great satisfaction in quantifying them. Before we left our hotel room for the station that Thursday I was trying to get him to look up and give me what is known in house as a cute-o-meter check. But he was glued to the computer.
"Just a minute," he said.resolutely not looking up. "I'm checking to see what number Bean by Bean is on amazon That way when we get back we can look and see what it jumped up after the show."
Notice he said what it jumped to, not if it jumped. If I thought about this factor in immediate terms — and I don't think I did, my thoughts at the moment were running more to "I hope that oven Stef told me they have is calibrated, or baking the cornbread at the statoion right before is going to turtn out to have been a really dumb idea" —it would have been more vague, less linear, and definitely an if.
Which shows what I know. When we left the hotel to go to WBUR, Bean by Bean was at 642 on amazon. When we returned afterwards, it was at 7, a fact which my mind, or something within me — I can't quite put my finger on what — still refuses to accept. It has since drifted down, but remaining below 500. 223, which it is as I write these words (I just checked) seems, is in fact, an amazingly good ranking, and one in which I can actually, comfortably believe, happily.
It may sound disingenuous, but I promise you that at the time Rebecca called me, I did not think, oh, this will drive up book sales, because they're widely listened to and NPR listeners are good book-buyers. I am so not a person who lives by strategic marketing (a word I hate unless we are talking about shopping at the co-op or Walker Farm), or "branding" (a word I so loathe I cannot resist the quotation marks; "branding", I can't help feel, is a practice only for cows, unwilling ones at that. Why would a human being willingly sel-brand themselves? But, as Truman Capote said, "Honey, don't let me commence.").
But as it turns out, On Point has 1.2 million listeners. Well, duh, one might say.
However I just thought, when Rebecca called, Oh! That guy I listen to on VPR sometimes, usually when I am making lunch. So I simply said to Rebecca, "Cool."
Which caused her to reiterated, this time with a slight edge to the verbal underlining of now-this-is-serious, "This is a tremendous oppotunity, Crescent."
And clearly, she was right.
Which shows what I know. When we left the hotel to go to WBUR, Bean by Bean was at 642 on amazon. When we returned afterwards, it was at 7, a fact which my mind, or something within me — I can't quite put my finger on what — still refuses to accept. It has since drifted down, but remaining below 500. 223, which it is as I write these words (I just checked) seems,and is in fact, an amazingly good ranking, and one in which I can actually, comfortably believe, happily.
The On Point interview (click here to hear it) took place the Thursday before the Sunday Ducali's / Bloggers-Who-Brunch lunch.
The days that had begun with On Point and ended with the blogger lunch had been filled with all kinds of goings-on. Some were personal (my great-niece and great-nephew live in Boston, as do my partner's son and daughter-in-law, and several sets of friends). And some were professional: booksignings at two area independent bookstores, Andover Books and Spirit of '76 (at the latter, Micah, a young reader, and I bonded creatively over the use of beans in a jar as percussive instruments, see right).
Plus there was teaching my "writing the world through food" workshop, Deep Feast, which the cookbook publisher Harvard Common Press graciously hosted. (I'll also be presenting Deep Feast / Seattle — the 2nd Anuual! — on March 10, 2012, so don't you Pacific Northwest folks feel left out).
It was also through Harvard Common's Adam Salomone that Renee Hirschberg, who mistress-minds Boston Bloggers (she blogs at EatLiveBlog), and I got connected. Then Rebecca Carslisle sent everyone a copy of the book, and we were off to the races. The races culminating at Ducali's that Sunday, over pizza (my favorite: the arugola and shaved Parmesan, with — the kicker — a drizzle of truffle oil).
But how, honestly, could I answer
who blogs at Confessions of a Chocoholic,
Erin - http://agirlandhermutt.com/
(my favorite: the arugola and parmesan brushed with truffle oil)
, before we staggered, replete with pizza (especially the one with arugola, shaved parmesan, and truffle oil), out the door at Ducali's, to drive two hours back home to Vermont.
And 'young' meaning compared to me; they were in their mid-twenties, early thirties, while I am, to my own astonishment, 59. And though I am a red-head, with help (by which I mean: the carpet doesn't match the drapes)