Tasting Life Twice
Author Crystal King muses on life, history, writing and food.
When I was researching my novel, THE CHEF'S SECRET, I discovered that in the Renaissance, often a chef was as important to helping the ill and wounded as a physician might be. This is evident in Bartolomeo Scappi's 1570 cookbook, which has 218 recipes specific for the sick. These recipes include "prepared potions, broths, concentrates, pastes, barley dishes and many other preparations needed by the sick and convalescent. Interestingly enough, some of the most delicious recipes among the thousands in his cookbook appear in this section, especially sweet dishes.
This recipe for Crispy Golden Potatoes is part of the Book Club Cookbook Blends Bash. If you aren't familiar with The Book Club Cookbook's Book, Song and Movie Blends, you are in for a treat. Their spice blends are high quality and super punny too. They make great gifts for any book, movie or music lover.
This fantastic recipe is part of the Book Club Cookbook Blends Bash I jumped at the chance. If you aren't familiar with The Book Club Cookbook's Book, Song and Movie Blends, you are in for a treat. Their spice blends are high quality and super punny too. They make great gifts for any book, movie or music lover.
This is one of the very first recipes that I made when I first started diving into the cookbook Apicius as part of my research for FEAST OF SORROW. It calls for caroneum which is a bit tricky to know exactly what it might have tasted like but it was a reduced grape syrup of some sort. I recommend that you substitute sapa (sometimes called saba) or vincotto, which are essentially just different names for grape must, and either would be delicious in this dish. They are easily acquired at specialty food shops or Amazon.com.
Back in 1972 Italian singer Adriano Celentano was obsessed with America. So much so that he decided to write a song, but probably one of the most unusual songs ever recorded. According to 2012 NPR interview he said this of the song:
One of my most prized possessions is a book of ancient Roman recipes with the name Apicius emblazoned across the cover. My copy is well over a decade old and a bit dog-eared, full of little post-it notes. I've read it so many times I know exactly where to find specific recipes.
He led a life full of adventures in the mid 1600s, culminating in a role as the steward for the viceroy of Spain in Naples.
I warn you, this a long post, FULL of all sorts of recommendations--books, videos and music, recipes, self-care, virtual armchair traveling. So grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and dig in!
This week marked the launch of Stephanie Storey's delightful new novel Raphael, Painter of Rome.
I had the extreme pleasure of reading and blurbing this novel, and here is what I said: “A sumptuous, dazzling dive into the world of Italian Renaissance art through the eyes of one of its most celebrated artists. Raphael, Painter in Rome unfolds in unforgettable detail, with all the color and richness of the era: popes and princes, courtesans and cardinals, mystery and murder, ardor and art. The world of Raphael is one I wanted to linger in forever.”
And it's SO true. It's told from the point of view of Raphael and I love how Stephanie gives this Renaissance figure such vibrancy and life. I keep thinking about this book, about the characters that Stephanie brought to life.
Stephanie has a new video series she's starting up, in which she's interviewing a variety of authors. I was delighted to be one of her first! In this video we talk about watching Italy's struggle with coronavirus, about the splendor of Rome in the Renaissance, about food, about art, and about the the land that we love, il bel paese. I seriously could have kept talking with her for hours!
My grandfather, whom we called Papa, loved to bake. He loved to make cookies, pies, cakes. And he loved to send big huge care packages to us from four hundred miles away full of his favorite treats. My mother learned to make many of his favorites and passed them on to my sister and I. There are many that I love, but this particular recipe is the one I love the best. They are also some of the simplest cookies to make, with only a few ingredients.
Last year I had the pleasure of meeting celebrated Canadian author, Roberta Rich, author of the Midwife of Venice, who interviewed me as part of the Toronto Library's Other Shelf at the Appel Salon series. Many years ago I used to work for company in Waterloo, ON and I would often stop in Toronto on my way there, but I hadn't been back in a long while. It was great fun to see Toronto again. I hadn't been inside the library though, and wow, what a beautiful space! I loved talking with the audience there. Canada loves books--far more so than in the States and it was lovely to be among so many book lovers.
Every holiday season, the humble sweet potato transforms into a delicious side dish, sometimes simple, sometimes decadent. The sweet potato (which is different than a yam, sorry Louisiana) is a tuber native to South America but it found its way to Europe and parts East once the New World explorations began. Gerard Paul, over at the fantastic site, ManyEats, has a fascinating history of the sweet potato here.
Last week I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Veronica Andrews from the long running community book program Off The Shelf. I learned that Veronica has interviewed some of the biggest selling authors over the last thirty years and that her first interviews were with Nancy Kerrigan and Barbara Bush! I loved hearing her crazy stories and was glad to have a chance to tell her about my own crazy story about my favorite Renaissance chef, Bartolomeo Scappi. I also read a small snippet from the book which includes a famous Renaissance author that most people in the world are familiar with.
The first turkey recipes appear in the Italian cookbook in L'Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi (who happens to be the protagonist in my novel, The Chef's Secret). Turkeys found their way to Italy during the Renaissance, but it wasn’t until the latter half of the century that they were deemed suitable for eating. As you might know, turkeys are a bird native to the Americas and were prized by the ancient Aztecs and Native Americans alike. Christopher Columbus noted the bird when he first came to America, but it wasn't until around 1519 when Spanish and Italian explorers first brought turkeys to Europe. Initially they were regarded as a beautiful and strange oddity, and many nobles kept them as pets or gave them to others as extravagant gifts. They were loved for their unique look, with artists depicting them in sculpture and paintings. The sculpture you see here, by Italian sculptor Giambologna, is from 1560, of the prized pet of Cosimo di Medici. The Italians called them gallo d'India (or birds of India) because of general geographical confusion by early explorers. Eventually, however, turkeys became even more loved for their delicious and unusual flavor.
I'm thrilled to announce a few special gifty opportunities for you this November!
One of my favorite things about writing THE CHEF'S SECRET was trying my hand at some of Bartolomeo Scappi's recipes. L’Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi includes some of the first recipes resembling what we know as pasta today, including stuffed pasta such as tortellini and tortelli. It was a fun challenge trying to figure out how to make this recipe, from Book II.252 of L’Opera, work. The dough, which is made with with sugar and rosewater but no oil, is a bit softer and more pliable than what is common today. The spices lend themselves well to the peas, however, and this makes a perfect spring dish. But if you are like me, and love peas any time of the year, by all means, go with the frozen peas. It's still a delightful and surprising dish!
It's my favorite time of the year! Well, almost. I know many of you are groaning when I say that, but I say, bring on the leaves! Bring on the sweater weather! Let us carve up some gourds!
Much of this article (written by me!), originally appeared on Let Them Read Books.
It's #NationalIceCreamDay and that deserves two blog posts, in my humble opinion.
Early on when writing The Chef's Secret, I knew that I had two stories to tell, that of Bartolomeo Scappi in the past, and that of his nephew and apprentice, Giovanni, in the present. Giovanni came into possession of journals and letters which told him the big secrets of his uncle's past.
My latest YouTube vlog is all about the fun questions I'm frequently asked, either on tour, or in interviews. Find out who my favorite artists are, some surprising things I've learned about Italy, and what I'm reading at the moment.
I'm often asked what books about food that I love. It's a REALLY long list. I'll probably do a few videos where I describe my faves, but here's the first installation.
In 2005, I graduated with my M.A. in Critical & Creative Thinking. I had a thesis which was, essentially, a book proposal for creative writing exercises for authors in progress. And I needed to figure out how to get it out into the world. Enter in GrubStreet.
In just two weeks, The Chef's Secret will be out in the world! Check out the book trailer to learn more.
In addition to writing novels, I also work as a social media professor for a marketing technology company, HubSpot. My entire site is built on HubSpot, actually, and I manage my mailing list and social media through the platform (although, note that for the average author it probably isn't the right choice price-wise, as it's meant for businesses...it's a lucky perk of being an employee).
It's #NationalPieDay!! So of course I had to share one of my favorite Renaissance recipes, one for a pumpkin tourte.
Pumpkin pie in the Renaissance? I hear you say. Isn't that a food from North America? Why yes, but let me explain. In renowned chef Bartolomeo Scappi's 1570 cookbook, he describes a pie which includes a recipe for a gourd that translates as the word "pumpkin." Now, the word for "pumpkin" has been used on a variety of gourds throughout the centuries, dating back to ancient times. It's possible that the pie he describes was actually a squash pie, but with the influx of foods from the new world (Scappi also includes some of the first European recipes for turkey in his book), I like to think that perhaps the pumpkin that we know and love today might have been what Scappi was using when he created this recipe.
The holidays are past, and January is off to a shivery start in most places. In New England, it's really just the start of winter, with February at it's deep, dark, freezing heart.
I don't know about you, but for me, this time of the year is always fraught with all sorts of stressors, whether it's the finding the right gift, family challenges, holiday preparations, or end of the year work projects wrapping up.
A last minute post for National Poetry Day.
This article first appeared in the inaugural issue of the beautiful food history publication, EATEN Magazine. If you love food and love reading about the fascinating history of food, definitely snag a subscription...you won't be sorry! The photos of the cake were taken by Valerio Necchio.
Renaissance chef (and character in my second novel), Bartolomeo Scappi, wrote a cookbook that was released in 1570 and was one of the most reprinted cookbooks over the next two hundred years. One of the most wonderful things about his cookbook, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, is that it is still very accessible today. There are exceptions, for example, modern audiences would not be interested in some of the meats (hedgehog or blackbird anyone?), and many of the items are not readily available or, like his feathered peacock, are too elaborate too make.
Fortunately, many of his recipes are are still pretty easy to figure out. Like this one for braised beef:
It's the sticky part of July, nearly the dog days of summer. My mind has been jam-packed with planning for both the fall, and the winter launch of my next novel, THE CHEF'S SECRET. In the midst of that, I've had my mind in a swirl with a variety of other projects, books and ideas--many of which I think might be of interest to my readers and potential readers, so let's unpack it all:
Women have been using makeup for thousands of years and beauty in Ancient Rome was just as important as it is today. Just as we do, they even had books that helped women stay on top of beauty trends. Many of you might be familiar with the poet Ovid's Metamorphoses and Amores but I would bet you've not heard of his Medicamina Faciei Femineae or Women’s Facial Cosmetics, sometimes seen as The Art of Beauty. The fragment we have from this book (see the link above) is fascinating, offering up three and a half beauty tips for Roman women. The first is a lengthy and messy recipe on how to make your skin whiter. The second recipe on getting rid of pimples would, as we know now, kill you slowly over time. I imagine that many women paid such a high price to be beautiful:
I've been planning a trip to Bologna, where part of my third novel is set. I've been researching the heck out of that area. I already knew it has the oldest university in the world, but one of the things I was most intrigued to find was Bologna was a city of towers. There were at least 100 towers, many of them upwards of 32 or more stories. Here's an artist's rendering of what it might have looked like in its heyday:
According to the ancient Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, "Apicius, the most gluttonous gorger of all spendthrifts, established the view that the flamingo's tongue has a specially fine flavor." The poet Martial, who was born a few years before Apicius died, agreed, saying: “My red wing gives me my name, but epicures regard my tongue as tasty. But what if my tongue could sing?” They don't actually sing, however. They tend to honk and squawk.
It's hard to believe that it's been almost a year since Feast of Sorrow was launched in hardback and eBook. So much has happened in the last twelve months, including:
Writing a book set in Ancient Rome means that I have to work with a lot of names that are probably unfamiliar to people, such as Thrasius, Sotas, and Ruan. And, ironically, when I included ancient Roman names that have survived the centuries, such as the name Melissa, my readers told me that the name felt too out of place.
2017 was such a wonderful year for books set in my favorite country, Italia. My own novel, FEAST OF SORROW, about the ancient Roman gourmand, Apicius, hit bookshelves in April and it's been a crazy, fun, whirlwind year talking to readers and promoting my book. But the best thing about the year, for me, was meeting many of these authors and talking to them about Italy and getting a chance to read their books.
Inviting an author to speak with your book group can be a fantastic way to enhance the experience of discussing a great book. My bet is you'd be surprised at how many authors (like Annie Hartnett, featured here with a book club reading her book, RABBIT CAKE), will agree to come to your house, library or restaurant to talk about their books.
Lately, your book club is feeling a little lame. The monthly potluck selections are a bit tired and it seems more like a chore to mix up that spinach dip than ever before. The good thing is, it's easy enough to punch up the excitement -- both in your book selections and the food pairings.
My novel, FEAST OF SORROW, is full of food. Everything about the story pivots around meals, ingredients and what food represents. One of the main characters is a Roman gourmand named Apicius, whose name is on the world's oldest known cookbook.
When researching my book, FEAST OF SORROW, one of the fun bits was trying out various recipes and experiencing the flavors of ancient Roman food. The book is about Apicius, a first century Roman whose name appears as the title of the oldest known cookbook.
One of the recipes in Apicius is for Parthian chicken. Parthia was part of ancient Persia, now in a region of north-eastern Iran. Much to my delight, it turns out that the Parthians really knew how to make chicken. Hands down this is one of the best chicken dishes I've ever had. It's juicy and tender with a perfectly crispy crust.
When I wrote Feast of Sorrow, I never once thought of being nominated for a prize, much less winning one. I thought it might be a decent book, and one that some people would like, but I figured it was such a niche genre that I might not even find a publisher for it and would eventually have to start writing on book two and then sell it later.
LITsnap that is!
Writing tech and freelance marketplace startup, Reedsy, is running a really cool campaign called "#IWriteBecause: A Campaign By Writers for Writers" which showcases authors and the reasons why they write. They want to bring writers together through video. For every author who contributes a video, Reedsy is going to donate $10 to Room to Read, a non-profit foundation that focuses on literacy acquisition and girls’ education in Africa and Asia. Over 11.5 million children have benefited from Room to Read’s charity efforts in over ten countries.
I began writing FEAST OF SORROW in 2007. I had about five or six chapters when I joined Lisa Border's Grub Street summer Novel in Progress class and began workshopping it. In it I met one of my writing partners, Anjali Mitter Duva. When I took the fall class, I met another writing partner, Jennifer Dupee. I was off and running.
Yesterday I had the great opportunity to be on Boston Herald radio! I had no clue they snapped a photo. :-)
Another year nearly gone by. A time for reflection and a time for resolutions. The end of this year feels fraught with anxiety for me, for a variety of reasons. I know I'm not alone in this regard. There seems to be a collective UGH that the people around me are saying. 2016 can't go away fast enough, for me, and for many others out there.
I'm a voracious consumer of information, especially about il mio posto preferito sulla terra (my favorite place on earth), Italia. Why not share all those fun tidbits with my readers? I'm going to start doing these roundups more often. We can dream about la bella vita together.
Or at least that's what she says about herself. "I don't think I'm a food writer any more than I am a love writer or a fish writer or a fowl writer. I just write about life." And yet her view on life was very much driven by taste and pleasure and food:
So far it's been a perfect summer in Boston. Temps in the high 70s to mid-80s, no humidity, cool nights. Gorgeous, gorgeous. I wish that I had more time off to enjoy these beautiful days!
As part of my research for my book, The Secret Chef, I'm trying to learn as much as I can about the various palazzos of Rome. I want to understand everything I can about them, from the families that built them and lived in them, to how the rooms were structured, where the servants might have lived and how they worked within the palazzo. When I return to Rome later this year, I'm looking forward to finally seeing the Palazzo Farnese, one of the most magnificent palaces of that era. It's now the French Embassy so access is limited. Currently, they only have one tour in English each week, on Wednesdays at 5PM. I'm hoping I can find a docent or historian to speak with when I'm there to give me a deeper understanding of the workings of that palazzo, but possibly others in the area, such as the Barberini, Medici, Farnese, and Colonna. For a peek of what I hope to see up close on the Farnese tour, check out the video below.
Women have been using makeup for thousands of years and beauty in Ancient Rome was just as important as it is today. Just as we do, they even had books that helped women stay on top of beauty trends. Many of you might be familiar with the poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Amores but I would bet you’ve not heard of his Medicamina Faciei Femineae or Women’s Facial Cosmetics, sometimes seen as The Art of Beauty. The fragment we have from this book (see the link above) is fascinating, offering up three and a half beauty tips for Roman women. The first is a lengthy and messy recipe on how to make your skin whiter. The second recipe on getting rid of pimples would, as we know now, kill you slowly over time. I imagine that many women paid such a high price to be beautiful:
Podcasts are all the rage these days, which in some ways surprises me as I used to write columns on mobile marketing ten years ago when “podvertising” was a new way to promote. When the stellar podcast, Serial, came along in 2014 everyone jumped back on the bandwagon. Fortunately, podcasting has come a long way and there are some fantastic, well-produced gems out there to set your ears upon. Also, if you need a better way to organize your podcasts, check out Overcast.
I’m a big They Might Be Giants fan. They always have fantastic videos and this one is one of my favorites. Robots+Romans culminating in the Ides of March.
Like last year, I'm embarking on the 52 books in 52 weeks challenge. I'm actually going to aim for 75 books this year as the big goal, but I'll be happy if I can average a book a week. For the most part, this month's themes were food and fantasy.
One of my favorite Italian songs is by a young pop star, Francesa Michielin, from her 2015 album di20. She rose to fame when she won the 5th season of Italy's X-Factor. I find great emotion in this song. I think she captures much of what I have felt in my life when I have been (and still am) in love. Lyrics in both Italian and English after the video.
David Bowie's death hit me much harder than I could have anticipated. I was still basking in the amazingness of Blackstar, telling everyone I knew that they needed to go buy it, that I thought it was the best Bowie album yet. I certainly didn't expect it to be his last. I could write a whole post on how much he has impacted my life but I think everyone is starting to weary of the collective mourning that Bowie fans are going through. Instead, I wanted to share another place where he inspired me. A few years ago, he shared a list of his 100 favorite books, and of course, it's going around again. It was another poignant reminder of why I admired him so much. It got me to thinking about my own voracious reading habit. If I had to list my 100 favorites, what would they be? I found that it was a hard list to come up with--I have read SO many books and when I used to have time, I could easily finish a book a day. Alas, writing books cuts into the reading time these days. But out of those several thousands of books that I've read, which of those has really stayed with me?
Last year I had a few goals that I wanted to meet related to reading and writing, some of which I accomplished and some that I didn't. However, I did:
My 2015 New Year's Resolution of reading 52 books in 2015 is complete! I even did better than that and read a few more too.
60. Slade House - David Mitchell Ending the year with Slade House was a good decision. I slurped it up in about two nights of reading--it was that good. It's one of the most unusual ghost stories that I've read. Mitchell toys with point of view in the most artful of ways and his method of telling the story across the decades is equally masterful. I didn't find it to be a scary story, just one that kept me wondering what on earth might happen next.
One of the most well-known Italian Christmas carols outside of the US is Caro Gesu Bambino which means "Dear Baby Jesus." It's a newer carol, dating to about 1960 and one of the earliest American-known singers to cover it was Frankie Avalon. The lyrics are here (Italian and English) if you are interested, and below, Italian treasure Andrea Bocelli does a beautiful version of the song. Buon Natale my friends! And Buone Feste to those of you who are celebrating other holidays. I wish the best for you and yours this season.
I was watching the Italian station RAI Interational the other day and one of the things that I love about the station is that they have little segments with snippets from variety and music shows over the last 40 years or so. It's a fascinating look at the wacky, beautiful, funny and talented side of Italian performers. One of the things they showed last night was a bit from a show that the Kessler Twins did. The Kesslers hail from Munich and were well known in Europe back in the day, particularly in Germany and Italy. Here's a sample of their awesomeness:
I have been rather remiss, I fear, in keeping my book list updated here on my blog. I've been reading far more than I had hoped, but certainly not as much as I would like. I am happy to have passed the 50 book barrier with more than a month to spare! Let's see if I can get close to 60 books this year. I'm confident I'll finish at least 2-3 more this month, and hopefully another 3-4 in December. October
I posted last month about my goal of reading at least 52 books this year. The good thing is that I'm well on my way! Here are the books I read in June.
Back in 1987, archaeologists discovered a treasure trove in a floor drain of the Roman Forum. This "treasure" was 86 loose teeth, all intact but with cavities in various stages. Three decades later, they've finally determined that they were all extracted by a highly skilled dentist of the time. Also of interest, up in England, researchers have pinpointed the advanced stages of dental decay in a young Roman toddler, to excessive consumption of honey.
Medicine was quite advanced in Ancient Greece and Rome. Surgeons regularly practiced lobotomies, Caesarean sections (didn't you ever wonder where that name came from?) and amputations, and were the inventors of tools such as forceps, catheters, scalpels and bone drills. Along with all of this fancy "technology" the Romans also relied heavily on herbs and the beneficial properties of food. Pliny writes (in addition to telling us how bees manage their colonies) that honey is good for afflictions of the mouth, pneumonia, pleurisy and snake bites.
One of my goals this year is to read, on average, a book a week, or at least 52 books this year. I'm right on track...even a little ahead!
I'm not entirely sure what I think about drone technology. It has incredible possibilities and on the flip side, terrifying possibilities. On the incredible side of things, I love that you can be an armchair traveler and have a birdseye view of beautiful places in the world. One of my favorite videos of this sort is this wonderful view of Rome by drone. It makes me feel desperate to be there again, walking the streets where my novel's characters once walked. httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTw-kvXS9Sk
It seems like the last retreat has just come and gone and here we are again, leaving husbands and children behind, off to Maine and a kickass writing schedule with good good friends and inspiring fellow writers.
Many people I talk to think my retreat is a boondoggle of sorts, as though I'm only saying that I'm going to Maine to write but I'll really just be sitting on the beach getting tan. So to prove that idea wrong, here's our schedule.
Awhile back I mused on the myriad of writing rules that are out there to help any aspiring writer. Part of what was most amusing for me was that there were so damn many. We writers are wordy, opinionated sorts and it seems that everyone who is successful at their writing has a word of advice for other writers. I came across dozens upon dozens of long winded lists of what to do, or what not to do (all seen at the link above). And then I came across this bit of brilliance from Anne Rice, which I think mostly says it all:
On Friday night my husband and I had the immense pleasure of checking out a new restaurant in Boston, M.C. Spiedo, located in the Renaissance Hotel on the waterfront. The chefs are from Maine's famous Arrows and MC Perkins Cove, Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier (they're also Top Chef:Masters as well!). We're fairly big food nerds and love trying out new places, but when I heard about M.C. Spiedo's focus on Italian Renaissance inspired food, the excitement went to a new level. Here? In Boston? Someone creating the dishes from the era of Bartolomeo Scappi, the central character in my second book? How incredible is that?
Pretty damn incredible, let me tell you. The restaurant is modern, but everywhere you look there is a reminder of the past, from the big red bordello-style booths, to the large portraits hanging, to the fantastic bookplates from Scappi's L'Opera on the walls in the bathroom.
The movie Pompeii, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, is coming out in February and I have to say I've not really been this excited about a movie in a long time. The film has the eye candy of incredible special effects and also Jon Snow himself (Kit Harrington) but what has me most intrigued is that Anderson apparently cares a lot about authenticity when it comes to the story and the era. The film comes out on February 28. I can't wait to find out for myself if that's true!
I love the Ringing of the Bells very much, but it's all the more magical when done by Muppets!
In early 2013 a Latin manuscript was discovered that contains some fascinating early medieval recipes. The manuscript dates from 1140 from the Durham Cathedral monastery in the UK. The recipes are primarily medicinal in their variety, with the intent to heal the sick and infirm. These recipes are nearly 150 years older than other known medieval era recipes.
I wish I could find a bit more information but it doesn't seem that any individual recipe translations have yet been published. The researchers are apparently working on a book that will be titled "Zinzibar" which is the Latin word for ginger.
In the last few years there have been a bevy of studies, articles and even video games thrown at the masses with the aim to help one's brain age well, to become more intelligent or to stave off dementia. The most common method of giving your brain a boost is to jolt one's self out of your routine. Drive a different way home from work. Sit in a different spot in class. Take the stairs if you commonly use the elevator. Basically, stop the routine and start doing something that makes you have to think a bit more. The trick I always seem to remember is to do something simple, like shower with your eyes closed. Try it--it's hard! And I recommend skipping using a razor if you opt to try. Or try walking through your house with your eyes closed. You'll find that you second guess yourself, and that there is a bit of fear involved as well as some discovery.
Over and over, this seems to help with cognitive processes, especially as you age. Companies have realized that they can monetize the idea of training your brain, leading to the rise of sites and apps like Lumosity, Braingle and FitBrains. Do these types of sites work? I think that the jury is still out on this, but on a minimum level, they do help with creativity.
There is a formula for a perfect writer's retreat: a Maine beach house + two 1/2 days + a schedule + amazing writing partners = success. Actually, success = three chapters + a more fully fleshed out timeline + incredible momentum to keep going.
What it didn't yield for me and my three writing partners was a name. We've been meeting bi-weekly for five years and for those five years my husband says to me every other week, "are you meeting up with the Women?" Which is a fairly terrible name, like a bad film remake or something. We tried. We consulted a worn 1884 copy of Clubs and Club Life of London (this is 1908 version if you are curious) which we found in a bookshelf full of ancient books and photo albums. We learned about the Beef-Steak Society, the Blue Stocking Club and the Boodles, but alas, it didn't give us ideas. We dug through Roget's 1911 Thesaurus, which we all agreed is a writer's best friend (we also shared fond stories of our own dog-eared copies we used as kids before traditional thesaurus' really became popular). Nada. We are still Nameless.
This weekend, at my fave cocktail bar, Clio, while sipping on Manhattans and rummy drinks called The Sanchez, I got into a conversation with some friends about books. I promised some of my all around historical fiction recommends to them, but I realized that I've read a lot of great books this year that I want to tell others about. And I have a book pile a mile long after the recent Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace conference. I'd love opinions on which one to read first!
This list of 2013 is in no particular order...it would be too hard to do!
I've been a bit sparse in my posts lately because my time has not been my own! But it's all good and the world of writing, of ancient Rome, of Renaissance Italy and all that goodness has been swirling around in my head in grand incubation mode. It's the Muse at work, I think.
One of the challenges of learning a language is understanding how to best use all the vocabulary terms that you are learning. It's one thing to learn a word, but quite another to know how to employ that word in a sentence.
I think this is one of the most challenging things for me when I am trying to learn on my own, without my tutors available. Take the word impiegare, for example. It means to employ, to engage or to use. But I'm not entirely sure how it's used in a sentence and when I turn to various resources I get conflicting answers.
We're coming up on the next Grub Street Muse and the Marketplace and I couldn't be more excited! I have a session on social media at the conference, but I will also be there as a writer, participating in the Manuscript Marts (I'm meeting with two agents this year, more on that in a future blog post), and attending classes. This year's keynotes include James Wood and Amanda Palmer. It's the first year that the Muse has had two keynotes (one on the Muse, one on the Marketplace) so that should be interesting!
James and Amanda will have their work cut out for them though, to top this amazing keynote by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) two years ago. Absolutely brilliant. And while it's long, it's definitely worth watching in its entirety. I still have chills thinking about it. He's an absolutely masterful storyteller.
As someone learning Italian, I feel especially fortunate that I live in a city that lets me pick up at least one Italian channel on cable. In this case it's RAI, but not the channels you would see in Italy. Instead it's a sanitized, washed out version for Italian audiences, mostly consisting of Italian game shows, soap operas, calcio (soccer/football depending on where you live), funny variety music shows and a smattering of news. Every once in awhile there is a gem, though, like the show Il Provo Del Cuoco, which is a cooking/cook-off show.
I stumbled across this fantastic advertisement for Grano Armando pasta and I had to share. It's an adorable, beautiful mini-film of sorts, about a young Italian boy with a special dream. The cinematography is wonderful and I love the characters in the film. I think it does the trick--if I saw Grano Armando pasta, I think I'd be pretty inclined to think about buying it.
This is a very good and easy ancient recipe, included in Apicius' cookbook. We make this often as a side dish. It goes particularly well with the recipe for Parthian Chicken! You may have been making beets this way and not even known that the recipe was at least 2,000 years old!
The original recipe:
Learning Italian isn't something that I decided to do when I was young, but I wish I had! Instead, when I was in high school, many many years ago, I thought it would be great to learn French. Other kids in the high school in Boise, Idaho were learning Spanish, or perhaps German. I don't even recall if they offered other languages at my school at the time. French seemed elegant, refined, literary and Spanish, while beautiful and I can appreciate it more now, seemed oh so utilitarian back then. Boring.
I was never overly dedicated to the learning the language, but I did ok. The problem was that coming from a family with no money and no passports, the thought of going to France seemed like such a pipe dream (I"ve still not been!). And living in Boise there wasn't a soul with whom I could practice. Still, I persisted even into college, minoring in the language.
Last year, Karl Lagerfeld, an avid book lover and collector himself, worked with Steidl books to create a fragrance called Paper Passion that supposedly smells just like old books.
And who doesn't love the smell of books?! Well, ok, maybe my husband might not want me smelling like a musty library but I find something terribly romantic about the idea!
Unless you've been living under a rock, they chose a new Pope yesterday, Pope Francis I. I watched this particular conclave with interest, not because I'm Catholic, but because the book I'm currently writing takes place in Renaissance Italy, about a cook who was responsible for feeding several conclaves that had to choose a Pope. I wrote more about that in a previous blog post.
I came across these awesome literary inspired t-shirts over at Meanfellas. They have a whole bunch but these are my faves:
To follow up on yesterday's rejection post, I thought I'd share some wonderful inspiration from one of the most successful writers ever -- J.K. Rowling, giving a commencement speech at Harvard in 2010 on the benefits of failure.
Some of the truest words she speaks: "One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality."
As you may know from either reading my blog, following me on social or being one of my friends and acquaintances, I'm currently seeking representation for my novel, FEAST OF SORROW. The novel, set in ancient Rome, is about Marcus Gavius Apicius (hear the pronunciation here) , the man with his name on the oldest known cookbook. The story, told through the eyes of the cook that makes him famous, is a turbulent and tragic story of a family in peril as a result of Apicius' ever-growing ego. It's a story full of luxurious food, drama, violence and political intrigue.
The novel is historical fiction, but because of the time period in which it is set, it's essentially genre fiction, that of ancient Rome. Many of the novels set in ancient Rome tend to be mysteries, which my book is not. Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor, David Wishart and Robert Harris (all fantastic authors!) come to mind. Other books in the genre tend to be very heavy on the war and/or politics, including a few stand alone novels by some of the previously named authors, but also by others such as Colleen McCullough, Michael Curtis Ford, or Allan Massie.
This is an ancient cracker recipe from Athenaeus, a rhetorician and grammarian who lived in Rome in the 3rd century AD. This recipe is a delightful, snacky interpretation of a cracker that was most likely served at taverns in ancient Greece and Rome. The original recipe doesn't give us much direction, but they were likely somewhat similar to the recipe below.
Glykinai: "The cakes from Crete made with sweet wine and olive oil.” - Athenaeus in The Deipnosophistae
Holy writing rules! There are so many out there that it's hard to know where to start! I compiled the quotes that I have run across over the last few months and pulled out the ones that really spoke to me. The Zadie Smith quote in particular is key for me. I need to eliminate all distractions! Click on the headline to go to the article for all the rules by that author.
George Orwell's 5 Writing Rules
The last month has been a month of massive tumult for the Catholic Church. For the first time in 400 years a Pope is resigning. There have only been five Popes to resign and all of them resigned under great duress, or in the case of Gregory XII, he did it to end the Western Schism. This is the first Pope to cite "health" problems as a reason to resign and the first to revise rules regarding the convening of the Papal conclave so that it can be convened sooner than in the past (usually they have to wait 15 days). I have a bunch of my own speculations about that, but there are a million other places that the woes of the Church can be debated.
With all this talk of love, I have to begin by saying that in one's life there are always certain people who you feel proud to know, who you want all your other friends to meet, and who you wish could always come to every party. One of those people is Christopher Castellani, who I still thank the stars that I met many years past. Christopher is a rare soul, and the hundreds upon hundreds of people in the book industry that know him (he's a key driving force at the magnificent Grub Street writing center) are likely to tell you that.
I have grown to know Christopher more and more over the years but after our initial meeting, my first foray into understanding a little about him was by reading his first book, which still ranks among my most memorable reads in my life, "A Kiss From Maddelena." In it we meet the protagonist of all three of his books, Maddelena Grasso, a sweet, shy and beautiful woman who is swept away by the circumstances around her-- the ending of WWII and a father who wants to arrange her marriage, but not to the boy she loves. I can still picture Maddelena as a girl, flying through the town on her bicycle. I can feel the emotion of the clandestine moments with Vito, the boy who steals her heart. I can still remember the roller coaster of emotions that first book put me through.
A little while ago I showed you some photos of an incredible miniature of the ancient Roman Forum. Here's an amazing 3D rendered video of the Forum. Talk about sparking your imagination for times gone by! It's such a shame that so much of the Forum fell into disrepair and that eventually medieval and Rennaissance nobility and the Papacy pulled them down for their metals and marble.
This is, without a doubt, one of the easiest recipes you could ever try your hand at making. These cakes are still made in Egypt and Turkey, and have been around since early Greek and Roman times. You can find similar fig cakes sold at cheese shops and Whole Foods for ridiculously astronomical prices for what they are.
A 10th century encyclopedia, the Suda Lexicon, chronicles the ancient recipe as:
As readers of this blog already know, the novel I'm currently writing is about yet another cook, Bartolomeo Scappi, who was a Renaissance chef to several cardinals and Popes. The BBC has a great special called Carluccio & The Renaissance Cookbook which aired a few years back. You can check it out here though.
Fascinating! Looks like I'll have to go to Dumenza at some point to check out the Scappi menu at that restaurant! In the meantime, I'll definitely be trying that risotto and the mushroom tart!
A few months ago I stumbled upon a site that showcases some photos of an incredible miniature of the Roman Forum made by a Robert Garbisch in 1982. Apparently it "took two and half years to complete. 95% of the 350 statues in the model were made by Robert Garbisch out of clay. There are over 720 Roman citizens living in this model and carrying on with their lives. This particular day in the Forum is the last visit by the good Emperor Marcus Aurelius to Rome during the summer of 179 AD."
Here are some of the photos of this amazing miniature. Apparently it's on view at the Brandeis library in Waltham and that's a stone's throw from me so I may have to call and see if they still have it on display.
The Vestal Virgins were among the most important individuals in ancient Rome. They were priestesses of the goddess Vesta, whose hearth was always lit. Their privileges among women of the day were many. They were able to own property and did not have to bear children, they had the best box seats to any event, they had the right of way in the streets, they had personal bodyguards and they had the ability to free slaves and prisoners with a mere touch or command.
We know a lot about the Vestals but we don't know much about what their hair looked like under the elaborate headdresses they wore. Janet Stephens, a Baltimore hairdresser and amateur archaeologist became fascinated with a statue she saw of a Vestal and decided she would find out. It took her seven years of research and now she believes she's figured it out. Take a look:
When researching my book, FEAST OF SORROW, one of the fun bits was trying out various ancient recipes. The book is about Apicius, a first century Roman whose name appears as the title of the oldest known cookbook. One of the recipes in Apicius is for Parthian chicken. Parthia was part of ancient Persia, now in a region of north-eastern Iran. Much to my delight, it turns out that the Parthians really knew how to make chicken. Hands down this is one of the best chicken dishes I've ever had. It's juicy and tender with a perfectly crispy crust. The original recipe calls for a spice called silphium (also called laser) which went extinct in the first century. Emperor Nero is rumored to have had the last sprig. Asafoetida powder or resin, common to Middle Eastern cooking, is believed to be the closest approximation to the taste. If you can't find that, just substitute garlic.
"Now is the winter of our discontent."
Over the last week or so, the Net has been in a frenzy over the finding of the bones of Richard III (October 2, 1452 – August 22, 1485), who was King of England from 1483 until his death in 1485. He's a famous name primarily because of Shakespeare, whose tragic play about the man fated to bring about the end of medieval times has remained popular since it was first performed in 1591.
I'm working on research for my next book, on Renaissance chef, Bartolomeo Scappi. I find the whole research side of historical fiction fascinating. It's like peeling back layers of paint on an elaborate painting to discover the essence of the people who inspired and created such masterpieces.
One of my characters is related to Agostino Chigi, one of Rome's wealthiest bankers in the early 16th century. Some tourists may be more familiar with him as the man who built the Villa Farnesina on the banks of the Trastevere. It sports paintings by Raphael, Baldassare Peruzzi, and Sebastiano del Piombo. But for the most part, it is often left off of itineraries of busy travelers who head straight for the Forum or the Trevi Fountain. This is a good thing, in my opinion, because it makes the visit so much more pleasant for those who want to bask in the sumptuous frescoes without being jostled by too many others.
Magnifico!! A shot of Italy from space, courtesy of NASA, taken by one of the "Expedition's 32 crew members aboard the International Space Station flying approximately 240 miles above the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 18, 2012."
The planning has begun! For our tenth anniversary (and for research!!), my husband and I have decided that Italy is definitely in our future for a week or so in the spring. We'll spend some time in Rome for sure, because it is where our heart of hearts reside, but Florence is also on the agenda, with perhaps a stint in Siena for a night.
For the last four (nearly five?) years or so I've been meeting with my writing group, not quite like clockwork, but about every two weeks. The three of us have hacked and slashed and encouraged each other's novels from start to finish, and gone through query letters, agent pitches and publishing challenges during that time. And of course, best of all, we have become close and dear friends as part of the process, bolstering spirits as we deal with family, illness, relationships, weddings, work woes and the ilk. I will know Anjali and Jen until I'm quite old and wizened, I am convinced.
Awhile back I thought I read that Ursula K. LeGuin has been in a writing group for many many years (if I'm remembering right she talks about this in Steering the Craft). At the time I remembering thinking, wow, someone as accomplished as she is still meets with others to go over her work?! I was impressed, but at the time, I didn't really understand the power of having ongoing encouragement that comes from being part of a small group that truly cares about your work. It's invaluable. Because of my writing group I don't get lazy. I moved immediately from finished to researching my next book. I feel compelled to move on the next chapter. I get excited to turn in work for feedback. I get lost in the worlds of their books. In short, because of this group I am on the continuous hamster wheel of writing creativity and as those of you know, if you fall off, it's a massive PITA to jump back on.
Tomorrow I leave my husband and my kitty to hold down the fort while I head to BlogHer 2012 to check out the action. It's a business trip primarily; some of you may already know my full-time-awesome-paying-the-bills job is managing social media for Keurig, the leading single-brew coffee maker in the world. There will be some Keurig action at the Got Milk booth, so I'm heading down with one of my colleagues to say hi to the crew there.
I ran across this Seattle PI article this week, about a wonderful paper sculptor, Justin Rowe, and I had to share. As a bookseller, Rowe was looking for ways to decorate his window. And suddenly, an artist was born.
Over on Reddit, there was a recent tongue-in-cheek post about a painting (displayed below) about how pizza delivery began earlier than we think it did (and was much more classy than in the modern world). Because of the research I'm doing for my next novel, I was especially interested in the painting and wanted to know more about it.
If not, now you can! This video was set about 200 years after my novel's central character lived, but it still gives a great flavor of what Rome would have been like in ancient times. While the Colosseum wasn't there, nor the Circus Maximus, most of the other major buildings were there in the time that Apicius lived. He would have walked on the stones of the Roman Forum, visited the Temple of Jupiter, looked up through the oculus of The Pantheon. Such power there is in history!
In my novel, one of the treats served up by Apicius to his guests (from De Re Coquinaria, Chapter IX, 396) is stuffed dormice. They were generally eaten as snacks and were a favorite at the tabernas and popinas (taverns and bars) but were also popular with the upper class. Nowadays the lucky little dormouse isn't eaten (although apparently they are still in Slovenia!) but way back then they were often stuffed, fried and eaten whole, bones and all. Below is the recipe found in the cookbook which bears Apicius' name.
A recent article on the Huffington Post dares to make a bold prediction when it comes to trends in baby names--that monikers from Ancient Rome will soon be popular. She cites the Roman names in the Hunger Games as proof of the new trend. She may be right in that regard. God knows how many Bellas and Edwards are in the world now than before Twilight became popular.
The readers of my manuscript draft were often thrown when they found that one of my characters was named "Melissa." They thought it was too modern, but I just chuckled. While it's not Roman, but Greek, it's a name that is several thousand years old. Angela, Amelia, Bryce (which was a Greek girl's name), Laura and Patricia are also ancient names.
No, this is not an X song! Instead I thought it was a good day to remind of you of a few writely events that had nothing to do with fireworks, baseball, or apple pie.
The last few days here in Boston have been fraught with rain and sudden, thunderous storms that crack the sky apart with brilliant lightning strikes. My husband and I were caught in one of the outbreaks on Saturday, after a matinee of The Avengers. Thankfully we were in the car before the rain hit but when it did, BOOM! It was crazy driving down Comm Ave and seeing long scars of light rip out of the sky right in front of you, to hit rods on top of buildings, or perhaps the Charles River along one of its curves.
Awhile back I posted on one of my blogs about Roman honey cakes, which were primarily used as sacrificial cakes, but versions may have also been used as a snack in the tabernas and popinas.
Sally Grainger is one of the most well-known food historians, especially when it comes to the recipe book that bears Apicius' name. She is also the co-author of The Classical Cookbook, and in that book there is a recipe for Libum, a classic ancient sacrificial cake, first mentioned in Cato's On Agriculture.