Soiree with Focaccia

Saturday night the amazing and inspired Debbie Stier of Harper Studio organized a wonderful group of people that care deeply about the future of books and who are all carrying them forward, in one way or another, into the 21st Century, with the help of the internet.  I hosted the soiree at my apartment with Debbie and my husband.  A collection of writers and readers and thinkers and dreamers and makers and doers.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a room filled with strangers all of whom I wanted to speak with. Jonathan Fields and Dani Shapiro talked about social networking, how one must enter it in the spirit of being helpful or useful in some capacity. Readers easily sniff out mercenary motives. Sometimes writers misuse Twitter, for example, when they have a book come out. They start tweeting about their book tour, etc, and they clearly haven’t invested any time in establishing a community—of offering anything to the community. “It would be like walking into a party like this and, after two minutes, trying to sell you something,” said Fields. In short, the community, and one’s investment in it, comes first. The trick is to find something you want to spend time writing about, as a community member, and be of service to that community. Dani Shapiro has been writing about issues that writers face. Jonathan has been helping people re-think their ideas of entrepreneurship. Both are areas of interest each has anyway. When one of their books comes out, it’s just something else added to the mix.

I love collecting people and then feeding them.  I wanted to keep it simple so I ordered wine from Whole Foods Wine Store, on Columbus and 100th Street using Veronica there to help me choose.  She has a vibrant vocabulary for wines, making them all sound exquisite: “It’s like a Sauvignon Blanc that’s gone on a tropical vacation,” she said of one white.  I made focaccia and ordered plates of various salumi from Salumeria Rosi, my new favorite restaurant on Amsterdam and 73rd in NYC.  The focaccia recipe is my friend Dodi’s and it is easy and very forgiving.

Click Soiree with Focaccia to watch a slide show of focaccia preparation, before the guests arrived.  Ron Hogan is pictured.  He was the first to arrive. We promised to take pictures, but were too busy having fun to think about the camera…

Recipe for Focaccia—easy and forgiving

1 1/2 cups regular flour

1 1/2 cups bread flour

2 cups of water

1 package of yeast

1 Tablespoon salt

2 Tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup of olive and vegetable oils, mixed — 1/4 cup each

Let yeast activate on top of warm water for about 10 minutes.  Add all ingredients.  Stir to combine.  Let rise for 1 1/2 hours covered with a cloth. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Pour dough onto parchment, patting down with wet had.  Sprinkle with sea salt and fresh rosemary.  You can chop it.  I don’t because I end up being too lazy or in too much of a hurry. Cook at 425 for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 400 and cook for another 20 minutes.  Drizzle with olive oil after removing from oven.  Serve immediately.   If you have leftovers, it’s so good for breakfast dipped in warm milk.

Some of the people who came:

Debbie Stier

Julia Cheiffetz

Charlotte Abbott

Jonathan Fields

Pablo Defendini

Ami Greko

Ryan Chapman

Richard Nash

Constantine Markidos

Iris Blasi

Aubrey Lynch

Ron Hogan

Dani Shapiro

Michael Maren

Jennifer Gilmore

Mark Svenvold

Hilary Stout

Peter Truell

Guy Wiggins

Rose Kernochan

Margot Gilman

Stephen Tympanick

Kamy Wicoff

At some point, Mark picked up his guitar. Constantine ran to get his harmonica and they moved on into “Fulsom Prison,” with Kamy swooping in on harmony. They stayed until midnight sharing some of their favorite music: Low, The Dimes, a terrific band from Portland, Oregon, and Jose Gonzalez, among others.  And after talking to Constantine, we’re now dreaming of a trip to Cypress from where Constantine’s family comes.

After Saturday night, surrounded by these astonishing people, I feel exhilarated, hopeful about the future of the book.


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Home For The Holidays

The Farm, Christmas 1973

I remember coming home for Christmas, from college, from my years in Italy, from my early days in New York City, as a new mother.  I remember on one occasion lying on the couch, reading the essay On Going Home by Joan Didion and feeling just as lethargic as she had, incapable of doing much other than lying on the couch as the chaos of nine siblings and various others swirled around me.  I remember the years and years of going to my father’s on Christmas Eve, returning to my mother’s by midnight — a decree imposed by the  court on my divorced parents.  It became a ritual of sorts that carried on long after my sisters and I became adults.  I remember holidays in Sri Lanka and Nepal and Hawaii, anywhere but home, trying to find my own way.   But they were never as happy as I wanted them to be.

Of the people in the photo above, my stepfather and his mother, Merle, have died, otherwise this year nine of the ten children and my mother were at the Farm with our various children and friends passing through.  For Christmas dinner we were twenty-three.  We ate pork loin stuffed with dried fruits in a Madeira and molasses sauce; mashed potatoes; French beans with pomegranate seeds (made by Jenny who learned the recipe in London, where she lives, “They make it so much over there, at all the dinner parties, that it’s actually now a cliché to serve it.”); a salad of mache with pears and crushed almonds dressed with shalots macerated in equal parts lemon juice and white wine vinegar.  For dessert: bourbon pecan tart; pumpkin tiramisu; bread pudding with whiskey sauce.  We like to eat.  We eat well.  It snowed the day before, a vast blanket covering the fields.  On Christmas Eve we read the children “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” as Santa ran across the rooftop, scaring the littlest one.  No one fought.  In the morning: presents were opened one by one.  A howling wind and bitter cold, a gray sky which seemed to promise more snow.  The big beautiful tree lit with colored bulbs that first glowed in the 1960s, my grandmother’s glass ornaments.  The kids raced down the hill on toboggans, wrapped in scarves and hats and gloves and bulky coats.  They made a snowman, collected chicken eggs, forgot to shut the door to the coop, chased chickens, made a movie on a Flip about bad guys who not only get away with it, but convert the good guys to bad guys.  My father and stepmother, Yolanda, joined us for dinner.

All of us have tried other Christmases, elsewhere.  The chaos, the mountain of presents, the tension created by expectation, the energy of so many personalities can be too much.  But since 1973, our first Christmas at the Farm as a blended family, we have—all of us, my sisters and my step-siblings—kept trying to make it beautiful.  We have kept coming back.  We don’t give up.  Thirty-six Christmases have passed since 1973.  And this year we did get something very right.

Another holiday feast: Sarah’s Raspberry Duck with wild rice and peas

A few gathered to watch the children’s movie about the bad guys winning

An essay for the NYTimes on the hazards (and blessings) of Christmas: it happens to be, of my essays, my favorite

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