Well, the title of this cookbook was perhaps too long for my little blog to handle … the full name is The Rosie’s Bakery All-Butter, Cream-Filled, Sugar-Packed Baking Book. It’s written by Judy Rosenberg, owner of Rosie’s Bakery in Boston, where they “don’t scrimp on the good things.”
Rosie’s has been in business for over thirty years, and currently has five locations in the Boston area.
The cookbook has over 300 recipes, 40 of which have not been published previously. It completely updates and revises two previous Rosie’s cookbooks, adding even more tasty treats, and combining them into one new volume.
Since Judy Rosenberg says her goal at Rosie’s Bakery is “to provide you with luscious indulgences that lift your spirits and reward you for a good week’s work and a lot of self discipline”, I feel a field trip is in order! As soon as I get my hands on this book, I’m going to bake Rosie’s Raspberry Thumbprints (which, yes, bring back memories of my Gram’s baked goodies), and do a side-by-side comparison. Can my cookies measure up to Rosie’s? And what else will I sample when I’m there?!
Here’s the recipe, from a teaser handout I picked up at the NEIBA Fall Conference:
Rosie’s Raspberry Thumbprints (yield: 48 cookies)
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup raspberry preserves with seeds
- Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a small bowl.
- Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium-size mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer twice to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula.
- Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for several seconds. Scrape the bowl, then turn the mixer to high speed and beat until the batter is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
- Refrigerate the batter in plastic wrap or a covered container for 3 hours.
- Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 275′F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Measure out rounded tablespoonfuls of dough and roll them into balls with your hands. Place the balls about 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Then make a firm indentation in the center of each cookie with your thumb or index finger. Bake the cookies until lightly golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven and increase the heat to 325′F.
- Place 1/2 teaspoon jam in the center of each cookie and return the sheet to the oven. Bake the cookies just until the jam melts and spreads, about 10 minutes. Let them cool on the baking sheets before eating.
Does that bring up memories for you, too?! Rosie warns us “Do not devour these cookies when they’re hot (hard as it may be to resist) because the jam can burn the roof of your mouth.”
For more Weekend Cooking posts, pop over to Beth Fish Reads, where she gathers cookbook reviews, recipes, food-themed novels and movies … anything remotely foodie qualifies!
I’ve just started reading John Shors‘s most recent novel, Cross Currents. Shors, (author of The Wishing Trees – 2010, Dragon House - 2009, Beside a Burning Sea – 2008, and Beneath a Marble Sky – 2006), has received great praise for the novel, including that from Karl Marlantes, who cites the “power of nature and the power of love” in the novel, and Joan Silber, saying that “John Shors has a great feeling for Thailand. The beauty of its geography and the pliant strength of its people …”.
The novel is set on the island of Ko Phi Phi, off the coast of Thailand, in the weeks leading up to the December 2004 tsunamis that struck land along the Indian Ocean. Ko Phi Phi, only six feet above sea level, was hit from each side. These “cross currents” pulled buildings and people out to sea, killing about one-third of the island’s residents and visitors.
The other “cross currents” that Shors writes about are the relationships between the resident resort owners (Lek and Sarai), their American handyman (Patch), and Patch’s brother and his girlfriend, who arrive unexpectedly. A fugitive from the law, a potential love triangle, and the looming natural disaster offer a tense and compelling read.
In this scene, Lek and his son, Niran, walk toward the nearest village, hoping to meet tourists from the recently arrived ferry, and to encourage them to visit the family-run resort. Rainbow Resort is a bit further afield, and lack of customers add to the financial strain and overall stress in these opening pages, a striking contrast to the natural beauty Shors writes of:
The center of the village bustled with vendors, children, and tourists. The foreigners wandered around carrying large backpacks, sat in cafés, haggled with shopkeepers, or studied maps and guidebooks. As Lek and Niran approached the opposite beach, a slew of restaurants materialized. Each restaurant had some sort of wooden boat outside, which was filled with ice and fresh seafood. There were rows of squid, giant prawns, lobsters, crabs, clams, snapper, shark, barracuda, and sea bass. Patrons could order any item and have it cooked to the specifications. Lek studied the offerings, wondering what he and Niran would spear for dinner. He didn’t see much tuna and decided to hunt for such a fish. More tourists might come to their restaurant if fresh tuna was available.
The paperback edition of Cross Currents includes an interview with John Shors and a discussion guide for reading groups. John has traveled extensively, including visits to Ko Phi Phi both before and after the devastating tsunamis. Shors says “My goal as a novelist is to vividly bring distant cultures and places to life. My passion for such settings is the catalyst for how I write, and what I write about.”
He’s certainly meeting that goal in Cross Currents! As I read, I’m escaping to the beautiful beaches of the island, visiting the vibrant village center, and learning about the local culture … I’m also anticipating the turns this plot will take. What are you reading this week? Are you off in another land, or another time?
- Calling Mr. King by Ronald De Feo
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Other Press (August 30, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-1590514757
Back-of-the-book blurb: Long considered cool, distant, and absolutely reliable, an American-born hit man, working throughout Europe, grows increasingly distracted and begins to develop an unexpected passion for architecture and art while engaged in his deadly profession. Although he welcomes this energizing break from his routine, he comes to realize that it is an unwise trajectory for a man in his business, particularly when he is sent on the most difficult job of his career.
Set in London, Paris, New York, and Barcelona, this novel is both a colorful suspense tale (laced with dark humor), and a psychological self-portrait of a character who is attempting, against the odds, to become someone else.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ review: From the opening pages, I was pulled into this novel about a hit man going through a mid-life crisis. Rather than carry out a hit with his usual precision, “Mr. King” (the code name used when he is called for a contract) gets distracted by the “charm” (his word) of a country estate, and leaves a bit of a mess (not his usual style). Mr. King starts to question what he does – not the morality of it, but the urgency and importance of it.
Encouraged by The Boss to take a little down time, this American in London spends his time doing research, delving a little deeper into the charm of the country building that caught his eye. What is it about the Georgian style that appeals to him? Is it the symmetry and predictability (quite unlike his own life), or the subtle differences in decoration from one example to another – somewhat like the distinction of the various “marks” he has known over the years.
Mr. King is himself and utterly charming character. Yes, I just called a cold-blooded killer charming! He starts to show a little personality, a little curiosity, a little humanity. What reader wouldn’t be charmed by a man who describes a visit to a bookstore:
… Yes, my question – “Do you have anything on Georgian houses?” – was respected. In fact, a few of the clerks were unusually pleased by it, as if I’d hit on a pet subject or one that didn’t interest your average, run-of-the-mill customer. One clerk, a skinny wound-up character with four pens in his ink-stained shirt pocket, was particularly impressed and was crazily eager to show off his knowledge. He rattled off names of books, authors, publishers, publication dates. He evaluated the “volumes,” talked about their “historical accuracy and scope,” their “intellectual breadth” and “prose style” … “What I want to know,” I finally said, interrupting his lecture, “is if you carry any of those books. That’s what I want to know. If you have any of them here, now, in this store, today.” “Right, yes, of course,” he said, sounding somewhat hurt. “Well, let’s take a look, sir, shall we?” And we pranced over to the art and architecture section.
Granted, a more pleasant browsing experience would have been nicer for Mr. King, but a guy who kills people for a living might deserve a little discomfort. He’s excited about reading, eager to follow his spark of interest to discover greater things about the world. And the reader of Calling Mr. King will find himself eager eager to learn more about this hit man with a soft spot.
The novel is told in the first person, allowing the reader access to the thoughts of Mr. King, be they self-indulgent, self-deceptive, or, truly insightful. We walk with him on his turning-point hit, as he studies art and architecture, and as he discovers the real “Mr. King” and the consequences of his choices. It’s a fun walk.
- The Lexicon of Real American Food by Jane and Michael Stern
- Paperback: 312 pages
- Publisher: Lyons Press; First edition (September 1, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0762760947
Back-of-the-book blurb: In The Lexicon of Real American Food, renowned foodies Jane and Michael Stern record the lingo of American food as it is spoken — and enjoyed — across the nation. With their signature wit and exuberance, they define how America really eats. Fun to read and easy to browse, with spot illustrations and select recipes, this book will also become a valuable reference to document regional specialties and signature American fare.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ review: Fun! I met Jane and Michael Stern at the Author Cocktail Reception at the NEIBA Fall Conference. This was a time to mix and mingle with booksellers and publisher’s reps, catching up with people I’d met previously, and meeting a whole lot of new people. Some of these new people were authors who took a bit of time to introduce themselves and their books, then sign and share the books.
My eye was drawn to the cover of The Lexicon of Real American Food – it looked like a typical diner set up. I liked that it hadn’t been styled to have full bottles of ketchup and syrup, with bottles all neatly aligned and labels facing outward. I half expected a smear of something sticky on the Formica checkerboard tabletop, to heighten the authentic look.
In talking to Jane and Michael I learned that this is not their first foodie book. Yes, in addition to The Lexicon of Real American Food, they’ve written over a dozen books about food (including the Roadfood books), maintain a Roadfood website, appear weekly on NPR’s The Splendid Table, and have won a number of awards from the James Beard Foundation. Sometimes my naiveté and the long list of things I don’t know surprises even me!
But, here’s the cool part – Jane and Michael Stern are so down to earth and approachable that they didn’t care that I didn’t know who they were. They were happy to talk about this book and other myriad subjects – it was pleasant cocktail party conversation, not “I want you to like my book” hard sell. What did we talk about? Well, in the foodie corner, we had Fluffernutters (the sandwich made of peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff, at one time a contender for the official state sandwich of Massachusetts), and under miscellany, you can file our conversation about college mascots (Yale has the bulldog, Princeton has the tiger, Harvard has the …?? The Harvard Crimson, there is no mascot! Why not? Discuss …). I want to invite Jane and Michael to my next party!
What is The Lexicon of Real American Food? It’s a dictionary of regional specialities and local favorites, an illustrated encyclopedia of all things related to the uniquely American eating experience – from a history of supermarkets and grocery carts to the evolution of the potato chip. Of kettle chips, the Sterns say, they:
… cost more than ordinary ones … made by hand rather than by the ton on conveyor belts. The best of them … are made in small batches, and the best of the best – the unbearably addictive ones – are still fried in lard and are still salty as hell.
The Lexicon also offers a “Who’s Who” of American food icons, and includes dozens of recipes. If you’re craving barbecue spaghetti, Grape-Nuts ice cream, or sauerkraut balls, you’ll find the recipes here. Did you know there are at least a dozen distinct styles of pizza served in the US? Thick crust vs. thin crust is only the tip of the iceberg in this debate which rages from West Virginia to California.
The tone is light and fun, but full of facts and explanations; words and phrases used elsewhere in the book appear in a bolded font. You can see where this is going … when reading the entry for Hushpuppies, I followed the bolded word Barbecue, which led me to the page-length bio of Arthur Brant. Yes, you can dip into The Lexicon of Real American Food for a quick peek, but it’s more fun to sit down (with a salty snack, perhaps), and wander the pages at leisure.
Truly a delight of a book for reading, browsing, and reference.
To see what’s happening in other kitchens of the blogosphere, check out the great links at Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking. She rounds up posts related to all things foodie: cookbook reviews, recipes, food-themed novels or movies, etc.
- The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
- Hardcover: 528 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (September 7, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0316126694
Back-of-the-book blurb: At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.
Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’s best friend, wonders if he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.
As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths; the novel considers ambition and its limits, family and friendship and love, and commitment — to oneself and to others.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ review: A few weeks ago I highlighted The Art of Fielding, which J had removed from my hands as I read it, claiming it as his next read on our vacation this summer. In that earlier post, I referred to the novel as “J’s pick for fall.” Now that I’ve enjoyed it as well (I waited for him to finish it, didn’t wrest it from his hands), I concur that it’s quite a good book, one that I’d recommend as a “coming of age, for many ages.”
Do you have to like baseball to appreciate The Art of Fielding? No, you don’t need to have memorized player stats, but an understanding – and an appreciation – of the game and its culture will certainly come in handy. Take this little snippet, a locker room scene in which each member of the home team performs his own pre-game ritual:
Each Harpooner sat half or mostly uniformed in front of his locker, nodding along with his iPod’s pregame playlist. Schwartz used an ancient cassette-tape Walkman; only Henry didn’t listen to music at all. Izzy twisted his wristbands to the Nike insignia were aligned just so. Sooty Kim buttoned the bottom two buttons of his jersey, unbuttoned one, buttoned two more, unbuttoned one. Detmold Jensen worked at his glove’s leather with tiny pinking shears, snipping off a superfluous centimeter of lacing.
The author employs the names of real and imagined baseball greats to bolster the framework, citing the names of Rick Ankiel, Steve Blass, and Chuck Knoblauch, among others. The title of the novel is taken from the name of a memoir/guide of the same name penned by Harbach’s fictional professional shortstop Aparicio Rodriguez. Henry has studied the book for years, memorizing the short paragraphs that seem to offer not only guidance to the budding ball player, but general life wisdom as well; similarly, Melville’s Moby Dick has been Guert Affenlight’s secular guide.
Harbach gives us enough just backstory on each of the five main characters (three male students, the college president, and his daughter) that we know how they came to be at Westish, and what may have formed the conflicts they now face. With such a strong and large group of characters, it would have been impossible to keep track of more childhood memories and side stories; in this sense, the limited background was a positive.
The third person omniscient narration offers an even look at each of these five characters, including the most telling times when they are alone with their thoughts. While Henry Skrimshander and his position as the star shortstop is the hub around which the other characters turn, they each struggle with their own external conflicts and internal demons; as in baseball, the way we field a play/choice can change the course of an entire game/life. Harbach handles each of these storylines skillfully and evenly in this most impressive debut.
- 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker by Lynn Alley
- Hardcover: 104 pages
- Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing; Spiral edition (September 27, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-1449407933
Back-of-the-book blurb: Lynn Alley, author of The Gourmet Slow Cooker, is known for creating flavorful homemade meals using the kitchen’s most coveted countertop appliance–the slow cooker. Inside 50 Simple Soups for the Slow Cooker, Alley presents bold combinations for 50 new vegetarian and vegan soup dishes that are as hearty as they are flavorful. Classics mingle with many unique offerings.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ review: Lynn Alley has taught cooking throughout the western US and in southern France, and has written about food and wine for several newspapers and magazines, including Fine Cooking and Cook’s Illustrated. She authored five previous cookbooks – three of which focus on slow cookers.
This slim volume is even more finely tuned, offering vegetable-based soups that are satisfying, yet easy on the budget. Alley points out that these recipes, which incorporate fruits (yes, there are some fruit-based soups in the collection), grains, and vegetables, are also easier on the planet, and that ingredients are often on hand in your pantry or can be purchased locally. For those who sometimes prefer a little meat in their soup, it’s simple enough to incorporate a bit of cooked chicken (beef, ham, etc.) to the recipe.
Alley boosts flavor by sometimes browning some of the ingredients prior to adding them to the slow cooker (you’ll see this in the recipe I made, below); some higher-end slow cookers have cast aluminum inserts, which allow them to go from stovetop to casing (no additional dishes to wash). She advocates salt as a necessary flavor booster (always “season to taste”), and uses Parmesan rinds and fresh ground spices to tickle the tastebuds as well.
The introduction to the book gives tips for using a slow cooker, and discusses other hands tools to have on hand. She recommends a 7-quart slow cooker, and each recipe serves 4 to 6 people, and can be frozen (um, the soup, not the people).
The 50 soup recipes have an international (or at the very least, regional) flare; there’s nothing bland or pedestrian in here. Recipes are formatted one to a page – in a brief intro, Alley explains more about an ingredient, shares how she was inspired to create this particular soup, or offers a variation to the recipe. Leafing through the pages, I saw nothing out of the ordinary about the ingredients; I could find them all in my cupboards or in local shops. What was unusual (in the very best sense of the word), is the flavor combinations – just look at some of these soups:
- Avgolemono with Spinach and Dill
- Garnet Yam Soup with Coconut Cream
- Hummus Soup with Kalamata Olives and Mint
- Korean-Style Black Bean Soup
- Spiced Apple Pie Soup
The back pages of the book contain a listing of “metric conversions and equivalents” and a complete index. The only piece missing from the recipes was an nutritional analysis; this made barely a blip on my radar, but it may be more important to other readers (or, other slow cookers!). A concealed spiral binding allows the book to lie flat when open, while still looking finished on your bookshelf due to its solid spine.
I made the Spanish Potato and Green Olive Soup – one of about 15 recipes that include a full-color photo. As I often do, I made a few changes, substituting dried thyme for the fresh sprigs in this case, and replacing the cubed cheese with shredded (I’ll get the Manchego the next time I make this).Granted my version wasn’t nearly as photogenic, but it was delicious!
- 4 tablespooons olive oil, divided
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 1/2 pounds small potatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 6 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups stuffed gren olives, sliced in half vertically
- 1 cup cubed Manchego or cheddar cheese
- In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
- Transfer the onion to a 7-quart slow cooker and add the potatoes, bay leaf, and thyme. Cover and cook on LOW (without the water) for about 4 hours, or until the potatoes are tender.
- Add the water and, using a fork or potato masher, smash the potatoes. If you prefer a smooth texture, you can use an immersion blender to puree them.
- Stir in the olives and add salt to taste. Continue cooking for 30 to 40 minutes longer, until the soup is once again hot.
- To serve, divide the cheese into bowls, drizzle the remaining olive oil over it, then ladle in the soup and stir.
Visit Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking round-up of posts featuring cookbook reviews, recipes, food-themed novels and movies, etc.
- Missed Connections: Love, Lost & Found by Sophie Blackall
- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Workman Publishing Company (September 22, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0761163589
Back-of-the-book blurb: In her first book for adults, the artist Sophie Blackall creates a deeply felt, poignant book about love—a book that captures the mystery, the yearning, at times the cosmic humor behind the “what if?” of a missed connection.
Like a message in a bottle, a “missed connection” classified (usually posted on a website) is an attempt however far-fetched, by one stranger to reach another on the strength of a remembered glance, smile, or blue hat. The anonymous messages are hopeful and hopeless, funny and sad. Ms. Blackall has turned some of the most evocative (or hilarious) of them into exquisite paintings.
She Is Too Fond of Books review: What a fun book! The SIFFOB family “knew” Sophie Blackall from her illustrations of the middle grade Ivy and Bean series as well as the Big Red Lollipop picture book, and I was thrilled to find her work in a more “adult” book. Blackall, in fact, authored and illustrated Missed Connections, a wonderful collection of bits and pieces from the Craigslist column of the same name. The Craigslist “Missed Connections” are a sort of online personals columns – not random “likes walks on the beach; must love dogs” searches, but searches for specific people whose paths crossed.
In a thoroughly enjoyable 15-page introduction, Blackall explains how she came to write the book – after “discovering” the column in a overheard conversation, she spent hours perusing the listings:
It was akin to frittering away hours on eBay when I have a deadline, or looking at donkey breeders’ websites when I have no intention of buying a donkey. But then I remembered the golden rule:
“If you like doing something, find a way to call it work.”
Blackall began a blog illustrating some of her favorite postings from the Craigslist columns. She was surprised and pleased by the response she received – readers confessed to reading the Missed Connections column as fervently as Blackall does; they thanked her for brightening a dim day with her whimsical illustrations; they asked her for help in finding a lost love.
Blackall, and others, find Missed Connections compelling; we wonder about the reasons for this instant attraction. What was it about the tattooed girl, the man in striped suit, or the hipster with the pink-collared poodle that caused the writer to say “I wish I had spoken to you”? We want to know what happens next – do they find each other? Is there a date? A second date? Sophie Black admits that:
I have a confession to make.
I don’t really want to know. I like a happy ending as well as the next person, but I love the mystery and the uncertainty, and the electric current of possibility.
She has honed the columns and pulled the most electrifying possibilities to illustrate using ink and watercolor. Formatted with typeset text on the left page,and whimsical interpretations on the right, the book begs to be browsed. Will you read it cover-to-cover, or page through to an illustration that calls out to be explored? Blackall hand letters the text on her painting; after a few pages, I found myself preferring to read the painting rather than the typeset text, adding to the personality of the piece.
These Missed Connections occur on trains, at parties, in bookstores. Eyes meet, glances are exchanged, fingertips brush against a sleeve. But, there’s no follow through, no exchange of phone numbers or email addresses, sometimes nothing more than an unkindled spark.
This a collection of love stories that might have been; or, of those that might yet be. With a fine balance of sensitivity and whimsy, Blackall honors – rather than mocks – those possibilities, and is a nice match for anyone who has ever wondered “what if?”.
Missed Connections is the first book authored by Sophie Blackall. She has illustrated over twenty books for children, including the Ivy and Bean series, Ruby’s Wish (winner of the Ezra Jack Keats Award), and Meet Wild Boars (winner of a Founder’s Award from the Society of Illustrators). Additionally, her editorial illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and many magazines. Visit her Missed Connections blog and “like” her Facebook page.
Read more about Sophie Blackall in this “Book Brahim” column from Shelf Awareness.
This installment of the “Spotlight on Bookstores” series is written by Jennifer Miller, author of the debut novel The Year of the Gadfly, out from Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt in May 2012. I’m chomping at the bit for its publication – the book’s setting is an ultra-competitive private school in Massachusetts, where the adolescent protagonist is mentored by the ghost of Edward R. Murrow. Ann Napolitano, author of A Good Hard Look, says “In a brilliant portrayal of the dark underbelly of adolescence, Miller explores a time when both our identity and our future are at stake, and shows how rare it is to leave that landscape unscathed.”
Jennifer Miller has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Marie Claire, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Millions. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with all the other writers. You can find her at www.byjennifermiller.com or follow her on twitter @propjen .
Here she writes about Politics & Prose, a Washington, DC institution where she discovered how to be “a dork in the know.” When you’re done reading the essay, you’ll be craving a tuna sandwich and counting the weeks until The Year of the Gadfly is published.
As a kid growing up in DC, my parents punished me by making me read the Washington Post. They wanted me to engage with the world, but
photo credit Diana Levine
newspapers were just so boring. For one thing, they were full of politics. For another, they were also written in the most mind-numbing way. I loved stories and fiction. Newspapers, on the other hand, were full of dry, horrible prose.
If you’re familiar with DC and its literary hubs, you can see where this story is going.
Given my loathing of politics and my association between it and prose, the city’s premier independent bookstore—Politics and Prose—didn’t stand a chance. My dad would drag me there on the weekends and I would groan, slinking around the stacks, hoping my audible displays of displeasure would finally embarrass him enough to leave. Sometimes, he’d buy me a piece of cake in the café downstairs, but that was worse, because inevitably, he’d run into a friend from the State Department or a journalist he knew (who wrote for the dreaded newspapers) and they’d talk politics forever, while I picked at crumbs.
I got older—old enough to avoid running bookstore errands with my dad altogether. I forgot about the place. (I still wasn’t reading the newspaper, but I was a schoolwork-swamped teenager, so my parents no longer bothered me about it.) And then one day, quite out of the blue, I was pulled back into the store’s clutches.
I was a senior in high school and a new friend asked if I wanted to hang out at “P&P”. “What’s that?” I asked and was told it stood for Politics and Prose.
P&P, I thought. Could that be any more pretentious? Because what was an acronym but a way for cool people to exclude uncool people? Only now that I knew what the acronym meant, I felt kind of cool myself. And when I went to “P&P” with my friend, I felt even cooler. Here was this underground world (we hung out in the café, which was cloistered and cave-like) of teenagers, reading beat up fantasy novels and drinking espressos and talking about flirtations and movies and who knows what. The scene looked somewhat pretentious to me, but it wasn’t. It was rarefied, sure, because most of the kids in my high school didn’t go there. They’d rather have drunken hook ups at house parties, activities that made me uncomfortable. Whereas at P&P, I felt like myself: I could be a glorious dork, a sophisticated dork, A dork in the know.
And so P&P became my Peach Pit. It was my own version of The Max.
It still is. I am a loyal customer of the store, and reading there after my first book came out in 2005, was one of the best moments of my life. It may even top my wedding day next month. (We’ll see.) And, yes I am one of those dreaded café customers who comes in at 10am and doesn’t leave until 5. Though in my defense, I generally eat and drink my way through the hours. I often make trips from Brooklyn to DC for the sole purpose of spending a few days at the store, to work on freelance stories and books. I love the fact that I always run into people I know—parents of friends, old teachers, my dad’s colleagues, journalists. One day a few years ago, I looked up from my work to see Judith Warner sitting at my communal table.
“Judith Warner!” I texted my then-boyfriend, now fiancé. “Should I say hi? I’m so nervous!”
He wrote back, “Who?”
“She writes for the New York Times!!!”
My fiancé thought I was nuts. “Of course you should say hello,” he said. “It’s not like you’ve spotted J Lo.”
But Judith might as well have been J Lo to me—to this geek, there was no greater celebrity than a New York Times columnist. I’m not quite sure when it had happened, but I was no longer an anti-newspaper stooge. I’d come to love both politics and prose. So I worked up the nerve to introduce myself. It turned out we were both working on books.
I sat back, took a bite of my tuna sandwich (my all-time favorite P&P café food) and returned to my writing. I’d arrived.