Recently Read: A History Of Chowder

While I haven’t done any chowder tastings lately, I did read a book about its history.

A History Of Chowder is a tiny, tiny book that dives deeply into all things chowder.

Boston Magazine says that “clam chowder (even cheffed-up clam chowder) will always have less sex appeal than fried chicken.”

Maybe that’s true. But does it matter? Is the comparison even fair? Chowder is a comfort food that reminds us New Englanders of home.

The book says that it’s not clear who created the first bowl of chowder, but does provide the earliest published chowder recipe.

Dated September 23, 1751, it’s actually a rhyming poem! Below is part of the recipe.

First lay some Onions to keep the Pork from burning,
Because in chouder there can be no turning;
Then lay some Pork in slices very thin,
This you in Chouder always must begin.
Next lay some Fish oer crossways very nice
Then season well with Pepper, Salt and Spice;

Because chowder began as a soup made at sea, it was first considered to be a masculine food. It was made by men, for men and consumed with rough manners. While this makes sense, I had never thought of chowder that way.

As different ingredients are added to chowder over time, it changes and who eats it expands. Regional variance also start happening — particularly the addition of milk and cream by some and the addition of tomatoes by others. It seems like New York and Boston never agree on anything!

A good portion of the book also analyzes how chowder ingredients are intertwined with the colonial past of this country. History brings its remnants forward. And the next time I do partake in a bowl of chowder, I will see it in a bit of a different light.

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Photo: Amazon

Recently Read: Enter Helen

Book cover showing picture of Helen Gurley Brown sitting on a stool, wearing a red dress.

Just recently, I finished reading the book Enter Helen, by Brooke Hauser. I wanted to make sure that I wrote about it before too much time passed and I never got around to it. Which has happened with many books. Far too many books.

Enter Helen is about the life of Helen Gurley Brown, the woman who made Cosmopolitan magazine what it is today. I had no idea that before she took over Cosmo in the 1960s, it had been a literary magazine. Boy did she change it!

The magazine was suddenly all about the young single woman in the city out on the prowl looking for men. But also about fashion, style, food, work, money, travel and more. She modernized the lifestyle magazine for women after making a career for herself writing books about the same demographic. It’s impossible not to think about the appeal of Sex and the City, when reading about Brown’s life.

While Brown had never been an editor, through connections she got the job and succeeded in bringing the magazine to heights it had never seen before through a lot of hard work and determination. Sadly, it was also because she wasn’t always a stickler for the truth. Making up sources and/or compiling several people into a fictional person wasn’t a problem for her. She knew how to get advertisers and how to sell. As a freelance writer, it was especially interesting to read about the inner workings of a magazine.

By any means necessary was her motto — in my opinion in interpreting her actions. In her early life, she had no problem using sex when it got her money, work and status. She had fun and didn’t care if the man was married either. Brown didn’t consider herself pretty, but was a charmer and used her charms to get what she wanted.

Her life story is told within the context of its time. The women’s movement is the backdrop of much of the book, along with commentary by Gloria Steinem. Brown and Steinem had a complicated relationship fraught with tension based on their different takes on how women should “be” in the world.

It was quite interesting to read and surprising to see how their careers and lives crossed. Steinem did freelance writing for Cosmo and even appeared as a model. They were so different, yet had so much in common. Especially with Steinem co-founding Ms. Magazine. Quite interesting to note that both of these magazines are still around, when so many magazines go out of business.

After reading the book, there are many things that I don’t like about Brown. But I have to respect her and her accomplishments. Enter Helen is well written and researched — a truly fascinating read. I highly recommend it. A great book to add to your summer reading list!

Every Body Yoga Tour: Jessamyn Stanley in Boston

Young black woman doing yoga in background with text showing cities she's visiting for Every Body Yoga book tour.

Instagram star and internationally acclaimed yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley is now also a published author.

Her new book, Every Body Yoga, will be released in April  and she’s going on tour to promote it.

Lucky for us, Boston is on her tour list and she will be speaking at Boston Public Library on Tuesday, June 6th, 6pm – 7:30pm.

Mark your calendars!

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Image: JessamynStanley.com

{You Pick Six} An Interview with Travel Writer & Essayist: Maria Olia

maria_olia

This past spring, I attended an open house for Friends of the Thomas Crane Public Library. I love Quincy’s library system and think supporting the library is a great way to be a philanthropist — even if only on a small scale.

I’ve been a Friend of the library for years, but it was my first time attending this type of event. And I’m so glad I did. I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Maria Olia, who writes about travel in the Boston area and New England in general.

Maria’s current book, New England’s Colonial Inns & Taverns, is a great resource and timely too.  For those of you who believe in ghosts and  are looking forward to Halloween, she lists some haunted historic inns in her book.

But don’t be scared! We’re going to resume this ongoing series with the 14th interview of You Pick Six and learn some more about Maria.

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What brings you peace every day?
My long walks around Crystal Lake in Newton bring me peace every morning. I love walking outside every day, in all weather. Sometimes I walk with a friend, sometimes I listen to classical music. Walking helps set my mind for the rest of the day. And sometimes walking is the best part of my day!

What is a favorite quote?
One of my favorite quotes is from Mark Twain- ” In New York they ask, ‘How much money does he have?’ In Philadelphia they ask, ‘Who were his parents?’ In Boston, they ask, How much does he know.'” Of course, historically, Boston was the intellectual impetus for the American Revolution. And I think Twain’s quote is still apt- we are “smaat!”

What is a favorite childhood food memory?
I’m a child of the 70’s so one of my fondest food memories was having cheese fondue.The idea of sharing food from a communal pot was totally hippy. It was very exotic for the time- the little enamel pot filled with melted swiss cheese and the long forks with the color coded handles – I always picked red. In our house, my Mom, my Dad, my little brother and I would eat fondue sitting on the floor huddled around the coffee table in the family room which just added to its “specialness.”

What is the best meal you ever had and where was it?
I eat out constantly in Boston doing research for my travel books and I have had some amazing meals along the way. But my most memorable meal was 10 years ago in Tuscany. My husband and I, along with our three sons, our daughter and my parents toured the Castello di Brolio vineyard. Afterwards we had the tasting menu at the vineyard’s small restaurant. I don’t remember exactly what I had for each course, but it was an authentic Italian meal outside on a perfect summer day in a magnificent setting and with all the people I love.

How did food become an important part of your life?
Ever since I was a teenager, I was a foodie. One summer I made a project of cooking meals from around the world. I would do the research and make things like saurbraten with spaetzle, or Venezuelan beef tamales in banana leaves. One year, for my high school French class final report I made a croquembouche- a tower of cream- filled choux pastry balls decorated in caramel sugar. Naturally, dining is a huge part of my travel writing. You can plan entire days around the restautrants, bakeries and food markets that I write about in my guidebooks.

new-englands-colonial-inns-taverns

Tell me about your book.
My newest book is New England’s Colonial Inns & Taverns (Globe Pequot). It’s a travel book that profiles 29 historic New England inns and taverns that have a connection to the colonial era; places that date before the year 1800. Some of the places are well known, like the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge or the Union Oyster House in Boston. Others are less common, like Mount Hope Farm in Bristol, Rhode Island and Eben House in Provincetown.

What is unique about this book is that I delve deeply into the colonial history of each place; how and when they were established and the tavern or inn’s relationship to their community through the years. And for these places we are talking centuries! I have also written about what today’s traveler would expect; the types of rooms or amenities at the inns and the dining experiences found at the taverns. There really is something for every taste; romantic country inns of course, but also high-end boutique inns, elegant townhouse inns and rustic chic- inns. Some taverns are all about Yankee pot roast and chicken pot pie, but there are several that are fine dining destinations with excellent wine lists.

Finally, the book has nearly 100 color photographs throughout- what I like to refer to as “Instagram-worthy” photos. There is a two-page spread of cows in a misty meadow, a full page photograph of a bicycle with a wicker basket of hydrangeas propped against a country fence and a full page collage of seafood dishes from Maine’s York Harbor Inn that looks like it should be in a food magazine. The book is a large format paperback but it has the feel of a coffee table book. It’s visually very appealing. I think that we are very lucky to be living in this corner of the world!

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Thank you so much for participating Maria!

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Photos: Provided by Maria Olia.

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Recently Read: 10% Happier

Cover of book that I recently read, 10% Happier by Dan Harris.

I recently read the book 10% Happier by Dan Harris and thought I would share a few impressions.

Since I meditate mostly everyday, I didn’t need to be convinced of the benefits of meditation and becoming mindful. However, I’m always curious to learn how and why people make it part of their lives. Seeing their realization that it’s a great thing to do is a source of endless fascination.

The book begins with Harris describing his early career tackling stories in war zones. The adrenaline rush and violence, then his early drug use. To me it felt like a book focused on an audience of hyper-masculine young men and was losing my interest rapidly.

When I was young, I used to always finish books that I started. Sometimes I would finish books that I hated from the beginning to the end. Then I’d be upset that I couldn’t get that time back.

I started thinking, “Who said you have to finish?” I realized that I was the one making the decision, so I stopped. Now, if I’m not feeling the book or many other things, I don’t finish and cut my losses.

Since I was really curious, I kept reading and got to the parts that I truly enjoyed. We see Harris, who is quite the skeptic, slowly make his way to trying and believing that mindful meditation works. He finds that it makes him “10% happier.” It’s a step-by-step process and he brings us with him for the ride. Harris is now such a believer that he even has a website and an app to help you learn to meditate as well.

It’s also very interesting, especially to me as a black woman, seeing how Jewish male friendships are a big part of his story. I went to Brandeis University for my undergraduate degree, so I was part of the Goyum on campus. Believe me. I didn’t know the word until I got there and started being referred to that way. But that’s another story.

So anyway, Harris has a whole chapter called “The Jew-Bu” where we meet Dr. Mark Epstein. He is a a New York psychiatrist and writer who writes “about the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy.” Epstein’s writing really spoke to Harris. Like with many other authors, Harris wanted to learn more, so they met in person for a “man-date” as he describes it. Below are some passages from the book.

It hit me that what I had on my hands here was a previously undiscovered species: a normal human being. Epstein, it appeared to me, was the anti-Tolle, the anti-Chopra. Not a guru in the popular sense of the word, just a regular guy with whom I was having a drink on a Friday night.

We started to talk about his background. He, too, had grown up in the Boston area. His dad was also a doctor. He didn’t have some fancy backstory, à la Tolle or Chopra. No sudden late-night spiritual awakening, no hearing of voices. …

I asked what a beginner should do to get deeper into this world. … As I madly typed notes into my BlackBerry for future reference, it was impossible not to notice that nearly all of these names were Jewish: Goldstein, Coleman, Kornfield, Salzberg. ‘This is a whole subculture,’ he said. The little cabal even had a nickname: The ‘Jew-Bus.’ …

Mark also pointed out that mindfulness was a skill — one that would improve as I got more meditation hours under my belt. In that spirit, he said I should consider going on a retreat. … Specifically, he recommended that I sign up for a retreat led by someone named Joseph Goldstein, who Mark referred to as ‘his’ meditation teacher. He spoke about this Goldstein character in the most glowing terms, which intrigued me. I figured if a guy I revered revered another guy, I should probably check that other guy out.

As we were paying the bill, I said, ‘If you’re up for it, I’d love to get together every month or two.’

‘Sure,’ he said, looking up from the remains of his drink and meeting my gaze. With uncontrived sincerity he said, ‘I want to know you.’ That was one of the nicest things anyone had ever said to me. After we’d finished, as we said good-bye, he gave me a hug. It was touching, and I appreciated his willingness to be my friend, but there was no way in hell I was going on a retreat.

We hear so much about female friendship, but I think male friendship is very important too. As we get older it’s harder to make new friends. But it can happen and this book shows it beautifully.

It takes a lot of vulnerability and strength to tell someone that you want to be their friend. Plus, it showed the same strength and vulnerability to write about it. I’m glad that Harris put it out there.

Coincidentally, in addition to what I’ve recently read, I recently watched an old episode of Seinfeld when Jerry becomes friends with New York Mets baseball player Keith Hernandez and they go on a “man date.”

Also, I just recently listened to a podcast of This American Life where two men are set up on blind “man date” to see if they can become friends.

While I loved reading about the friendships that formed, it also left me wondering. Was Harris only able to receive and implement this new information because it was placed before him by men who were just like him?

If he had not learned about the “Jew-Bus” would he have ever been convinced about mindfulness and meditation? If not, would he have ever written this book? And what does that say about us as people? How often do we learn something new from someone very different from us? And then want to become friends with them. Not very often.

What books have you recently read?

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Image Credit: HarperCollins Publishers

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