{You Pick Six} An Interview with Writer: Amy Traverso

Amy TraversoMy apple appetite keeps increasing. Sometimes I’m eating more than an apple a day!

But who can blame me? Certainly not Amy Traverso, who wrote The Apple Lover’s Cookbook and is Senior Lifestyle Editor at Yankee Magazine.

As mentioned in a previous post, I learned about Amy’s book after seeing her speak as part of a panel discussion at TECHmunch Boston. She was also named one of Boston’s “Ultimate Tastemakers” by Boston Common magazine.

So it’s truly an honor to have her participate in the eighth part of the interview series, You Pick Six. Let’s jump in!

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What is a favorite simple recipe to prepare at home?
This time of year, it’s definitely my grandmother’s apple crisp, which she first discovered in an issue of Country Gentleman magazine back in the 1930s. She saved the clipping and now I have it. It’s different from the oatmeal-based crisps that most people know, because the topping is more like a cobbler or a sweet biscuit. You combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder as the base and the only liquid comes from a couple of eggs that you stir in until the mixture is crumbly. Then you drizzle 6 or 8 tablespoons of butter over the whole thing and sprinkle it with cinnamon. I have absolutely no self-control around this dish and will gladly eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you come to my house for dinner in the fall, chances are this is what I’m serving for dessert.

Grandma Mary’s Apple Crisp
Yield: 8 servings
Time: 1¼ hours, largely unattended

5 large tender-tart apples (such as McIntosh or Jonathan; about 2½ pounds total), peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick rings or slices
5 large firm-sweet apples (such as Jazz or Ginger Gold; about 2½ pounds total), peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick rings or slices
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF, and set a rack to the middle position. Arrange the sliced apples in an even layer in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish (no need to grease it); set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the eggs and, using a fork or a pastry cutter, work in until crumbly. The mixture will look like streusel, with a mix of wet and dry bits. (Have no fear; the eggs provide enough liquid.)

3. Spread the topping evenly over the apples, then drizzle all over with the melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake until the topping is golden brown and apple juices are bubbling, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes, then serve warm from the pan.

Apple Stack Cake-horz2What is some of the best advice you’ve ever received?
My father always told me that if you become an expert at something, you’ll always have work to do. Of course, you also have to be good at many things in order to have a career as a food writer. You should be able to cook, to cover trends, to write about restaurants. But having one area of concentration is useful.

What is a favorite quote?
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – from Neale Donald Walsch. I used to hate public speaking or doing live TV. I completely dreaded having to promote The Apple Lover’s Cookbook. I wanted to stay in the kitchen and behind my computer!  And then I got a call from my publicist informing me that she had booked me on The Martha Stewart Show. I hung up the phone and cried. But having to do it (Martha was very nice, btw) and having to get up there and give talks at libraries and women’s clubs and farmers’ markets reminded me that the only answer to fear is doing exactly the thing that you want to avoid. And the rewards come back tenfold. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences since I got out there.

What is a favorite childhood food memory?
I grew up in one of those Italian families with the grape arbor and a big garden in grandma’s back yard and salame hanging from the rafters in the root cellar. We had big Sunday dinners with homemade pasta and from-scratch cakes. (As I type this, I realize it sounds like a bad cliche or a Saveur personal essay parody, so let me add that my grandparents mixed their red wine with ginger ale and we made our pesto with cream cheese instead of pine nuts because it was cheaper). But the centrality of those Sunday dinners taught me that food isn’t merely sustenance or fashion, but something that can connect you with your community and history. It’s where some of my happiest childhood memories live and it’s what I wanted to bring into my adult life by becoming a food writer.

What is a favorite cookbook?
I still go back to The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and have learned more from it than perhaps any other book I own. There are others that do a terrific job of teaching technique, but Judy Rodgers knew how to explain the mechanics without losing the poetry. Also, reading her book reminds me of living in San Francisco and all the wonderful food we had there.

Tell me about your book.
The Apple Lover’s Cookbook is my love letter to an incredible fruit—one that has woven itself into human history for thousands of years. The project began with a simple love of apple crisp and other homey recipes and of the orchards themselves, but when I started learning about the history (for example: Apples are native to Asia, not North America) and about their diversity (there are thousands of varieties being grown worldwide), I was hooked.

The Apple Lover's CookbookApple are unique in the fruit world for many reasons. Unlike, say, oranges or lemons, apples are available in multiple varieties pretty much everywhere they’re sold. Even my neighborhood convenience store has Granny Smith and Red Delicious. And they all taste very different. They also respond differently to cooking: one (Northern Spy) will hold up well in a pie and another (McIntosh) will turn to mush. So I decided to bring some order to the chaos and organize about 60 different varieties into one of four categories, based on how sweet (or tart) they are and on how they respond to cooking. Are they firm and tart? Tender and sweet? I used that info to guide the recipes—there are 100 of them, from soup to entrees to dessert—and the book helps you choose the best ones for, say, pie versus pancakes versus braised brisket.

The book is full of gorgeous photos by Squire Fox, and I give tasting notes and historical info for each variety, plus an index with apple products, apple festivals, and a guide to hard cider, which is growing exponentially in popularity.

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Thank you so much for participating Amy!

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Photos provided by Amy Traverso.

Recently Read: Attractive Unattractive Americans

Attractive Unattractive Americans book coverAfter  reading Attractive Unattractive Americans by René Zografos, I had several very strong reactions. I truly enjoyed the book and took so many notes as I was reading that I cannot possibly mention them all.

I thought it was hilarious that many people who are not American think that we are overly dramatic. OMG! How could that be?!

I don’t think I’ve have ever seen an American reality-TV show without a huge theater scene. It’s always someone who is ill, or who recently lost a family member or something else sad, and they always seem to mention that the reason they are on that particular TV show is because of them–that they want to honor their loved one or hardship. Then everyone cries and feels so sad. For people outside of America that is rather strange behavior–all these dramatic scenes on everyday television.

We can probably all agree that reality TV is rather fake, but we Americans do use a lot of superlatives and know how to hype things up.

However, the older I get, the more I also see that real life is dramatic. Between things going on in my own life and people that I know, it could be show or movie that would be so over the top that much of it would not be believed. Life is stranger than fiction.

The book has commentary about the United States written by the author, but he also interviewed people from all over the world on their views of Americans. Zografos has a very interesting background himself — half Greek and half Norwegian.

The book is fairly short and an easy read, but goes into great detail about many areas of daily American life. The topics are extensive. He talks about work life balance. How Americans work very hard, but don’t have much vacation time and often do not get to travel. He discusses issues of violence, social justice, charity, compassion, products made in America and more. Americans are described as happy and friendly, but how this sometimes comes off as fake.

This would be a great book for a book club, because so much lively discussion and debate would be generated. Especially if the group were a diverse mix of people. It would be good in the classroom too.

Since I’m all about food, I found a quote by Jaqueline from Brazil, particularly bizarre. She clearly had a very bad and limited cookie tasting experience while she was here. No doubt a World Peace Cookie never made its way into her mouth.

American cookies actually taste like plain sugar. They’re not edible for my taste. All these cookies full of sugar make me nauseous, and they must make Americans chubby.

It was interesting how Zografos did many comparisons between Americans and Norwegians. At first, I was reminded of a Norwegian Apple Cake that I baked after seeing a recipe on Tracy’s blog. She is an American expat blogger living in Norway.

So, I was quite surprised by his writing about violence in Norway and how criminals often are not prosecuted. In some ways the book may seem simplistic, with some of the short quotes and cartoons in the beginning. But when he gets going and really starts analyzing, he digs deep. This is not a superficial book. He also understands the regional quality of the United States and mentions several places.

Seattle is my number one city in the U.S., followed by San Francisco. New York City is a solid number three on my list. I enjoy nature and the sea, and New York is in many ways a nutshell of urban USA, but still with a fair amount of European influence. I must add that I have never been to Boston, although I suspect that Boston will be my very favorite when I finally do visit.

Yes, I agree with you! We have it all here in Boston! The author has such a unique perspective on so many subjects, that I was having mini-imaginary conversations with him as I was reading. I really like how he talked about the idea of the American Dream and how the process of writing the book changed him –transformed his life.

Your own journey toward your goals will itself create happiness. ~ René Zografos

I love the phrase Carpe Diem and have a necklace with the words inscribed. When I wear it, it feels like a talisman letting me more fully enjoy the present. This book is like one big Carpe Diem. The author did it and he’s telling us to as well.

As the book winds down, you can feel the author’s optimism and passion for life gearing up.

Live now. Go from words to actions; be a doer and an achiever, not only a dreamer. Dare to find your own path, because if you do, the most wonderful thing in life can and will happen to you. Some Americans already understand this and, as a result, they are living extraordinary lives. …

[A]s long as I follow my passion, I am living my dream–my American dream–and the only voice I need to listen to is my own–to what I need deep down inside. Thanks to the process and journey of writing this book, I now also feel different and more open, a better human being, almost invincible and more American, somehow. I have accomplished writing a book in a foreign language. It took me many years with small steps every day, and I made it through the storm, as I have done before. As a consequence of writing this book, it has resulted in priceless meetings with wonderful people and cultures. A true gift was given to me: I achieved happiness.

After finishing this book, the author’s words and feelings have lingered. Not only is this book about Americans, but it’s about finding that courage within ourselves to live out our dreams.

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Disclsoure: Review copy of book received from Smith Publicity.

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Screenshot: Amazon

{You Pick Six} An Interview with Writer + Cheese Maker: Korsha Wilson

Food Writer Korsha WilsonHave you ever met a cheese maker? Well, you’re about to! While, she is now a former cheese maker, it’s still quite a unique skill set to bring to the table, especially as a food writer.

Last summer while eating lunch at a Drive the District food blogger event, I met Korsha Wilson. I was fascinated to learn back then that she made cheese for a living and also writes about food.

Some of her older writings were at The Industry Press, where people in the Boston area restaurant industry shared their stories.

As a writer, her repertoire is constantly expanding. She’s written for Eater, New York Times Food, Civil Eats, Food & Wine and more. Follow her on Twitter to find her latest articles.

Let’s learn a little more about this prolific food writer, as Korsha answers six questions for the third part in the interview series, You Pick Six.

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What is a favorite snack?
I’m obsessed with french fries. I get cravings for them on a very regular basis and am constantly seeking out restaurants and bars that make them well. A good french fry (crispy and salty with great potato flavor) is surprisingly hard to find.

What is a favorite food movie?
Eat Drink Man Woman is one of the most underrated food movies in my opinion. It really captures the the beauty of preparing a meal for loved ones. Ratatouille is one of my all-time favorite movies and I think it does the best job of illustrating food’s ability to create connection. Also, there’s a bad ass female chef as one of the central characters and she has the same name as my mom.

What do you think that most people don’t understand about food?
I think a lot of people in this country feel like their love of food isn’t valid if it isn’t ‘fine dining.’ The proliferation of food media has led to the general public having a lot more food knowledge but it has also led to people feeling like food has to include certain ingredients or be cooked a certain way to be ‘good’. The food world is made up of everything that everyone eats. Period. Food belongs to everyone and everyone has a valid palate. I meet a lot of people who are afraid to tell me what they like to eat or cook because they assume that since I went to culinary school and worked in restaurants that all of the food that I eat is high-end or expensive. If you’re using great ingredients and cooking with care, whatever you’re cooking is going to be delicious and it’s worthy of being talked about.

best meal ever Locanda SpinolaWhat is the best meal you ever had and where was it?
That’s tough. I believe that every restaurant experience or every meal you make at home is different depending on your mood and other factors. My most recent favorite meal was at a small restaurant in Genoa, Italy.

After a day of sightseeing, my boyfriend and I had a drink at a local bar and asked the bartender where to have a good dinner. Instead of just giving us his answer, he asked the rest of the bar patrons and the kitchen staff what they thought and they all agreed that we should go to Locanda Spinola, a new restaurant nearby. Long story short, it was amazing. Homemade pastas, simply prepared fresh seafood and local wine. The service was so hospitable and warm! My boyfriend and I stayed after our dinner (and after the restaurant closed) drinking beer with the staff and talking about restaurants in the U.S. and Italy. It was wonderful.

How did food become an important part of your life?
Food was always an important part of family gatherings. I’m lucky to have grown up with great cooks on both sides of my family and I learned early that food is a way to communicate love. That pushed me to go to culinary school and journalism school, work in restaurants and write about food for a living.

Tell me about what you’re working on now.
I am currently working on lots and lots of freelance writing. Haha. Ultimately, I would like to contribute to a more diverse food media landscape and explore different media projects. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

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Thank you so much for participating Korsha!

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Photos provided by Korsha Wilson.

{You Pick Six} An Interview with Writer: Richard Auffrey

Writer Richard AuffreyIf you’re a food blogger or writer in the Boston area, you may have already met Richard Auffrey at a food event around the city.

He is a familiar face that I always enjoy seeing in a crowd. Richard’s blog, The Passionate Foodie, is aptly named, because as a writer, he has a true love for food and drink. He also strives to bring more inclusiveness to the food blogger community and celebrates its diversity.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy learning more about Richard as he answers questions for the second part in the interview series, You Pick Six.

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What is a favorite simple recipe to prepare at home?
I make a simple Teriyaki sauce. Simply add 7 parts Sake, 7 parts Mirin, 7 parts Soy Sauce & 1 part Sugar to a sauce pan. Bring to a boil under a medium heat, stirring constantly until all the sugar dissolves. And that’s it! Once it cools, you can bottle and refrigerate it for future use. If you want, you can also add minced garlic.

What is a favorite dessert?
I love a well made Bread Pudding, though it can’t have raisins. I think it is also a versatile dessert and I’m surprised that no bakery has chosen to specialize in Bread Pudding. Forget all these cupcake shops, give me a Bread Pudding bakery.

What is a favorite quote?
“O what an ugly sight the man who thinks he’s wise and never drinks sake!”
–Otomo no Tabito (c. 662-731)

What is a favorite food movie?
Ratatouille, the animated film about a rat who becomes a chef. Besides being a fun movie, it has so many excellent lines such as “Good food is like music you can taste, color you can smell. There is excellence all around you. You need only to be aware to stop and savor it.”

What is a favorite childhood food memory?
My mother’s Cinnamon Rolls, especially when they are still hot and fresh out of the oven. They always brought me joy and I saw them as a sign of my mother’s love. And after all these years, my mom still makes those Cinnamon Rolls, with the same recipe, and they immediately bring me back to my childhood and they also still are a sign of her love.

Halloween Nightmare at Fenway Tipsy SenseiTell me about your book.
Halloween Nightmare At Fenway is my third novel in the Tipsy Sensei series, which centers on a Boston-based Sake expert who learns that the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore are real. In this latest novel, the darkest element of Japan from World War 2 spawns supernatural creatures which now threaten Boston, choosing Fenway Park during the World Series as the site of their primary threat. Nate, the Sake expert, must stop the threat, assisted by an immortal Japanese samurai and a homicide detective, a woman of color. As the novel occurs in Boston, I also mention some of my favorite restaurants. The Tipsy Sensei series is a way for me to share my passion for Sake and to tell a thrilling tale.

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Thank you so much for participating Richard!

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Photos provided by Writer Richard Auffrey.

{You Pick Six} An Interview with Writer: Anastacia Marx de Salcedo

Anastacia Salcedo © Jorge SalcedoHappy September! Since it’s the first day of a new month and back to school time, it seems like the perfect day to begin something new. You Pick Six is a new interview series where I email several questions to interesting New Englanders and let them decide the six questions that they would like to answer.

There are so many fascinating people in the New England area. With this new type of interview, I hope to learn a few things and share some of these people with you.

Let’s get this first interview started with writer Anastacia Marx de Salcedo, who has a new book out called Combat-Ready Kitchen: How the U.S. Military Shapes the Way You Eat.

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What is a favorite simple recipe to prepare at home?
I don’t have a favorite recipe; I have a favorite way—actually ways—to turn vegetables delectable, and those rely on two workhouse appliances, the toaster-oven and the blender. The toaster-oven is great for roasting. I cut all sorts of things— cauliflower, eggplant, okra, peppers, Brussel sprouts, zucchini—into bite-size chunks, toss with olive oil and sea salt, and cook at 400 °F for anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. I serve these at parties as finger foods and people can’t stop eating them. My other infallible vegetable cookery method is a smidge more complicated, which is to braise in water or stock such standards as asparagus, broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms; make a white sauce (aka New England soul food); puree the vegetables in the blender; and then mix everything together in a soup pot. Great winter night fare!

What brings you peace every day?
Running. Laughing with my kids. Being in bed with my husband.

What is some of the best advice you’ve ever received?
When you can’t solve something, keeping reading. Thanks, Dad!

What three people do you admire most?
I admire many ordinary people, drawing from them a collection of the qualities that seem necessary to live a good life. Some of those are courage, optimism, and dedication. Personally, I’m always asking myself if I’m being a good role model for my children. If I’m behaving in a way that I’d like them to emulate, I feel good about my decisions.

What is the best meal you ever had and where was it?
Tiny, just-dug, hot potatoes sprinkled with kosher salt eaten from a plastic sandwich bag; a hard-boiled egg (undoubtedly laid that day), also with kosher salt; and sweet coffee eaten in a small, Ecuadorian mountain village at sunrise. Why was it the best? I was hungry. I was happy. It was a moment of purity.

Combat-Ready Kitchen - coverTell me about your book.
My book untangles the profound influence the US military has had on American food science and processed foods. If you’d told me ten years ago that I’d be writing about this topic, I would have been very surprised. But one day I started thinking about a sandwich—specifically that its components all had a rather long shelf-life—and that led me down a rabbit hole into the military’s involvement in our food system. The book’s got a lot of important 20th century food science in it, although it’s been digested by me, the ultimate layperson and written in lay terms. Writing about it made me realize how scarily little we humanities types often understand about how the material world works. Time to change that, y’all!

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Thank you so much for participating Anastacia!

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Photos provided by Anastacia Marx de Salcedo. Credit: © Jorge Salcedo.