Too Spicy for Average Mortals: December Reader Spotlight on Claire Burgess

We’re so excited for this week’s event, Six Impossible Things for Breakfast, so today we bring you a little taste of Claire Burgess, who will be reading at Classic Lines, Thursday 12/10, at 7pm. We hope to see you there for the weird and wonderful side of food!


 

IMG_2045Why do you write about food?

The funny thing is I don’t purposefully write about food, but it’s all over my stories. Food, eating, cooking. It’s because there is a visceral power in food. It can be pleasurable, comforting, gluttonous, or sexy. It nourishes and sustains us, keeps us alive. Preparing it can be an act of love or obligation. We take it into our bodies. Think about that. We take it into our bodies. There’s a boon of metaphorical possibility there. It’s also just plain useful: you can tell a lot about a character by what she feeds herself. Green smoothies or gas station nachos? Or, even better, both? (We all have our contradictions.) There’s a lot you can do with food.

What’s the strangest meal you’ve ever had? 

My husband and I were in Paris, and there was a TexMex restaurant near our hotel called El Rancho. Naturally, we had to try it. It was decorated in tasteful, Mexican-ish decor, and there was a sign over the door that said “Thank’s for your visit.” They served us the tiniest chips and salsa imaginable. The chips were bite-sized, and the salsa was in a bowl about the size of a soy sauce cup. I ordered a margarita, which came in a miniature Manhattan glass, and chicken fajitas, which had not only the standard peppers and onions, but also broccoli, green beans, olives, and sugar snap peas. Sugar snap peas. In a fajita. It was delicious, of course, cause France, and we actually went back a second time and ordered the exact same thing. Since then, I’ve tried to recreate it at home, but I can’t quite capture its original glory.

If someone invented a cocktail named after you, what would it include?

The Claire Burgess would use ingredients that you always have in your house, because this is the kind of drink you drink after you’ve already had a few and shouldn’t be tempted to drive anywhere for some missing frou-frou liqueur. It has a strong pour of whisky in it, and it definitely has hot sauce, and then whatever else can be scrounged from your pantry because you haven’t been to the store in over a week. It should be too spicy for average mortals. Every sip should warm you like an embrace and then kick you in the ass. Some people think it’s disgusting, but that’s how you know who your real friends are. They’re the messy ones with the belly laughs, the sharp tongues and giant hearts. The fire eaters, the smoke breathers, the dragons with a purr in their throats.


You can read some of Burgess’s fiction at Annalemma, and then hear her in person next week at Classic Lines bookstore for Six Impossible Things for Breakfast.

Claire Burgess is a writer of short fiction, educator of teenagers, and blogger for The Rumpus. Her stories have received special/notable mentions in thePushcart Prize and Best American anthologies, and have appeared in Third Coast, Hunger Mountain, PANK, and elsewhere. She received her MFA from Vanderbilt University and is a founding editor of Nashville Review. Currently, she’s completing a manuscript of short stories under the working title Last Dog.

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Buzzy, Mellow, and Warm: December Reader Spotlight on Jennifer Bannan

Next up in our December event spotlight, we’re pleased to feature fiction writer Jennifer Bannan, who will be reading at Six Impossible Things for Breakfast, and who may have invented a wonderful new cocktail below.


 

jenbannan headshot.JPGWhy do you write about food?

I’m interested in consuming as a concept. I’m fascinated by the way, for example, people in this culture are more often referred to as consumers than as citizens. Food is an easy, direct route to thinking about consuming. Or over-consuming, as in the case of the story I’ll be reading. And food is chock full of sensory power, which all writers want to include in their work.

What’s the strangest meal you’ve ever had? 

I grew up in Miami and my boyfriend’s family was Cuban. His mom wanted to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner because my boyfriend had joined my family for the holiday and he loved the food so much. I gave her as much information as my mom passed on, but it must have seemed lacking to her. She shoved a bunch of garlic cloves and lemon rind under the skin of the bird, and the stuffing was also one of the most garlicky, lemony things I’ve ever eaten. My boyfriend was mortified, even angry at her, and while I thought it was strange for sure, it was really very delicious.

If someone invented a cocktail named after you, what would it include?

The Jennifer Bannan would mix the buzzy effects of a strong cup of espresso with the mellowing effects of a nice Pinot Noir with the cozy warming effects of a Manhattan. I guess this shows that I’m more interested in the after-effects than the initial flavor.


You can read some of Bannan’s fiction at Kenyon Review online, and then hear her in person next week at Classic Lines bookstore for Six Impossible Things for Breakfast.

Jennifer Bannan is the author of short story collection Inventing Victor, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2003.  Her publications include work in ACM, Kenyon Review online, Passages North, the Autumn House 2011 fiction anthology, “Keeping the Wolves at Bay” and a story forthcoming in theChicago Quarterly Review.  She received her MFA at the University of Pittsburgh in 2014 and is at work on a novel, Welcome to Kindness.

Cheese Fish: December Reader Spotlight on Daniel Shapiro

Today we’re pleased to introduce Pittsburgh poet Daniel Shapiro, who will be kicking things off at our December reading, Six Impossible Things for Breakfast. We asked Shapiro to tell us a little bit about himself, Acquired Taste style.


Shapiro

Why do you write about food?

I haven’t written about food all that much, but I like to do it because it’s not a poetry topic that has been done to death. It’s not break-ups or trees. I typically seek out offbeat themes, odd juxtapositions of words, etc., and food lends itself to these pursuits.

What’s the strangest meal you’ve ever had?

The strangest meal I’ve ever had remains the cheese fish they used to serve at my middle school. Most likely, it was accompanied by the overcooked stalks of broccoli. It consisted of a square, fried piece of what was said to be fish, and the cheese–not unlike Velveeta–was apparently injected into it, a la creme filling into a Twinkie. My friends and I have turned cheese fish into a mythical monster, of sorts, and I hope to have a cheese fish poem available for the reading.

If someone invented a cocktail named The Daniel Shapiro, what would it include?

It would consist of the most expensive, most rare bourbon available and nothing else. It would be the Sasquatch of drinks, putting Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year to shame, causing riots, making people forget about the Tickle Me Elmo massacres of old.


You can read some of Shapiro’s poetry, and even get a taste of him reading it, at Hermeneutic Chaos. If you like the sound of his voice, or just want to hear more about the mythic cheese fish, join us next week at Classic Lines bookstore for Six Impossible Things for Breakfast.

Daniel Shapiro is the author of How the Potato Chip Was Invented (sunnyoutside press, 2013), a collection of celebrity-centered poems. He is a special education teacher who lives in Pittsburgh. He interviews other poets while subliminally promoting his own work at Little Myths.

Hungry In More Ways Than One

Get ready for your windows to fog up: today, we bring you a very suggestive craft piece by YA and romance novelist Dana Faletti, on the role great food memories can play in genre writing.

Italy is ripe with inspiration. From its charming people to its lush landscapes to its superior cuisine, there is endless spark to ignite the creative mind. In my travels to the foothills of Southern Italy, I have found that there is an untold story around every bend in its cobblestone streets. My grandmother’s story was one of those.

It wasn’t until after she passed away, that I discovered the scandalous account of her early life in 1940’s Calabria. She only ever divulged it to two other women, my aunt and my mother. On the day after her funeral, I sat at her kitchen table, sipping black coffee while these two wise women shared a priceless gift with me. The tips of my ears burned, and my eyes bulged with disbelief as I listened intently to the tale of my father’s birth and subsequent immigration to the United States. Afterwards, I knew I had to write it all down.

Twenty years later, I have Beautiful Secret, a women’s fiction/romance set in Southern Italy, to be published by Pandamoon Publishing in 2016. The story is told from the points of view of both Maria, a young woman in 1940’s Calabria and her grand-daughter, Tatiana, in present day. Maria (a character based on my Nana) finds herself unmarried and pregnant, and is sent away to a convent in the mountains to give birth. She must find a way to not only keep her son but to get him back to the home and family that is his birthright. Years later, Tatiana travels to Southern Italy to fulfill her grandmother’s dying wish. She expects to walk through her beloved grandmother’s memories but ends up discovering secrets her Nana never told and becoming entangled in a forbidden love affair.

People who have read my manuscript ask me if the story is all true, and my answer is a strong no. It’s fiction with some of the best moments and people from my life threaded through it. For example, instead of simply holding onto the fond memory of my first night in Calabria, I wove it into my story and made it eternal.

That night, when I was twenty-year- young, my parents and I landed at Titto Minniti airport in Reggio, Calabria. At least fifty people were waiting to greet us in the tiny terminal, some with stained and toothless smiles, others with happy tears staining their cheeks. After kissing and being fawned over by these strangers who were my family, my heart was heavily touched. Overwhelmed by the mere power of their welcome, I wondered what would happen next. To allay my obvious confusion, my two English-speaking cousins, who soon became my sidekicks and partners in crime, explained that there was a tradition. Anytime family arrived in Calabria for a visit, they would first go to Great Uncle Nicola’s house to eat dinner.

How would I eat anything after such a surge of emotion?

When we arrived at Uncle Nicola’s home, I was greeted by yet another multitude of kissing cousins and a waft of deliciousness that assured me I would be able to eat. It was the smell of freshness and fry.

The green richness of freshly pressed olive oil and the pungent bite of tomatoes and basil tickled my appetite as I was led through a small row house and out onto the veranda, where several long wooden tables were set for dinner. Mismatched chairs and twinkle lights dotted the stone patio, and lush green vines dipped over tabletops that were canopied by a long-tended grape arbor. Italian folk songs played endlessly as platters of goodness began to emerge from the house.

Antipasti of homemade dried sausage, chewy and piquant. Roasted crimson peppers, studded with garlic and basil, sprinkled with salt and drizzled with oil. Eggplant Parmigiana – Calabrian style – flecked with bright peas and bits of hard-boiled egg, steaming with fresh marinara and Mozzarella cheese. Veal cutlets, pasta, fresh dressed greens.

“Basta,” we said. Enough. We were only half-joking.

But the food kept coming.

House-made Provolone cheese. Slices of summer melon in yellow, green and pink. Peaches whose juices were so sweet, I almost cried as they escaped in drips down my cheeks.

My family only wanted to envelop us in the warmth of their welcome, to delight us with their cooking. It was considered offensive to not eat what was put in front of you, but we were so stuffed.

Still, since the meal was not over, we persevered, every bite both delicious and painful.

Next the pastries appeared, presented like a gallery of master artists’ best pieces. Sfoigliattele, bursting with citrus and the perfect hint of cinnamon. Short, buttery cookies that left a film of luscious grease on my lips. Miniature waffle cones filled with all flavors of gelato – bittersweet hazelnut chocolate, perfect pistachio, vanilla cream. Coffee so dark and rich, it was like drinking sugared velvet.

Once everyone was stuffed beyond belief, the music became louder. The young cousins pushed all of the chairs to the sides of the patio, and my eighty-something-year-old great aunts and uncles hopped to the makeshift dancefloor. They danced the Tarantella in all of its variations, the rest of my cousins and myself eventually joining them under the shadowy grapevines and twinkle lights. It was an unforgettable scene of familial joy, and it inspired a pivotal scene in my book, a scene where forbidden love begins to bloom.

It’s hard not to fall in love in Italy. With the people, the land, the food. Italy, itself, is a passionate place with people who are known for their volatile emotions and cuisine that spices up the senses. How could I set my story in Italy and not add a steamy romance? After all, Italians are known for their passion for both good food and romance. Vivid food descriptions can add to the sensuality of a romantic scene, making the reader hungry – in more ways than one.

Dana Faletti is the author of Beautiful Secret, to be released by Pandamoon Publishing in 2016. This women’s fiction romance is set in the scorched hills of Calabria, and tells the tale of a woman who rediscovers her soul through a journey to her Nana’s homeland in Italy. Dana also wrote The Whisper Trilogy, a young adult paranormal romance that is currently available on Amazon. Dana can frequently be found in her hometown of Pine Richland, writing her food and family inspired blog posts at a crowded Starbucks.

Book Preview: Nobody’s Jackknife

We are so pleased to preview Ellen McGrath Smith‘s newest book of poetry, Nobody’s Jackknife, which will be available Sunday from West End Press. Here’s what she has to say about the collection:

One time, at a party years after I’d stopped drinking, I told someone, ‘The closest I get to a buzz now is when I’m practicing yoga.’ I’m sure this has something to do with endorphins, but it also planted the seeds for a poetry project exploring yoga and alcohol. The poems inhabit a range of forms from sestina to sonnet to ghazal to prose-poem hybrids, mirroring the many shapes the body assumes in a yoga asana practice. Bottoms up and namaste.

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, you’re in luck: the launch party/power yoga extravaganza is Sunday. From 2:30–3:30, catch your breath at South Hills Power Yoga with local writer and yogi Jennifer Lee. From 4–5:30 at Union Project, the author will read and celebrate with a reception. More details about the event.

Gin & Tonic

Summer with its Bacchus-head of grape leaves.
Summer with its berry-bloodied grin.
The invisible highwire
from Venus to the moon
mid-June to salmon-sun September.

The power of green aspiration:
onion bulbs, beginner’s luck.
The lime-pitched traffic of birds in the morning
on the branches of your nerves,
the cat and the lemony canary,
cellophane laundry hanging out to dry—
moss on white wicker, spiked heels
on wet flagstones, lavender and sweat,
conversational hearts
on the faces lit
by flameless torches.

First published in Kestrel magazine


Stout

As in it hits the spot, the spot in which you live, i.e., you live where you are present.
When you aren’t inside the brown glass beading sweet and bitter of the day condensed—where are you? Forgiven by the skin when caked in mud. A Pilgrim’s Progress free pass from the straight and narrow. Hops and hops and hops and hopes like hockey pucks on ice.

Wholesome: good for the eyelashes. Fiber for nursing women. Stout as Stein and squat as boxhedges separating greener grass from just the plain, which has to mean the world is just a bee in your bonnet, a valley of tears, and a dull dry powdery dross.

As in, I spot you; it takes one to know one. As in, if you would rather sit inside that mulchy barrel all night long than be with me: I understand. I wish to God that I could join you caked in mud and full of hops. I wish to God that I could join you.

First published in Quiddity


Rolling Rock Beer

They don’t get out much, the horses inside me.

What I wouldn’t give to let them out just once a year,

the way the rich Scots-Irish do, up in Ligonier—

groomed and toned to jump and race at Rolling Rock.

They chomp at the bit, day by sober day, while all across the state, beer

distributors and bars are stocked with cold green cans

of pastureland and yeast,

the Loyalhanna boiling down the Laurel Mountains

over the prehistoric cliff where’s someone’s scrawled:

        If you love something, let it go.

I once lay back on that cliff while my horses fanned

and ran slipshod over Mellon land, hill and dale.

And I can’t help but feel that, somewhere in Westmoreland County,

in the back of a dark bar,

somebody strums on a guitar and sings Rocky Top—

after all that has come and gone, whole decades

       later—and it still goes down

like novelty or, at least, the status quo for those who sit and listen,

a cold Rock on the table, fingers at a gallop

on the denim fields of thighs, buzzing neurons doing

their own version of the steeplechase,

following the invisible fox, with a certain formal grace,

all the way to Sunday.


If you loved that preview, you can order the collection here. Who wouldn’t want these kingly monkeys on their bookshelf?

The West End Press, 2015
The West End Press, 2015