February Reader Spotlight: Jennifer Jackson Berry

In continued anticipation of this week’s event, The Food of Love, today we bring you a little taste of Jennifer Jackson Berry. If you want more than this tease, you’ll have to join us at Zeke’s Coffee, Friday 2/19 at 5pm!

JJBWhy do you write about food?

I’m just following that old adage: write what you know. We all eat, we all know food, so using food as a metaphor, or as a part of the narrative, or as the main focus, makes the piece approachable for many readers.

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

I find adventurous eating sexy. My husband & I drove across the country from Pittsburgh to the Grand Canyon, then back, for our honeymoon in 2011. I’m going to read a poem at the Food of Love reading titled “My Offal Honeymoon,” and it describes two of the sexiest meals I’ve ever had. We were arriving at different cities every day, searching out the local favorites, trying different foods, laughing at our trepidation, savoring the best bites, then falling into bed exhausted, but happy.

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

The JJB — something with rum & cherries, fizzy.

Jennifer Jackson Berry’s first full length collection of poetry The Feeder is forthcoming from YesYes Books in October 2016. Her ec-hapbook, When I Was a Girl, is available as a free download from Sundress Publications. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Booth, The Emerson Review, Harpur Palate, Moon City Review, Stirring, and Whiskey Island, among others. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pittsburgh Poetry Review and lives in the Braddock Hills neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Advertisements

February Reader Spotlight: Deesha Philyaw

We’re so excited for this week’s event, The Food of Love, so today we bring you a little taste of Deesha Philyaw, who will be reading at Zeke’s Coffee on Friday, 2/19 at 5pm. We hope to see you there to hear all about the sexy side of food!

DeeshaHeadshot.jpeg
Photo credit: tfoley

Why do you write about food?

Growing up in the South, food was at the center of everything–holidays, car trips, lazy Saturdays, or just stopping by because you were in the neighborhood on a Sunday afternoon. Food was hospitality and love. I learned to cook by watching my maternal grandmother, and my time in the kitchen with her is among my fondest memories. When I teach my daughters to cook, I make new memories and share culture. How and what we eat, who we cook for and eat with..there’s always a story. And sometimes the food itself is the story. I write about food to tell broader stories about family, love, change, pain, and loss.

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

I don’t typically think of food as sexy, but I remember having dinner at a seafood restaurant with my high school sweetheart before going to prom. We decided to eat a bunch of raw oysters because we’d read somewhere that they were aphrodisiacs–because of course two teenagers need an aphrodisiac on prom night!

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

Fresh ginger, potato vodka, lemon juice, wildflower honey, and sparkling water.

Deesha Philyaw is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Deesha’s writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Brevity; Stepmom, Essence, and Bitch magazines; and various anthologies including The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat. She’s a Fellow at the Kimbilio Center for African American Fiction, and a recent Pushcart Prize nominee for essay writing in Full Grown People. Deesha is a two-time recipient of an Advancing the Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments.

 

The Food of Love

Even if science doesn’t support all our aphrodisiac myths, there’s no doubt that food is often the way to someone’s heart — or into their pants. Our annual Valentine’s Day reading, The Food of Love, will tantalize you with sexy food stories, whether first dates or ten-year anniversaries, candlelit dinners or vegetables as sex toys.

Join us on February 19th, from 5-7pm, for readings from Jennifer Jackson Berry, Deesha Philyaw, and Ellen McGrath Smith. We’ll be hosted by Zeke’s Coffee on Penn Ave. in East Liberty.

Over the next week, we’ll be spotlighting each of our upcoming readers here on the blog, to whet your appetite for the seductive feast to come! For more information on the event, visit our Facebook page, or contact organizer Marissa Landrigan (acqtaste@gmail.com)

Beer Muffins: Just Like My Grandmother Used to Make

By Shelley Johansson

A grandmother’s superb home cooking is at the heart of many people’s childhood memories. I can’t say that this is true for me, exactly. My maternal grandmother grew in up in a Mississippi orphan’s home during the Depression, and never had a mother to teach her how to cook. But married at 16 and a mother by 18, cooking was her duty and she by God got good at it. Nana, who was so beautiful she was offered a screen test as a young woman, loved family meals and expressing her love for us through good food. But to her, cooking was a means to an end, not something to be enjoyed. It was a chore that had to be done to get to the good part – the companionship of the meal.

As an indifferent cook myself, I can relate. In my family, my husband does almost all the cooking, simply because he’s more interested in both the process and the result. So we regularly enjoy varied gourmet delights like scallops with champagne sauce, whereas if cooking were my responsibility I’d develop a rotating menu of good but basic meals. But an arrangement like that just wasn’t on the table in that era. Heaven knows my Papaw would never have scrambled his own breakfast eggs if Nana or one of his three daughters could be summoned to do it.

Like many of her generation, Nana never wasted anything, especially not food. She was known to combine the last little bits of many different cereals into one box, so you’d pick up a box of Cheerios and get ten chewy Cheerios, three Rice Krispies, some of bran flakes and a handful of cereal dust of indeterminate origin. (The trick was to slide the mess back in the box and grab the Chex before she noticed). She would “crisp” stale crackers in the oven, make concentrated coffee to reconstitute and heat up later, and combine leftovers into a new and weirdly-textured dish that would inevitably result in still more leftovers.

Nana1
A photo from Nana’s “modeling card” in the 1980s, so although she’s taking muffins out of the oven, it’s completely staged!

She did seem to like baking more, but maybe that’s because the times I remember her baking she was doing it with us, her adored grandchildren. We made many trays of cookies together, but the most fun we ever had was making old-fashioned molasses pull taffy with all six under-10 kids helping. The kitchen was sticky for days. She seemed to think it was worth it.

As in so many families, when we all got together at the big house my Papaw had built in Louisville, the six grandkids would eat at the kids’ table. There simply wasn’t room at the huge round dining room table for us all. There was nowhere I felt safer or more loved than eating dinner in my Nana’s warm, comfortable kitchen, laughing with my cousins while the adults bustled around getting their meal ready.

My grandparents retired to Florida when I was a preteen, where they lived on the lagoon, with a boat parked at a dock in their backyard. Most of the family still lived in Louisville, so when we visited there were generally fewer of us at their house at once — so the kids and adults would eat together. The meal was often delicious seafood we caught under my Papaw’s guidance, and that Nana had learned to cook. Papaw cleaned the fish, but they both became experts at shucking oysters and opening scallops. We’d play cards after the meal – an aptly-named game called “Oh, Hell” – and the two losers would do the dishes. My grandfather almost always won. Nana, on the other hand, almost always lost.

Nana was incredibly creative, an artist without training. A gifted decorator, gardener and artisan, she would rush through her cooking chores to get back to whatever her creative passion was at the time – framing art, sculpting clay, creating wreaths, and seashell crafts are just a few that I remember. She was very much an extrovert and loved all kinds of get-togethers, especially dinner parties. In fact, she was so well-known for being able to throw a great party at a moment’s notice that this attribute was mentioned in her obituary. But the food was not what made these events memorable – it was her personality, her fine-tuned ability to make a party sparkle.

Nana2
Nana in a homemade costume, perhaps for a garden party

I still have a stack of index cards with recipes she copied from newspapers and magazines, carefully transcribed in her loopy, increasingly spidery handwriting. What’s less clear to me is how many of these recipes she actually tried. There was a brief period where she drove my mom crazy asking her to type dessert recipes she’d made up to enter into the Pillsbury Bake-Off. (They generally included at least two sticks of “oleo” and generous amounts of Cool Whip). But for the most part, she was a utilitarian cook, not an experimental one.

The one food I credit her with inventing, or at least perfecting, was beer muffins. My memory is that she started making these on a family trip to the Florida Everglades some 40 years ago, when I was about six and we were staying at a cabin that had non-potable water. So instead of using water to make Bisquick muffins, she used beer, and the result was delicious. Whether this is actually what happened is another question – memory can be a funny thing — and no one else in the family can recall how beer muffins entered her repertoire. Google gives me several recipes for beer muffins, which probably means she didn’t originate the idea. Maybe she got a recipe off the back of the box, who knows.

But it is unambiguously true that these muffins became a staple of our family get-togethers for decades. They were fast, cheap, delicious, and easy to make in bulk, all great qualities when you’re trying to feed a crowd. Like most quickbreads, they had to be enjoyed fresh. Day-old beer muffins weren’t worth much, although Papaw would sometimes eat toasted leftovers for breakfast.

The beer muffin era ended when my grandparents returned to Louisville in the mid-2000s, realizing it was time to be near family. After that, the extended family didn’t gather at their new, much smaller house – instead, we’d go to my aunt’s – and when we did get together Nana was no longer in charge of the meal. She continued to cook for herself and Papaw, a chore that went from unpleasant to downright oppressive after he was diagnosed with oral cancer. His surgery and treatment made eating difficult, and she had little guidance from the doctors on how and what to cook for him. I don’t know if she ever made beer muffins in these years, but for some reason none of the rest of us did, either.

After Papaw died she moved into a retirement home. She gleefully noted that she would never have to cook again. And she didn’t, although I know she missed throwing dinner parties. She passed away the day after her 92nd birthday, almost two years ago now. I rarely go a day without thinking of her with love and gratitude.

They say smell is the sense most associated with memory, but I say taste trumps it. So recently, I decided to evoke my grandmother by making beer muffins, the one food I truly associate with her. The recipe is simple and easy to adjust – about two cups of Bisquick, three tablespoons of sugar, and enough beer to make a thin batter, baked in well-greased muffin tins at 425 degrees. As the muffins were baking, I opened the oven door to make sure they were getting nice and brown. Enveloped in the sweet, familiar smell for the first time in at least 10 years, I burst into tears before eating three in one sitting, with plenty of butter. For me, beer muffins are childhood at Nana’s house, served up on a fragrant plate.

***

Shelley Johansson is the director of communications for the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.Her work has appeared in The Bitter Southerner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Johnstown Magazine, and DIY Musician. She earned an MS in Communications from the University of Tennessee, and teaches public speaking at Penn Highlands Community College.

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.

Six Impossible Things for Breakfast

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The chocolate frogs of the wizarding world. The ambrosia drunk in the cloud-palaces of Mount Olympus. Giant peaches and enormous beanstalks and more!

From Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage to Alice’s “eat me” currant cake, food casts many a magic spell. Food is larger than life, and its impact on our lives often feels strange, even legendary. Is it any wonder we spin stories endowing food with weird and wonderful powers?

As winter descends into a glittering world around us, join Acquired Taste in a celebration of the weird, mythic, and magical side of food.

Our next event, Six Impossible Things for Breakfast, (named in honor of a bastion of weird food scenes, Alice Through the Looking Glass), will be held on Thursday, Dec. 10th, at 7pm, and will feature readings from Jennifer Bannan, Claire Burgess, and Daniel M. Shapiro. We’ll be hosted by Classic Lines bookstore in Squirrel Hill, and Marissa is planning to bake up plenty of strange cookies for the occasion.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be spotlighting each of our upcoming readers here on the blog, to whet your appetite for the strange and lovely feast to come!

For more information on the event, visit our Facebook page, or contact organizer Marissa Landrigan (acqtaste@gmail.com)