Eating On the Left Side of Your Mouth

Plate of pork dumplings
The Pork Dumpling with Kimchi appetizer from Ariana’s Restaurant, Orford, NH

Eating Soft Foods
—for Palliation or Pleasure

Last Saturday, while taking the first bites of my dinner—leftover slices from a delicious salsiccia pizza from Schilling Brewery and Taproom (see “The Short Pour” [the link will open in a new window or tab] The Short Pour)—I heard an ominous loud crack from what dentists designate #5, the premolar, or bicuspid, that sits two teeth back from the first canine, and then, not quite simultaneously, a powerful stupefying blow to my jaw, as if pounded suddenly with a mallet. Digging with my tongue for what I was sure would be a bit of sand, though it felt like I’d bitten down on a boulder, I found nothing but the usual and expected lubricious (and disintegrating) sparse ingredients of what I will point out again was actually a quite tasty thin crust pizza, perfectly and crisply baked in a wood-fired brick oven, and spread, if anything, over-liberally, with a slightly tangy, viscid mozzarella: seemingly nothing to threaten dental work there.

As the ripples of a deep dull pain spread from my teeth to my upper jaw and the TMJ, and I tried to answer the troubled questions of my wife, sitting right next to me. I don’t know what sound, or sounds, of pain and surprise erupted from me, but clearly I had sounded that something was wrong. I can remember thinking instantly: I’ve bitten down on something harder than human dentition is designed for and cracked a tooth. Actually what I thought was briefer, to the point, and spiced with some expletives—which were the more likely substance of whatever utterances I managed to voice.

Nothing in my life has ever caused me more existential angst than problems with my teeth, of which I’ve had a few. Among the more recent, now six years ago, was a similar fatal collision of a tooth, mine, with a foreign object, of a hardness less than diamond, but greater than enamel and dentin (among the internal substances that constitute a tooth’s structure). I was sitting, enjoying the sun on the deck of a favorite local restaurant in Aups, France, near the village in which we have a house, in the afterglow of a delicious lunch. To cap it off, I had an espresso, which, in one of those quirky bits of charm in which small bistros and restaurants express their inventiveness even to the smallest detail, was garnished with a bit of sweet. Usually it’s a demurely wrapped thin lozenge of very fine dark chocolate, and would that it had been. But the young chef has decided to garnish his demitasse servings with a house-marinated cherry, stem removed. What led me, beyond the thin film of unctuous liqueur-based syrup that clung to the cherry’s skin, and the aroma of it, to persuade me that the cherry was pitted I have no idea, save for a brief, but critical, lapse of mindfulness, induced no doubt by the reverie that was settling in because of the lunch. In all events, I bit down on the cherry with no regard for the safety of my teeth or the rest of my mouth, and proceeded to sheer off a thin wedge of tooth, in a rather premonitory way, in retrospect, from the bicuspid on the opposite side of my mouth in the upper quadrant on the left—mirroring my current injury.

Not to mince words, given my predilection for instant existential angst ignited by any trauma, serious or ultimately benign, to my teeth, I freaked out. I spit the errant pit into my hand, along with the shard of tooth, which I wrapped carefully in a tissue (to what end I am not exactly sure, probably some buried recollection of a tidbit of otherwise useless knowledge read in some forgotten news story months or years past, about whole teeth knocked traumatically out of victims’ mouths and somehow, through the miracle of modern dental technique, reinserted and saved). In my case, after a hurried transatlantic call—OK, how many dentists do you know in rural Provence?—to my dentist in Boston, who was just starting his day at the office, and who reassured me, after some rapid clear preliminary tests of the likely damage (heat, cold, air sucked in through pursed lips), all of which proved negative, that it could wait for my return home over six weeks hence. That tooth suffered no particular damage, and now sits perfectly functionally in my upper jaw, where it’s been since it first grew out, with a spiffy cubic zirconia crown covering it, so no one is the wiser.

I wish I could say as much for the latest artifact of my self-induced dental mayhem. Once the thrumming pain died down to a dull pounding, muffled by some ibuprofen, and long after the suspect pizza had been cast into the trash, I gingerly explored the injured tooth with the tip of my tongue. One half was still rock-steady and painless as a really tiny Gibraltar. The other half, on the inside, with the smaller cusp projecting from it, was clearly loose, and very tender, less like a rock than like deadwood.

Without burdening the more squeamish reader with any more details, suffice it to say, that ultimately, after two visits, three days and then a day later, (naturally, this past weekend was a national three-day holiday, and I’ve learned dentists don’t open on Memorial Day) to a very very competent local dentist, the tooth—wholly unsalvageable—is no longer in my head.

In the interim, and for now, as my advised regimen for a couple of days surrounding the extraction, I was and remain forced to consume what the booklet the dentist supplied described (to me hilarious in its earnest specificity) as “nutritious soft foods.” I was handed the booklet three days ago, but I know from past experience that soft food was my essential status quo menu as it has been for almost a week now. For one thing, until the tooth could be salvaged or removed, it was too tender to withstand the pressure of trying to chew into even the most compressible of foods.

As a result I’ve been eating on one side of my mouth for these few days, and will continue to do so until the gum is well on its way to healing. I’ve also, necessarily, reverted to a regimen which is at once childlike and, in the most apposite of qualities, replete with comfort foods. I’ve revisited some dishes I haven’t had in some time, one of them not since my own childhood, and the peculiar combinations of ingredients to which my mother introduced me and I always found not just soothing, but in their bland, nearly tasteless way, quite satisfying. I am fairly certain as well that the nutritional requirement must take a back seat to comfort. There are probably whole books on the subject of how nutritional needs go out the window when the greater need for comfort food comes in the door—and if there aren’t, there should be.

I thought it would make for an interesting topic here on Dinin With A G to review some of the fare that has kept me going through this latest dental ordeal.

Lange Luksch

When I was a boy, and considerably more svelte (in truth I was quite skinny, appallingly so to my mother; in a very healthy way, as science has since proven to be the desired condition, all things considered), I was plied constantly with food, most of which I refused. I wasn’t picky, mind you. I was, as I remain, quite discriminating. I didn’t eat a lot of things on the household menu, because my mother, plainly and frankly, was a lousy cook. That is, she was a lousy cook of anything but the fare she was taught to cook and ate herself as a child, the cuisine of Eastern European Jews. Pot roast? She was a master. However, roast beef or a steak became a grey, tasteless mass in her hands, as if rare meat consumed by humans were corollary to Original Sin. Fresh vegetables took on the colorless pallor only a DelMonte in one of its canning factories at the time could attain. And speaking of soft, whatever integrity a fresh carrot may have had when it started, after passing through my mother’s hands it ended up wilted on the plate and mushy in the mouth.

I took to abstaining unless the vegetables I was served were untouched by heat. I became a connoisseur of all manner of things raw, from carrots and peas, for sure, to such exotica as raw turnip, whose vaguely stinging bite I came to savor. As for cooked dishes, there were only a few, and these from the extensive repertoire of “native” foods my mother did quite well with. Curiously, I was only offered a small sampling of what I came much later in life to appreciate as the true range of her mastery.

Why I wasn’t offered the shtetl delicacies that my father smacked his lips over, I have no idea. To be fair, it’s also possible, that, like a lover who offers a suitor no requital, I’ve made the other the offender, and deny my own role in the spurning. Maybe I was offered gribbenes (the crispy bits of skin and slivers of flesh that remain in the pan after rendering chicken fat into schmaltz—the heady, heavenly textured “butter” of poor Jews, probably worse than butter from a nutritional standpoint, but nobody asked, and nobody told). Maybe I was offered kishke (the closest you’ll get to sausage in a Jewish household; essentially the cow’s scrupulously cleaned intestine, stuffed with bread crumbs and ground meat and offal, and highly spiced). Maybe I said no, maybe off-handedly, like a languid and indifferent Rodolphe to the perpetually spurned Emma Bovary. Maybe it was passionate (“No I won’t!” I was famous, even at the age of five, for declaring in other contexts, as pressure was brought to bear to end my resistance to the will of an adult). I have no recollection whatsoever.

I know I didn’t come to appreciate these delicacies, and many others, until well into adulthood. Yet there was, as I say, a small palette of dishes that somehow I came to appreciate; some of them predictable, as who doesn’t love potato latkes, let’s say? But others were likely more generic and spur of the moment inventions by my mother, hapless in her sense of defeat in her constant effort to fatten me up. “Lange luksch,” she always called me, from about six or seven years on, as I was not only skinny, but slightly taller for my age: “long noodle.” And in that name was the key to my weakness, or at least one of them, when it came to making sure I took in excessive calories.

I have always loved pasta. I especially loved the standard pasta of Jewish cooking, broad egg noodles, which were transformed into a wide range of dishes, including many entrees that were mainly “dairy” in the Jewish taxonomy of Kosher meals: a dish was either fleischig (incorporating any part of a Kosher animal, essentially beef or lamb) or milchig (made of, or derivative of, milk, and verboten to be consumed with anything that contained meat—and dairy included cheese, butter, variously soured versions of cream, in addition to the basic elixirs of milk or cream).

For Americans, especially in those days, pasta dishes were more readily envisioned as sauced with reductions of tomatoes and other vegetables, and bolstered with meat, from meatballs, to ground beef or veal, but whatever—exclusive of pork, of course, the unholiest of non-kosher animal flesh. Vegetables were Kosher-neutral or pareve, and could be eaten in combination with fleischig or milchig ingredients. But vegetable sauces, given the aforementioned deficiencies in my mother’s skill set, were beyond her.

So, what to do with my love of pasta—which I liked so much, I would eat it raw, crunching the bits like crackers, or sucking on a single strand of spaghetti like the world’s thinnest and most elegant of cigarettes—and my fortuitously complementary love of a wide array of dairy products? Easily enough, and with little labor, the answer was, to combine them.

Many were the dinners I had that consisted of a bowl of pasta mixed with butter, which my mother, perhaps desperately, but, as it turned out, unnecessarily would first lace with sugar (add an egg or two, some cinnamon and perhaps another spice or two, and a handful of raisins, and you’ve got the makings of a pudding—kugel in our parlance—which only required a buttered baking dish and an oven). Perhaps it was merely instinctual to add the sugar, an anticipatory step in the construction of the phantom kugel she had in her head.

I would have been, and often was (and have been since, especially when dining alone) quite satisfied with noodles and butter. Though that preference has been transmuted, truth be told, to a more respectably “sophisticated” dish of pasta aglio olio, pasta in a garlic and oil sauce—a dish cannot be simpler and still be considered cooking with finesse than this.

Cottage Cheese
Breakstone’s 2% Milkfat small curd cottage cheese

Kicking her game up a notch, my mother would try other dairy additives. Pasta with various forms of very young, dry small curd cheeses, for example. The most readily available is always cottage cheese. But then, at least in every Jewish delicatessen or any supermarket in the same neighborhood, there was also farmer cheese, which came in huge blocks and is essentially a pressed cottage cheese—a very bland analog to ricotta, that could be sliced or mashed, as well as pot cheese, a coarser variety of cottage cheese, and not too popular in our kitchen, at least when I was sitting at the table.

Pasta with cottage cheese actually could provide quite a number of essential nutrients, including complex carbohydrates, protein, and in itself as a dish almost satisfied my mother’s objective of getting as many calories into my mouth as possible. However, as is known among the practitioners of other great world cuisines, there is a universal lubricant and, well, a sort of culinary emulsifier, and all in forms that are basically cousins to one another that provides the necessary magic. Just as the French use crème fraîche and Mexican cooks use crema, Jewish cooks, as a final master stroke, add a dollop or two (or three) of sour cream—essentially cream which has been treated, by enzymatic action, and the judicious application of cooling and raising to room temperature—a tangy (mistakenly and perpetually designated as “sour”) potion that makes a lowly dish of pasta mixed well with bland curds of cottage cheese suddenly a vessel of a pleasurable melange of textures, subtle flavor blends, and (important to the diner on one side of his mouth) easily chewed and even more readily swallowed.

Sour Cream
Cabot’s Sour Cream (the local brand here on the border of Vermont and New Hampshire)

Sour cream is a not so secret pleasure. With chives and a little salt and ground pepper, plus an optional nugget of sweet butter, it makes a perfectly baked potato into a feast, most of whose calories are in the sour cream—and mostly fat at that, of course; there are low fat and even, mirabile dictu, no-fat versions, but God keep us from these. In significant moderation, the 60 calories or so of a generous portion of real sour cream, even though it’s virtually pure saturated fat, is worth the pleasure, and presents little danger to one’s health. Here’s the best way to make a portion of egg noodles with cottage cheese and cream:

Noodles with Cottage Cheese and Sour Cream

1-1/4 cups of dry noodles, preferably “extra-wide” or broad egg noodles, made from semolina wheat
4 Tablespoons of 2% milkfat small curd cottage cheese
1-2 Tablespoons sour cream

In salted boiling water sufficient to cover, add the egg noodles and cook al dente, usually 7-8 minutes. While the noodles are cooking, put the cottage cheese first, and then the sour cream into the bottom of a soup or cereal bowl.

Drain the noodles well, trying not to overcook. Even toothless, to the diner noodles lose their allure once they lose their integrity. Once drained, toss the noodles immediately into the bowl with the cottage cheese and sour cream, covering them. With a soup spoon, mix everything well, making sure it’s well blended, and the noodles evenly coated with sour cream. The mixture will be exactly the right temperature for consuming immediately. Your choice of fork or spoon.

Dining Out
—Distraction from the Extraction

Both before the procedure, and starting a good two days afterward, when it’s comfortable to chew at least softer foods at least on the other side of my mouth from the injured site, a great pleasure and distraction from my oral memento mori is dining out. Our favorite restaurant, only 20 minutes away on a rolling country road, with views of the Connecticut River, and the undulating countryside opposite on the shores of the Vermont side of the divide, is Ariana’s, located in Orford, NH. Its owner and estimable chef is the amiable, easy-going, and deceptively talented Martin Murphy, whose surname belies a deep interest in the cuisines of several countries and continents. Like as not, and early enough in the day, he will answer the phone to take reservations himself. And reservations are a must in this, the high, season. We were there again last night, a Saturday, and, far from the loneliest, it’s the busiest night in this unprepossessing farmbouse restaurant set amidst the corn fields of Orford. We got one of the last tables available, at the hour urban folks make fun of, 5:30, and glad to have the opportunity.

Real food is available in the sticks, if you know where to look, and you are lucky enough to be close enough to be within driving distance.

So we went there, just two days after my dental disaster, with the tooth still tender, but only to direct pressure, which I had no intention of applying. This meant avoiding my usual favorites, perhaps a filet from the grass fed local beef, raised on a farm just miles away on the same road. Or chicken, or shellfish.

I opted instead, first for an appetizer unique to Ariana’s among the local choices, and representative of the melange of flavors and textures Chef Martin has concocted. It’s pictured above, a snap I remembered to take as I was halfway through it. The pork dumplings are two-bite size purses of the tenderest rice pasta wrapped around local free-range pork ground and just poached to melt-away succulence. They’re served in a a light pork broth, seasoned with lime and chili and punctuated and enlivened with shreds of house-made cabbage kimchi—with an optimal level of tang and spice, without overcoming the savory goodness of the much more subtle main part of the dish. All of this is garnished with shards, as you can see in the photo, of freshly plucked (from the restaurant garden just outside) green onions.

As a second course, I finally had a dish my wife orders virtually every time we visit, she’s so enamored of it. A great lover of spicey food, with zest, and flavor, and made with imagination, as well as, if possible, devoid of animal flesh (when my mouth is up to par, I’ll often indulge in red meat, so we make an interesting and complementary pair of diners), she’s been praising the Vegan Curried Rice since the first time she ordered it. It’s described this way in the menu: “Ginger Jasmine Rice with a Coconut Curry sauce with Peppers, Mushrooms, Onions, Tomatoes and Scallions,” which goes a long way to telling you what’s in it, but does no justice at all to describing how compellingly all these are put together in a single dish, with balance, zest, poise and hanging together from first spoon- or forkful to last. Given the circumstances, I ordered it for myself for the first time.

It deserves all the praise my wife bestows on it. And it went down with nary a problem from any part of my mouth or the rest of me. I myself might have prepared a whole-grain, that is, a “brown” version of the rice or (we speculated as possibly interesting) even another whole grain entirely, like farro or barley… but that’s to quibble, not to mention play chef when nobody asked us. There is another dish on the menu, a Wheat Berry Pilaf, whose presence suggests that two whole grain dishes might be overkill given the otherwise apparently more commonplace preferences of most of the patrons of Ariana’s. The menu—by no means satisfying the soft foods requirement temporarily imposed on me—features duck confit, but at the same time there’s also a shrimp scampi. To balance the curried dish I described, not to mention that Pilaf, there’s also a Penne Bolognese. Given it’s the sticks, it’s a nice way to meet all appetites and palates, from the usual suspects to the vaguely exotic. I doubt very many people leave unsatisfied, and the difficulty of reservations for the four or five months a year the region is unencumbered by the vagaries of winter weather attests to that supposition.

The Basics of Soft Eating

The rest of my regimen during this trying week has, no doubt, a predictable quality to it, especially if one accepts that with the need for comfort, the need for healthy dining loses some part of the argument as to menu choices. There are plenty of soft foods, after all. The list gets shorter, and tighter, with the restriction that it somehow be “nutritious” as well. However, the mere qualifier has, at least legally, a lot of breadth of admissible interpretation. Generally, this means it should be nourishing and, as one dictionary has it, “efficient as food.” So ground chalk is out. However, all but the most fascistic of nutritionists allows for a certain amount of leeway, with the always necessary proviso of “moderation,” in the intake of foods otherwise known to be harmful to excess: the usual culprits being sugars and fats, especially saturated fats.

However, man or woman does not live by whole-grain, multigrain bread alone.

Laughing Cow Swiss Light Cheese
The Famous French brand “La Vache Qui Rie” has long since penetrated even mass markets with an honest product–not great cheese by any means, but real food.

For one, a man or woman can spread a slice of that loaf of wholesome bread—assuming it’s a nice soft pullman version, or has been trimmed of any crunchy, crusty, chewy integument, aka “crust,” which has a tendency to head for tender exposed portions of an abused oral cavity—with a nice soft, very soft, spreadable cheese product. I happen to like “The Laughing Cow,” as it’s called, quite literally, in Anglophone markets, or as “La Vache Qui Rie,” as it’s sold all over France. Check the ingredients. A connoisseur or a dairy farmer will scoff, but out here in the sticks, where it’s not so easy to come by a ripe triple-crème, with a pedigree and integrity, especially at the local supermarket, this is an adequate substitute, especially taking into account the condition of old #5 up there in the upper right quadrant of my personal mouth. Aside from actual cheese, there are small amounts of common food additives, most or all of which are considered to have some nutritional value, and seem to be there mainly as emulsifiers and very mild preservatives—and the simple fact is, I don’t feel guilty eating it in the absence of something better—better nutritionally or better-tasting.

Sufferers sometimes can’t be choosers. And the simple fact is, I like it. For what it’s worth, I hate Velveeta and Kraft slices, which I doubt are actually cheese.

Sabra Hummus
Sabra Supremely Spicy Hummus

Switching gears, or sides of the plate, so to speak, let’s talk about foods that actually, and almost unquestionably, are good for you. Soft and nutritious could be a way of translating that Middle Eastern mainstay, centerpiece of many a mezze plate, star alternative to Lipton Onion Soup Dip at cocktail parties, otherwise known as hummus. A paste, minimally speaking, and usually minimal is best, of pureed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, garlic, salt and little lemon juice, hummus is delicious itself, if a tad bland (though not tasteless, or it shouldn’t be, especially if you’re not a wuss about the garlic). There are myriad commercial blends and brands—few of them excellent, but even fewer inedible, though the latter exist—and it’s also easy to make, assuming you have tahini on hand, never mind the other less esoteric ingredients. We could make it in a minute in our kitchen back at headquarters—our home base in suburban Philadelphia—but, that’s as distant as my personal dentist. Sabra is a good brand, reliable, and increasingly available. It’s not the best we’ve had, but it’s far from the worst, and, because all major brands now come “flavored” with various condiments, in its “supremely spicy” version it is quite an exciting addition to one’s regimen, even daily. You can ask my wife.

Ordinarily we consume it on very crisp crackers. Trader Joe’s makes a very tasty multigrain brown rice cracker that is baked that comes in large bags and is a staple in our house. San-J brown rice crackers are also good, but pricey. There are always tortilla chips, an acceptable alternative especially in the low-salt or unsalted versions. However, given the need for soft things to stick in my mouth, I found it best to dip into the hummus with small squares, perhaps one inch to a side, perhaps a little smaller, that I cut out of slices of that multigrain pullman loaf I mentioned. Eating the hummus makes me feel good about myself, a little better about indulging in that Laughing Cow cheese product, and a lot better about the real bad, really gratifying indulgence that constitutes dessert in this velvety squishy gustatory interregnum forced upon me (I’m talkin’ doughnuts, but I’m not done with the healthy stuff yet).

As long as we’re in the Middle East, let me also put in a word for a regular companion to hummus on that mezze plate, the famous bulgur salad known as Tabbouleh, made with the aforementioned wheat, chopped tomato, garlic, parsley and lemon juice. It’s soft, requires little chewing, can be shoveled in on a 1-inch square of bread, or eaten plain. And there’s no question about being nutritious.

Fage Greek Yogurt
Fage 2% Milkfat Greek Style Yogurt

Back to dairy products for a moment, because I know many of you are wondering, where’s the yogurt? It’s for breakfast, as far as I’m concerned, and I prefer it with granola and fresh fruit, usually berries. However granola, though it’s made of smaller bits, is really not soft so much, especially the kinds I prefer, replete with dried fruits and nuts, and which tends to clump, because it’s often sweetened with honey. I know from experience these are not compatible with tender jaws, and after the extraction the bits and pieces are inadvisable near the still open socket previously occupied by a tooth. Hence I tend to eat the yogurt plain, or simply with berries.

Driscoll's Blueberries
Driscoll’s Organic Blueberries

And the berries I prefer are blueberries, which are available year-round, though their provenance moves from place to place around the globe, usually South America-way in the winter and then closer and closer to home in summer. They do not suffer as much in quality as strawberries do on the east coast, where the only place to buy strawberries that have half a chance of being decent is from local farm stands (or one of those “pick your own” places) in season. Strawberries are not quite here yet in northern New Hampshire, so I’m eating the blueberries I usually do, in a poly bin from the local market. Yogurt and berries, and that’s pretty much the recipe (except remember, always, to wash the berries and drain them, even if they’re organic).


Entenmann's Chocolate Donut
Entenmann’s Chocolate Frosted Donut—a bonanza of sugars and saturated fats.
It’s commonplace, to the point of demonstrating an utter lack of imagination, to call chocolate “sinful.” But there it is. And with my mouth in its delicate condition, of all the forms of chocolate in solid form that I could imagine eating, while also satisfying the need for extreme levels of comfort, is the most notorious of no-no food items (the real sin may be calling this food), the one indulgence I usually can control myself and refrain from having in the house for all but possibly one or two times a year. I am talking Entenmann’s Rich Frosted Donuts—240 calories each, including a full 50% of your daily recommended value of saturated fat in one compact efficient round delivery system (I feel it’s appropriate to use the same terminology the government does when speaking of tobacco products and nicotine), plus 10% of your daily carbs in no discernible healthy form, negligible fiber—I’m not sure how even a fraction of a gram got in there, as well as virtually no protein (which means the flour they use must be there purely for the bulk, and not good bulk either, and to carry the fat without letting it all melt away in the friolator). All in all, in one word, just plain bad. But man, are they good… And I’m allowed, because I have suffered. It’s all for the chocolate of course, which appears as a thin friable shell—so clearly the donut itself is merely an infrastructure for this skin of wonderfulness, and not, to continue with the theme, even close to good chocolate. Fortunately, what chocolate there is comes from cocoa, and no other part of the cacao bean (who needs cocoa butter when the recipe is already rich with palm oil, and hydrogenated palm oil, and sugar, and corn syrup—only the words “high fructose” keep them from being forced to label the ingredients as simple poison?).

I admit freely to my love of this junk, even at the risk of losing what little shred of reputation for culinary stature that might cling to me. I’m only human. And listen, I’ve just lost something near and dear and very personal, an actual bodily part of me for untold years, since childhood in fact, and which I valued and cherished as I did and do all of its companions, and for which loss comfort foods, including chazerai like Entenmann’s Rich Frosted, only begin to compensate. Check back with me when my gum has healed and I can once again eat like a responsible adult, and a mensch.

The Short Pour

Schilling Littleton short pour porter DSC0185

We’re in the wilds of Grafton County, which occupies the left-hand side of the mid-section of New Hampshire. As the state tapers severely north of us, only one county separates us from Canada. But Grafton County itself borders entirely on the state of Vermont. In our neck of the woods, the natural division between us is more or less the Connecticut River, traversed by innumerable bridges along its length. The points of juncture charmingly and invariably occur between what are essentially a pair of otherwise nondescript towns—twins divided by the umbilicus of the river. I mean no disrespect by this. They are for the most part simply very small towns populated mainly by the same kind of people who founded them and have always lived there, small landholders, essentially farmers, workers, and small business owners.

The area is neither rich nor poor. Nevertheless there is an air of not so much scraping by, as sustaining one’s place on the earth, not so much struggle as constant labor. Many of the towns have remnants of commercial enterprise to provide and maintain the daily needs of the populace. In our town, in a disconnected string of buildings along the main drag, some with dwellings attached, there’s a discount gasoline station, a combination general store and gasoline station, a dollar store, several produce stands that see business only in the growing season, a John Deere dealership with ranks of tractors of various sizes, but mostly of a diminutive if hefty size, small, yet powerful, dedicated to mowing, a lumber yard, a gun store, an ice cream stand and dairy store owned by the dairy that supplies its stock, a United States post office, a second-hand store. Farther out of town is an automobile repair shop, actually of some repute for the quality of their work. And beyond the stores in the other direction, headed north is a complex of buildings belonging to the administrative affairs of the state, including a courthouse and a small prison facility, as the town is the county seat. As you drive by on warm days, residents of the state assisted care and nursing facilities within the complex sit in their wheel chairs and on benches and watch as the intermittent somehow desultory two-lane traffic goes by in each direction. Prisoners in orange jump suits tend to vegetable beds across the road that supply the small farm stand, built of raw pine, that sees business—sometimes quite a brisk business—during the summer months.

Strung along the highway, in our town and beyond in neighboring villages and hamlets are farms, a number of huge stands of corn meant for silage, but mainly dairy farms, which also sell their meat, modestly promoted on fading signs as honest organic, grass fed beef (along with the occasional pork and lamb) that you can buy year round. Somewhere or other nearby is the abattoir of modest proportions patronized by most of these farmers, who, after the butchery is done, have the usual cuts, as well as ground portions flash frozen, in which condition they sit in solid icy splendor in lockers or freezers. It’s the frozen meat one purchases out of road-side stands and shacks, winter or summer, just off the road on which each farm sits. It is good, honest tasty meat.

The small industry of restaurants that has grown up south of us, mainly catering to the better-heeled natives and winter and summer birds with second homes, that live closer to Hanover, still in Grafton County, yet the southern-most town but one, as much as 40 miles away on the main road that passes through our town as well. Indeed, the road, US 10, hewing to the contours of the river, is known as the Dartmouth College Highway, lest anyone forget the most renowned enterprise in this otherwise fairly remote part of the middle of of one of the three northernmost of the states. Both CNN and Money Magazine, each diligent to the needs and predilections of the still great upper middle class of the nation, deemed Hanover the sixth best place to live in America in 2011. The folks thereabouts can afford the delightful preparations the quiet, unpretentious restaurants, manned by talented chefs, trained in the fleshpots of the big city, and now seeking the quieter pleasures of a still truly rural vanishing bit of U.S. civilization, still accurately and appropriately deemed bucolic.

Where well-heeled residents of the larger cities of New England or the Mid-Atlantic will think nothing of a daring half-hour jaunt along the clogged, haplessly designated “expressways” that take them downtown for a praiseworthy meal, equally well fed patrons take a journey hereabouts that is of equal duration, at worst, for a meal equally good, here in the sticks. Invariably, whatever potentiality there is for invidious comparisons, it is to the disadvantage of the urban experience. Here, there is barely any traffic. What there is, keeps moving along. And the scenery is marvelous, which is to say, there is scenery, as opposed to views of the current architectural modes of the urban milieu.

Heading north from our town for recreation and sustenance produces a somewhat different result, though the rewards and attractions have been steadily improving of late, having degraded for awhile long since, that is, since well before the economic downturn of 2007. Travel Route 10, which eventually joins Route 302 that slowly meanders eastward toward the White Mountains National Park, and it will take you ultimately to towns that are a bit larger, more industrious, more visibly mercantile, more seemingly prosperous. The largest of these, and the most northerly and last of the towns in Grafton County is Littleton, whose founding in the 18th century and history are connected with that of Newburyport, Massachusetts, and which is notable, among a handful of reasons, for its grist mill, built on the banks of the Amonoosuc River, still running through the main village, in 1798. The mill, fallen into disuse long ago, has been restored to its original appearance. Milled product, proudly offered as all natural, with no preservatives, pesticides or insecticides, is still sold, through a Web-only store, and is ground virtually on a per order basis. The mill website lists local restaurants from Littleton to Franconia to Manchester that use their corn, whole wheat and buckwheat meal, mainly for whole grain pancakes.

The mill had a retail store at its original location, but lost their lease for unexplained, though observing the current uses of the same space are easily inferred, reasons.

Given that the space is now occupied by a spiffy new brew pub, constantly being expanded, and with in-house vats, tanks, pumps and the like, one can guess at the financial exigencies that put the property in the hands of an energetic crew of beer lovers and entrepreneurs. They have opened a bar and restaurant under the same brand as the house brews, which they call Schilling. The provenance of the name is unclear, especially as the preponderance of the executive staff, from the Chairman to the CEO, the CFO, as well as several other officers, share the family name of Cozzens. Cozzens or not, the principals and managers all appear to be men. Half of them are bearded.

Patrons are greeted jovially. Originally, starting almost two years ago, the bar and taproom were open for lunch and dinner, serving their small batch (five barrels at a time) brews in various permutations, as well as pizzas from the prominently featured, obviously hand-built brick oven, fired by wood, for pizzas to order, as well as platters of charcuterie, cheese, and various de rigeur Middle Eastern ground legume spreads and dips—hummus and the like.

Since those ambitious beginnings, Schilling seems to have settled into a different routine, opening in mid-afternoon for the first of the week and opening for lunch only on Fridays and the weekend. Originally the beers, ales, and other concoctions were served on premises. They have just begun a program of supplying “select craft beer retailers” in “limited quantities.”

The brews are generally quite good, and it appears that at any one time they offer from ten to a dozen choices, in varying degrees of abv (alcohol by volume). At the moment, the most robust is a Belgian style dark strong brew they call “Thaddeus.” As seems to be the style among craft brewers, all variants have names, unique to the product. Thaddeus is 8.3% abv, and you are advised to “let it warm in your hands to taste its full complexity.” I wouldn’t know. There is also the usual kind of mix of ales, IPAs, Hefeweizen, and lagers. They seem to make an earnest and sincere intent to satisfy all palates.

We had lunch there yesterday. I rarely drink beers and ales, etc., or any yeast-laden beverages as any significant, that is, truly satisfying quantity, would only aggravate an otherwise benign and dormant medical ailment I otherwise manage to keep under control. I don’t particularly like the taste of hops either, so even when I was free to drink as I chose in any reasonable volume, I didn’t deign to drink the brew of choice, it seems, nationally, the ubiquitous IPA. My taste runs to brews that put more emphasis on the malt part of the formula and I do have a preference for darker brews, though porter is the optimum, and I shy away from stout, if not especially disdaining the touchstone of serious imbibers, Guinness Stout. My wife drinks no beer at all, and is no guide or source of a variant point of view.

Schilling logo separate 122px We discovered Schilling early, well before the now universal application of its rather slick logo, which seems to be some abstracted representation of a sheaved grass, like barley, though it has been rendered into a state of such deep genericism, it’s hard to say what the deeper branding intent was, except to look very slick. Somehow vaguely heraldic, somehow vaguely from the Bauhaus school of typography and iconography that calls for spare minimalist strokes, reminiscent of any number of ‘grotesk’ styled fonts. It’s an odd thing to do, to this antique former ad man, for a craft brewery hidden away in a working class town, 90 minutes from the Canadian frontier, with a population of 6,000 all told spread over 54 square miles. The owners of Schilling are proud of their Littleton roots, and the website, equally as slick as the logo, gives an account written with an almost patriotic fervor about Littleton as, essentially, what the town apparently calls itself, “the main street of the mountains.” Though one must hasten to add, that in Littleton you are not quite in the mountains, not by several thousand feet of elevation.

We’ve liked their way with pizza from the start, though the careful and I’m tempted to say almost meditative approach (and pace) they take to the fulfillment of orders can only heighten one’s anticipation, as well as one’s appetite, and perhaps there is a slightly more favorable impression of the flavor and composition. But, all in all, sarcasm aside, it’s good fresh pizza, made by hand, and with the savory notes possibly only in a wood-burning oven. The ingredients are always as described and super fresh, and applied as toppings at appropriate stages of preparation, some before baking, some as the pie exits the oven.

As for what to quaff, I noticed immediately on the current list of brews a porter, which they call “Kamarade,” presumably as it is allegedly of a Baltic style. I will provide you with their description, which is accurate in the main, and not misleading.

[from the Schilling site] Kamarade (Baltic Porter, Nitro-Poured), 7.8% abv. Inspired by the brewing traditions of Scandinavia and Russia, where porters have a higher ABV than their English counterparts. Ours has a dose of chocolate rye and restrained hopping to produce a malt-centric, lingering finish.

One of the telling parts of the description, aside from the obviously elevated abv, is the specified nitro-poured. Not being familiar with the intricacies and science of brewing—remembering I’m not only a big beer drinker, but I am certainly no beer fanatic, the province of younger men, with bigger beards—I went searching for an adequate, sort of brief explanation of the science, and found the following on the chicagofoodies blog site. It seemed a pretty good take and described the experience I had at the drinking end:

[from the Chicago Foodies site; to explain “nitro pour”] “Beers on nitrogen pour aren’t all that common. Most beers on tap are pressurized by carbon dioxide, which forces the beer out of the keg and through a draft line. With nitrogen systems, a ratio of nitrogen and carbon dioxide around 75/25 is used to pressurize the beer. This requires special equipment that can withstand higher pressure (or just a bit of creative engineering with existing tap systems). When stouts were introduced in Britain, the only way to serve them was by pouring or pumping directly from a cask. Nitrogen pours recreate something of that original experience.

“The nitrogen pour does this in a few ways. Most notably, it creates a creamier mouthfeel to stouts and porters. Nitrogen bubbles are smaller than carbon dioxide bubbles, meaning beers don’t feel as carbonated when served on nitro. Nitrogen is also a large component in the air we breath, so the bubbles in the head don’t feel the need to escape into the air as quickly, producing a thicker head. It’s no surprise that the most common beer experienced on nitro pour is a Guinness.”

This helped me understand, and validated, the experience I had with the “Kamarade,” which replicated what I recall of tastes of cask-aged and cask-poured brews in other brew pubs in my past. The net effect is that the carbonation is subdued, refined, civilized, and allows the tastes and flavors of the beverage to be experienced and differentiated without the confusion and distraction of more vigorous activity from larger bubbles of gas in much higher volume. For me, and probably in a very singular way, it’s what diminishes my appreciation for Guinness Stout, which clearly has a preponderance of admirers vs. the number of detractors willing to speak against it. In short, I’m a stout wuss, not able to appreciate the onslaught of powerful—to me, almost primeval—flavors and textures of this stalwart, thick in the mouth, and very flavor-forward beverage. I am supposing, in a very crude thought experiment, that with the kind of titillating and powerful carbonation of a Coca-Cola added to Guinness, the experience would be similar, without the sickening cloying aftertaste of that aggressive assault on the palate. Whatever. I’m content with porter, which stops somewhere short in my mind as a signifier of my manliness, about which I have no doubt, at least with respect to what I sit there, beardless, in the rough-hewn environs of an essentially backwoods tavern—21st century style—however sans the hirsute, plaid-clad, steel-toed boot style called for by the latter-day hipster.

And, to be sure as well as clear, I was very happy with the “Kamarade” on offer at Schilling, save for one thing. Speaking of short, that is, falling short, I had noticed that the current beer list was mainly offered in two serving sizes, not designated otherwise but as a lower-priced portion and a higher-priced, usually indicators of the size of the serving vessel. At the risk of being over-repetitive on a very small and wholly personal detail, as I am not a big beer drinker, I ordered, as I always do in these circumstances, literally a “small” portion, not knowing what else to call it. I am also not sufficiently a frequent imbiber in establishments offering craft brews, and am, hence, unfamiliar with the terms of art. I infer, in the spirit of the hollow marketing manipulations of the language, best embodied in the Italianate and ridiculous drink sizes memorialized by Starbucks where a “small” is transmuted linguistically into a “tall,” a “medium” into a “grande,” etc., a small glass of beer is a “short” pour, which adds a further even more deeply embedded crypto shaming inherent in taproom sensibility—isn’t there an apocryphal legend that in the more roughhouse atmosphere of certain taverns, at least for awhile in certain cultures and counties, that the sport of choice, once all participants, properly bearded, barrel-chested, and beer-bellied were sufficiently lubricated on the warm ale “in good nick” and direct from the cask, was “dwarf tossing?” Pardon the offensive-to-some terminology, but that’s what it was called.

In all events, to be accurate, it seems to me a “short” pour would go in the same glass as an implied “long” pour (though it’s never referred to in this way) only short of the mark as full. It should also be noted that, like the iconic Guinness Stout, the king of nitro-poured craft beers, especially of the dark-hued variety, with far greater barley and malted notes, the hallmark of porter or a stout is a very large head of foam, built up in layers as the expert tapster or barman or maid lets the glass sit under the tap, filling it in increments, in order to maximize its mainly gaseous lighter hued cap of light tan—contrasted handsomely and compellingly with the darker chocolate-hued liquid beneath—to build a foam barrier of optimal depth once a pour is complete. The sign of fullness of the vessel occurs when the foam reaches the top rim of the glass, it no longer subsides.

Naturally, a short pour in any commercial establishment bent on making a profit from the complex, labor-intensive, and delicate ministrations required to produce a fit product for consumption is served in a glass commensurate with the measure they have deemed fit to match the lower price of the smaller portion. As I indicated, all that were shown were two prices. In the case of “Kamarade” these were $3.25 and $6.50. The lower price seemed a fair amount to extract from me, the light drinker, and sufficient to satisfy my taste, my thirst for what I must otherwise and in any event drink in moderation, and would be not the usual waste of money I manage to commit each time I drink in a bar, because, no matter what the usual portion (and it’s usually 12 or 16 ounces of a draft beverage) I never finish the glass. However this “small,” as I ordered it arrived, indeed, in a lilliputian bit of glassware, almost comical in its diminished proportions, and pretty much the size of a glass I have been offered in other establishments when a “taste” (that is a swallow or two) was offered on a complimentary basis, in order to measure the brew against my preferred palate satisfactions. Moreover, there was the exaggerated head, which took up perhaps an inch, perhaps closer to 3/4 of an inch, in a glass that could not measure more than four or four and-a-half inches in total height.

In my astonishment, I remarked to my wife, that I imagined the glass held, at best, four ounces of any liquid. She disagreed but not by much, but there was no scientific way to make even a rough measure to hand so that part of the conversation was dropped, especially as it was irrelevant. I could not see even this generous whistle-wetter as a sufficient quantity to accompany as much of my pizza (to which I will allude, briefly, in a moment) as I was likely to care to consume, that is, a half of it. When the staff member returned, I pointed out that I had not known what to expect in liquid volume as to the size I would be offered, and that I was sure I would want more, and she inquired, blandly, with no sign of being surprised or non-plussed, and with no indication that she saw her role as anything other than in the capacity of server, as opposed, say, to enlightener of the taproom of craft brewers customers still in the dark as to the arcana of their craft and trade. So, “Do you want another,” she asked, “a short pour again [I had been very careful not to allude, again, to anything as “small”], or a full pour?” I allowed that another short one would be sufficient and that was what was delivered. As i never saw the size of the glass used for a “full” pour, I cannot say that the amount I paid for two shorts, $6.50, though the mathematical equivalent of the charge for a single full glass, represented equal value.

Suffice it to say, and I will say it, for added dramatic effect, in a single sentence, which will constitute this entire paragraph, that I was flabbergasted, and remain so, and discovered I had nothing else to think, never mind to say, on the subject.

The pizza I ordered was given the name “Salsiccia,” referring to the slices of Italian sausage that adorned the top in a random pattern, accompanied by carmelized onions, a very thin film of fresh house-made tomato sauce, and copious amounts of mozzarella cheese. It was all very tasty, though the amount of cheese was considerably in excess of my preference, and that the pie was about 10″ in diameter, and I ate half as an adequate lunch.

There is no indication that there is a “short” order of pizza, should one want to exercise restraint on the food side of the bill of fare.

Having warned you, especially the ranks of my equally fastidious consumers of brew-pub food and drink, I would recommend Schilling, should you ever find yourself in Littleton, NH. Given the shortcomings of trying to bottle the more attractive qualities of a nitro-pour, I’d probably avoid the porters and stouts under the Schilling brand, should you stumble into one of that select list of retailers of their craft beers.

The Reading

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Saturday of this past weekend was a banner day for the household. The book tour for MG’s latest opus (co-edited with her collaborator on this and other projects) began, auspiciously enough, at one of the destinations on everyone’s short list of great independent bookstores: Politics and Prose, in Washington DC. Setting aside the universal plight of all independent bookstores—how to stay viable and profitable in a world of online discount selling—we can take comfort that the strongest and most appealing of these stores, and Politics and Prose is one of them, seem to thrive. Sometime, in another post, I may end up musing on the qualities of these stores that allow them to survive where they are beaten every time on price, the factor that seems to trump all others in the book buyer’s decision process.

The book that was the focus of the event is an anthology of food writing, a collection born of a mutual interest on the part of the co-editors long since to teach this genre, drawing from a growing library and history of such works. Several years ago, in tandem, but on separate campuses, they offered what turned out to be very popular courses. One editor, whose expertise skews toward fiction, and scholarly inquiry into the nineteenth century novel in English, taught a curriculum that demonstrated a similar predisposition. Jennifer Cognard-Black is Professor of English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, an institution whose constituents, all and sundry, seem reflexively to add to the name, “the public honors college,” is a respected, if small, liberal arts college that is actually part of the State of Maryland system of higher education institutions. Hence it operates at the fiscal discretion of the Governor and the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. All of which is by way of seeing that there’s an analogy here, between the plight of the independent bookstore, and the plight of the small college of liberal arts—also a struggling breed, except for quality institutions like St. Mary’s, which holds its own, with far smaller budgets, though at far less cost to its students, with its peer institutions, far better funded, more prestigious, and highly competitive in their selectivity.

One co-editor, Melissa Goldthwaite [full disclosure: she’s my wife], is a Professor of English, at St. Joseph’s University, a specialist in Rhetoric and Composition, and Creative Writing. St. Joseph’s is one of a whole network of Jesuit-affiliated institutions of higher learning throughout the country. The aims of the education have, still, at their core a dedication to providing a solid liberal arts education. I say still, because the challenge for any U.S. institution of higher education today is how to continue to instill not only a love for learning and an understanding that a broadly based education steeped in the cultural history of the world, with some requisite skills in analyzing the relevance and meaning of the substance of that history.

The impediment confronted on many campuses, regardless of how you categorize the institution, and not strictly an antithetical stumbling block, but in seeming counterpoise, is the acquisition of credentials through the study of more marketable subject matter. Strictly speaking, and increasingly, this means courses in business, or marketing, or economics—or any of the broadening array of sub-disciplines—that constitute a more practical species of specialized skill sets. It’s well and good to be able to suss out meaning that appeals to the heart and the mind in a poem; it’s another thing altogether to understand the arcane relations between columns of numbers in a balance sheet and what they might augur for the continued prosperity of an enterprise.

Smarter dispassionate heads struggle to prevail in the argument that these are not antithetical capabilities. Indeed, the subject areas in the classic curriculum collectively still referred to as the humanities provide a foundation in discovering a successful way of coping with life in the real world. Not every argument is won by the humanists. There has been a progressive retrenchment in traditional curricula and it’s likely at least three decades, if not longer, that colleges and universities have introduced, in a first wave, new departments and areas of specialization: women’s studies, gender studies, and targeted ethnicities, including African-American and Latino studies, being prime examples.

More recently, and in tandem with rising tuition costs on almost all campuses around the country (rising at rates that far exceed the rate of increase in almost any other critical economic marker), the entire industry, for that is, alas, what it has come to resemble, of higher education, has added courses of study that are directly and unambiguously platforms into seeking and achieving paying jobs within highly defined areas of specialization, in technology, finance, and entertainment. In ways that test the elasticity of meaning of a word that originally sustained little ambiguity given its roots, I mean the humanities, the new designers of academic missions and the supportive educational infrastructure argue—usually by way of mere lip service—that being human endeavors, the new subjects and courses are merely latter-day manifestations of this classic epistemology. Others, in a sense less cynical, say that the study of the humanities per se, with no qualification or abridgment of the standard meaning of the term, have become at best a luxury, and at worst a useless anachronism.

There is one constant, however, and not paradoxically. If anything, the importance of the ability to communicate, especially verbally, has never been more of a manifest value. Which brings me back to the substance of the spanking new Goldthwaite/Cognard-Black opus. In food writing, I suggest, there is a rare amalgam, a blend of the two still viable contemporaneous disciplines: effective communication (dare I say, at the apex of its expressive qualities, attaining to literary worth?) and the subject of food in every conceivable aspect. The latter has long since been monetized in the still major media channels of radio, television, the Internet, and that strange space coextensive of the World Wide Web, proprietary social media. Food has become competitive sport, obsession, confessional, practical, salvational, healing, spiritual, and technological.

Books that Cook: The Making of A Literary Meal is, frankly, not an exponent of all these salient if divergent methods of inquiry into the subject. The editors being who they are, and with a more singular mission in their noble day jobs as pedagogues and mentors to would-be writers, have chosen not a more conservative course of activity, so much as a classic one. And on the Saturday, just passed, in question, seven of us read from our work, including the co-editors who were also contributors: Cognard-Black wrote a short story specifically for this volume, and Goldthwaite included one of her excellent poems. The other five of us, including myself (with a poem, commissioned for the volume, “How to Make the Perfect Fried Egg Sandwich”), and two other poets, an essayist, and memoir author.

We didn’t exactly wear our academic credentials on our sleeves—for one thing it was a very hot, beyond sultry, Washington DC day, and the majority of us were in short sleeves, if there were sleeves at all to our garments. In fact, to some greater or lesser extent each of us, as well as all the other writers in the book, were or are published authors. Our bona fides preceded us. The only criterion the works selected had to meet, aside from manifestly having food as a major theme, motif, or subject, was that each include a bona fide executable recipe within the text.

The publisher bankrolled a generous adjunct to the gathering, especially generous to the attendees who met no other criterion of admission than to show up, in the form of a smorgasbord of sample tastings of five of the recipes featured. In short, they paid a caterer to prepare and provide small, but ample, tastes of two kinds of cake, a vegetable soup, and a beverage, a punch. Anecdotally, I’d say, from the amount consumed and the overheard comments of approbation, the crowd was pleased.

The audience settled in, many of them with tiny cups of soup, sipped with even tinier spoons, and the reading began with a greeting from our merchant host, which, courtesy again of the publisher had provided stacks of volumes for purchase, and a traditional signing after we had all performed. We read in turn, taking from five to ten minutes each. Some of the readers bolstered the rendering of their contributions as published with yet more works of theirs along the same lines. In an hour, we were done. There were few questions, all asked with that earnestness that characterizes self-consciously literary crowds. And then the queue formed.

I was surprised to see that several folks bought multiple copies, each receiving a requested and different personalized greeting. The book is not costly, and I did not inquire as to any discounts, but three copies, let us say, which at least one generous soul had purchased, plus the local sales tax ate up most of a hundred dollar bill. I was further surprised to be asked myself to sign several copies, and I easily fought the temptation to disabuse the pilgrim of the likely value of my scrawl in any conceivable future.

I will admit personally to a certain sense of a kind of temporary dissociation. I for sure knew where I was, but I also wished I weren’t. I loathe crowds of strangers of any size. They intimidate me, and put me on guard. When it came time to read, I stood up, and didn’t quite entirely put aside my usual sense of confidence (bolstered by a rehearsal the day before at home, before my editor and our pooch, who both listened raptly as I easily gave a flowing reading of my free verse) as I hugged the podium and barely glanced at the equally rapt crowd. As I read, with the same well-paced cadences I’m sure in retrospect, all I could hear was a tremulousness in my voice, which I certainly felt. By all accounts that reading was as free of defect as the run-through, though it had seemed interminable to me. Barely noticing the applause, which had justifiably greeted each of the other readers, I regained my seat, as the sense of otherness enveloped me again.

Other than the pride in my wife’s accomplishment (and I was one of very few, present or not, with any acquaintance with the trials the editors together had undergone in seeing the book through its long gestation) my memory of the afternoon is hazy. It was, undoubtedly, a success, which I knew, having seen the number of copies the store had rung up. For all that, this was, I admit, my first opportunity to participate in a reading of this sort, from the other side of the lectern. Seeking no prior indoctrination, and even knowing my antipathy for crowds of strangers, I was interested to take in as much as I might perceive. For all the sales of the book that day (and to date, as it enjoys its inaugural weeks on sale nationally), the publisher had shipped what proved to be a significant surplus, no doubt in an established protocol of cautious optimism and preparedness. I happened to be at the check out at the front of the store, as the staff prepared for the next event, hard on the heels of our own. I admit as well, I cannot step into a well-stocked bookstore without spending some money (and I bested the outlay of the hundred dollar lady, with quite a much larger sum in a fit of spreading the wealth—I should disclose that my own copy of Books that Cook had arrived weeks ago at home, gratis). As I paid for my second purchase of the day, for another book, another audio CD, and a Lamy rollerball pen I couldn’t resist, I watched as two of the staff members, expertly stuffed what was left of an unsold pile of volumes of the literary feast into two sizable cartons, festooned with labels that looked familiar from a shipment long ago of my one published volume—probably the same production house. They had those cartons packed and sealed and ready for shipment back, all in the time it took to swipe my card and for me to sign the check.

All in all, and nevertheless, I am sure it was a good day for NYU Press, and Politics and Prose, and the co-editors. Later that same weekend, a check on Amazon of how the book was selling showed it had, for what it appears was a shining moment, achieved “best-seller” status, making it to the “Top 100” in three different sub-categories. I have no doubt with our next reading, scheduled for New York City, the home turf of the publisher, at a rare book library on campus, it will attain a few more moments of fame, and once again, even a few grains, like scattered salt crystals, will reach me.

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The book is available on-line, here, and here And, of course, at your local independent bookstore. I know where I’d go.