Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

The new Greil Marcus book arrived in the mail yesterday, and I love it.

Greil

 

I love its boldly-colored, comic book-style cover illustration of Marcus, its hefty 586 pages, its exhaustive, nerdalicious index, its endless lists.

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[It’s a compilation of Marcus’ “Real Life Top Ten” lists, which he began posting, as somewhat-but-not-entirely Zeitgeisty missives, in February 1986 in the Village Voice, which is where I first found it in college in the late 80sThe column continues to this day in the Barnes & Noble Review, but the book ends at September 2014. While much of his listy focus is on music (not necessarily current, either), Marcus’ RLRTTs also encompass film, books/articles, toys – whatever was bouncing around on Planet Greil at the time.]

Having a book such as this – so appealing to me! In so many ways! – arrive during the work day made for a confusing tug-of-war. It was in my mailbox when I arrived at my office in the morning. I tore open the box, flung the cardboard aside, held the book in both hands, and sighed. (I’m not kidding.) It was 8:30 AM. I had a lot to do. I put the book down.

Greil’s face stared me down from the cover. I decided to allow myself to savor one list: the first list in the book, dated February 18, 1986. By the time I got to #2, (Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going”), I realized I could probably make a streaming playlist of at least the songs on the list (and additional playlists for all the subsequent lists) and listen to that while I worked. 6 of the 7 songs on the list were available; the other 3 items on the list included a toy (Godzilla), an article (about Little Richard), and a book (about Bascom Lamar Lunsford).

I went ahead and made the playlist (including the Billy Ocean song, because obviously each list must be “consumed” as fully as possible). I wondered if I should start looking up the article and the book (as well as track down the missing song, a Bette Midler cut from the Down & Out in Beverly Hills soundtrack), and it occurred to me that dealing with this book properly could be its own full-time job. I stashed it in my bag and grudgingly started answering email.

In February 1986, I was a high school senior in Minnesota; I was a princess, an athlete, a criminal, a brain, and a basket case. I’d applied to colleges, but hadn’t heard from them yet. I devoured my friend Laura’s treasured copies of Maximum Rocknroll whenever possible, listened to KFAI late at night, and knew, with absolute certainty, that there was way more out there than what I was reading/watching/hearing/doing, and that I was going to find it. All of it.

Meanwhile, Greil Marcus was starting his compilations – his written cultural mix tapes – which would eventually be compiled into its own giant compilation: this book, which I’m going to work my way through, playlist by playlist, library search by library search.

Why? Why not? There’s so much I’ve missed.

Good Housekeeping

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First things first: There was a new episode of Backyard Industry radio last week about eating invasive species as a way to manage them. I focused on a local person who’s all about introducing the autumn olive into the local food landscape here in central Illinois, but as I was putting the piece together, I ran across several other interviews/articles about eating, managing, and examining the very concept of invasive species. There was this piece at NPR about a 6th grader’s science-project discoveries regarding lionfish (since mired in controversy), and then there was this interview with writer Emma Maris about her book Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild WorldI haven’t read the book, but the part of the interview I happened upon as I was driving back from my beloved prairie preserve (where I saw a bunch of white-tailed deer, considered by many in this area to be invasive) was about ecosystems and invasives, if not specifically about eating them. It’s interesting, uh, food for thought and damned provocative when you think about them in the context of the current food system in the US.

Tonight I was putting together a care package of reading material for my friend Millicent, who is spending her summer cooking in the Adirondacks for a nice Midwestern family (“I know, boo-f*ckin’-hoo,” she wrote). I met Millicent in Chicago about 20 years ago when we were both working for an independent music distributor; we came back together 2 summers ago while she was touring her book about pie. She slept on our couch and we spent a fantastic evening going through many cans of beer in my driveway, discussing independent food and music and art and culture and their many intersections like the couple of aging punk-ass ladies we are. Anyway. Millicent put out the call for some stuff to read as she closes out her time up there, so I got to work. I won’t say exactly what I found for her, except that I think she will LOVE IT, but I will allow that I ran across this gem in our basement – a terrible place to keep something that was at least partially responsible for a major change in direction for me back in the late 90s/early 00s. Behold:

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That right there is a copy of The Journal of Gastronomy, published by the American Institute of Wine & Food, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter/Spring 1993. I spotted it on a shelf at a Salvation Army during a thrifting trip, thought, hm, and paid my 50 (EDIT: 55, see cover) cents. Go on, look at the table of contents up there. Laurie Colwin, Joan Dye Gussow, Margaret Visser, that guy who wrote the book Flow, etc.  My mind was blown. BLOWN! FOR FIFTY(-FIVE) CENTS! I didn’t know this type of writing about food – the experience of it, the culture of it – even existed. It’s been a talisman, one of my personal Big Bangs, and the fact it’s been hanging out in our very undignified basement for ages is a tremendous oversight, given the fact that everything I’ve done around food for the last 15 years is a result of thrifting it.

The journal ceased publication in 1993; Gastronomica has more or less picked up the slack since 2001, and we all know what happened after Michael Pollan wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma. There’s no shortage of excellent, thinky food writing out there in 2014. But what I loved about this single issue – the only issue I’ve ever seen – of TJoG is that it was published pre-internet. There are no URLs on its covers or masthead, no promises of extra “content” somewhere in the ether, no link-induced rabbit holes. It’s just print. The photos are in black and white. It’s conversational rather than aspirational, and the contributors assume the reader is invested and intelligent. It’s also a snapshot of a time long gone – the primary concern about the disruption of meals in 1993 had everything to do with TV, not each individual participant burying their faces in a device or taking photos of their food. Finding that journal tonight was the equivalent, for me, of running across a prized Sixteen Tons  7″ (recorded by Steve Albini!) or a cassette recording of my radio show from college.

Nostalgic? Sure. I’ll own up to that. But it’s also a tactile reminder that we’re the cumulative result of all our influences. Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter/Spring 1993 is moving back up to my desk.

PS: I’m not sending this fusty/precious old thing to Millicent, just other precious/fusty old things. Though I do think she might enjoy the Colwin piece so perhaps a little Xerox love will be going into the envelope…

Not Ketchup, Catch Up

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It’s a long weekend, more cold weather is coming, and I feel like making things, so I planned meals for the upcoming week today (you may be surprised to know it’s something I’ve been out of the habit of doing for YEARS), went shopping for the food for those meals, roasted some grape tomatoes in the vein of Nom Nom Paleo and Smitten Kitchen (same basic  principle, slightly different methods), and now I’m patiently (?) waiting for Jim to come home from refereeing soccer matches so he can get started on his chorizo chili so I can just sit here and inhale while he cooks. The chorizo is from Triple S Farms in Stewardson, and – god. Our family has a RELATIONSHIP with this chorizo, an affair. It’s great in fajitas or as nachos, but chili is what is needed tonight. Acceptance-yet-defiance of winter in a bowl, that’s what this chili is.

Post-holidays (is it just me, or do the holidays seem like they happened MONTHS AGO?), I think it’s good to get creative with your comfort food. We’re past everything-pumpkin, we’re past the family traditions that dictate the holidays – now, January/February, before fresh food is truly available here in the midwest, that’s when we get down to the business of really figuring out what we want to eat. For, you know, strength when spring comes. My favorite winter foods come in bowls. How about you?

reading

I am utterly, woefully behind in my reading. I found myself at the bookstore this afternoon (very much a “How did I get here?” moment), looking for more magazines, another cookbook. Never mind that I have the above to read, plus two more cookbooks arriving Tuesday. And I still have two cookbooks I received for Christmas from one of my dear sisters-in-law that I can’t wait to read. It’s a sickness. I LOVE ALL OF THEM and occasionally fantasize about literally building a fort out of all these books and magazines, the better to surround myself with culinary and food (and life) wisdom. I haven’t done it. Yet.

I did, however, finish Provence, 1970 this afternoon. I adored the first 2/3 of the book, and was really excited to find out what happened, but after that first 2/3, I thought it just sort of ground to a halt just when I thought something explosive, some a-ha & super-influential moment that I’d never heard of before, would happen, which it… didn’t. That doesn’t mean I didn’t love it. I did. I cannot get enough of good, evocative writing about the food and farming and conviviality surrounding food in France, especially from that time period. Author Luke Barr had access to all kinds of correspondence between the principals (MFK Fisher [his great-aunt], Julia Child, James Beard, Richard Olney) as well as Fisher’s notebook from her time in France at that particular juncture. Anyway, if you have a thing for France and French food and The Days of Yore, I do recommend it.

I’m thinking ahead to next weekend, when we begin shooting “Ramen Shaman”. We’ll be interviewing the Shaman himself at his place, surrounded by his cookbooks and tchotchkes (the guy has a hundred times the cookbooks/food books I do… he could build a palace), and then filming the preparation for his next ramen event, and then filming the event. I’m a little nervous; I made a drastic change to my appearance ahead of all this filming, because I was feeling very what-the-hell about it, but now I’m more like, what the hell? Oops.

Anyway. The ramen is the story, but Mark is the story, too. I can’t wait to hear it, to help tell it. Right now, though, I’m all about swooning over this chili; Jim’s home.