Thursday, May 29, 2008

Food as Culture

Chef Gillian Clark talked with me this week about her life in food. It sounds strange, but food really is about more than the plate in front of you or the drive-thru on the way to work. Food defines our culture, food brings us together....

Gillian talked to me about the food she serves in her restaurant - she wanted simple, American fare. They are known for their meat loafs and burgers and fresh ingredients.

That got me thinking, what is the food of Northern Minnesota? Is there a kind of food that defines your family or your town? Post your thoughts on what food best represents the culture of Northern Minnesota. Wild Rice? Walleye? Pasties?

Ellen Baker in Brainerd on Monday

This week on Realgoodwords you'll hear a conversation with Grand Rapids native Ellen Baker about her novel "Keeping the House". Ellen is kicking off the Brainerd Public Library's Brown Bag lunch series on Monday June 2nd at noon.

Here's a synopsis of "Keeping the House"
When Dolly Magnuson moves to Pine Rapids, Wisconsin in 1950, she discovers all too soon that making marriage work is harder than it looks in the pages of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Dolly tries to adapt to her new life—keeping the house, supporting her husband’s career, fretting about dinner menus. She even gives up her dream of flying an airplane, and instead tries to fit in at the stuffy Ladies Aid quilting circle. Soon, though, her loneliness and restless imagination are seized by the vacant house on the hill, and, as Dolly’s own life and marriage become increasingly difficult, she begins to lose herself in piecing together the shocking story of three generations of Mickelson men and women: Wilma Mickelson, who came to Pine Rapids as a new bride in 1896, and fell in love with a man who was not her husband; her oldest son, Jack, who fought as a Marine in the trenches of the First World War; and Jack’s son, JJ, a troubled veteran of World War II, who returns home to discover Dolly in his grandparents’ house. As the crisis in Dolly’s marriage escalates and she seeks answers from JJ’s stories of his family’s past, KEEPING THE HOUSE moves back and forth in time, exploring themes of wartime heroism and passionate love, of the struggles of men with fatherhood and war, of women with conformity, identity, forbidden dreams and love. Rich in period atmosphere and in 1950s detail, KEEPING THE HOUSE illuminates the courage it takes to shape and reshape a life, and the difficulty of ever knowing the truth about another person’s desires. KEEPING THE HOUSE is an unforgettable novel about small town life and big matters of the heart.
Other authors that will be speaking this summer in Brainerd:
June 2-Ellen Baker, Keeping the House
June 9-Jim Klobuchar, Pieces of My Heart
June 16-Ann Reed, Sesquicentennial Songwriting Tour
June 23-Catherine Watson, Home on the Road: Further Dispatches from the Ends of the Earth
June 30-William Cope Moyers, Broken: My Memoir of Addiction and Redemption
July 7-Jerry Mevissen, Broken Hart: Small Town Short Stories
July 14th-Rusty Schmidt, Rain Gardens
July 21-BookWomen, Minnesota Women's Press
July 28-John Fredricksson, The Gunflint Cabin

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A little perspective

In 1979 I was 10 years old. I lived north of Brainerd, Minnesota on our family resort where I spent my long summer days playing with my Sunshine Family dolls, cleaning cabins, fending off the dreaded "lake itch" and hanging out with all the kids at the resort. My biggest problem at that time (besides running out of calamine lotion) was how to get out of cleaning cabins on Saturdays so I wouldn't miss Hong Kong Phooey.

A world away in 1979 Marina Nemat was living in her family's cottage on the Capsian Sea in Iran. When the Shah of Iran was exiled and Ayatollah Khomeni became the country's leader, Marina's carefree life began to change. Classes in school changed - where there used to be calculus now there was only government propaganda. Marina, a free-willed headstrong girl convinced her class to strike against their math teacher's new curriculum. They followed her, but it lead to her imprisonment in one of the most notorious prisons, Evin. She and hundreds of other girls were tortured and sentenced to death. That is until one of her interrogaters, Ali, offered her a way out. In order to stay alive she was forced to marry Ali and convert from Christianity to Islam.

Marina's book "Prisoner of Tehran - One Woman's Story of Survival Inside an Iranian Prison" is called by the Christian Science Monitor "...not so much a political history lesson as it is a memoir of faith and love, a protest against violence that cannot be silenced. Her persistence in standing for goodness is a lesson for us all." Tune in to Realgoodwords this week for my conversation with Marina.

This Week's Realgoodwords - Marina Nemat

You should check out this clip from the CBC's (Canadian television) "The Hour" (one of my favorite shows!) where George talks with author Marina Nemat about her memoir "Prisoner of "Tehran: One Woman's Story of Survival Inside an Iranian Prison" She's my guest this week on Realgoodwords.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Literary Events with Dylan Days

One of the cool things Aaron Brown and the folks with Dylan Days do every year is an acknowledgement of Bob Dylan's talent in terms of writing.

Each year they sponsor a writing contest - adults and students - both fiction and poetry.... and this year their first ever One-Act Play contest.

This year's literary speaker is Toby Thompson, he's author of "Positively Main Street: Bob Dylan's Minnesota". Toby will be hosting a Creative Writing Workshop on Friday May 23rd from 9-11am at the Hibbing High School. Pre-registration is necessary for this, email for more information. This is free with a 2008 Dylan Days pin. From 3-5 that afternoon Toby will be at the Howard Street Booksellers signing copies of his book...
Saturday May 24th from 3-5pm at the Hibbing Community College theater will be a reading of the winners of the Dylan Days writing contest as well as the premiere of the winner of the One-Act Play contest, directed by award-winning director Mike Ricci. This is free also with a Dylan Days pin.
There are lots more events going on with Dylan Days - check it out!

Minnesota Bestselling Novels this week

Here's the StarTribune's list of local bestsellers.

1. The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich ($25.95, Harper). Innocents are blamed for the slaughter of a family.
2. Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri ($25, Knopf). Eight stories of exile, identity, disappointment and maturation.
3. So Brave, Young and Handsome, by Leif Enger ($24, Atlantic). An outlaw sets out to correct his misdeeds.
4. Phantom Prey, by John Sandford ($26.95, Putnam). A widow comes home to find blood everywhere and her daughter missing.
5. The Miracle at Speedy Motors, by Alexander McCall Smith ($22.95, Pantheon). A detective helps a woman find her family.

So here are my questions to you:

What novels are the non-city folks reading?

Have you read any on this list?

Tell us about a book you recommend....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More about Steve Lopez and The Soloist

There are some things that Steve Lopez said to me about his book "The Soloist" that are just rattling around in my head - and I can't stop thinking about them. We talked about his book, sure, but also how meeting Nathaniel Ayers - a former Julliard student playing a 2-string violin on skid row in downtown L.A. - changed his life.

One of the profound things he said was that for Nathaniel, art and music were his therapeutic force - a way for him, a person struggling with mental illness, to find peace. Since Steve met Nathaniel and started writing columns about him and then the book, they have become close friends - friends who go to the Los Angeles Philharmonic together. The musicians in the orchestra have become friends of Nathaniel Steve said about Nathaniel, "Music is his medicine, Disney Hall is his hospital and his friends in the orchestra are his doctors".

Do you have something that gives you peace? Art? Being outside? Being creative in some way?
Tune in for our conversation tonight - or check the archives.....See Steve Lopez's LA Times articles on Nathaniel here.

Monday, May 12, 2008


There is something universal about stories that lift you up; stories that give you hope - and stories about real people.

Steve Lopez is a columnist with the LA Times who has published a book based on the columns he wrote about a very unusual man he met on the street, playing a violin with only 2 strings.
From Penguin books at

When Steve Lopez saw Nathaniel Ayers playing his heart out on a two-string violin on Los Angeles’ skid row, he found it impossible to walk away. More than thirty years earlier, Ayers had been a promising classical bass student at Juilliard—ambitious, charming, and also one of the few African-Americans—until he gradually lost his ability to function, overcome by schizophrenia. When Lopez finds him, Ayers is homeless, paranoid, and deeply troubled, but glimmers of that brilliance are still there.

Over time, Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers form a bond, and Lopez imagines that he might be able to change Ayers’s life. Lopez collects donated violins, a cello, even a stand-up bass and a piano; he takes Ayers to Walt Disney Concert Hall and helps him move indoors. For each triumph, there is a crashing disappointment, yet neither man gives up. In the process of trying to save Ayers, Lopez finds that his own life is changing, and his sense of what one man can accomplish in the lives of others begins to expand in new ways.

Poignant and ultimately hopeful, The Soloist is a beautifully told story of friendship and the redeeming power of music.

I talk with Steve Lopez this week on Realgoodwords about his friendship with Nathaniel and how it has affected them both. If Steve hadn't stopped that day to see who was playing such intricate music, he wouldn't have made the connection he did. He wouldn't have done something to make a difference in someone's life.

What have you stopped your busy day for? What are you glad you took the time to take a second look at? Tune in Wed. May 14th for my conversation with Steve Lopez.

it's not really stealing, is it?

My family and I have been spending most of our time in hospitals lately - my dad is in ICU and is on a tough tough battle to get better. We keep him and each other company, laughing inappropriately, doing crossword puzzles and my new hobby: stealing magazines from hospital waiting rooms.

It's only the food magazines I'm interested in stealing- I mean really, that's not that terrible is it? What magazines keep you interested in waiting rooms?
At least I'm getting some new recipes....Here's one I'm hoping to try soon...I've never made anything with watercress before - have you?

Chickpea Salad (from Real Simple magazine)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small red onion, thinly sliced (1 cup)
8 cups watercress, washed and dried

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the carrots and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Reduce
heat to low, add 1/4 cup of the chicken stock, cover, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the chickpeas, cumin, and paprika and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the remaining stock and cook, uncovered, until the liquid is absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the lemon juice, onion, watercress, and the remaining olive oil and toss well.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Yield: Makes 8 servings

114(0% from fat); FAT 4g (sat 1g); PROTEIN 4mg; CHOLESTEROL 0mg; CALCIUM 78mg;

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I Blame Maggie Montgomery...

Once I was all about the words. Now, it's about the words, but also about the food.

I blame Maggie. And of course, indirectly, KAXE. What with the food and the kitchen and all that.

You know Maggie, our fearless leader in all foods local. Maggie's Wednesday Morning Show segments and daily meals in the KAXE kitchen have pushed me to not only cook more but eat (and enjoy) local foods like cheese and butter and milk and meat all from local producers. I even tried goat meat for crying out loud.

But lately I've moved into a whole new realm. I'm addicted to the food channel.... and I wrote a Lake Country Journal article about some local restaurants I enjoy. I have even started reading "foodie" books. Here's a couple I've been working on and will be featuring on upcoming episodes of Realgoodwords.

"Out of the Frying Pan: A Chef's Memoir of Hot Kitchens, Single Motherhood, and the Family Meal" by Gillian Clark. I really enjoyed reading this - and I had no idea how much stress was involved in being a much politics play into the job and how HUNGRY I could get, reading a book!!

Gillian includes many recipes in the book, like:

Carrot-Sage Soup

Note: The amounts below are halved from the original recipe, which yields
1/2 gallon of soup. If you're game for a large pot of soup, double the amounts.

1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 cup white wine
3 cups water
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 bunches (about 1/8 pound) fresh sage, tied with kitchen twine
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, sweat the onions in the oil. When onions are soft and
translucent, add carrots. Cook carrots and onions together, stirring constantly.
Do not let carrots brown, but cook them until they glisten -- about 5 minutes.
Add white wine and simmer until it is almost gone.
Add water and boil the
mixture until you can easily slide a sharp paring knife into the fattest piece
of carrot. Do not cook until carrots fall apart; they should be just tender.
Puree mixture in a blender on the highest speed.

Return soup to pot and add cream. Tie sage to pot handle so that the sage
leaves are immersed in the pot.

Let soup simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. Season with salt and
pepper taste. Discard the sage.

Makes about 1 quart of soup.

I heard a great podcast with Michele Anna Jordan about the book she edited along with Susan Brady called "The World is A Kitchen - Cooking Your Way Through Culture Stories, Recipes, and Resources". I'm just getting into the book - which includes writing about food, recipes and ideas for culinary travel. I'll let you know what I think.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mother's Day

This week on Realgoodwords I talk with Minnesota poet and editor Kathryn Kysar. She's put together a really wonderful and surprising book of stories by Midwest women writers about their moms. The anthology includes some of my favorite writers like Alison McGhee, Faith Sullivan and Sandra Benitez.

These highly personal yet often universal stories offer windows into those influential mother-daughter moments that have forever shaped the lives and perspectives of the writers, powerful women—authors, spokespeople, scholars, teachers, and some mothers themselves.

As a writer, I was really impressed by how these women really captured their mothers. The book is not just a tribute to mothers, but it gets at the complex relationship.

In a review on Shannon Gibney wrote a of "Riding Shotgun"....

But finding a book which actually looks, feels, and tastes truly representative of our complex state is, even now, a strange and wonderful occurrence. Riding Shotgun is the real thing, with writers from rural and urban Minnesota—who are Black, Native, Hmong American, Korean American, White, Latina, queer and straight—all weighing in on the difficult, inspiring relationship between mothers and daughters. This diversity of voices, coupled with the high quality of the writing throughout, makes Riding Shotgun a great read.

Diane Glancy’s poetic short “M(other),” likewise, offers insight into the huge emotional distances that often exist between mothers and daughters: “My mother was the other in the house. She was something of which I was not part. I was left alone with her in the house until my father came home and my brother was born. A child is an island. A child is a spot on the distant sea. My mother was in the house as I was. A dimmer light. An unwanted smot.”

I asked Kathryn about how she was able to solicit this kind of writing - how we as writers could push ourselves to really write about our mothers. She suggested starting out with a tribute. After that you are free to look at the complexity, the fascination of the bond betweeen mothers and daughters. In a way, writing about our moms can really tells us a lot about ourselves.

How would you describe your mother? Do you have a story about your mother? Did she put raisins in the spaghetti or burn the birthday cake? Did your mom make toast with butter and bring you warm gingerale when you were sick? Maybe your mom baked the perfect bread. Email us or comment here!

Tune in this Wednesday (May 7th at 6pm) or Sunday (May 11th at 9am) for our conversations. If you miss the live audio stream you can also check the archives.

See more information at Kathryn Kysar's website,

Friday, May 2, 2008

May 8th is the 60th anniversary of Israel

Coming up next week on Realgoodwords (May 7th & 11th) you'll hear my conversation with Donna Rosenthal. Donna has rereleased her book "The Israelis - Ordinary People in an Ordinary Land" for the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of Israel on May 8th, 2008.

In putting together this book, Donna made a rule for herself to talk to REAL people, not politicians. As she said to me, "Politicians are like diapers you should change both of them frequently and for the same reason".

She also wanted to talk with women (half the interviews are with women) and young people. She said, "I tried to keep the average age young because I think to understand to understand ANY country it is important to go into the playgrounds, bedrooms, boardrooms, classrooms and in Israel the army barracks."

More about "The Israelis":

The Israelis finally shows these spectacularly diverse people as they see themselves: trying to lead ordinary lives in an abnormal country. They live with exploding buses, but Israeli youth are also the worlds' biggest MTV fans and their heroes are former soldiers who've built the world's second Silicon Valley. You'll meet the Israeli Bill Gates and the third wife of a Bedouin who watches Oprah. Then there are the women combat officers who serve in the world's only country that drafts women. You'll see firsthand what's it like taking your children to the mall - first to shop at Toys R Us and then to be fitted for larger gas masks. And meet the newlywed whose Ethiopian-born parents dislike her husband, not because he's white - but because he's not Jewish enough.

Donna told me about going to discos and clubs in Israel so she could meet younger people. "Discos don't explode like you get a feeling that they do every night when you watch the CNN. Most of them open at 11 o'clock at night and Israelis of all religious backgrounds dance until dawn. You get this feeling that Israel is a very dangerous place and yet the murder rate in Israel has been less for the last three years than the first five months of the year in Washington D.C. "

Tune in for our conversation.