Thursday, December 2, 2010

Beyond the Sauce: Beyond the Comfort Zone - Finale

Here it is, folks, the moment you've all been waiting for.

I know you've been digesting that Thanksgiving dinner for a whole week, salivating over the possible outcomes you've imagined for my cooking experiment. And now you're going to know the truth about how I fared when pitted against the venerable Vesta recipe tome.

All in all, I'd call it a success.

I made...the "Mixed Beet Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese Salad" as a side dish or vegetable to go along with our family's otherwise store-bought meal of honey ham and pumpkin pie. This recipe consists of red and yellow beets, candied walnuts, and a sage tempura with a pumpkin vinaigrette. Oh, and let's not forget the divine and ridiculously expensive Humboldt Fog goat cheese, one of the only cheeses that the United States exports (out of California, I believe.) Ooh la la. Sounds pretty good, right? It should, it's a Vesta recipe.

Now, let's just get the failings of my labors out of the way. First of all, because my sage leaves were WAY too small to be deep-fried in oil for the tempura, there was no sage tempura. Although I did sprinkle sage over my beets to finish. (Matt Selby, if you're reading, perhaps it's best if you stop now, before you subject yourself to any more carnage of your creations.)

Failing #2 occurred with the beets. Um, they were kind of crunchy. Let's just say they didn't goo all over their plates like the ones that come out of a can do. Maybe that's a good thing.

These beets were FRESH. So fresh, they still had farm soil on them when I removed them from the refrigerator. Straight out of the ground, they came. And then they were smartly poached in a nice subtle chardonnay. Just like Vesta told me to.

I began my adventure by doing something I could never have pictured myself doing: candying walnuts. I have to say, the candied walnuts were the masterpiece of this salad. I really nailed the technique. I observed that frying the sugared walnuts in oil was somewhat similar to making Danish Aebleskiver (which, even though I don't cook, is required cooking knowledge in my family). So the Dane in me came out and candied those little guys good. Vikings ahoy. A week later we're still guiltily munching on those leftover sweets.

Then I tackled the beets. It was a little frightening, truth be told. Those suckers have lots of...tentacles. I think they might be related to marine vegetables. Once I conquered the hairs and squiggles, and scrubbed off all the delicious dirt, the beets made their way to the chardonnay jacuzzi. And there they sat. Vesta told me to poach them for 20 minutes. After a half hour of poking and staring and lip-biting, I left 'em in for another 10 minutes. Then I made the executive decision that they must be done.

Ay, there's the rub! Those beets knew darn well when they were going to be done soaking in their chardonnay bubble bath and by gum, they weren't done yet. But it was too late. They were already chilling in the fridge while I prepared a pumpkin vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar, pumpkin puree, turmeric, and lemon juice.

The end result was almost delicious. Festive, tangy vinaigrette dressing, walnuts to satisfy even a Danish sweet tooth, a sumptuous spoil-yourself goat cheese wedge, and sage lightly dusted over...not-so-soft beets. Bummer.

My eating companions were good sports. They poked, they prodded, they dashed into the kitchen for sharper knife reinforcements, and they gnawed, poor things. They adored the cheese, and enthusiastically dove for the softer beet bites. I can see how this salad is delicious...when Matt Selby makes it.

But like I said...I don't cook. The whole experience certainly made for an exciting and unique Thanksgiving dinner experience, one that I think everyone at the table appreciated.

I'm not sure if I'll be stretching my cooking legs again anytime soon. I'm overwhelmed and humbled by the complexity of the craft that these masters practice daily. Anyway, I'd much rather sit in their restaurant and feast my senses on their creations, works of art that they've honed to perfection. Yes, this bookseller is still a foodie. And definitely still NOT a cook.

But for one shining moment, this book gave me entree (pun intended) into the world of the true culinary artists. That's what I love about books. They transport you into worlds you never thought possible. Cheers. And here's to you, Vesta.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beyond the Sauce, Beyond the Comfort Zone - Part I

I do not cook. Anyone with less than a degree of separation from me can tell you that my standard idea of cooking involves the microwave or toaster, frozen waffles, a box of macaroni and cheese or a can of soup, and a single pot of water in which to boil boring noodles. From a cooking perspective, I am a college co-ed.

So I tend to regard the cookbooks I see with the same indifference in which I regard international building code books. Not my area/bailiwick/fach. Beautiful as they may be, I will gladly pass them on to the cooks among us.

But, my friends, I have been tempted. And now I find myself cracking open one of the newest local cookbooks to hit the Tattered Cover shelves: "Vesta Dipping Grill: Beyond the Sauce", by chef Matt Selby and owner Josh Wolkon.

How was this accomplished? How could it happen that a lazy water-boiling waffle-toasting scoundrel like me would be thumbing through pages describing the preparation of foie gras and ahi tuna?

Well, this particular cookbook is the signature tome of a local restaurant. And if there's one thing I ADORE about food, it's when other people cook it for me.

And recently, Selby's chef team at Vesta Dipping Grill did just that. (Note: Vesta is a neighbor of the Tattered Cover's, located just a few blocks east of our LoDo store on 18th and Blake streets.) A friend and I spent our evening strolling through the colorful, sensational halls of Selby's tasting menu. Our tour began with smoked venison sausage presented with hudson barrel onions and roasted garlic crema. We savored the ginger chili seared tuna with arugula, white soy, and yuzu syrup. And when it came to deciding which of Vesta's famous sauces went best with the herb grilled Colorado lamb loin (served with truffled farro, bacon, mustard greens, and dried berry chutney), we could wordlessly agree on the cilantro mint pesto. This foodie was in heaven. Selby has skillfully crafted compositions of taste that are as complex and intricately beautiful as a Baroque fugue. Layers of flavor dance and merge to form wondrous, quiet counterpoint.

After such a sumptuous meal (seven small tasting courses in all were a perfect fit for our ladylike bellies), you might think it would be even harder for me to hit the showers, er, kitchen, roll up my sleeves, and actually cook something. But I have a persuasive factor motivating me to try out this Vesta book.

Thanksgiving dinner.

If I don't cook a fabulous side dish for this holiday, I will be subjecting my small family to my mother's frozen bags of vegetables. Frozen. Vegetables. I mean, really. Is there a comparison? Vesta, or frozen "veggies". Laughable. My mother doesn't really like to cook either. It's hereditary. We've ordered a nice honey ham for the entree that somebody else has lovingly prepared for us (along with thousands of other identical honey hams).

So, dear readers, I've got my copy of "Beyond the Sauce". I will be visiting the grocery store sometime in the next 24 hours to purchase adequate Vesta-food-preparing supplies. I am going to dive headlong into the cooking fire, to save my family, to save Thanksgiving dinner, from...frozen vegetables (I can barely type the words).

Eating at Vesta made our ordinary evening a special occasion. So I'm going to see if I can make a special occasion feel like eating at Vesta. Stay tuned. I'll be letting you know how it goes. In the meantime, if you care to infuse a little LoDo glitz into your Turkey Day, you better get down to the Tattered Cover and grab a copy of "Beyond the Sauce" before we close for the holiday.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Supposed to" or not, Kate and Shawn got their Big View

When you read the new biography "I Am Not Supposed to Be Here" by Kate and Shawn Rickel, you don't believe your eyes. You read about the terribly traumatizing motorcycle accident, and the miraculous survival story, and you even see the pictures of the people who went though it all in living color. And you still don't believe.

Maybe in order to believe, you just have to see her for yourself. Because Kate lost a major section of her brain tissue (the section that governs speech and language) in that motorcycle accident. Once you've read about the collapsing brain stem, the coma, the endless trips to Spalding Center in Colorado and the Mayo Clinic, the macabre deterioration of a normal, happy one would expect a human being to endure all of that and survive.

So I found myself at Big View Ranch, just west of Denver in the foothills, to see the ultimate miracle: the woman who refused certain death, surrounded by her realized dreams. Big View Ranch is home to an equine therapy program for the disabled and recovering, founded by the co-authors of "I Am Not Supposed to Be Here." Shawn and Kate Rickel, now married, had only been dating for three months before the accident. But already they knew that they shared a passion for horses and the therapeutic, healing tendencies of animals. That passion bonded them as they battled to heal Kate's life-threatening injuries and gave them a light at the end of a tunnel filled with dead-end doctors' appointments and perplexed surgeons.

Immediately upon opening their book, my heart had invested in this story, and in the few hours during which the book was wholly devoured, I sat at the edge of the story like a family member in a hospital waiting room, chewing on my fingernails and praying for the best. Of course, the beaming sunlit lady on the book cover gives away the ending, but that doesn't diminish one's amazement at the adversity overcome by unconditional love and faith.

"I Am Not Supposed to Be Here" allows the reader to step outside of one's daily dramas, which seem so important, and be humbled by the preciousness of life. My copy of this book will stay on the shelf close by, waiting for a time when I think I have a big problem, to remind me that I, too, can endure, survive and emerge resurrected from whatever ashes befall me.

And in watching Kate walk away, back to her re-opened equine therapy clinic, in full swing with helmet-clad children on horseback, I'll tell you what I believe: Colorado is a pretty perfect place to start all over.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The Eyes Have It: Applause for an "Artobiography"

I've heard it said that great art is generated out of conflict or tension. With that in mind, I'll introduce readers to one of my all-time favorite local author works, an "artobiography" by Boulder author and artist Tina Collen.

One of our Tattered Cover customers described it well as I showed her the book: "oh my, you can't read this on a (insert brand name of e-reader here)." If a person saw an online image of the book, it might not leap upon one's face screaming "read me" in neon blinking lights.

No, this book is a sensual experience, a pop-up for the grown-up aesthetic explorer, and from the moment one lifts it from the shelf it commands one's touch, sight, smell...a cohesive involvement of all humors.

"Storm of the i" is, in a sense, The Collen Museum of History. Precious artifacts from this woman's life are arranged and exhibited to delight and fascinate patrons. Collen herself is a thorough and patient curator, leading us all along the written hallways and corridors of her opus, gesturing quietly to the pieces which provide illustration yet leave us wondering. One feels certain of the presence of a master artist, as one witnesses page after page of highly professional, emotional writing coupled with the brilliant gems of a stellar graphic career.

By the end of my impeccably printed-and-bound museum visit, I have so many feelings. Did I just sit down with my friend and hear all her stories while cuddling up to her photo albums? Did I just walk out of a prestigious gallery, awed by the sights within? Did I just experience the loss of a loved one, painfully cataloguing all the joys and sufferings while cleaning out a house? Collen's book allowed me to experience each of these events simultaneously.

And what a magnificent work of art it is, which invites me to thrill in the depth of human experience and reflect upon my own humanity. Brava, Madame Collen.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

"My Steamboat": Dori DeCamillis Hails from the Hills

Oh yes, I judge books by their covers. Because books, and book covers, are art to me, and I am attracted to good, vivid, striking art.

So I was hooked at first sight by Dori DeCamillis' memoir, "My Steamboat: A Ski Town Childhood." The luscious, fresh-air inducing bright photo of children playing in the river while the verdant ski slopes wink behind is so inviting...

And then the mud-covered, rough-and-tumble reality of Steamboat residency sets in. From the beginning DeCamillis warns that mountain folk are blunt sometimes, and that her stories, which are so every-day in her mind, may seem surprising or even scandalous to city slickers.

This city slicker wasn't scandalized, but did laugh uproariously at the girl joining her basketball team to moon highway drivers out the tour bus window, at the mother whose language could make light hearts blush, at the genuine sacrilege of naughty pranks during Mass in the town's Catholic parish.

This book has the feel of that friend in your life who tells the funniest stories and you could spend hours just listening, laughing, and wanting more. That's why I couldn't put it down until the last page had been devoured. Enjoy the mountain scenery, cherish this precious portrait of a once-quaint town that has, like so many resorts, been standardized to commercial perfection, smell the pine-scented breezes, and romp with Dori and the Duckels clan up and down Steamboat's mountain playground. Coloradans will feel right at home between these covers, and out-of-towners will rejoice in what we all know is our own slice of paradise.

Monday, April 12, 2010

On Your Book as a Business

Social media is already recognized as a valuable asset by the business world. And for individuals, it can mean so many things: a leg up on the job search, a networking tool, a way to interact with friends and family, or to reconnect with long-lost acquaintances. It's a wonderful tool for our society, provided we use it wisely.

Many of the authors I've encountered--in the short time I've been coordinating them--have been reticent towards social media. When I broach the subject, they grimace, saying, "aw, it's too time-consuming, it's not private, I'd rather sell my book in person, I don't know the first thing about these new websites."

More about that later. But when I hear these disclaimers, I hear more than a shyness of Facebook or Twitter. I hear a general reluctance on the part of independent authors to think of themselves as business entrepreneurs.

This isn't just an issue unique to authors. If one considers authors to be part of the wider community of artists, of people creating forms of art and expression, then this is an artists' issue. I believe that one of the fatal qualities of the "starving artist" is a lack of business experience, or an aversion to business thinking.

Artists have grandiose visions, magnificent dreams. They labor painstakingly to bring their vision into reality. And there the flight of their creation takes a nose-dive. Many artists think, "if I can just get someone to listen to my music/see my paintings/read my poetry/watch my film, I'm sure it will be a big hit." But getting someone to interact with that art is easier dreamed than done. In a world where it's harder than ever to get a person to part with their money, and an artist is competing with large corporate entities for a consumer's attention, is it any wonder that many artists throw up their hands in defeat after the first few tries?

Many artists lack direction when it comes to vying for a consumer's attention. They assume that their art will speak for itself. So when it sits on a shelf for a month, and nobody buys it, the artist remains mystified. In the worst case, they may begin to question their talent, their ability. But a lack of interest on the part of the consumer isn't a reflection of the artist's talent, or lack thereof. It's a reflection of that artist's ability to make himself or herself into a successful business, complete with a business model.

In illustration, let's look at the successful artists of the publishing world. Dan Brown, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling. They are the Britney Spears and Beyonces of the literary world, the dazzling stars. Why? Because, like Britney Spears and Beyonce, they have someone, or a posse of someones, selling their product (which happens to be their art) for them. They have publishers, agents, patrons. The great artists throughout history have found financial success the very same way. It helps to have a business mind in your corner (or a rich person).

Not all of us writers are so lucky to have that posse or that patron. Sometimes we have to be our own agent, our own publisher. And that means, we have to do all the work an agent or publisher would do. We have to contact the media, write the press releases, launch the website, schmooze with the bigwigs.

So here's my suggestion for local authors: if you want to sell your book, you absolutely must be prepared to start your own business. My father wrote a book not too long ago, he self-published it, shelled out the money to print it, and wrestled a few copies on the Tattered Cover's shelf. And he sold a couple books. But he didn't write press releases, he didn't market it through the media outlets, he stopped short of making the book into a business. So it's not. It's a nice achievement, on our family bookshelf. But it's not a selling book.

If you, the local, self-published author, can think of your book as a business, incorporating all the hard work of marketing and finance that a successful business requires, I think you're well on your way to increasing the sales of your book. For research, I'd go straight to the business section of your local independent book store. Watch the trends. Stay on top of the latest marketing tools. If you want to be a professional writer, then your art is your profession, your business. And it's a lot of leg-work, a lot of slammed doors, rejections, and persistence.

I hope authors will be able to look beyond the shiny published first copy of their book and see into the business of their art. It's okay to use a successful star author as your model, but that means persisting through all the unseen defeats that star had to endure to reach their success. I'm still working through the defeats as a singer, spending way too much money on marketing materials only to sing to an empty audience. I'm still learning my business. But I'm confident that I'll get there. And so will you.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"A Better Life," An Exemplary Book

Rebecca Burgess' debut novel wrangles you into Wyoming, and won't let you go until you've breathlessly followed Hollis Dixon along the winding trail of his life, down into Colorado.

Hollis Dixon has plenty of family secrets. He is brimming with ambition, yearning to transcend the darkness of his past and live a doctor's Cadillac lifestyle. His earnest hard work to absolve family sins is often thwarted, forcing him down unlikely paths as father and family patriarch. The narrative relays between father and children, illuminating Hollis' hopes and desires in the harsh gaze of failures and mistakes. If you're like me and watched Will Smith's performance in "The Pursuit of Happyness," egging Chris Gardner on as he valiantly fights for his own better life, this book won't leave your hands while you're still cheerleading for Hollis and his family to make it.

Burgess' careful construction of relationships and her virtuosic plot arcs are awesome to behold. This book is honest, blunt...unafraid of incest, violence, or heartbreak. But amid the tension dwells persistent hope. Hollis gets his Cadillac, but it comes at a dear price.

I'll admit, I'm a sucker for the odd recognizable geographic feature: a specific street in Denver, a particular house that I'd swear I've driven past...Denver and Colorado should be proud to call Rebecca Burgess their own. This reader is eagerly awaiting her new novel, still in progress.

"A Better Life" will strike the reader who wonders why his or her youthful dreams didn't come true--and then realizes that in the most unexpected way, those dreams are more than true. Any fan of the art of brilliant prose writing will want "A Better Life" on their shelves. Come to the Tattered Cover and grab this one fast--it's been a hot seller ever since it re-appeared in the stores last month.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Welcome to the Tattered Cover's Local Author Program!

The Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver is a one-of-a-kind sanctuary for book lovers. With three locations in the Denver Metro Area (two in historic landmark buildings), the independent, locally-owned Tattered Cover is an ambassador of Denver for the literary world.

So it comes as no surprise that Tattered Cover is building a program to showcase and support local authors and publishers. Here in Denver, the "Queen City of the Plains," we have no shortage of talented writers and artists. The Tattered Cover provides authors with a venue to distribute their work and provides a resource for readers to access locally produced books that may be found nowhere else in the country.

This blog is part of the new local author program at the Tattered Cover. It will regularly showcase outstanding work by local authors and will function as an information depot and discussion table for readers and writers to interact.

Follow this blog to stay in tune with the voices of the Rocky Mountain region!