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Tom Thumb Donut Machine, MN State Fair, St. Paul, Minnesota, August 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
 

No one leaves the Minnesota State Fair without a bag of Tom Thumb Donuts. I’ve gone a whole day, been dead on my feet, and made the trek back to the Tom Thumb stand to grab a 500 calorie bag of melt-in-your-mouth mini-donuts to eat on the long walk to the car.

I’m also mesmerized by the mini-donut making machine. It was invented in 1947 at the Ryan Aeronautical Company in California by a group of engineers who were sitting idle after the war. That year, they started greasing the wheel and each machine splashes out 90 deep-fried donuts per minute.

Tom Thumb Donuts was established a few years later in 1949. Do you know how Tom Thumb Donuts made it to the Minnesota State Fair?

 
According to a Chippewa Herald article by writer Tom Arneberg, John Desmond and his wife Janet brought Tom Thumb Donuts to the Minnesota State Fair in 1952. Then two boys in Desmond’s Minneapolis neighborhood, Ted Boecher and John Hanson, grew up working at the stand and took it over after John Desmond’s death.

Sadly, a few years later, Hanson died of a heart attack right in the main Tom Thumb booth next to Ye Olde Mill, leaving Ted Boecher to manage the stand.

 
Through 6 degrees of separation (and the framing of a Tom Thumb Donut bag kept in his kitchen), Tom Arneberg met manager Ted Boecher and he and his family were given a personal guided tour through the whole mini-donut making operation. Arneberg, a community columnist for the Chippewa Herald, wrote a piece in which he describes the whole experience, including his love for the Minnesota State Fair.

I found Arneberg’s column when researching the history of Tom Thumb Donuts to go with these photographs. You’ve got to read it to find out his personal best for bags of Tom Thumb Donuts eaten in one trip to the Minnesota State Fair!

What’s your personal best for your favorite State Fair food?

To jog your memory, this year’s whole list of Minnesota State Fair foods on-a-stick and a link to the FoodFinder (along with past State Fair posts) can be found at our annual red Ravine State Fair post MN State Fair On-A-Stick (Princesses & Butter Queens). We’ll be at the Fair this Friday. Maybe we’ll see you there!

 

     

Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds You, Tom Thumb –
Light As A Feather
, MN State Fair, St. Paul,
Minnesota, August 2008, all photos © 2008-2009
by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 
-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

-related to post: WRITING TOPIC – BAND-AIDS® & OTHER 1920’s INVENTIONS, the velveeta cheese of donuts haiku, Two Degrees Of Celebrity Sighting

Read Full Post »

Photo by: Justine Ungaro

Lisa Loeb, Photo by: Justine Ungaro

 

On Wednesday, February 11, QuoinMonkey and ybonesy interviewed singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb. It was shortly after the end of her whirlwind tour of the U.S. and Japan following the June 2008 release of her second CD of Children’s Music, Camp Lisa

The CD follows Loeb’s early 2008 reissue of The Purple Tape, an acoustic, ten-song demo she self-released as a cassette in 1992. Proceeds from “Camp Lisa” benefit a foundation Lisa created to send underprivileged children to summer camp.

The New York Times had recently announced Lisa’s January 2009 wedding at Brasserie 8 ½, a restaurant in New York, when QM and ybonesy spoke with her from her New York City home. They talked about marriage and culinary loves, Loeb’s life as a singer-songwriter, practices that sustain her, the work of writing, and tips for those who dream of making it big.

 

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Interview with Lisa Loeb, February 11, 2009, red Ravine

 

red Ravine: In our research to prepare for this interview, we couldn’t help but notice that you seem to love food. Some of your children’s songs are about food, like the “Peanut Butter & Jelly” song from Camp Lisa (which is one of our faves) plus you’ve done the Food Network. Also in the New York Times article about your marriage, we were struck by how acute your senses are when you describe food. Is food a passion of yours?

 

Lisa Loeb: Yes, it’s a thing that I love. Growing up, like a lot of other girls, I was concerned about my weight. I was a dancer, and I loved food. We had to eat in the cafeteria every day at school, and it was sort of a game to find out what they were serving for lunch. But by the time I was a teenager, I went to an all-girls school, and since we wore uniforms, we were especially aware of our bodies and the differences between our bodies. Uniforms are meant to make us seem more uniform, but when everyone’s wearing the same thing, you pay more attention to other bodies. You would notice that you were eating the delicious cornbread muffins or the huge pieces of pie or the doughnuts in between classes in the morning, and it was a struggle between enjoying all this food versus getting larger and larger.

Between my sophomore and junior years, I went to Spain to live there with a family. Every day a younger brother in the Spanish family would run and get me a huge pastry because he realized that I liked it. And at night, we’d eat hotdogs and go out drinking all the time and eat potato chips and all these great Spanish tapas before they were fashionable in the United States. I came home a lot heavier. And it was scary.

It was fun to eat all that stuff but it was not that fun to come home heavier. So then I tried all the different diets that everybody tries. By the time I got to college, I started getting interested in nutrition to figure out how to enjoy food but eat in a balanced way. My best nutritionists were the people who said, “Eat whatever you want when you are hungry, but stop when you’re full. And pay attention to nutrition when you can.”

 

red Ravine: I (QuoinMonkey) met you a few years ago in a writing workshop with author Natalie Goldberg. It was one of Natalie’s weeklong silent retreats where we sat and meditated and slow walked and did Writing Practice. What prompted you, a successful singer and songwriter, to take a writing workshop and what did you learn from the silent writing retreat?

 

Lisa: I’ve always been a fan of Natalie Goldberg. Her writing exercises and general attitude about writing have helped me in my process of writing. At my all-girls school, although they taught me a lot about writing — how to write correctly and how to communicate, read, and pick apart text in English and Spanish — they didn’t always emphasize our own thoughts and having our own opinions. Especially as we got older, they didn’t put as much value on personal opinion as they did on structure, format, and grammar.

With Natalie, she emphasizes just writing. You know, just writing for yourself. That’s something that I think is important as an artist because as humans, all we have different from each other is our point of view, and so it’s important as an artist to bring that out. That’s what she does.

I thought if I could take a workshop with her, that would be amazing. Also, in my life often there’s more time spent on the business side of things than on the writing side of things, and for me structure is very helpful. So to be in a place where the goal was to write for a week was something that I looked forward to.

I’d done something like that for music, where I went to music summer school a long time ago, before I was a professional musician, at Berkeley Music School. And I got to practice. Even when I was a kid, I was pretty distracted; I practiced some but I did a lot of other things in my life. And for once, I wanted to be that person who just got in the practice room and practiced, practiced, practiced.

This was like that for writing, in a silent retreat especially, because I’m around a lot of people all the time, touring in every state, always communicating with people. It was a great opportunity to simplify and be silent. I do spend time alone, not talking to people, when I’m not working. But that was an opportunity to focus, of course, with the great guidance of Natalie and also in the company of people — people at all different levels of writing. I learn a lot from just starting from the beginning. Natalie calls it “Beginner’s Mind.” And sometimes when you are writing with people who are beginners, you remember to take the pressure off of writing, which adds more freedom for better writing and more writing.

 

red Ravine: Most of us who aspire to integrate Writing Practice into our lives struggle at different times to make it a day-to-day practice. How about you? Do you write or play music every day?

 

Lisa: I don’t. Not at all. I’ve gone through phases where I do write — I use things like a month-long tour or a trip to the beach for a week-and-a-half, or there’s a thing in the Jewish tradition called Counting the Omer. When structures like that come up, I’ll take advantage of them and say, “Okay, now I’m going to write every day for this period of time.” Or there’s a Toni Morrison book where it’s day-by-day, a short-chaptered book where she talks about different things in each chapter (maybe it’s called Love). So I decided I was going to do a page-long chapter each day and write something based on a word that she mentioned in her book.

Sometimes I have to create a little game to create structure for myself. Other times, when I know I need to finish, I start. It’s almost like an athlete warming up and getting ready to do a marathon. I just realize I can’t do it overnight, it’s a process.

But yeah, it’s hard. I don’t always write every day. Sometimes when I write every day it gets too easy in a way. Like I am not saying anything and I’m not focusing well. So sometimes I need to take a break from it, too.

 

red Ravine: Do you have other practices that ground you and sustain you?

 

Lisa: I do. I work out five days a week at least, walking whether it’s on a treadmill or outside, doing strength training. Some people do yoga; I do strength training. And then also when I’m in Los Angeles, I go to synagogue on Saturday ’cause I have a cool rabbi that I like.

 

red Ravine: And any other things you do to keep going when you’re feeling down or insecure?

 

Lisa: I have my friends. That’s important to me, spending time with friends. And going outside and taking a walk. Or writing. You know, writing is something I definitely rely on for that. It’s a little weird, too, because I associate writing with my professional life so sometimes I have to remember to step back and write to write, even if it means being like Jack Nicholson in the movie The Shining and writing the same thing over and over.

I do use writing as a tool. It helps that little switch in my brain which I try to avoid or at least let it pass, which is like, Oooh, I wonder if I could do a different song. Or, I wonder if I could do something else where I write. It’s the equivalent of when you’re working out or taking a walk because you want to and it feels good, then getting that little thought in the back of your head, saying, Oooh, I wonder if I’m going to lose any weight by doing this or walk off that piece of pie from last night.

I don’t like associating working out and losing weight. I like associating working out with breathing. It’s the same thing I have with writing – in order for it to actually work properly and be integrated into my life in a balanced way, it has to be what it is.

 

red Ravine: You came into success very early in your career as a musical artist. How did that affect your life and your creative work?

 

Lisa: It gave me a lot of freedom to have success early on. The financial freedom — in my family growing up, having a job was something that we valued, being able to support yourself. So that took a load off my mind. And it gave me freedom to have less worry. I worry a lot in my life. You know, the Jewish worry and guilt, a certain amount of being neurotic.

It gave me freedom, although in the end, I think other people can’t make you feel like you are successful. It comes with a certain amount of self-confidence and self-esteem. But I think that having other people acknowledge what I’m doing gave me more confidence and made me feel like I was more free to continue to make music. Which is very powerful. Because not knowing if what you’re doing is worth anything can be very frustrating.

And I know that even after being a professional musician, that feeling never goes away. That feeling’s always there. Like, Oh gosh, I wonder if this is worth anything, why am I doing this, it’s a selfish thing, I should do something where I help other people… All these things. I love hearing from somebody saying, “That thing that you wrote helped me through this period of my life.” It’s a weird balance of feeling secure within myself, but also as a performer and a writer having that respect from an audience.

 

Also, I want to go back to one other question you asked me [regarding] when you’re in a state of depression or insecurity. I got a lot of great tools from my rabbi in Los Angeles. He’s of a Hasidic philosophy similar to cognitive therapy, where you’re able to look at your actions and thoughts in a different light and turn things around.

He mentioned a time where he was giving a lecture in front of people — he gives a lot of lectures and teaches classes — and he thought, Everyone is so bored, they don’t want to listen to me, I’m doing a terrible job. I think someone might have yawned in the front row. And then he thought through it again using the cognitive therapy and Hasidic philosophy and said, Well, people like coming to my classes so I must be doing something right. The classes I give, even when they’re bad are usually pretty good, and so I guess I’m doing a pretty good job. That’s a simplification, but he’s saying that [we all have access to] those kind of tools.

I want to feel good with when I just sit at the subway station for two minutes waiting for the train and write something there. It doesn’t have to be a magical place, but I have to sit down and write. It can be anywhere. It can be on a napkin in a restaurant. It doesn’t have to lead to a great song. That’s not the best example, but thinking through things in a realistic way helps ground me as well.

 

red Ravine: It sounds like a practical tool for dealing with Monkey Mind.

 

Lisa: Oh, it is. It really is. It’s that Natalie Goldberg thing I learned, we all learned, that you just sit down and write. Things don’t happen overnight. Sometimes they do, but you can’t rely on that. You can rely on just sitting and writing as part of a bunch of small steps that take you some place — maybe, maybe not.

 

red Ravine: We were talking about your success that came early on and we’re curious, too, how your goals have changed. Have your goals as an artist changed as you’ve gotten older?

 

Lisa: I think my goals continue to be pretty much the same since I was younger – which is to continue to try to write better. And also to try to enjoy the process more.

I’ve written songs since I was a kid but especially when I started writing lyrics when I was 13, 14, it’s become more complicated. And it’s always been a hard process. I continue to become more forgiving of myself and more accepting of the process. What it is for me doesn’t have to be what it is for other people.

I want to be a better songwriter. I guess I might have had more business-oriented goals when I was starting out, to get a record contract, to get paid to do things, and I guess I still have those goals. It’s great if you can get paid for your work, which is rarer these days, especially with people trading music.

Also there are meta-goals. One of them is to continue to keep my eyes open for other things I want to do that aren’t writing, that aren’t making songs. And that’s okay to do other things well.

But as a writer, you need to be comfortable with the process. And just keep doing it. It’s hard. I told Natalie…I ate lunch with her one day on the way through New Mexico and I was telling her, “There are these projects I want to develop, and maybe I want to be a psychologist or a nutritionist, and maybe I should teach, but I have these songs I’m supposed to write but I don’t want to, so I think I’m just going to hang out.” 

And she said, “You just need to sit that…I don’t know how better to say it…you just need to sit that motherfucker down and write.” (laughter from all). She’s like, “People say that all the time, ‘I never want to write, I don’t want to do it…’.” And I was like, Ahhhh…go do your homework! I hate doing my homework, I don’t want to do it. And the thing is, if you do it little by little, it’ll get done.

 

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Lisa Loeb 2008 Release, "Camp Lisa", Illustration by: Esme Shapiro, 15, a student at LA County High School for the Arts and summer camp fan.    Lisa Loeb 2008 2-CD Reissue "The Purple Tape"   Lisa Loeb 2008 Release, "Camp Lisa", Illustration by: Esme Shapiro, 15, a student at LA County High School for the Arts and summer camp fan.

 

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red Ravine: You were in Albuquerque last year and my (ybonesy’s) date to your concert was my nine-year-old daughter, which turned out to be great. Afterwards we bought the CD Catch the Moon and my daughter listens to it all the time; in fact, it’s sitting on the kitchen table for her to load on to her iPod along with your hits. You’ve gotten into children’s music and you found a generous way to pay it forward with the proceeds from Camp Lisa and sending kids to camp through your Camp Lisa Foundation. What inspired you to write and sing music for children?

 

Lisa: It was something I wanted to do ever since I was a kid. I listened to music for children. In my day it was Free To Be You and Me; it was Really Rosy, which was a Carole King record. A lot of music they had on Sesame Street and The Electric Company, created by real musicians of the time — the early 70’s — sounded like real music.

I had an opportunity to do a record that was different from my regular grown-up records and I chose to do a kids’ record. My friend Liz Mitchell produced it. Since she’d made a lot of kids’ records, it sounded in the vein I wanted. Actually, she was the one who gave me my first Natalie Goldberg book. She was my singing partner in my band for years and years.

When it came time for me to do another kids’ record, I was going through a moment where I was like, What am I doing? I was trying to write a regular grown-up album and I was writing dark things and spending a lot of time by myself writing. It wasn’t fun. And I remembered that it had been really fun writing songs with friends of mine in Los Angeles, and I thought, Why does it have to be a treacherous horrible experience? I should take a break and do something that reminds me that it’s fun and easy to write songs and express ourselves.

So I got back together with my friends Dan [Petty] and Michelle Lewis, who lived down the street basically, and we started making a summer camp record and it was really fun! And it felt like, wow, I’m a working songwriter, I go to work with them each day and we write songs. And we make up melodies and it’s very exciting and fun; it doesn’t have to be a painful experience to be artistic.

Through that process, I was questioning, Why am I doing music at all? I want to try to do something else to help other people. Then I realized, Oh, wait a minute, maybe I can use what we’re doing to help other people. And I realized that summer camp, of course, [we] could actually send kids to summer camp and also to be able to meet the kids. It all came together — a goal for having a kids’ record; a goal to be more responsible in the community; and a songwriter wanting to engage in a more fun way that would inform my regular, grown-up songwriting.

Also, writing kids’ songs, you have more of a story where you’re trying to say something that people can understand easily, and I think that’s a good tool for me to bring to my grown-up writing. Also when I play kids’ concerts, I realize that some of the more simple songs where I’m writing a tra-la-la-la-la or a chant or repetitive part is a fun thing to play in front of people. Grown ups and kids enjoy it and it makes me realize that sometimes in songwriting it’s not how many words can you put in there, how clever you can be, it’s really just going from your heart, the melodies and the words that just come out. Which is hard to trust. You feel you need to write the most complicated music, but that’s not what songwriting is about.

 

red Ravine: Who are your favorite songwriters today? What songs do you like to hear?

 

Lisa: I have a lot of songs I love; they don’t even focus on the lyrics that much, just the feelings of the songs. I love Led Zeppelin, especially Led Zeppelin IV and the Over the Hills and Far Away album. I love David Bowie music and often I don’t know what he’s talking about but (laughter) there’s just a certain attitude and coolness in his songs. Songwriters? More recently I’ve enjoyed Death Cab for Cutie. Oh gosh there’s so much music that I love. Lyle Lovett is great. Prince. 

A lot of things are abstract and it’s just the way it feels, the music and the lyrics and the feeling of it altogether hits me. It’s funny because it’s not how I feel when I’m writing music. It reminds me that it’s okay to play around with words and feelings and if it means something to me that’s fine; it doesn’t have to be so direct. It’s a constant balance, like I said with the kids’ music, where you’re trying to say something more directly, and the kind of music which I enjoy listening to, which often is more abstract and about the feeling and the production of the songs.

 

red Ravine: When you were in Albuquerque you mentioned that you were attending a Goldberg writing retreat with your mother. What was it like to do Writing Practice with your mom?

 

Lisa: We didn’t actually do a lot of practice together. It was a little frustrating.

What I loved was that my mother hasn’t done a lot of things where she goes away and meets other people. She loves people and talking to people and meeting people, and I thought that social aspect would be interesting for her. Because on my first writing weekend with Natalie, it was a speaking retreat where you got to actually sit at breakfast and talk to people.

And I thought secretly she would get to do some writing. She also went to the same high school I went to and grew up in a time when grammar was much more important than the fact that maybe saying something that’s not grammatically correct might allow you to express yourself better. So I wanted her to experience it for herself. I think that was the first time she was encouraged in that way. It was cool to see her go through that and go home and tell her friends about it.

But we actually didn’t do as much Writing Practice together as I expected. And that was actually a lesson to me, too. If I’m not working, if I’m not writing, I always feel like I’m never writing enough. No matter what it is, it’s just not enough. And I sort of beat myself up over it. I was trying to let myself not have to be a person who has to be writing all the time. And let that be okay. And that was really hard, but that was an interesting turn the other direction.

 

red Ravine: We noticed you studied comparative literature at Brown and we’re curious, how did (does) that play into your songwriting?

 

Lisa: It doesn’t very much at all. When I went to Brown, I picked something that was close to what I thought I liked when I was in high school. One of my favorite classes was Spanish because not only did we get to learn a whole different language and communicate with a whole new group of people, but in Spanish class, we also got to study visual art, film, poetry, geography, food, social customs. You name it, we studied it, but in Spanish.

We learned to take apart poems, and there was great Spanish-language literature, which is some of the best literature in the world. High school, middle, and elementary school education actually played more into my writing than my college experience.

Really college was just what I studied on paper, and in retrospect, I would go back and do something else. But it gave me the freedom to spend most of my time in the recording studio, in the music department and the theater department doing plays, writing music, playing shows. It gave me this kind of thing I could tell my parents I was doing that sounded reasonable while I was actually spending most of my time doing these other things.

It was also like a long lesson in learning that I really need to go with my heart and not do what I’m supposed to be doing. In retrospect, I should have been studying theater or art or music or psychology or just something else. I mean, I don’t think reading Ulysses three times really did anything (which was a painful experience). Experimental things can be boring or they can be interesting. It didn’t take me any further into literature; it was more about theory, but it didn’t inform my writing.

 

red Ravine: What are some of your favorite authors and books?

 

Lisa: I love Isabel Allende, pretty much all her books. I love magical realism. You know where she tells a story that feels like it’s actually happening but within it, just like Gabriel García Márquez, they use these great images and things happening that are magical and you get the feeling that those things could actually be someone’s real experience, even though it might include flying or crazy dreams or people floating through rooms or water pouring out of walls, or whatever it is.

I love the short stories of Roald Dahl. The collection I love the most is Kiss Kiss. And that’s kind of Twilight Zoney using tales that are very bizarre but you can imagine them actually happening. I love J. D. Salinger all the way around. Again, I love his short stories. He takes things that are very mundane and very deep and there’s this beauty and melancholy in the books that I love. Those are some of my favorite authors.

 

red Ravine: What projects are you working on now?

 

Lisa: None writing wise. I’m working on developing an eyewear line that will be out later this year. I’m very involved in the design, involved in the marketing, that side of the company, so that will be out later in the year. I’m also working on a collection of more kids songs for a couple of kids books that should be out in 2010, which will be more like lyrics for singalong songs, some crafts and some recipes. It will be fun for kids.

And I’m trying to finish up some songs for a grown-up record. After my wedding, I returned to listening to some of the songs I was in the process of finishing and I’m actually realizing that I’m closer to finishing an album than I thought I was. Little by little, you know.

 

red Ravine: Wow, eyewear? Because every time we see a photo of you we always just think your glasses are fabulous. How did that come about?

 

Lisa: Thank you. Well, I’ve always worn glasses and ever since I was in high school people would recognize me for my glasses. And I love glasses, especially ones that have a little bit of a lift on the corners — some people say cat-eyes, but they’re not quite cat-eye glasses. Anyway, I love them and I was looking for a perfect pair and people have always asked where they could get my glasses. Finally, we were able to connect with a company that wants to manufacture them and work with us to put them out. Selfishly, I’ll pick up a couple of pair of glasses that I really like!

No matter where I am, I always look for glasses, and it’s hard to find them. You know when you wear them on your face every day? So I wanted selfishly to have my own but I also wanted to share my glasses with other people who are always asking about them.

 

red Ravine: I (ybonesy) will look for them because I always want a lift at the corner, too. Some faces just need that. Do you have any plans to take any other kinds of workshops or attend another Natalie Goldberg retreat?

 

Lisa: I would love to do that. I meant to do it for my 40th birthday but we couldn’t quite get it together and Natalie’s mother passed away kind of close to it. I was thinking, in lieu of a bachelorette party for my wedding, it would be great to put together a workshop of my friends, a writing workshop with people I get together and write with anyway.

Right now my schedule’s a little tight because I’m moving back to Los Angeles and there are non-business priorities that [make it] hard to take even three or four days and go write. For me, and I know for a lot of other people, that structure makes all the difference in the world. And sometimes it takes going away to a seminar to remember that. Even though you can just sit and put your timer on for 10 minutes on your cell phone and write, sometimes it takes a weekend trip to remember that.

Also, something I forget –you’re supposed to read this stuff to other people. You don’t have to write all day for this to work. Natalie always says you need to write less. You need to sit down and write, but you don’t need to write five hours a day, that’s too much, you can’t do it. So I think it’s a great environment for me and I know it impacts a lot of other people as well.

 

red Ravine: You just got married a few weeks ago, so we wanted to know how is married life treating you, and what is a fluffernutter? (laughs)

 

Lisa: (laughs) A fluffernutter is marshmallow crème and I think we got it on white bread. Often we all go back to wheat bread, but for purposes of the fluffernutter sandwich, it was this homemade white bread with peanut butter and with marshmallow fluff. I can’t believe how good it is; it’s a crazy thing. And the texture when you bite into the sandwich, you know it creates that seam when you bite into that white bread sandwich. And it’s just like a pillow of joy (all laugh). It’s sweet and salty and fluffy packed in between these two cottony sheets. It’s delicious! 

And married life is good, it’s really great. We’re at the beginning of this adventure. I love my husband and I look forward to continuing to get to know him and we just have a really good time together, no matter what. We’re a good support system for each other. We both have the same values. He’s not a musician professionally, but he likes to play music in the house, and again that reminds me that creatively, it doesn’t have to be for work.

Sometimes when you just do things for fun, it might lead to something you can use for work. For me, that’s an important reminder not to always be geared toward work. We have a good time and music is part of his work so we both have a lot of opportunities to do music and talk about it and do fun things and meet interesting people. And it’s good to have a team; though you were a team before, it’s a different team when you’re married. So yeah, it’s all good.

 

red Ravine: I’m going to try to get both these questions in, one has to do with the fact that you were recently on stage with Sarah Silverman who strikes us as someone who takes so many risks with her art. And you’ve ventured into many different creative areas with songwriting, TV, and voiceover work. What was it like to work with Sarah and how important is risk-taking in creative work?

 

Lisa: It was great to work with her. I think she’s clever and fun and she’s really nice. And I feel like risk-taking is important but again, that’s relative. For some people it might mean writing a song from the first person instead of third person. Or it might mean setting a guitar on fire on stage. Or not writing might be risk-taking. Like I said, it was scary for me to be in a writing seminar and not be writing a whole lot. But to not be following the rules is a huge risk for me; I always follow the rules.

 

red Ravine: Our last question: What advice do you have for our readers who dream of making it big with their writing and becoming well-known?

 

Lisa: Two things. One is continue to write and to do your own thing. Don’t try to copy other people; the main thing you have to offer that is different from other people is yourself and your own point of view. But, at the same time, to make it you need to be a business person or find a person who can help you with the business side of things. That might mean doing it yourself, getting copies of your book out there, reading it live, being a musician live, or doing something on YouTube. Because part of it is doing the work, and then part of it is getting it out there with an audience.

But first, decide what your goals are. If it’s to be famous, hire a publicist and do some whacky things and get famous. If it’s to be read by a lot of people, start somewhere. Do it yourself. But don’t wait around for someone to do it for you. It’s not going to happen miraculously.

 

red Ravine: Thank you Lisa, really wonderful interview. We appreciate your time, and we’ll be watching for those eyeglasses!

 

Lisa: Thank you. I appreciate the questions.

 

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Lisa Loeb, Photo by: Andrew Eccles

Lisa Loeb, Photo by: Andrew Eccles

About Lisa Loeb:  Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb started her career with the platinum selling No. 1 hit song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the film Reality Bites. To this day, she is still the only artist to have a No. 1 single while not signed to a recording contract. Loeb parlayed that early success into a multi-dimensional career encompassing music, film, television, voice-over work, and children’s recordings.

Her six acclaimed studio CDs include the Gold-selling Tails and its follow-up, the Grammy-nominated, Gold-selling Firecracker. Her complete catalogue includes The Very Best of Lisa Loeb (2006), and two children’s CDs, the award-winning Catch the Moon (2006) and Camp Lisa (2008) with guests Jill Sobule, Lee Sklar, Maia Sharp and funnyman/banjo player Steve Martin. In conjunction with the release of the Camp Lisa CD, Loeb launched the Camp Lisa Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises funds to help send underprivileged kids to summer camp through its partnership with S.C.O.P.E. (Summer Camp Opportunities Provide an Edge, Inc.).

In addition to her music, Lisa has also starred in two television series, Dweezil and Lisa, a weekly culinary adventure for the Food Network, and #1 Single, a dating show on E! Network. Look for the Lisa Loeb eyewear line to hit the stores in 2009.

 

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By Bob Chrisman
 

Aunt Annie Saluting, photo 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Here’s to you, Aunt Annie!, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.




A cup of tea with sugar brings back memories of my first cup, the day my mother said, “You’re old enough to drink tea.” Sacks of pale orange “circus peanuts” remind me of the stale ones in Grandma Hecker’s candy dish. Homemade caramel-covered apples take me to Mrs. Wallace’s kitchen where I taste tested them the night before Halloween. Ritz crackers transport me to Mrs. Thompson’s house where we played Ring-Around-The-Rosie.

Certain recipes hold special memories. I bake scalloped potatoes topped with pork chops the same way my mother did and in the same glass loaf dish. When I make Hamburger Splatter, I remember the adults who my mother babysat when they were children stopping by for the recipe. My favorite holiday dish recipe is scalloped oysters. Aunt Annie, Mom’s youngest sister, made them every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I asked my cousins why their mom fixed such an exotic dish for such meat-and-potatoes people. Neither of them knew but thought a neighbor might have given the recipe to Aunt Annie. Oysters don’t grow in northwest Missouri. My mother and her sisters didn’t have unusual tastes in food. Yet every holiday dinner, sitting next to the freshly roasted turkey, the real mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole, and the fresh raspberry pies made from home-canned raspberries, we’d find the scalloped oysters.

I asked my aunt for the recipe. I didn’t want her to pass away without someone having it. “I don’t really have a recipe anymore. I just know how to make it,” she said. She wrote down the ingredients and instructions on a piece of notebook paper, which I lost the first time I used it. My recipe, which I carried in my head until now, captures the taste and consistency of the original.

Scalloped oysters remind me of family gatherings when my mother, her sisters and their husbands were in their prime. I remember long prayers while we held hands followed by huge meals, hours of card games, and the feeling of being loved.

Most of all I remember my Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete. They loved one another very much. They had an ease with one another and they treated each other with respect. She wasn’t always easy to live with (none of the sisters were), but Uncle Pete never fell out of love with her. I always thought, of all the sisters, Aunt Annie had the happiest marriage.



Uncle Vernon (Pete) O. Simmon in uniform, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Uncle Vernon (Pete) O. Simmon in uniform, image
© 2009 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.





Photographs from the 1940’s capture a dashing young man in a military uniform and a dark-haired beauty. They made a striking couple all of their lives.

After he returned from the war, they bought a little house on Garden Street where they raised their three children and hosted many holiday dinners. I always envied my cousins for the parents they had.

I grew closer to them as I aged. Many times I would leave my mother’s house and stop by theirs before I drove home. Aunt Annie told me stories about her sisters and the family, things my mother never mentioned. Uncle Pete would interrupt, when he could, to offer his two cents on the subject. I loved them both and came to treasure those times with just the two of them.

Uncle Pete died of pancreatic cancer in October 1996. His death broke Aunt Annie’s heart. They had been married for over 50 years. She went through the motions of living for about a year before she took sick and died in December, 1997. I think that he was waiting for her when she passed. If he had anything to say about it, I know he was.

Here’s the recipe for her famous scalloped oysters. I hope the recipe generates some good memories for you and your families.




Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete, image © 2009 by Bob Chrisman, all rights reserved

Aunt Annie and Uncle Pete, image © 2009
by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.





Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters



1      1-pound loaf of Velveeta Cheese (sliced)
32    Saltine cracker squares (approximately one package out of a box of four)
4-5   8-ounce cans of oysters (pieces-and-bits or whole or a combination)*
2      12-ounce cans of evaporated milk**


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice Velveeta Cheese into slices about an eighth of an inch thick. Open four cans of oysters and drain off most of the liquid. (Note: Keep some to pour into the casserole to add more oyster flavor, if desired.)

Use a casserole dish that has a lid (even though the lid isn’t used except for storage of leftovers). Grease it with your choice of oil; I prefer butter.

Then begin the layering process:

Crush enough Saltine crackers to make a layer on the bottom of the dish. Next place a layer of oysters with some liquid from the can. Cover with a layer of slices of Velveeta Cheese. Pour enough evaporated milk to wet the layers. Repeat.

The amount of the ingredients given above makes about three layers. Top the dish with another layer of Velveeta Cheese. Bake until the cheese on top is melted and a warm brown, about 90 minutes (longer if you want it crustier).

This dish will serve at least 8-10 people and maybe 10-14 if plenty of other food is available. You can make smaller portions by using a loaf pan and only making two layers. I do that when I have no one else to join me. The leftovers make a tasty, if unusual, breakfast treat.


*The number of cans of oysters you buy will determine on how “oyster-y” you want the dish to be. I found that four cans make generous layers. I usually buy two cans of pieces-and-bits and two cans of whole oysters.

**You will have approximately 1/2 can of evaporated milk left when you finish. My youngest cousin says that she uses regular milk.

Hopefully you have a strong heart and clean arteries. Bon appetit.




Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. His other red Ravine posts include Hands, Growing Older, Goat Ranch, Stephenie Bit Me, Too, The Law Of Threes, and In Memoriam.

We’d like to thank Bob for providing this recipe and the story of the aunt who inspired it. And thank you, Aunt Annie! We’ve been dreaming about scalloped oysters since last Thanksgiving, when Bob made mention of the dish in a conversation in the post Reflections On The Other National Bird.

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Entenmann’s Donuts, a box of oldie-but-goody chocolate-covered donuts our family recently enjoyed, photo © 2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.










Entenmann’s Donuts
with their plastic-like frosting
are they real or fake?












yum…plastic donuts are good, photo ©
2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved






Postscript: For those of you in Albuquerque, you can get Entenmann’s Donuts in chocolate, powdered sugar, or glazed at Keller’s Farm Stores.


-related to posts WRITING TOPIC — VELVEETA CHEESE and haiku 2 (one-a-day).

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Velveeta drizzled over broccoli, slathered over corn tortilla chips, melted inside a loaf of homemade bread with pimentos and mayo and peppers, an open-loaf dip. I don’t remember specific Velveeta recipes as a kid. But I remember liking Velveeta on open-faced toast. Comfort food. Like buttery mashed potatoes, real vanilla milk shakes, homemade pizzas, macaroni and cheese, baked beans. These are comfort foods. High calorie, low cost, always warm to the touch.

It’s the smearability of Velveeta that makes it a hit. The easy way you can take the blade of a stainless steel knife and spread the cheese over a slice of whole wheat without ripping or shredding the bread into little pieces that leave holes that drip down on to your lap or chin. Are you one of those people who prefers using a napkin bib? I know adults who do this at home, not in public. They are prone to drips and spatters; sometimes large-breasted women seem to catch food on their shelves. Privately we laugh about it. Publicly, that kind of clumsiness can lead to embarrassment.

I’ve been thinking about Nikki Giovanni, the way she is so comfortable in her own skin. She’s been to the school of hard knocks, does not care what others think of what she writes, or shares from the heart. Not overt scare tactics or stun-gun sentences that some writers use to wake their readers up. Instead, the honest rhetoric that shoots from the heart. That kind of honesty can shock people, leave them not knowing what to say. Or thinking, should she really have said that on public radio? It doesn’t matter. She is willing to bear the consequences of her honesty.

There’s a certain comfort level one needs to get to in order not to care what people think or how they will judge. There is a confidence in their writing, with their presence in the smaller pecking order of their personal families, and the larger pecking order, sometimes ruthless, that comprises the rest of the world. Is it okay to say you love Velveeta?

Childhood foods, guilty pleasures. Why have foods like that become the blunt of people’s jokes. Especially those who pride themselves on eating “healthy” or only “whole foods,” food snobs. People get to make choices about how they eat, just as they do about what they say or write. To judge others based on what they eat, I don’t think so. Keep the focus on my own bare cupboards.

I like Velveeta and cinnamon toast and Kool-Aid. I don’t really care who knows it. I made cinnamon toast just last week. It’s another comfort food. When I was a child there was a container filled with cinnamon, swirled in sugar, wound and stirred into a brown concoction ready to be shaken into the mouth of a melted butter gob on top of white Wonder bread. These days, I eat whole wheat because I like the taste better.

I become the most food conscious when I am trying to lose weight. It’s true, processed foods are high calorie, not good for the heart. And the fried foods that I love can be deadly. But you can eat anything if you watch the calories. Again, who am I to judge others? There is a woman at work that most know to be the town gossip. Anything you tell her will make the rounds. It’s common knowledge, something everyone accepts about her. I watch what I say. Yet I like her. She’s abrasive, direct, honest, loves Velveeta cheese and smokes a pack of cigarettes a day.

And whenever people want to know what’s going on in another part of the company, they always go to her to ferret out what she has heard. If you solicit information from the town gossip when it’s convenient for you, no need to judge her for the rest. All this, from a box of Velveeta cheese.



-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — VELVEETA CHEESE

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I’m not a big fan of olives. The historical and biblical references to the olive are more engaging to me than the food itself. I don’t like stinky cheese either. And what about pickle juice? I don’t drink it. But it’s the secret ingredient in my potato salad. I make it the Southern way: lots of mayo (in my case Miracle Whip), celery, eggs, pickles, salt, pepper, oregano, sage, and whatever other spices I grab from the rack. And then, that ½ cup (give or take a little) of sweet pickle juice.

I’ve noticed that sweet is a basic theme in Southern cooking. At least the Southern cooking I grew up on. I had barbecue ribs from Missouri last weekend at a writing retreat. They were delicious. But the one thing I noticed is that they weren’t as sweet as the tangy-sweet sauce I find on the ribs when I go Down South. And in the South, pork is the other white meat. Pork barbecue is a staple.

I wonder what it is about sweet and the South? Why are the foods and drinks laced with sugar? I’m a sugar fan, even though it’s not supposed to be that good for you. When I am eating healthier, I don’t consume as much sugar. But I always allow for it in my diet, lest I feel deprived. The sugar in sweet pickle juice is what makes potato salad sing.

I don’t like the raw onions in German potato salad. Or the way the taste is dull and lifeless to the palate. I like a little zing. One writer last weekend said she used to eat raw onions, just like eating an apple. I can’t stand them. They give me indigestion. I do like them cooked in spaghetti sauce, or any kind of red sauce. I don’t like mushrooms. Too rubbery. Maybe it’s texture that drives food likes and dislikes.

Back to olives. I have strayed. I only remember them edging our plates at Holiday meals like Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were not staples of our diet growing up. At the Holidays there was always a relish tray filled with celery, sweet pickles, deviled eggs (which I love and have on occasion added a bit of pickle juice to the filling), sliced carrots, pickled beets, and radishes. The variety added color and spice to the family feast.

I wish I could say I ate a lot of vegetables but they seem seasonal to me. I crave vegetables in the Spring and Summer. Fall I like baked squash. Winters, I go for hot and heavy stews.

We had a discussion last weekend about peanut butter. It came later in the night (when the silence was lifted), after we had done a 10 minute morning write on Everything I Know About Peanut Butter. I think I was the one that threw the Writing Topic into the bowl. We all scribbled down Topics on ripped strips of paper, folded them, and dropped them into the bowl. At the end of the retreat, we were reminiscing about all the Topics we didn’t get to write about.

Peanut butter, I like the Skippy Super Crunch, Lowfat, with lots of chunks of nuts. Others preferred health food peanut butter or only smooth. I was amazed at the different tastes people had when it came to peanut butter varieties. We used to have peanut butter and banana and mayo sandwiches as kids. I liked them. But my younger brothers liked them more. It seems like a strange combination. But try it sometime. The vinegar in the mayo mixes just right with the sweetness of banana. And then the peanut butter glues the whole thing together.

I don’t like any of the foods on the strange list in this Topic. No fake banana. No prune juice. No black licorice. No SPAM. People are shocked when I say I don’t like guacamole. It seems like everyone likes guacamole. What’s so special about the meat of a dense, lime green, tasteless tropical fruit like the pear-shaped avocado, mashed up into a dip with raw onions? The texture and taste do not appeal to my sensibilities. I’m never going to get it.



-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 23rd, 2008

-from Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – OLIVES

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Breakfast at Amelia’s, May 30th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Breakfast at Amelia’s, May 30th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


What could be better than fresh grits, hot from the stove (smothered in butter and cheese), scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, and French Roast? For lunch we had pimento cheese sandwiches, peanut butter pie, and sweet iced tea.

Breakfast, May 30th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. For the family gathering tonight, my brother made banana pudding. My sister made a turtle cake. There will be Southern potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and a pineapple angel food cake.

That doesn’t even scratch the surface. Food is grounding. And in writing, it’s something you can really sink your teeth into. Food shapes more than the body. Food is about culture. I bet if you listed all the foods in your family history, there would be a story in every dish.

Mom doesn’t cook much anymore. But when I’m home, I get as much in the way of homestyle Southern cuisine as I can.

It’s just hard to find grits in the Midwest. And it’s even harder to find sweet tea almost anywhere but South.

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

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