Robicelli's: A Love Story, with CupcakesI’ve been reading cookbooks obsessively since I was a child, and having the chance to write one of my own has been a lifelong dream. I knew that I’d never write a “plain cookbook” — if you want recipes, check the internet.  The ones that always appealed to me were the ones with stories of distant lands, or elegant parties, or at the very least multipage instructionals on how to fold a napkin into a swan.

Unfortunately the only thing I can turn a cloth napkin into is a wad.

And being from Brooklyn — not the trendy side, mind you — this means my “elegant parties” usually involved a keg of Miller High Life and a six-foot-hero.  As for distant lands…does New Jersey count?

But this would not be something that would dissuade me from writing a cookbook.  I’ve worked hard in in my decade long career to become one of the most respected people in my profession. I’ve built a well-known bakery in New York City, the most competitive food market in the country, during the Great Recession. I’ve become, dare I say it, a Q-list food celebrity.

I’ve also become mainly associated with our most popular item — cupcakes. You know, the dessert that was “over in 2001.” The one there had been 10,000 books written about. The one people were, to put it mildly, not remotely interested in publishing yet another book about.  Hell, I’m not sure if I even wanted to see another cupcake book on the shelves of my local bookstore.  I knew I wouldn’t end up being one of the countless Brooklyn “artisans” who just got handed a book deal by some random person walking down the street who knew there was a market for a tome about fish-pickling at home. There would be actual work involved.

I began writing anywhere that would have me. First on my blog, then on other people’s blogs, and always shooting my mouth off on Twitter. This last one got me my agent, who probably has a smarter mouth than I do.

And the first place I took her to illustrate my point was the cookbook section of Barnes & Noble.

“Look at that wall of books. See if you can pick out the baking shelf.”

“Let me see…is it the one that’s all pink?”

“Bingo.”

My agent and I began to make a list of what we did and didn’t want the book to be. We didn’t want it to be pink, or baby blue, or kitschy, or a novelty, or a “humor” book.  What we did want was to write was a serious baking book, for, well, chicks like us. And by that, I mean really, really awesome chicks. And some dudes, too, but mostly chicks who like snarky, sassy, funny writing, who have brains and crave information that’s presented in a fun and accessible way.  There are millions of women in this country who are smart, like edgy, sophisticated humor, and yes, also like to cook and eat. Girls who like sports and movies like Dumb & Dumber, who can quote episodes of The Simpsons, wrote ‘zines when they were teenagers, were or wished they were in a band, and feel sexy as all hell in jeans and a t-shirt but can still put on a short skirt and heels and KILL it.  Where was our cookbook with lots of curse words and comic strips mocking the French?

The more we talked about it, about our story, about the kind of book we’ve wanted to see for ages and didn’t, we realized there were lots of voids in the cookbook market that we wanted to fill. I was going to write a book for:

● People who love to bake but want to know more about HOW the process works rather than just a book full of recipes and pretty pictures

● People who have never baked, or really suck at it and want to learn not only how to do it, but to understand what they’ve been doing wrong in an entertaining way.

● Dudes who want to learn to bake something to help them get laid, but can’t make it past the back cover of most baking books.

● People who are interested in getting a behind the scenes glimpse of such exciting things as: owning your own business, working with your spouse without murdering them, juggling a business with your marriage while raising two children under the age of five without a nanny or trust fund, trying to keep your head above water during a recession, bouncing back after you lose everything and still managing to become one of the most buzzed about brands in the internationally known Brooklyn food scene, growing up and surviving in New York City, being a professional chef, and learning about the various conspiracy theories I have about the Catholic church and robots.

I worried it would be a hard sell, that no one would believe in our scrappy little book, that if I got any interest at all, they’d make me scrap all my jokes and four-letter words and write something traditional and gooey and oh-so-cutesy-wootsey.

Penguin didn’t want cutesy.  They have understood from the very beginning that this wasn’t a “Plain ol’ cookbook.”  From the language to the boundary pushing jokes, to our supremely odd cookbook trailer, we’re pushing way past the point of merely a collection of recipes, and into something different.

In their words: a cookbook like none you’ve ever seen before.


Drizzled with Death, Jessie Crockett I live in New England and set my books here for reasons that run the gamut from family history to the quality of life. One of my favorite things about New England is the changing of the seasons. All of them are delicious in their way but mid-autumn has a special place in my affections. By late October gusts of wind and bursts of rain have sent as many leaves pinwheeling to the ground as still remain clinging to the trees. Daylight feels scarce and wood smoke drifts through the air.  Summer is well and truly gone and will be a long, long time in returning.

And while vitamin D deficiencies may be in the offing, so is prime reading time. How light the heart of the avid reader in New England when the nicest weather is gone and you don’t feel guilty for wasting a beautiful day with your nose inside a book. How right you are to snuggle on the couch or in a wingback chair in front of the woodstove with a stack of eagerly anticipated reads and a mug of mulled cider.

Whether your taste runs to cookbooks or bleakly elegant Scandinavian crime novels there is no better pleasure than diving in headlong without asking yourself if you really ought to be out mowing the lawn or weeding the vegetable garden. Winter is relentlessly heading in your direction and blessedly, there is nothing to do but ride it out within doors. And while some people may seek warmer climes as the snow thinks about falling I am perfectly content to stay here in New England where the weather is just getting to be perfect.


Never Come Back, David BellNever Come Back is a novel about family secrets. The novel is narrated by Elizabeth Hampton, and in the opening chapter, Elizabeth’s mother is found dead. I’ll let you read the book to find out who really did it—suspense!—but I hope that final revelation comes as a surprise—as it has to a number of readers already. Along the way to that final revelation, Elizabeth finds out that her mother—a quiet, retired, sixty-nine-year old—had a secret life before Elizabeth and her brother were born—and her death in the opening chapter is the result of those long-hidden secrets. Even though this novel is about a mother and a daughter, I’d have to say that the story has some of its origins in my relationship with my dad who died in 2011.

I attended Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, as an undergraduate. When I was a junior in high school, living in Ohio, I decided—without any real, logical reason behind it—that I needed to attend Indiana University. It had a beautiful campus, a great basketball team, and it was far enough away from home (two and a half hours) to feel like a new life. Naturally, I told my parents of my intentions. I even went so far as to tack a Indiana University brochure up in my bedroom so that I would remind myself every day to study and do well on standardized tests so that I could get into my dream school. My parents were supportive of my choice even though no one we knew had ever gone to school there, leaving my mom to worry that I’d be all alone in that foreign country called Indiana. (I didn’t tell her I wanted to go someplace where no one knew me.)

So I was accepted to Indiana. I went to orientation with my parents, then in the fall they moved me into my dorm. My parents came and visited a few times, and because I didn’t have a car, they came and picked me up on holidays and breaks. All told, I’d say they visited Bloomington about ten or twelve times during my first two years of college. At the end of my second year of college, my parents came to pick me up for the summer break. We decided to go to lunch, and I noticed that my dad—a man with the best sense of direction of anyone I’ve ever known—was driving some circuitous route to the restaurant. He was taking his sweet time and turning his head from side to side as though checking out all the scenery.

“Dad, what are you doing?” I asked. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “I’m just trying to remember where I lived when I lived in Bloomington.”

A long pause while his words registered in my brain.

“What do you mean where you lived when you lived in Bloomington?” I asked.

“I lived in Bloomington for a year or so before I married your mother. I’m trying to remember where my apartment was.”

Again, I paused and took this information in. Then I said, “Do you mean to tell me I’ve been going to school here for two years, and before that thinking of going to school here for two years, and you never thought to mention that you lived here?”

My dad offered no comment. That was frequently his way of handling questions. He just didn’t answer them.

“Mom?” I said, turning to the other adult in the car. “Did you know that Dad lived in Bloomington for a year before he married you?”

Without missing a beat, my mom said, “That’s the first I’ve ever heard of it.”

My dad was a bachelor until he married my mom. They were both thirty-six. After he died, I found a box of old photographs in our attic. They showed my dad in a lot of different places—at the beach, in the Air Force, in nightclubs and at parties. He had a lot of friends—and he posed for pictures with a lot of different women. I found a psychological profile of him written by a prospective employer. It said he could be cheerful and garrulous but also a bully who tried to argue with people until he got his way. We found out about all the creative ways he “paid” the bills. (Hint: Mom’s still paying them.)

I loved the man dearly, and I never doubted he loved me. But I sure as hell didn’t know everything about him. Is it any wonder I wrote a book like Never Come Back?


Drizzled with Death, Jessie Crockett As much as I might like to be, I am not really a black and white thinker. If you hand me a multiple choice test I can usually make a pretty decent argument for reasons any of the answers could be correct given certain circumstances. While this is not a trait that lends itself to standardized test taking, it is well suited to a career as a fiction writer. Since I write mysteries, a life spent entirely in shades of gray is particularly useful. I have much more trouble winnowing down motives for murder for each of my suspects than I do thinking up reasons someone would poison her neighbor.

You get used to yourself, of course, and don’t realize how weird it is to think of these things until you do so aloud in the company of others. A couple of years ago a friend and I were following an ordinary looking sedan down a quiet, country road. Framed in the rear window of the sedan was a plastic laundry basket. The basket appeared to be empty, in decent shape and of a deep gold color that was last popular in the seventies.

How was it possible, I asked my friend, for such a thing to have lasted so long and why would anyone stick it in their car where it would block the driver’s view. I kept throwing out possibilities that could solve the mystery. Had they used it to transport a lost kitten back to its home? Was it holding a work of art flat in the bottom? Had the driver, in a fit of unbridled optimism, purchased the contents of an abandoned storage unit and the laundry basket was the only thing worth saving?

And why wasn’t it placed on the backseat instead of in the window? After all, no heads were showing and I couldn’t make out tops of child safety seats either. Was there a sleeping dog sprawled across the seat? Or, could there be a body cooling there instead? Was it a rare vintage laundry basket worth killing someone for?

My friend let me ramble on for several minutes and then sighed deeply.

“Jess,” she said, “it’s just an ugly laundry basket and I couldn’t care less why it’s there. I wouldn’t give it another thought.” But I did. Every now and again when I am doing laundry I still get to thinking about that basket and what could explain it. Sure it’s crazy, but I can’t help but think one day it will end up in a story.


Duke, Terry TeachoutHE WAS THE MOST CHRONIC of procrastinators, a man who never did today what he could put off until next month, or next year. He left letters unanswered, contracts unsigned, watches unworn, and longtime companions unwed, and the only thing harder than getting him out of bed in the afternoon was getting him to finish writing a new piece of music in time for the premiere. “I don’t need time,” he liked to say. “What I need is a deadline!”

Though he carried himself like a prince of the realm, he was the son of a butler and the grandson of a slave. Washington, D.C., where Duke Ellington was born in 1899, was one of America’s most segregated cities, but it also had a black middle class that was proud and self-aware. Ellington’s parents belonged to it, and their only son, a high-school dropout whose regal demeanor belied his poor grades and seeming lack of interest in music, went out of his way to acquire its manners. “Every time you walk out [on] the street and you’re exposed to a white citizen, you know,” he said, “you’re acting in behalf of the race.” That was why he never let his guard down: he knew that there would always be somebody looking.

Ellington was, after Louis Armstrong, jazz’s biggest celebrity, as well as the first jazz musician to be widely hailed as an artist of consequence—and not just by his fellow jazzmen, but also by such distinguished classical musicians as Constant Lambert, Aaron Copland, and Percy Grainger. Yet he was also, like Armstrong, a popular entertainer whose music was meant to please a mass audience. Long before the Swing Era, his band was seen in films and heard on network radio, and long after most of the other bandleaders who followed him into the limelight faded into obscurity, he continued to perform on network TV and girdle the globe, playing “Sophisticated Lady,” “Mood Indigo,” “Solitude,” “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart,” and the other hits that had made him famous (if never rich). Twelve thousand people came to his funeral at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City, his adopted home town and the place that he loved best. By then his baggy eyes and sardonic flattery were almost as familiar to the mourners as his rich-textured music.

Underneath his soigné exterior, Ellington was a self-centered hedonist who lived a nomadic existence in which everything was subordinated to his art—and, insofar as possible, his pleasure. His selfishness was unswerving, though it did not exclude benevolence, if only on his own terms. He was at once deeply (if superstitiously) religious and a tireless philanderer who, in the words of an admiring friend, had the sexual appetite of “a romping, stomping alley cat.” He was careful to keep his love life out of the papers, just as he tried never to show his vulnerability to anyone who might take advantage of it—but vulnerable he was, and would always be. While he believed that his music was (to use the phrase with which he described his favorite artists) “beyond category,” he was painfully conscious of the racial slights that beset him throughout his life, even after he became a star.

None of it showed. The rage, the humiliation, the unbridled sensuality: All were kept far from prying eyes. His fans saw only what he wished them to see, and nothing more. So did his colleagues. “I think all the musicians should get together one certain day and get down on their knees and thank Duke,” said Miles Davis. Yet to Ellington’s own musicians, he was a riddle without an answer, an unknowable man who hid behind a high wall of ornate utterances and flowery compliments that grew higher as he grew older.

In 1944 a journalist dubbed Ellington “the hot Bach,” a comparison that is likely to have vexed him. A decade earlier he had claimed that “you can’t stay in the European conservatory and play the negro music.” He insisted that his own achievement was unique unto itself, so much so that he refused to call his music jazz. “I don’t write jazz,” he said. “I write Negro folk music.” He was wrong: His music is one of the cornerstones of jazz. But he was right about the singularity of his music, just as he himself was as singular as a human being can be, an improbably gaudy bird of paradise who spoke at least one undeniable truth in the self-interview that ends his autobiography:

Q. Can you keep from writing music? Do you write in spite of yourself?

A. I don’t know how strong the chains, cells, and bars are. I’ve never tried to escape.

Terry Teachout, the drama critic of The Wall Street Journal, is the author of Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, from which this excerpt is adapted. His other writings include Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong and Satchmo at the Waldorf, a one-man play about Armstrong.


A traveling art installation comprised of more than 250 pieces of Penguin Books and Penguin Classics cover art, curated by Penguin Art Director Paul Buckley and Mirko ilic, has been presented in six cities and countries across Europe to date, including Belgrade, Maribor, Ljubljana, Montenegro, Ireland and Sarajevo. As the show of these stunning artistic images.moves, it grows in size and popularity. Next stop: Hungary.

View the gallery:

image[12] image[11] image[10] image[9] image[8] image[7]  image[5] image[4] image[3] image[2] image[1] Penguin Covers On Tour Across Europe


Style and the Successful Girl view larger size Style and the Successful GirlCheck out these amazing Gretta Style-Overs before and after makeover photos from Style and the Successful Girl, by Gretta Monahan.

Transform your style, transform your life: Gretta Monahan is Rachael Ray’s resident style, beauty, and fashion consultant, with a host of celebrity clients that rely on her expertise to stay on the A-list. However, Grettas style principles aren’t just for celebrities, but universally apply to anyone who wants to dress for successboth at work and in their personal lives. Now making her proven approach available to all, Style and the Successful Girl is both a style guide and a full-color fashion book, packed with stories, sidebars, and photos to help every reader discover and create their own style. Read more and view an excerpt.

MIKA

Working mom Mika has a hectic 24/7 lifestyle. A few tailored pieces (like this jacket and straight pants) that can go from day to night and from the work week to special events make it easy for Mika to multi-task.

Style and the Successful Girl

Mika – Before

After

Mika – After

KIANNA

Kianna is on the career fast-track. Gretta gave her look a boost with modern pieces and a polished hair and beauty routine.

Kiana - Before

Kiana – Before

Kiana - After

Kiana – After

JUDY

Fabulous Judy found the perfect recipe for looking ageless in of-the-moment leopard print.

Judy - Before

Judy – Before

Judy - After

Judy – After

VANESSA

After losing over 100lbs, Vanessa and Gretta rebuilt her style with a glamorous look to fit her new body.

Vanessa - Before

Vanessa – Before

Vanessa - After

Vanessa – After

RAE

Rae triumphed over lymphoma at age 24. Gretta gave her a head-to-toe makeover to match her amazing attitude and strength.

Rae - Before

Rae – Before

Rae - After

Rae – After

(Photo credit: Photography by Gail Hadani)


mastering_the_art_of_french_eatingI was making a quiche, rubbing butter and flour between my fingertips, and thinking about the French immersion course I took before I moved to Paris, about the lessons and my classmates, and a poem that we learned by heart. It’s a slight poem, and mournful. I can still recite the words.

Chanson d’Automne de Paul Verlaine

Les sanglots longs
des violons
de l’automne
blessent mon coeur
d’une langueur
monotone.

Tout suffocant
et blême, quand
sonne l’heure
je me souviens
des jours anciens
et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
au vent mauvais
qui m’emporte
decà, delà
pareil à la
feuille morte

(Translation: The long sobs of autumn’s violins wound my heart with a dreary lethargy.

All stifled and lifeless, when the hour strikes I remember days gone by and I weep.

And so I go on an ill wind, which carries me here and there like a dead leaf.)

Pretty mournful, right?

The cadence of Paul Verlaine’s autumn song swam in my head as I squeezed water from defrosted spinach, and chopped some steamed broccoli, and whisked together eggs, milk, and cheese. When the quiche was in the oven, I sat down at my computer and Googled “Chanson d’Automne.” And I made a discovery.

During World War II, the BBC and the French Resistance developed a code to signal the start of Operation Overlord, aka D-Day—and they used the first three lines of Chanson d’Automne as an alert. When repeated twice—“Les sanglots longs/ des violons/ de l’automne”—meant that operations would start within two weeks. The lines were broadcast on June 1, 1944. When the poem’s next three lines were transmitted twice—“Blessent mon coeur/ d’une langueur/ monotone”—it signaled that the action would take place within 48 hours and that the Resistance should begin sabotage operations. These lines were broadcast on June 5, 1944.

It turns out that Paul Verlaine’s despondent poem—part of an 1866 series that he oh-so-cheerfully entitled Paysages Tristes, or “sad landscapes”—was actually a symbol of hope.

I leave you with a recipe for quiche and the wish that cooking it may bring you many insightful, heartening, and inspiring contemplations.

quiche_ mastering_the_art_of_french_eatingSpinach and cheese quiche

1 recipe pâte brisée dough
1 lb frozen chopped spinach
1 cup grated cheese (Comté, Gruyère)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups milk or cream
Salt and pepper

With clean cool hands and a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough on a floured surface and fit it into a 22-cm/10-inch tart pan. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork. Chill for one hour (allegedly this reduces the shrinking). Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Bake the tart crust until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven.

While the shell is baking, defrost the spinach and squeeze it dry (I usually use my bare hands. It’s very satisfying). Combine with the milk, cheese, and beaten eggs. Season well. Pour the egg mixture into the prepared crust. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, or until the quiche is puffed, set, and lightly golden.


afoot_in_st_croixIt happens on every research trip. By now, you’d think I would have learned.

A seemingly innocuous piece of advice slips into a casual conversation between a departing tourist and a new arrival. After the hi, how are you’s and the obligatory so where are you from’s comes the inevitable transition to the veteran’s activities of the previous week. This is a discussion topic of which every traveler should be wary.

I’m talking about the “can’t miss” recommendation.

I fall for it every time.

What kind of a writer would I be if I didn’t check out this “must see” location? After all, the whole point of my visit is to search out fictional inspiration. This treacherous line of reasoning frequently gets me into trouble.

And so it went on my most recent trip to the Caribbean island of Tortola. The recommendation was for Smuggler’s Cove, an isolated out-of-the way beach with stunning views of neighboring Jost van Dyke. Could this be the site of a critical scene in a future novel? There was only one way to find out.

The next morning I asked for directions from the owner of the inn where I was staying. In typical Caribbean fashion, she provided me with the following route:

“Go past the Bomba Shack…” (In the Caribbean, a rum shack is almost always a navigational compass point) “…turn left at the bottom of the hill across from the public parking lot. There’s a little sign, next to a big boulder. You can’t miss it.” (This is generally an indication that I will, indeed, miss it.) “After that, just follow the road.”

I set off in my put-put rental jeep, which was running on about 1.8 of its 4 cylinders. I would soon realize I needed the brakes as much as the missing horsepower.

I found my way past the rum shack, but predictably got stymied looking for the signed turnoff. After parking in a private parking lot for a large resort, I pulled out a map that had come with the rental. I rotated the sheet several times, trying to reconcile the innkeeper’s instructions with the cartographer’s cartooned island depiction. The only mapped road I could find appeared to run through the resort.

A West Indian man strolled past, apparently on his way to Bomba’s.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m looking for the road to Smuggler’s Cove?”

“Yeah, sure,” he replied. He looked at me as if this was one of the silliest questions he’d ever heard. “It’s right there.” He pointed at a concrete-covered hill I’d wrongly assumed to be someone’s driveway.

“That’s the road?” I asked.

Nodding his head, he made a dramatic gesturing motion with his arms and then continued his trek to the rum shack.

With encouraging words to the gerbils powering the jeep’s engine, I switched to the lowest gear, mashed the accelerator to the floor, and began to slowly inch up the concrete’s near vertical pitch.

The “road” quickly narrowed to the width of the jeep, and the concrete petered out to a dirt path littered with sharp volcanic rocks. After a couple of tight turns, the jungle closed in on either side. I couldn’t see more than ten feet past the front bumper.

God forbid I meet someone coming from the opposite direction, I thought grimly. There was no room to turn around and no way I was backing the jeep down the hill. I felt certain I was about to pop a tire, and, of course, I’d lost all cell phone reception. It was easily the worst incline I’d ever driven – and mind you, I’m from Colorado.

Plodding forward, because there was no other choice, I eventually reached the summit. From there, it became clear that the makeshift road had been designed to skirt around the resort boundaries, presumably due to complaints about people driving through their private grounds. Once I completed the cut-around portion, the going was far easier.

I soon reached my destination, a pristine beach with a jaw-dropping view –packed with about fifty other people who’d all been given the same “must see” advice.

I spent a wonderful afternoon at Smuggler’s Cove. I even met a potential future fictional character in an enterprising Tortolan who ran a full mini-bar out of an ice chest and a fold up table.

When it was time to leave, I took the flat, paved road through the resort, confidently waving at its employees as if I was a paying guest.

At dinner later that night, I struck up a conversation with a lovely couple that had just arrived on the island.

“What do you recommend we do while we’re here?” they asked politely.

“Oh, there’s this beach that you have to visit.” I replied. “Smuggler’s Cove. Take the road down past the Bomba Shack, then turn left at the big boulder…”