My primary contribution to my daughter’s recent wedding was, not surprisingly, food related. Each of 153 guests received a clear, beribboned and be-tagged box containing Mexican wedding cookies I had baked.
For inspiration and recipes I turned to two experts: Martha Stewart and Nick Malgieri. I chronicle the ups and downs, ins and outs of pulling this project together here, in the May issue of the Princeton Packet Magazine, which is devoted in its entirety to weddings. (Scroll down to “Good Taste” for my cookie story.)
More of my interview with Frank Bruni, including the reading list for his food writing class @ Princeton
I’ve previously linked to my interview with the former NY Times restaurant critic in the May issue of NJ Monthly. Here’s more of our conversation about the food writing course he’s teaching at Princeton University this semester, and why he’s doing it.
Tell me about the sixteen lucky undergrads in your class…
Most of them are upperclassmen. Right now it’s eleven young women and five young men. Forty-eight students applied. They all had to write a letter saying, here’s why I’d like to be in your class. I tried, without over-thinking it, to respect the gender breakdown of the letters.
They also had to submit a sample of their writing, right? So what drew you to these particular students?
A couple of them had taken a foreign affairs writing class last semester with my colleague at the Times [Carol Giacomo]. She brought her class up to The Times Center and had a number of us come talk to them. Some of the kids who applied to this class had been in that session and that was the reason they wanted to take the class. So I let a few of them in on the theory they know what they’re getting. You want everyone to be happy: they had met me, their feeling was positive. Others, it was just the amount of enthusiasm in their letters. Also, some of it was that I didn’t want a class entirely of people who are deep in the weeds of food, entirely of people who cultivate their own organic gardens. I wanted a mix of people who are incredibly food obsessed and people who are really just interested in being better writers and who find the subject of food suitably engaging. That kind of diversity.
Your syllabus lists three books other than your own Born Round: Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. Why these?
They’re so different from one another. Michael Pollan’s work is such classic kind of expository journalism, written in a very elegant style. Foer’s Eating Animals is written in a completely different and much more gonzo style and it’s about a very particular thing, which is the ethics of eating. And Nora Ephron, again, a completely different style.
It’s just to get different voices in their head. I want them to read a lot. I really think that the easiest way to be a good writer, the best thing is to read. Even at my age I feel that if I’m not reading a lot I’m writing a lot worse. I feel like to make a writing course just writing and writing and writing, it’s a little bit like putting the cart before the horse. It’s one of the concerns I always have about people in high school and college taking a whole bunch of writing courses. So I want to make sure that over the course of the semester they’re also reading.
How do you plan on using Born Round in the course?
I think it would be hard to teach a food writing course and not have a food memoir in there. There were many I considered. The reason I put my own in there was not to sell sixteen copies – I don’t know if they even had to buy any [of these books]. I could have assigned, say, Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones & Butter and because she’s a local person I might be able to get her to come to talk to the class for an hour. But if I’m going to assign a food memoir, why not give them something that as they’re reading it if they have questions about why this approach, why is it done this way, or if they have questions about structure or anything, they have unfettered access to the author. It just made sense.
Will you bring in guest speakers?
Absolutely! For the first half of my next class Melissa Clark, who’s a friend and a good Times food writer, is going to be there. I’ll probably have my friend Kate Krader who’s the restaurant editor for Food & Wine magazine come down. And I’m also going to bring the kids up to the Times to interact with my colleagues.
What made you want to take this on, with all your other responsibilities?
A new experience! You know, when you’ve been in the business as long as I have and you’ve written on deadline as much as I have and you’ve filed as many articles of various kinds, well, if you can find ways to build something novel into your weeks and months, it’s great. And in a corny way I like the idea of teaching. I’m one of those people at work whose friends often ask for advice or to read stuff and I think I’m not horrible at explaining things and critiquing things. I hoped I might actually be useful.
Riedel Warehouse Sale Now through Saturday, in Edison
If you’re a fan of Riedel wine glasses and decanters (count me in), you’ll want to head over to Edison, where their wares are discounted from between 45% and 75% for the next few days. Details here. A shout out to June Jacobs of Feastivals who alerted me to this event. If you go, I’d love to get a report. btw: The sale includes items from Spiegelau and Nachtmann, too.