Sam Lipsyte's "The Fun Parts" & Sage Shortbread Cookies

The Fun Parts is a collection of short stories that wraps life’s anxieties and miniature tragedies in sweet, honest humor. We like reading it while snacking on these sage shortbread cookies. 


Transient

To be funny — genuinely witty, not just goofy — a person has to be both smart and honest. Sam Lipsyte proves to be truly funny, which makes me like him from page one. Well, technically it was page four of The Fun Parts, where Lipstye describes a tony house this way: “The place had been enormous, dizzying, a living (well, not quite living) embodiment (not embodiment, precisely) of the aspirational sconce porn that Tovah sometimes indulged in online or at magazine racks.” How could I not be hooked? 

Lipsyte turns the same incisive eye to his characters, who, even if you’ve never met a high school Dungeon Master or a bumbling male doula, seem exactly as weird as they would in the real world. Quirky characters are all the rage — the ubiquity of the manic pixie dream girl being Hollywood’s contribution — so I find myself policing the use of quirky in literature, especially short stories, where it’s easy to give a character a whimsical tic and assume that stands in for an actual history. Despite being on high alert for false whimsy, I find none of it in Lipstye’s characters, who seem blissfully, strangely real.

The stories are varied, both in length and subject matter, which is a plus for those of us with fleeting attention spans. We experience life through the eyes of 30-something female poets-turned-teachers, suburban fathers, high school boys, writers. And with the start of each story, I do feel inside the narrator’s head. Inexplicably, I don’t feel jolted around. Though I’m hopping from one person’s head to another, the steady, observant honesty ties them together. We see a whole spectrum of experience. My takeaway? Life is a difficult process, so you’d better make sure to enjoy the fun parts.

Transient

As a savory dessert fiend, I’m a proponent of using both salt and herbs to balance a sweet pastry. Sage is another word for wise, and the way the herb is folded into a somewhat salty, not overly sweet cookie reminds me of how Lipsyte’s stories contain equal parts wisdom, reality and humor. Oh, and these cookies are great with a cup of coffee or tea and book, of course.

Transient
Transient

SAGE SHORTBREAD COOKIES

Yield: About 28 small cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoon thinly sliced sage
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bourbon sugar (I bought mine from Colonel De

Instructions:

Pulse flour, powdered sugar, sage and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor until combined, then add butter and pulse until the dough sticks together in a lump. (This took a few more pulses than I expected). Divide the dough in half and, with your hands, roll each into a log a bit more narrow than a store-bought cookie dough log. Chill on a baking sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350ºF. Remove the dough, chopping each log into ½-inch-thick slices and placing them on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20-25 minutes, swapping sheets halfway so that each sheet is on the top rack for an equal amount of time.

Remove from the oven when slightly golden at the edges, immediately sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon kosher salt (if you like a salty shortbread) and 1 tablespoon vanilla bourbon sugar. Cool on a rack before serving.

Adapted from Bon Appetit


The TBR List: July 25

Dansk Kobenstyle platter. (Image via @paperplatesblog on Instagram)

Dansk Kobenstyle platter. (Image via @paperplatesblog on Instagram)

I love writing TBR Lists because they mark the time. With every list, I note another week and, today, almost, another month. This has been a big one for me because of Ramadan, which winds down this weekend. Challenging as this month of daily fasts can be, especially during long summer days, it is also a time of community and an opportunity for self-reflection. Plus, it leaves you feeling quite accomplished.

In July, I challenged myself to look inward, but in August I plan to force myself out. If there's anything Chicagoans know, it's how fleeting the summer is. Between traveling and fasting, I haven't been able to take advantage of it yet. That changes next week. I plan to go to farmer's markets, watch movies in the public parks, eat on patios and maybe even kayak on the river.

I'm feeling motivated to see July out on a high note. How about you?

And now, the links!

- I picked up this Dansk Kobenstyle platter recently and I feel 50 times more stylish already.

Travel and Leisure lists the most beautiful libraries in the world. Got your passport?

- This week in book-to-movie trailers: Fifty Shades of Grey. (Plus, our review and recipe.)

- Fabulous art: Paintings that use old books as the canvas. My favorite is "The High Sea."

- I also spent a gift card at Sur La Table last weekend. Serving bowl and tea towels, you are mine.

- This essay, "What Writers Can Learn from Goodnight, Moon" is so freaking delightful. 

- If I travel this fall, I want to do everything on this foodie guide to Nola.

- Speaking of travel, we're heading to Louisville this weekend for the Eid holiday. We'll spend much of it with family, but next time I want to explore the food scene.

- A Kickstarter to redesign the bestselling book of all time: The Bible.

- All these kitchen before and afters are just making me jealous.

- This rigatoni with caramelized onion and gorgonzola looks like a great work lunch option.

At The Table With...Elizabeth Stark of Brooklyn Supper

(Photo by Andy Ryan)

(Photo by Andy Ryan)

Today we're hanging out with Elizabeth Stark, one half of the wife-and-husband blogging duo behind Brooklyn Supper. The former Brooklynite now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she indulges in seasonal eating, often with produce fresh from her garden. If there's anything that makes me regret my balcony-less urban life, it's reading about a garden like Elizabeth's. Luckily, there's plenty else on Brooklyn Supper to distract me. For example, link roundups! (Loyal P/P readers know how much I love roundups.) Then there are recipes like mixed berry coconut cream parfaits and mango freakin' guacamole. With recipes like that, it's no wonder I come back to Brooklyn Supper again and again. 

Read on to get to know Elizabeth!

What is your all-time favorite book?

It’s impossible for me to pick a single favorite, but Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters by J.D. Salinger, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell [P/P pairing], Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, and anything by Ha Jin would all top my list.

What meal do you love to cook?

I love cooking for friends. Setting aside the time to create a thoughtful menu, shop for ingredients, and then cook something interesting or comforting for the people I care about is one of my very favorite ways to spend time. I get super stressed out and frazzled in the kitchen sometimes, but I secretly love all the chaos just before everyone sits down to a big meal.

What is your favorite food scene from a book?

Though it’s not technically a scene, I love the chapter in An Everlasting Meal entitled “How to Boil Water.” In it, Tamar Adler writes beautifully about one of the most fundamental acts of cooking. I so admire her economical writing style, and am really in awe of her ability to paint something as fundamental as a pot of boiling water in such a new and surprising light.

Coffee or tea?

Definitely coffee, with a splash of cream.

What is the last book you abandoned?

1491 by Charles C. Mann. It’s a fascinating look at the Americas just before the arrival of Columbus, and I’m really hoping to get back to it.
A scene from Elizabeth's welcoming kitchen. (Photo by Elizabeth Stark)

A scene from Elizabeth's welcoming kitchen. (Photo by Elizabeth Stark)

Author you'd most like to meet for dinner, and your order?

Edward Gorey? I’d imagine a huge table and lots of pomp, not to mention wonderfully acerbic wit. I’m pretty sure frog legs, snails, and baked Alaska would be on the menu. I’d also be hoping for a really elaborate layer cake.

Where do you go to find new recipes? 

I’m always inspired by publications like Bon Appétit, as well as smaller mags like Cherry Bombe, Remedy Quarterly, and Diner Journal. I also tend to find inspiration in whole ingredients; I’ll run across a new food at the market and then look for ways to prepare it  often, a quick Google image search is enough to get me excited.

Where do you go to find new reads?

My husband [and blogging partner] Brian is a voracious reader, so most of my book suggestions are filtered through him. And I always have an eye on new cookbooks and food writing, usually discovered through a handful of favorite blogs and browsing at my local bookstore.

Tell us about your blog — the inspiration for it, why you blog, and your favorite aspects.

Brooklyn Supper focuses on local, seasonal ingredients prepared in simple, tasty ways. Though I really love elaborate meals, the blog focuses on more pared down creations with robust, of-the-moment flavors. Through the blog, I hope to motivate home cooks to learn more about their own local food systems and make connections with the small farmers growing food in their region. Though I never expected it, one of my favorite things about blogging is the community I’ve found. It’s so wonderful to have so many like-minded friends around the world — some I’ve met one or two times, and some I’ve never even spoken with, but we’re all friends nonetheless. It makes the world feel like a smaller, better place.

What are your favorite blogs, and why?

This is such a good time for food, imagery, and food writing that it’s really tough to choose. Laura of The First Mess brings an incredible vitality to her words and photos. I also really love  the fresh perspective and southern slant that Elliott and Fred bring to F for Food. Other favorites include The Vanilla Bean Blog [ATTW interview], Lottie + Doof [ATTW interview], Turntable Kitchen, Autumn Makes and Does, Yummy Supper, and My Name is Yeh [ATTW interview].

Connect with Elizabeth: Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

Kellie Strøm's "Worse Things Happen at Sea" & Scallop Vermicelli

Worse Things Happen at Sea explores the peril and adventure of monster-ridden waters. We think it goes great with scallop vermicelli.


My older brother has a weakness for sea monsters. He went through a phase growing up where he was terrified of giant squid, but that passed relatively quickly and now he's into all fantastical ocean-dwellers. When we visited Rome together this year, his favorite part of the Vatican was the map room because there are mermaids hidden in the paintings. Meanwhile, he only got excited about watching Game of Thrones when he learned that dragons played a role. You get the picture.

So you can imagine how excited I was when I learned about a brand spanking new book from lauded Scandanavian illustrator Kellie Strøm all about the perils of sea travel. The promise of sea monsters was enough for me to pre-order Worse Things Happen at Sea as a birthday present for my bro.

What came in the mail was even more magical than I could have predicted. It's hard to know whether we should call this a book, a work of art, a graphic novel, or even an songbook. The work is a long fold-out panoramic illustration that tells the tale (through illustration only) of a ship full of brave and perhaps fool-hardy soldiers trying to survive a stormy, monster-infested sea.  

Image via Cool Hunting.

Image via Cool Hunting.

The detachable cover of Worse Things Happen at Sea is integral to the story — featuring a song (complete with barebones sheet music!) with lyrics that describe the eventual demise of the doomed sailors (I guess you could call "spoiler alert" on this one, but, c'mon, it's only a few panels long). The attention to detail both in form and actual visuals is astounding — Strøm actually had to use a magnifying glass while he worked to cram his pen-drawings with the all detail he desired.  

Though short and non-traditional, this is storytelling at its best. It is magical, surprising, clever, and absorbing. I recommend it for all story-lovers, not just monster fans! It will be equally beautiful on your mantle or in your bookshelf.

Transient

Naturally, such a work deserves a seafood feast. Inspired by the omnipresent Vietnamese cuisine in my new Seattle home, fresh shellfish, and Strøm's complex and detailed work, I put together a nuanced scallop vermicelli.


SCALLOP VERMICELLI


Ingredients:
- 8 oz. rice vermicelli
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon sliced fresh red chili (or jalapeño)
- 1 lb. bay scallops
- a dash of soy sauce
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 4 sliced green onions
- 3 large leaves of green leaf lettuce
- 1 medium carrot, julienned
- 1/4 cup fresh mint, cut into small pieces
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, cut into small pieces

Instructions:
Boil some water and cook your vermicelli for about 4 minutes. Drain, rinse, and set aside.

Combine your water, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, and chili. Set aside in a bowl — you'll use this as your sauce later.

Heat up a skillet, and add the oil, soy sauce, garlic, and onions. Cook for a couple minutes and then throw in your scallops. Cook just until scallops become opaque white.

Put your noodles in a large bowl, pour in the scallop mixture, add the lettuce, carrot, and herbs, and toss it all together. Serve with your sauce on the side — dinner guests can add the right amount for their tastes.

Adapted from Martha Stewart