What books are in that tottering pile on your desk and next to your bed right now?
• Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults
• Jhumpa Lahiri, Italian Short Stories
• R.L. Maizes, We Love Anderson Cooper
• Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
• Donna Leon, The Temptation of Forgiveness
• Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul
• Jim Harrison, Julip
• Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister
• Edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell, Kink
• Dana Johnson, In the Not Quite Dark
• Andrea Nguyen, Vietnamese Food Any Day
What have you read lately that got your juices flowing?
I have to say, Kink, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell. I have been working on a few short stories that have a strong erotic content for a while now. I’ve shown them, so far, just to Ann Starr, who was the publisher of Upper Hand Press and my cottage-mate some time ago at Virginia Community for the Arts. Ann and I have a very interesting ongoing collaboration: she reads and comments on my draft stories, and I read and comment on chapters of the novel she is writing. In a way, Kink, has helped make me more courageous. As has just about anything by Garth Greenwell. His work is so explicit. Sometimes I find some of it challenging, but I sure do like it. He is a marvel. Before that, the work of Mary Gaitskill, especially her early collection, Bad Behavior.
I also very much liked Kiese Laymon’s Heavy and Roxanne Gay’s Hunger. Kiese Laymon’s book is about much more than body image, but I think that was one of the elements that “got” me: I have never heard a man discuss weight and body image the way he does in that book. Roxanne Gay’s Hunger could be the best book on weight and body image by a woman I’ve read.
What do you do besides reading and writing?
I used to go almost every week to yard sales and estate sales, looking for vintage tableware, linens and jewelry. But the pandemic put a stop to that. Mostly what I did was worry about how to get rid of Donald Trump, and cook. As did so many other people, I started making bread. For a while that was interesting, but it certainly got old, at least for me. I just this week threw out my demanding sourdough starter. I have been feeding that starter twice a week, at times resenting all the precious King Arthur AP flour it was eating. I also cooked and cooked: I called it “Catering the Pandemic.” We were very fortunate to be able to afford quality food and to have the skill and financial resources and luck to be able to secure it and, for the most part, have it delivered. I made many curries, which we still enjoy.
Were you writing during the pandemic?
The answer is, until Trump was defeated, mostly no. But once Joe Biden was elected, I was so pent up I started producing a rush of stories. It’s so interesting. Not just a rush of drafts, but almost all fully-realized stories. And I believe my friend Ann Starr was doing the same thing.
Which story are you most excited about?
I have been working on drafts of one of the stories, about the end of an affair, for more than a decade. At one time I thought it might be a novel. I wrote eight versions of it recently and, I believe, finally got it right. I’ve also been thinking about another story, about a doomed wedding, for some time. That one just fell into place right away; I really like it.
Do you think you’ll move on to a novel?
I think that time is approaching. I want to finish this suite of short stories first. Years ago I started a novel that I didn’t know how to handle. I think I am going to go back to that manuscript soon and see if it is viable.
What’s this business about people calling you “the Jewish Martha Stewart?”
That started as both a compliment and a joke. I used to invite people from work over to my apartment, and then later to my house on Long Island. I like to set the table with the vintage linens, dishes and glassware I’ve collected, and I’ve been known to cook more elaborately than some of my guests. So one evening, after a bit of wine, one of the art director guests started calling me that and it stuck. Later, Jenny Klion wrote a charming profile of my cooking and table settings in Edible Long Island, using that title.
Do you have a favorite cookbook?
That’s a difficult question because so many recipes are now online. But I do have a lot of cookbooks, including some pretty old ones. But I find myself going back to some regularly.
• I always seem to take out my falling-apart Joy of Cooking at Thanksgiving time because it has all my previous years’ turkey calculations written in it.
• I like Daisy Martinez’ Daisy Cooks for a few dishes. Try her Wet Rub for Pernil. I have Puerto Rican neighbors who are exceptional cooks, and I keep trying to make the dishes they’ve served. Illyana Maisonet, the genius behind posts Eat Gorda Eat, has a PR cookbook in the works; I look forward to that one.
• I am in general not a great fan of Mary Ann Esposito’s cookbooks, but she has an artichoke fennel tart in Nella Cucina that is superb. Leave out the sausages if you are serving vegetarians, increase the veggies — and it is still fantastic. I make it for special friends at least twice a year; it is quite a lot of work to make, but worth it.
• Apple pie may seem like it would be a no-brainer. But we’ve all had boring apple pies, even from credible bakers. Carole Walter’s Great Pies & Tarts has one of the best apple pie filling recipes I’ve tried. See her Old-Fashioned American Apple Pie.
• One more … Dorie Greenspan’s Desserts by Pierre Hermé. Fabulous book.