Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog

12 posts categorized "Books" Feed

April 06, 2012

Grazing: Vodka From Dawn Till Dusk

555291_10150649869834405_134509389404_9246878_2023677574_nA few days ago, I jumpstarted a chilly spring morning with a shot of vodka. Black tea and peach bitters were blended in, too, but the warm feeling that spread through my shoulders still felt kind of illicit at 10 a.m.

The excuse was solid: a drop-in to the new Vermont Spirits tasting room in Quechee, which opened about a month ago. Last summer, Vermont Spirits had their steel headquarters painstakingly dissembled and moved from Barnet — where they'd distilled for 13 years — to this complex along Route 4. 

The place took longer than expected to assemble, but the care shows in the details: an elegant slate floor, modern industrial lights, a bar made from salvaged barn beams, and shelves stocked with bottles of vodka and Fee Brothers Bitters, as well as books and videos from the American Distilling Institute.

Continue reading "Grazing: Vodka From Dawn Till Dusk" »

March 23, 2012

Breaking Dad: Author David Sheff Talks About His Book 'Beautiful Boy' and His Son's Meth Addiction

David_sheffThere’s an inherent repetitiveness to all books about alcoholism or drug addiction. The reader knows immediately that if the main character enters rehab just a third of the way into the story, a relapse — or more likely, a series of relapses — is just page turn away. That's the nature of addiction: It's a vicious circle, or more accurately, a vicious spiral that typically moves only downward.

Beautiful Boy, David Sheff’s 2008 #1 New York Times bestseller about his son Nic's rapid descent into methamphetamines addiction, is no less gripping because you already know what's coming: Nic, an exceedingly bright, athletic and creative boy, starts drinking and smoking pot as a northern California preteen and soon moves on to harder stuff before discovering his drug of choice: crystal meth.

What unfolds over the ensuing 300-plus pages of Sheff's compelling and heart-wrenching memoir is all-too-familiar terrain to the families of addicts: the lying, stealing, guilt, self-recrimination, broken promises, sleepless nights, police cars, and seemingly endless visits to emergency rooms, Al-Anon meetings and drug rehab centers. And tears. Lots and lots of tears.

But the book, which is unsparing in its gritty honesty, also offers tremendous hope to those who assume there's no road back from addiction to an insidious drug that permanently alters the brains of its users.

Sheff, whose pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Wired and elsewhere, based this book on a February 2005 article he wrote for the  New York Times Magazine called "My Addicted Son." Since the publication of Beautiful Boy, Nic Sheff has published two books of his own about his meth habit: Tweak and We All Fall Down.

Sheff, 56, will be speaking at Burlington's Contois Auditorium on Thursday, April 5, at 7 p.m. (Tickets are $15. Click here for more info.) He was invited to Vermont by documentary filmmaker Bess O’Brien, of Kingdom County Productions, whose latest project addresses prescription opiate abuse in St. Albans. Following Sheff's talk, he'll take part in an open panel discussion, moderated by Mitch Barron, with St. Albans pediatrician Dr. Fred Holmes and two recovering prescription-pill addicts.

Seven Days spoke to Sheff by phone at his home in Inverness, Calif.

SEVEN DAYS: You must get many invitations to speak to community groups all around the country. What convinced you to come to Vermont? It couldn’t just be for the Ben & Jerry’s and maple syrup.

DAVID SHEFF: Do you know Bess O’Brien? She’s sort of a force of nature and hard to say no to. But, yes, I get a lot of invitations and I like to do them. It’s really gratifying to connect with people, and it also relates to the new book I’m working on... about the addiction treatment system, what works, what doesn’t, and what’s wrong with the system we have here in America. So, going to different places is instructive. Most places have very similar issues but there are specifics to specific places and  specific drugs... Plus, it sounds like Bess is doing some really interesting work. That has a lot to do with it. And, the maple syrup.

SD: You write in Beautiful Boy that your own experimentation with drugs was a flaw that you passed on to your son. Have your other two kids avoided using drugs?

DS: They have. You don’t have to convince them that drugs are really, really bad. They were scared to death... When I was growing up, my parents talked to me about drugs. They warned me [with] information they probably got from public service announcements on TV and PTA meetings. So, I thought they were totally clueless, and they were, about drugs. They had no idea. So, because of my experiences, I understood, and understand, why people use drugs, both for the social part of it and also the relief they can provide when you’re stressed out. I understood the draw of drugs and I wasn’t naive about the dangers. It wasn’t just someone giving me these Nancy Reagan-like “Just say no” warnings. I had one friend I wrote about who died... one who ended up in prison, another who ended up out of his mind and who slowly drifted off into oblivion.

Continue reading "Breaking Dad: Author David Sheff Talks About His Book 'Beautiful Boy' and His Son's Meth Addiction" »

November 16, 2011

A Big Bookstore for Burlington ... in the Works

Sota-booksWhen Borders announced the closing of its Burlington store, everyone wondered how long the city could remain without a downtown bookseller. Well, not that long. First, Church Street’s Crow Bookshop — known for used books — started selling more new titles. Now comes promising news from Renée Reiner and Michael DeSanto, who own Phoenix Books in the Essex Shoppes and Cinemas. (They're shown here in 2007, about to open that store.)

In Phoenix’s holiday catalog, to be published next week as an advertising insert in the Burlington Free Press, the couple announce that they “are engaged in an effort to open a bookstore in downtown Burlington. We plan to keep the Essex store open and establish a nearly 6000-square-foot store on or near Church Street within five months,” their statement continues.

Because they’re still negotiating a lease, Reiner and DeSanto can’t specify the store’s likely location. But DeSanto does say, by phone, that they are “looking for the community to be really involved in this bookstore.”

Continue reading "A Big Bookstore for Burlington ... in the Works" »

October 07, 2011

Grazing: Pesto Trapanese

Picture 1 Ah, October. Crisp days and high time to roast squash, quaff cider, and ... make pesto?

Our first bonafide frost this week meant a bittersweet harvest of my remaining basil and tomatoes. As I hauled them inside, I wondered how to repurpose them. As serendipity would have it, we had just received a copy of Ed Behr's new book, The Art of Eating Cookbook: Recipes From the First 25 Years. In this elegant tome, Behr has included dozens of fundamental recipes of mostly French and Italian origin, many introduced by notes on history and technique.

During a phone interview, Behr had kinds words for charcuterie, chestnut soup and traditional Ragù Bolognese. He then dubbed Pesto Trapanese, a western Sicilian version of the classic sauce, "one of the world's most underappreciated recipes."

At home, I thumbed to page 74 and read about this twist on pesto that uses almonds instead of pignoli, eschews cheese, and includes tomatoes. Like many great Italian recipes, it was simple and delicious. Best of all, it relied on the two things I had in abundance.

Behr is a proponent of good-quality olive oil — it can go rancid easily, he says — and I sniffed mine before dribbling it into a food processor with almonds, eventually throwing in a few handsful of basil and peeled tomatoes. Spooned over gemelli, it was a creamy, garlicky, last-gasp-of-summer feast. 

Someone else out there must still be swimming in basil. For you, here's Ed Behr's recipe. As in his book, I haven't included a photo of the final dish. "I think it's almost freeing not to have photos," he says. 

Pesto Trapanese (Raw Tomato-Basil Pesto)
courtesy of Ed Behr 


About 1/4 cup peeled almonds

2 to 4 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 to 1 cup basil leaves

1/2 cup excellent, fresh-tasting olive oil

4 to 6 ripe red summer tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped

black pepper

1 1/2 pounds of dried pasta

To peel the almonds, put them in boiling water for half a minute, remove them with a slotted spoon, and then pop them out of their skins and dry them. Prepare the tomatoes by scoring an X in the blossom end and putting them into the same pot of boiling water for 30 to 45 seconds; then cut out the core of each and pull of the skin. (You can pull off the skin of an extremely ripe tomato almost as easily without any blanching at all.) Slice the tomato in half; with your little finger, scoop out the seeds and gel and discard them. Compared with a food processor, a mortar produces superior texture — more uneven and slippery. If you have one of the capacity of at least a quart (a liter), use it. Giuseppe Coria, the great recorder of Sicilian recipes, wrote, "Let the sauce rest for as long as it takes to cook the pasta."

In a large mortar, mash the almonds to a paste with the pestle and remove them. Put in the garlic and the salt, and reduce those to a paste; then add the basil and reduce it. Return the almonds to the mortar, add the olive oil, and turn with the pestle until the whole becomes creamy. Add the tomatoes little by little, mashing each time so as to retain the emulsion.

Or, if you are using a food processor, reduce the almonds, garlic, salt and olive oil to as smooth a paste as possible. Only then — to avoid a brown color, an utter purée, and a loss of flavor — add the basil and pulse several times, and then add the tomatoes and pulse several times, and don't pulse again.

With either method, taste the sauce and season it with salt if needed and grind in pepper. Cook the pasta and drain it well, then mix it immediately and thoroughly with the room-temperature raw sauce in a large warm bowl, and serve it in warm individual bowls. Because you can't serve the sauce chilled and you can't heat it, use it within about 2 hours (the flavor is good for several hours — left overnight in the refrigerator, it largely deteriorates). Serves 6.

September 15, 2011

Sydney Lea Named VT's New Poet Laureate

Author photo The Vermont Arts Council has been making big announcements right and left lately. One of the biggest: Vermont has a new poet laureate: Newbury resident Sydney Lea. At least, he'll assume that post when Ruth Stone's four-year term ends this November.

Lea, who has lived in Vermont since the early 1990s, has a number of poetry collections to his credit, the most recent being Young of the Year, as well as a novel and two books of essays. His collection I Was Thinking of Beauty is due out in 2013. My favorite description of Lea is "a man in the woods with his head full of books, and a man in books with head full of woods." I'm not sure what that means, exactly, but it might have something to do with his activity in land conservation.

If that surname sounds familiar to many Burlingtonians, it's probably because you know the poet's son, Creston Lea, a musician, maker of seriously awesome guitars and an all-around good guy. Oh, and Creston is a writer, too; his book of short stories, Wild Punch, came out last year.

The elder Lea has received several fellowships — from the Rockefeller, Fulbright and Guggenheim foundations — and has taught at schools around New England, in Switzerland and Budapest. It's not surprising that he's been a literacy activist, too. Whether poetry, prose, political tracts or People is your thing, reading matters.

Oh, and here's another announcement from the VAC: Novelist Julia Alvarez of Middlebury is the recipient of the 2011 Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. She and Lea will be honored in a ceremony November 4 at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier.


August 10, 2011

U.S. Poet Laureate Headlines Burlington Book Fest

Philip_Levine1-1 Talk about good timing. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Levine is a headliner at the Burlington Book Festival's Grace Paley Poetry Series next month. Today, Levine was named the Poet Laureate of the United States.

"He's a legend and we're very lucky to have him as a highlight of this year's stellar lineup," said festival director Rick Kisonak (also a Seven Days film critic) in a press release today.

If you think poetry is only for effete wimps, think again. Levine, 83, is a Detroit native who once was an auto worker. His blue-collar background informs his plainspoken, narrative approach to writing. Levine, who has lived in Fresno and taught at the University of California in that city for 34 years, champions hard work and everyday life. A collection of his poems titled The Simple Truth earned Levine a Pulitzer in 1995, which joined a crowded shelf full of other poetry prizes.

When first offered the laureate post, Levine told the AP, he had his doubts, calling himself "a fairly irreverent person" and "an old union man." But in the end, what poet in his right mind would turn down such an honor? "I would kick myself," Levine continued. "I thought, 'This is you. You can speak to a larger public than has been waiting for you in recent years.'"

"I have a feeling there'll be a large crowd waiting for him at this year's festival," surmised Kisonak.

The 2011 Burlington Book Festival is September 23-25 in various downtown locations. The Grace Paley Poetry Series will be in the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center.

August 08, 2011

What Should Replace Borders on Church Street?

2011-08-08_14-45-38_750 Recently, during my three-hour lunch break, I popped into Borders on Church Street. Beckoned by the chintzy "Going Out of Business" liquidation signs hung in all the windows, and the promise of a good deal or two, I figured I'd see what was going on in the now-bankrupt behemoth bookseller.

The answer, it turns out, is a whole lot. The place was packed and there was a holiday-season-length line at the checkout.Who knew there were so many people with so much free time on their hands/money to burn on Nora Roberts books

Borders, a husk of its former self, now has all the charm of a Dollar Store, with garish signs in bold capital letters alerting bargain hunters to the fact that mysteries were 25 percent off, novels were 30 percent off and bodice-rippers were a whopping 40 percent off. It was my lucky day! I love any book that places the words "throbbing" and "member" side by side in a sentence.

Continue reading "What Should Replace Borders on Church Street?" »

May 24, 2011

Sweet on Gesine Bullock-Prado

DSC_0392 Last night 7D food intern Frances Cannon and I went to see Gesine Bullock-Prado do a candy-making demonstration at, of all places, the New England Federal Credit Union. Why was she making candy in a credit union? Because NEFCU is a literary credit union, or at least encourages its members to be: It hosts a Vermont Distinguished Writers Series in a room called the Member Education Center. This is impressive; most banks give you a toaster or an iPod and call it a day.

But I digress. Gesine (pronounced gih-zee-nuh) was not there simply to make candy; she has a new book to tout, Sugar Baby: Confections, Candies, Cakes & Other Delicious Recipes for Cooking with Sugar. And while regular authors have to just read from their books, Gesine is a chef and has to demonstrate something. Or perhaps I should say "gets to," because she seemed to be having a grand time, making a bit of a mess with two of the stickiest candies on Earth: taffy and "cotton" candy.

Continue reading "Sweet on Gesine Bullock-Prado" »

July 26, 2010

Interview with a Wine Guy: Summer Wines

When the weather soars above 90 — and Vermonters curse their neighbors with air conditioning — standing waist deep in Lake Champlain holding a cold drink sounds like the thing to do.  During the last heat wave, this urge determined the focus of my next wine-guy inquisition: summer quaffs.

I went to Dedalus Wine Shop to speak with co-owner Jason Zuliani, who became passionate about wine while working at the New England Culinary Institute. After Zuliani took a brief hiatus, NECI recruited him to be their wine director.

But Zuliani was leading a dual life: wine guy by day, technology guru by night. He also co-owned telecommunications firm Eagle Network Solutions (ENS). When that business took off, Zuliani left NECI,  but convinced his ENS partner, Tim Banks, that they needed to open a wine shop.

Both Banks and Zuliani enjoy hunting down and selling obscure bottles and wines that evoke some unique characteristic of a place or culture. I wanted to find a wine that represented summer, obscure or otherwise.

Seven Days: If you had to choose one wine to represent the summer, what would you choose?

Jason Zuliani: If I had to choose one? That’s a serious handicap for a guy like me. I would probably get into Italian whites. I would look at a Lugana or a Grillo. Those wines are really crisp, minerally, refreshing and vibrant...without a lot of distraction. A big blast of one on a hot day is great.

Continue reading "Interview with a Wine Guy: Summer Wines" »

August 18, 2009

Yep, There's an App for ... Howard Dean?

F-howarddean Just in time to join the debate about keeping the so-called "public option" part of the national health care reform debate — an iPhone app.

But, not just any old iPhone app. It's a Howard Dean app that combines grassroots activism with an eBook.

Former Vermont Gov. and DNC Chairman Howard Dean, whose 2004 presidential bid was fueled by netroots activists and the Internet, partnered up with Vermont-based bookseller Chelsea Green to launch the application, dubbed Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform. It costs $9.99.

Continue reading "Yep, There's an App for ... Howard Dean?" »

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684