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What Have I Learned?

What have I learned in the course of researching, writing, and promoting my book, Eat This? I am meditating upon this utterly self-absorbed subject because lately my days have been punctuated with a number of live radio interviews (most recently Michael Feldman's "Whad'Ya Know?" on NPR this past weekend.) On these occasions I'm often asked what I liked to eat and what I didn't; what's distinctive in the area where the station is located; whether I put on a lot of weight when I was writing the book and where the best hamburgers are to be found.

This Saturday, though, our discussion started off on the topic of the colonoscopy, shifted quickly through sausage and tubular meat products to liver and kidneys before settling down (I think) into calmer waters. Early on, my host was prompted to ask, "Did we wake you?" which I took to be a hint that I should lively it up a little. (I thought I was being laconic.) I hope I did okay. As a wise friend said to me recently, writers have chosen an occupation where they can work in absolute solitude yet at the end of the lonely writing process, in publishing the book, they have to go out in public and shill their wares as loudly as they can. On Saturday, I was acutely aware there was a studio audience of actual people on the other end of the line in addition to Mr. Feldman. In my house, I was still on my own. Authors who end up in the hands of a terrific publicity department: Be careful what you wish for.

So, these are some of the answers I should have offered over the past couple of weeks if I'd had my wits about me, along with some of the answers I actually gave.

Q: What was the best thing you ate researching your book?
A: For sure, the yellow peaches from Wickham's Fruit Farm in Cutchogue, Long Island; my red-and-green-chile laden dinner at Tomasita's in Santa Fe; and the banana cream pie at the Apple Pan restaurant in Los Angeles.

Q: What is your least favorite food?
A: Don't mention, as I did, a component of a good friend's wedding feast, especially if she is likely to be listening (and she was). The item in question wasn't by any means my least favorite food but sprang malevolently into my head and out my mouth, darn it. Now I say I've never found a mint chocolate chip ice cream that I like, which is true.

Q: Did you put on a lot of weight writing this book?
A: No. I put on the weight I am currently struggling to shed right before I wrote the book.

Q: Where is the best hamburger in the country?
A: I am far too meek to attempt to answer this question. But I do love an In-N-Out Double-Double with cheese and I will always enjoy a South of the Border Burger from Island Burgers and Shakes in New York City (with guacamole, Jack cheese, salsa, and rounds of fresh jalapeño).

Q: What would have for your last meal? (Or, as one radio host put it, "You have a date with Old Sparky tomorrow, what's for dinner?")
A: At my book signing in New York, someone told me Ruth Reichl answered this with, "A piece of bread and butter" and I immediately wondered about my saying, "A roast leg of lamb like my mother used to make," on one occasion and, "A big bowl of oatmeal," on another. It turns out Ruth Reichl has at least once added items to her monastic repast. (See "world ends tomorrow….") I'll have what she's having.

Q: Anything else?
A: I was happy, when talking with Joy Cardin on Wisconsin Public Radio, to introduce a question of my own. In Lizzie Kander's Settlement Cookbook, first published in 1900, there is something called a Milwaukee Sandwich (a toasted sandwich with chicken, Roquefort and paprika). I asked in my book what about this sandwich says Milwaukee? I also asked the fine folk of Wisconsin over their airwaves and no one has come forward with an answer.

One key point I need to remember is to say something even if I don't know the answer to a particular question. Better still, ignore the question and, Meet the Press-style, make a small speech you have prepared about Coney dogs. A second important note-to-self is that it pays to refamiliarize oneself with the contents of one's own book before committing to discussing it over the air. I was slightly embarrassed on "Whad'Ya Know" to have Michael Feldman correct something I said to him about burgoo, a stew associated with the state of Kentucky, by quoting to me from my own book.

In whatever forum it happens to be, I hope I can convey how much fun it is to talk about food and then to write about these conversations. It was wonderful when friends told me they enjoyed taking a trip I describe in my book, by water taxi from Manhattan to Grimaldi's Pizzeria and the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. It's exciting to visit a food place for the first time and find that it's as good as you hoped it might be. This past weekend my wife and I were driving up Riverdale Avenue in the Bronx when I saw the sign for Gruenebaum's bakery on a storefront in a strip mall. As I like to do, I said, "I bet that place is good," and we stopped and checked it out. We spent $13.77 on a box of bakery cookies, two black-and-white cookies and a piece of Russian Coffee Cake. It was all good — the light, flaky elephant ears especially. Now I have Gruenebaum's details written down in a safe place in case I need them.

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Ian Jackman has written and co-written numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller Stickin' by James Carville. Jackman worked at a major New York publishing house and was Managing Director of the Modern Library.

÷ ÷ ÷

Ian Jackman has written and co-written numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller Stickin' by James Carville. Jackman worked at a major New York publishing house and was Managing Director of the Modern Library.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Stickin': The Case for Loyalty Used Hardcover $9.95
  2. Eat This!: 1,001 Things to Eat... New Trade Paper $14.50

Ian Jackman is the author of Eat This!: 1,001 Things to Eat Before You Diet

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