Not My Job: Author Randy Wayne White Gets Quizzed On Theme Restaurants


Author Randy Wayne White
Author Randy Wayne White

We’re in Tampa this week, and so we’ve invited bestselling author and gulf coast resident Randy Wayne White to the show. In addition to being the author of the Doc Ford books and the Hannah Smith series, White has been an explorer, a deep sea diver, a full-time fishing guide, and he owns restaurants throughout the state.

We’ve invited White to play a game called “Welcome to Bill’s Anchor Desk Cafe, where every meal is breaking news!” Three questions about theme restaurants around the world.

A Photographer Gets Old — Over And Over — In ‘The Many Sad Fates’


Toledano on set, being made up for one of his fates.

Stephen T. Maing


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Stephen T. Maing

Toledano on set, being made up for one of his fates.

Stephen T. Maing

A friend of photographer Phillip Toledano once said “He is the most self-absorbed person I’ve ever met — but he wears it well.”

The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano is a new short film in which the photographer, with the assistance of makeup artists, fortune tellers, and psychics, disguises himself as the various fates life might one day hold for him: Ending up a homeless alcoholic, a white-collar criminal cuffed and taken away by police, or a lonely senior, feeding a small dog from his plate — and more.

It’s an art project Toledano began after the dementia and death of his father. “Life is so full of right angles,” he says in the film. “There are so many possibilities of what’s ahead of you. And you have no sense of what they’re like.”

The film was was an official selection of the Tribeca film festival, and is one of the New York Times‘ Op-Docs.

Interview Highlights

On his frame of mind as he worked on the film

When I work on projects, they have sort of a gravitational pull. I’m compelled to do them. And often I’m not sure why I’m compelled to do them until I’ve finished them. But everyone who was important to me had died in my family — my mother, my father, my aunt, my uncle in the last three years. And then my daughter was born. So my life felt entirely different and I felt entirely alone.

And I had always been a very lucky person. I’ve had wonderful parents and they’ve given me everything. And when you are lucky, you always assume you’ll continue to be lucky. And when your life takes a sharp turn, it’s shocking and it’s surprising. And that was the impetus behind this project … and I know it sounds so entirely self-absorbed, but I loved my parents dearly, and the idea that they were going to suddenly die — it’s a concept we all understand, but the reality seems unreal … and that got me obsessed about what other dark turns might life have in store for me.

On the process of creating and filming his fates

It’s not the end result — what’s interesting about it and what was extraordinary for me is … the way in which the world sees you differently. As you age, over a period of 30 or 40 or 50 years, you age incrementally, and you don’t see how the world sees you differently. But when you go from 45 to say 95, and you’re a man in a wheelchair being pushed by a nurse, then you realize how radically differently the world sees you. You are refuse, you are nothing … I’m not claiming I know what it feels like exactly, but I have a tiny sense of what it’s like to feel how the world sees you differently.

On the photo of himself in a cubicle farm

People ask me what’s the most frightening picture for me, and for me it’s the man in an office — because what does that mean if I’m in an office? It means I’ve failed as an artist.

A Photographer Gets Old — Over And Over — In ‘The Many Sad Fates’


Toledano on set, being made up for one of his fates.

Stephen T. Maing


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toggle caption

Stephen T. Maing

Toledano on set, being made up for one of his fates.

Stephen T. Maing

A friend of photographer Phillip Toledano once said “He is the most self-absorbed person I’ve ever met — but he wears it well.”

The Many Sad Fates of Mr. Toledano is a new short film in which the photographer, with the assistance of makeup artists, fortune tellers, and psychics, disguises himself as the various fates life might one day hold for him: Ending up a homeless alcoholic, a white-collar criminal cuffed and taken away by police, or a lonely senior, feeding a small dog from his plate — and more.

It’s an art project Toledano began after the dementia and death of his father. “Life is so full of right angles,” he says in the film. “There are so many possibilities of what’s ahead of you. And you have no sense of what they’re like.”

The film was was an official selection of the Tribeca film festival, and is one of the New York Times‘ Op-Docs.

Interview Highlights

On his frame of mind as he worked on the film

When I work on projects, they have sort of a gravitational pull. I’m compelled to do them. And often I’m not sure why I’m compelled to do them until I’ve finished them. But everyone who was important to me had died in my family — my mother, my father, my aunt, my uncle in the last three years. And then my daughter was born. So my life felt entirely different and I felt entirely alone.

And I had always been a very lucky person. I’ve had wonderful parents and they’ve given me everything. And when you are lucky, you always assume you’ll continue to be lucky. And when your life takes a sharp turn, it’s shocking and it’s surprising. And that was the impetus behind this project … and I know it sounds so entirely self-absorbed, but I loved my parents dearly, and the idea that they were going to suddenly die — it’s a concept we all understand, but the reality seems unreal … and that got me obsessed about what other dark turns might life have in store for me.

On the process of creating and filming his fates

It’s not the end result — what’s interesting about it and what was extraordinary for me is … the way in which the world sees you differently. As you age, over a period of 30 or 40 or 50 years, you age incrementally, and you don’t see how the world sees you differently. But when you go from 45 to say 95, and you’re a man in a wheelchair being pushed by a nurse, then you realize how radically differently the world sees you. You are refuse, you are nothing … I’m not claiming I know what it feels like exactly, but I have a tiny sense of what it’s like to feel how the world sees you differently.

On the photo of himself in a cubicle farm

People ask me what’s the most frightening picture for me, and for me it’s the man in an office — because what does that mean if I’m in an office? It means I’ve failed as an artist.

This Historian Wants You To Know The Real Story Of Southern Food


Michael Twitty wants credit given to the enslaved African-Americans who were part of Southern cuisine’s creation. Here he is in period costume at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia estate.

Erika Beras for NPR


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Erika Beras for NPR

Michael Twitty wants credit given to the enslaved African-Americans who were part of Southern cuisine’s creation. Here he is in period costume at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia estate.

Erika Beras for NPR

Michael Twitty wants you to know where Southern food really comes from. And he wants the enslaved African-Americans who were part of its creation to get credit. That’s why Twitty goes to places like Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s grand estate in Charlottesville, Va. — to cook meals that slaves would have eaten and put their stories back into American history.

On a recent September morning, Twitty is standing behind a wooden table at Monticello’s Mulberry Row, which was once a sort of main street just below the plantation. It’s where hundreds of Jefferson’s slaves once lived and worked. Dozens of people watch as Twitty prepares to grill a rabbit over an open fire.

“Look – it’s better than chicken,” he tells the audience.

Twitty is a big guy. He loves to eat, he loves history and he loves to talk. He’s moving back and forth between the table and iron skillets over an open fire. His cooking instructions aren’t complicated.

“The technique is, I season it, I cook it and it’s done,” he tells the audience, eliciting laughter. “There you go.”

Today’s meal is kitchen pepper rabbit, hominy and okra soup. This would have been a typical meal for an enslaved person — different versions of okra soup were eaten throughout the South, corn was a staple and rabbit would have been hunted by slaves and shared among dozens of people.

A food historian, Twitty re-creates the meals slaves would have made on plantations using 18th-century tools and ingredients – some of which we eat today. Think leafy greens and black-eyed peas.

Twitty grills the peppered rabbit over an open fire.

Erika Beras for NPR


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Erika Beras for NPR

Twitty grills the peppered rabbit over an open fire.

Erika Beras for NPR

At Monticello, his presentation is part cooking show, part history lesson. For instance, what would happen if slaves ate the master’s food? “You got the present of wearing an iron mask for several weeks, until you learned that that food did not belong to you,” Twitty tells the audience.

Twitty is black, Jewish and gay. He writes about all those things on his blog Afroculinaria and increasingly, in mainstream media publications. His mission is to explain where American food traditions come from, and to shed light on African-Americans’ contributions to those traditions – which most historical accounts have long ignored. He says little is documented about what slaves ate. It’s just a line here and a line there.

“There was no sense of their personal stories, no sense of their familial ties, no sense of their personal likes or dislikes,” he says. “It was just straight up a very bland, neutral version of history.”

Monticello historian Christa Dierkshede says there’s a newfound willingness to talk about slavery at Monticello.

“It’s really been in the past few years that people come here and they say, ‘Wow – what did the slaves eat? Did they grow their own produce? Did Jefferson give them food?’ “

Food offers an opening to difficult, but important, conversations. People who may not feel comfortable talking about slavery feel OK talking about sweet potatoes and ham hocks.

The finished rabbit, which would have been hunted by slaves and shared among dozens of people.

Erika Beras for NPR


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Erika Beras for NPR

The finished rabbit, which would have been hunted by slaves and shared among dozens of people.

Erika Beras for NPR

“Food is such a great equalizer,” Dierkshede says. “And everybody has some kind of food tradition in their family. And to talk about what that tradition or culture was among the lives of African-Americans is a way for us to try to understand the lives of enslaved people in a more holistic way.”

Slaves combined food from Africa with local ingredients – okra is from Africa, hominy is from the Americas. At Monticello, because of Jefferson’s years in Paris, European cuisine was thrown into the mix. Macaroni pie – or, as we know it, macaroni and cheese — was popularized here by James Hemings, Jefferson’s chef, who had gone with him to Paris, where he received a world-class culinary education.

Michael Twitty’s visit to Monticello touched visitors like Cassandra Rockward O’Saben. She and her son, Isaac, were on a tour when they stumbled upon him.

“He made me cry when he looked me in my eyes and said, ‘I wanted you to be able to bring your son here, and when you leave here, you both hold your head up because your part of American fabric. You are part of American society. You helped to build this country,’ ” says O’Saben, who is African-American.

Her son Isaac, age 10, chimes in: “I thought he was kind of funny. And yeah, he kind of made me laugh. But I was touched too, mom.”

That’s what Michael Twitty is after — affecting people emotionally and helping them see the role his ancestors played in the great American story in a new light.

But for him, reviving slave culture is also an act of defiance. He says, “It’s like the equivalent, you know — I’m Jewish, so I guess I can say this – the equivalent of having a bar mitzvah at Auschwitz. You know, why not?”

In other words, he says, why not take the place where oppression was practiced and turn it into an occasion for education and celebration?

‘Cruel Beautiful World’ Was Inspired By Two Haunting Relationships


Caroline Leavitt’s latest novel, Cruel Beautiful World, is about coming-of-age in 1969; it’s about wild love, rebellion and finding oneself in the time of Woodstock and the Manson murders.

The story follows 16-year-old Lucy Gold, who runs away with her English teacher, William, to the wilds of Pennsylvania. Lucy leaves behind a big sister and the aunt who raised them after their parents died. As she and William try to build a new home for themselves, William becomes more and more controlling.

Leavitt tells NPR’s Scott Simon that the book comes from both a personal place and her imagination. “I get haunted by something and then I want to write about it, and it sort of pulls its way out,” she says.

Interview Highlights

On the real-life tragedy that inspired the book

I’ve been obsessed with this book since I was 17. I sat beside this girl in study hall and she was telling me how she was engaged to a much older guy who was a little controlling. And I didn’t really understand that.

A year after I got out of high school, I heard the news: She had broken up with him and he had stabbed her to death. And it just haunted me. I couldn’t figure out if she had been with him for so long why didn’t she see signs that he might be violent? How did somebody stay with somebody like that, who was controlling? And it wasn’t until four years ago … that I happened to see a posting from my high school friend’s sister, who was still obsessed with the crime and what had happened. And there were all these unanswered questions. And as soon as I saw that, I thought, Oh, I have my story.

On the death of her fiancé and the controlling relationship that followed

About 10 years after my high school friend died, my fiancé died very suddenly, two weeks before our wedding. And I was just cataclysmic with grief. So I got it in my head that the only way to get over the grief would be to get involved with another person right away. … So my friends told me it was a terrible idea; my grief counselor said if I did it she wouldn’t treat me. And I said, “I don’t care. I can’t grieve anymore.” It was just too hard.

So the boyfriend I chose — it was OK at first. … And then he started to monitor my food. I was 100 pounds and he kept telling me — always in this very sweet, soft, gentle voice — “Honey, you really could lose another 10 pounds. It would be so great for both of us.” He didn’t want me to see my friends. He didn’t want me to see his friends because he thought I was flirting with them. And the final straw was when I went to look at a novel I was writing and I noticed that a whole chapter was missing and it was replaced by this very weird chapter. And it had Groucho Marx jokes in it and it was strange and not well-written. And when I turned to him, he looked at me and said, “It’s better, right?” And we had an argument about it, and I kept saying, “It’s mine. It’s my work. You didn’t even ask permission.” And he said, “Well, you and I are the same person. So what’s yours is mine; what’s mine is yours.” And that’s when I understood my high school friend. And that’s when I got free of the relationship and I began to think more and more about how do you recognize control?

On the inspiration for Iris, Lucy’s widowed, octogenarian aunt

I have to tell you Iris is really an homage to my mom. My mom is 99 years old now. She had a terrible marriage; my father died when he was 50. She didn’t want anything to do with men ever again. Hated my boyfriends; hated my sister’s husband. And then when she was 90 she couldn’t stay in her house anymore so we had to put her into one of these independent living places. And she was not happy: She would call me every night and yell at me.

About a month later she called me up and she was ridiculously happy, and she said, “I’ve fallen in love for the first time in my life.” And I went to visit her and Walter, her boyfriend, who was charming and smart. They were like teenagers, they were holding hands. They were together four years.

On how writing the novel helped her work through her life experiences

The more I was writing it the more I understood about what was happening. … What happened to my friend and how sad it was that there was no one there to help her. And, I mean, when I was in my controlling relationship there were people to help me but I just didn’t want to listen to them. But it was a way for me to forgive myself and say, “Well, at least I got out.”

Costume Designer Colleen Atwood Took Unlikely Path To Hollywood Royalty


Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood knows tough times. A single mom at 17 who once worked at a French fry factory to make ends meet is Hollywood royalty today. A favorite of director Tim Burton, Atwood is now costume designer for his adaptation of the darkly comic, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children and the upcoming Harry Potter prequel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

‘Deepwater Horizon’ Honors The Sacrifice Without Sacrificing The Action


Mark Wahlberg in the terse, tight Deepwater Horizon.

David Lee/Courtesy of Lionsgate


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David Lee/Courtesy of Lionsgate

Mark Wahlberg in the terse, tight Deepwater Horizon.

David Lee/Courtesy of Lionsgate

One of the nation’s biggest environmental disasters is now the season’s big disaster flick. Sound insensitive? Well, rest assured the filmmakers were aware of — and have managed to sidestep — any qualms audience members are likely to have.

Deepwater Horizon tells the story of the oil drilling rig that turned into an inferno in 2010 off the coast of Louisiana — a story of tragic, entirely avoidable missteps and astonishing personal heroics.

Engineer Mike Williams is our entry point to the story. Played by Mark Wahlberg, he’s sort of a Mr. Fixit on the oil rig Deepwater Horizon. He knows how everything works. We in the audience, though, need to be brought up to speed, so the film starts with a nifty demonstration on his kitchen table. His daughter is working on a school report and Mike offers to run props for her.

Explaining that pulling up oil from hidden depths makes her dad something of a “dinosaur tamer,” she reads, “oil is a monster, like the mean old dinosaurs all that oil used to be. For 300 million years they’ve been squeezed tighter and tighter, until Dad and his friends put a hole in their roof.”

Mike grabs a soda can, and punctures it with a metal thingy.

“Freedom, so they rush to the new hole, and they run into this stuff called mud.”

As she’s talking, she pours honey down the straw, and darned if the honey doesn’t block the soda, just like it’s supposed to.

Mom and Dad are proud.

“Stay 10 forever please,” Mike says as they walk away from the kitchen table. But before they get three steps, the honey gives way and there’s soda on the ceiling.

Time to head to that oil rig — Deepwater Horizon — by helicopter, because it’s 50 miles offshore. Mike and the relief crew, which includes rig driver Gina Rodriguez and safety guy Kurt Russell, are surprised on arrival that some safety tests are being skipped. Mud gets poured and it starts to act alarmingly like the honey in the kitchen.

Deepwater Horizon is technically impressive, but it can also be humanly intimate.

Courtesy of Lionsgate


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Courtesy of Lionsgate

Deepwater Horizon is technically impressive, but it can also be humanly intimate.

Courtesy of Lionsgate

Russell keeps ordering more tests; BP oil exec John Malkovich — who is “oily” — keeps talking about how far behind schedule they are … and the rest, as they say, is history.

Director Peter Berg spends the first part of the film finding intimate omens for the disaster to come — the splashed ceiling, the car that won’t start at a crucial moment — then delivers catastrophe on an almost biblical scale: glass shattering as it is hit by gale force sludge; dying, oil-soaked pelicans falling from the heavens; flames leaping skyward from a drilling rig turned floating volcano.

The technical work is impressive enough that it’s almost miraculous that the focus stays on the human beings at the inferno’s center. Real people, 11 of whom died in what is arguably the globe-scarring ecological disaster of our time.

So you can’t help marveling at the tightrope the filmmakers walk: honoring their courage and sacrifice while making an action flick entertaining enough to justify the more than $100 million it took to make it come alive on-screen. And come alive, Deepwater Horizon does, in 107 minutes of terse, tight storytelling, a good 95 of which are white-knuckle tense.

For Rosh Hashana, A Matzo Ball Soup By Way Of Mexico


Matzo ball soup is a classic recipe straight from Eastern Europe. But not all Jews from the region came to the New World via Ellis Island, as reflected in this jalapeño-inflected family recipe from chef Pati Jinich.

Copyright Ellen Silverman


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Copyright Ellen Silverman

Matzo ball soup is a classic recipe straight from Eastern Europe. But not all Jews from the region came to the New World via Ellis Island, as reflected in this jalapeño-inflected family recipe from chef Pati Jinich.

Copyright Ellen Silverman

This is a big weekend for matzo ball soup.

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, starts Sunday night, and chef Pati Jinich wants all the matzo-ball makers out there to understand: The soup doesn’t care whether you prefer floaters or sinkers.

“It turns out that matzo balls are insanely capricious,” Jinich says. “One Friday, they’re like, you can have me fluffy. And the other week is like, this is what you’ll get.”

Matzo ball soup is a classic recipe straight from Eastern Europe — typically chicken stock, root vegetables and dumplings made from the crumbs of unleavened bread.

But the recipe that Jinich serves at her home near Washington, D.C., took a detour. Like her Eastern European, Jewish grandparents, it skipped Ellis Island and reached the New World through Mexico. Which is why Jinich’s matzo ball soup sits on a bed of steamed mushrooms, jalapeños and onions. It’s “not traditional, but it is a recipe my grandmother used to make in Mexico,” she says.

Flipping through Jinich’s cookbook, Mexican Today, it’s easy to see these recipes as something other than purely Mexican. There are variations on pizza, mac and cheese and this matzo ball soup.

Her family has done this for generations: integrating its culinary roots with the place it lives now.

When her paternal grandmother, Esther Morgenstern, moved to Mexico from Poland in the 1920s, traditional gefilte fish got the Vera Cruz treatment with red sauce, capers and pickled chiles.

Chicharrones were off limits — crispy pig skin isn’t kosher. Instead, for Friday night Shabbat dinner, she made gribenes — Yiddish for “crispy chicken skin.”

“So instead of doing tacos with corn tortillas with guacamole and pork rind, [my grandmother] would do corn tortillas with guacamole and gribenes. So that was the Shabbat chicharron!” Jinich recalls.

And for the Jewish new year, Jinich’s maternal grandmother, Lotte Gross — who immigrated to Mexico from Austria in the 1940s — made this reinvented matzo ball soup.

“She came from Austria, and there they have a lot of mushroom dishes,” Jinich explains. “And in Mexico in the rainy season, you get wild kinds of mushrooms, clouds and birds. The shapes are insane — they’re blue and yellow. She’d choose different kinds of mushrooms and then cook them with jalapeño, onion and garlic.”

Mushrooms and jalapeños aren’t the only surprises in this soup. When Jinich mixes the matzo balls, she adds freshly grated nutmeg.

“Nutmeg — when you use it for savory foods, it makes the other elements of that dish shine a little bit more,” Jinich says. “It makes the sweetness of the matzo meal come out.”

Another surprise? Toasted sesame oil. It adds a nutty, toasted flavor to Jinich’s matzo ball soup.

Finally, she shares a trick to help the matzo balls float — sparkling water. “It keeps it light and fluffy,” she says.

The resulting soup is hearty, earthy. The jalapeños add a touch of heat; the matzo meal and sesame oil give it a nutty sweetness. The taste, I tell her, is familiar but different — like a taste of home, but a home that has been remodeled.

At that, Jinich laughs. “It’s not overpowering, that’s what I love,” she says. “And it’s still very homey. It’s still something you’d want to have if you have a cold tonight.”

Matzo Balls With Mushrooms And Jalapeños In Broth

(Bolas de Matza con hongos y chiles)

Serves 6 to 8

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Make ahead: The soup can be made up to 3 days ahead, covered, and refrigerated.

This is a Mexican rendition of matzo ball soup, with jalapeños sweat­ed along with mushrooms, adding subtle heat to the broth. The mush­room base is easy to make. It’s a wonderful way to dress up chicken soup for the holidays or for entertaining. My maternal grandmother used to season her matzo balls with nutmeg and a bit of parsley. I add a splash of toasted sesame oil, too. Her secret ingredient for making them fluffy was a dash of sparkling water. She used mushrooms of all sorts in the soup, but she was moderate in her use of chiles. In honor of my late grandfather, who was obsessed with chiles, I add a lot more to this soup than she would have.

Ingredients:

1 cup matzo ball mix (or two 2-ounce packages)

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Kosher or sea salt

4 large eggs

8 tablespoons canola or safflower oil

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons sparkling water

1/2 cup finely chopped white onion

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

2 jalapeño chiles, finely chopped (seeded if desired) or to taste

8 ounces white and/or baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, trimmed, cleaned and thin­ly sliced

8 cups chicken broth, homemade or store-bought

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the matzo ball mix, parsley, nutmeg, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. In another small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with 6 tablespoons of the canola oil and the sesame oil. Fold the beaten eggs into the matzo ball mixture with a rubber spatula. Add the sparkling water and mix until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and chiles and cook, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes, until they have softened a bit. Stir in the mushrooms and 3/4 teaspoon salt, cover, and steam the mushrooms for 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the lid and cook uncovered until the liquid in the pot evaporates. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
  3. Meanwhile, when ready to cook the matzo balls, bring about 3 quarts salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and keep at a steady simmer. With wet hands, shape the matzo ball mix into 1- to 1 1/2-inch balls and gently drop them into the water. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until the matzo balls are completely cooked and have puffed up. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the soup. Serve.

Text excerpted from Mexican Today, copyright 2016 by Pati Jinich. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.