I Used to Be A Superhero and Shulman on Flying, not Being Naked

In the words of the great Ani DiFranco,

i used to be a superhero
no one could touch me
not even myself
you are like a phone booth
i somehow stumbled into
and now look at me
i am just like everybody else

I found the discarded head of some kid’s Superman costume on the pavement behind my parked car yesterday. It was so creepy. Deflated and slightly menacing, it reminded me of how it feels in those rare moments when I realize I’ve been acting like I was all tough, but I’m hurt, tired, and confused. Deadpan sarcasm, isolating activities. And how I am loathe to take off the disguise, because it feels powerful to be menacing sometimes.

On the bright side, I’ve been laughing a lot more. I laugh at typos, I laugh when my friends C and L and I take our shirts off and throw them onto the males at a dinner party. I laugh when John Stewart talks about the “avalanche on Bullshit Mountain.” I laugh when Nancy Drew and I concoct various imagined scenarios in which we’re unaccountably mean to our family members. I laugh when my toddler friend, Wild Boo, wears my sunglasses and marches to the beat of House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” I laugh when someone says, “are you applying to more artist residencies to get away from it all?” because, well, I am away from “it” “all” whatever that means. I work with a toddler three days a week and I write the rest of the time. I want to come up with a Grand Plan for the Rest of My Life when I move out of Nancy and Mr. Drew’s house, but right now, I’m sort of having a good time. Sort of. And enjoying time to myself to figure out how to write for me and myself first and foremost. In a beat-up, lonely sort of way. Self care is like medicine, says fellow foodie Helana Brigman. Yep, and the medicine is not always accompanied with a spoonful of sugar. Sometimes it’s just stuff you need and some leftover rhinestones you can glue to your laptop cover.

Nancy Drew makes a mean pot roast. And buffalo bolognese. She works with meat the way I work with lemon, oil, and garlic. She makes hearty, heavy, bone-sticking food, and she uses pots the size of some of my past countertops: macaroni and cheese with five cheeses, pasta with three proteins. Living at Maison Drew is an infusion of blood and muscle.

Today I present to you the first installment of my online interview with Martha Rose Shulman, whose cookbook (one of twenty some she’s written, by the wayMediterranean Harvest was a gift to myself upon leaving my teaching job.

Like my Studiola experience with Amanda Hesser, the Studiola interview marks the beginning of my familiarity with Shulman’s work, so our conversation reflects a jumping off point, not an intense back and forth.

I found her tapenades, her Spanish red onion, orange and olive salads, the fast and loose produce-strewn soups–all with anecdotal contexts about the particular country, culture, and context in which she found the dish.

It was summertime in New Orleans, so this book provided so many appropriate meals. I found hydration and permission through expansive, translucent broths whisked with herbs, oils, beans, other legumes–everything simmered and connected to each other at different times, so the end result is that you can taste the layers of the process in these dishes. The soups in this book are perfect for southern Louisiana–messy, fragile, particular, sexy, kaleidescopic. And they’re perfect for someone like me, who loves a challenge and who loves to dissect that challenge.

1. What makes you laugh?

Many many things make me laugh– if it’s funny, I laugh. It is something I am very ready to do. I am the daughter of a humorist and my humor runs deep.

2. How do you feel when you start a new project? When are you afraid? How does it feel  different from being in the midst of a project, and at the end of a finished project?

I am never afraid when I start a new project. I am organized — I assess what I have to do and the amount of time I have to do it. Usually I’m excited when I begin a new project, if I know I’m going to learn a lot or I’m working with somebody inspiring. Sometimes I just have to sit until the words come, but eventually they do.

3. Do you have a physical space and routine that helps you create? How has your creating schedule (time of day, whether you need to be naked, talismans, etc.) changed over the course of your career? Also: would you rather have the ability to be invisible, or the ability to fly? And, do you have an amulet/talisman?

I do not have to be naked to be creative, thank god because i work at home and my 14-year old son lives at home. I work where I need to work — my office, my kitchen, a hotel room, a house in Provence, an airplane. I am very down-to-earth about creative work. Sometimes I have to wait until I find the right words when I’m writing, but usually I just sit down at my desk or stand at my kitchen work table and get to work. If i had a choice between flying or invisibility it would have to be the ability to fly, then i wouldn’t have to spend all that time in airplanes each year in order to find my inspiration.

About alison barker