What genius decided that the National Book Festival would take place on the same weekend as the Baltimore Book Festival??? Friday’s heat and Saturday’s concrete floors darn near did me in, even as I limited my attendance in Baltimore to Friday (the first day of the three day festival).
But good news lurks on the horizon, for it was announced that next year’s NBF will be returning to the first weekend in September, where it belongs, whereas the BBF will remain on the fourth. Hurrah!
Now that the rant is out of the way, I can report that both festivals were a real treat for anyone who never has enough bookcases (guilty). I did, however, notice a reduction in food-focused books in Baltimore. On Friday, the demos were sponsored by the Royal Sonesta Hotel and several Baltimore area breweries – with no mention of books at all! On the other two days, the Food for Thought Stage held a mix of cookbook authors, nonbook-related events, and a panel on sustainable seafood followed by an oyster-shucking and tasting. Oh, how it hurt to miss that!
But I can’t really complain about the demo by Chef Lloyd Titus, Executive Chef of the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Hotel, and his sous. Although he’s only recently arrived in Baltimore, he’s already bought into the mystique of Old Bay. The samples of Maryland Bouillabaisse and Charm City Chocolate Smashed Potato Cake were generous and delicious.
The audience was encouraged to line up for the food. Chef Lloyd had a good word for everyone. May his restaurant tenure be as successful as his demo was auspicious!
The bulk of the afternoon was occupied by Chef Egg, who cooked many dishes, all using a different local beer as a featured ingredient. A professional chef who has turned to culinary education through classes and video, Chef Egg maintained a high energy level through several hours of cooking and audience interaction. Fun, and tasty.
It was a lovely afternoon of cooking, but I wish there were more attention paid to books at what was, after all, a Book Festival.
Down at the Washington Convention Center, there were big-name authors, lots of media, several football fields worth of exhibit hall, and many rooms full of authors speaking to enthusiastic fans. I had neglected to request a ticket for Stephen King, but caught a few minutes of his talk on the video projected throughout the venue. A nice touch!
But I did get in to see Sarah Vowell. She isn’t particularly food-oriented (despite having written a book called Take the Cannoli), but I enjoyed her radio appearances on This American Life and keep meaning to read some of her history books. I had no idea she was so popular that she could fill the smaller ballroom (the one right next door to Mr. King’s).
And Mary Roach, also somewhat peripheral to cooking but not to viscera, discussed her new book, Grunt. She loves to talk about the most disgusting of subjects with great gusto. She refers to possible topics for research as those which might be “Roached.” I was hoping someone would ask about the relationship of her name to her passion for stomach-turning subjects, but no.
Over in the Food and Home Room, Adam Gopnick, whom I had known previously only by reputation, impressed me so mightily that I went down to the bookstore in the cavernous depths of the exhibit hall and bought his book. He discoursed on preference for rare vs. well-done meat and its impact on marriages (and specifically, his). “When you meet a person who prefers well-done steak, you assume it’s a joke.” And his wife did so prefer. They resolve the problem by switching, at home, from sauté to braise; in restaurants, his wife now orders “medium.”
Segueing from the personal to the general, he discussed food having great importance for the continuity of civilization; the ethical responsibility of whole-animal eating; the invention of the restaurant; and finally revealed that the secret of life is in the book. I can’t hardly wait to read it! (The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food)
Deborah Holtz spoke charmingly about her book, Tacopedia. But first, she offered a political statement: Donald Trump does not know what a taco is! (Personally, I feel that a taco truck on every corner would be a distinct improvement of many corners.) She then treated us to a lesson in the history and manufacture of tacos, with a side of salsa and guacamole. She comes down firmly on the “no peas” side of the guac controversy. Take that, New York Times!
She included a scary slide of insect tacos. This doesn’t faze me; I have already indulged in entomophagy. Probably Mary Roach has written about it.
I took a brief tour of the Pavilion of the States. This is an area in the exhibit hall filled with booths, staffed by cheerful denizens of this great nation, determined to show festival goers that culture exists even in the most far-flung provinces. They are usually showing off their local authors, libraries, and other literary trappings.
And so it was with New Mexico. And to attract the kiddies? Alien-head deely boppers. Remember them?