Steve Hamilton in Chicago to discuss his latest mystery “The Second Life of Nick Mason”

“He’s made a deal with the devil,” says New York Times bestselling author Steve Hamilton abSECOND LIFE OF NICK MASONout his latest book, “The Second Life of Nick Mason” (Putnam’ 2016; $26) . “Everywhere he goes he’s watched, everyone he touches is in danger and all he wants to do is reunite with his wife and daughter.”

To get out of prison after five very long years instead of serving 25-to-life, Mason agrees to a mysterious agreement with Darius Cole, who is serving a double-life term in the same prison but still rules his criminal empire from his cell.  What it means is Mason gets to live in a luxurious Chicago Gold Coast mansion stocked with gourmet food and drink and drive the super-fast sports car that’s parked in the garage. The downside?  He has to do Cole’s bidding and so, every time his cell phone rings, Mason finds Author Photo of Steve Hamilton (c) Franco Vogthimself embark on ever increasingly dangerous—and need we say—illegal assignments. To make matters worse,  he’s being tracked by the same police detective who put him behind bars to begin with.

Hamilton, one of only two authors to win Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards for both best novel and best first novel, is meticulous about his research.

“When I was writing ‘The Lock Artist’ which is about a safe cracker, I found the best one in the world,” says Hamilton who is from Detroit but now lives in the Catskill Mountains in New York State. “I learned how to pick locks. In fact,  I keep my lock picks on my desk and pick locks everyday just to keep my touch.”

He’s also been to maximum security prisons, like the one Mason is so desperate to leave that he’s willing to agree to anything.

“There’s so much of Nick I can relate to,” says Hamilton, whose books  include The Alex McKnight series starting with ‘A Cold Day in Paradise.’ “You’d do anything to get out of those prisons just like Nick and I have a daughter like he does and it would just kill me not to see her.”

Ifyougo:

What: Steve Hamilton book signing

When: Monday, May 23 at 7pm

Where: Anderson’s Bookshop,  Anderson’s Bookshop La Grange, 26 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (708) 582-6353

 

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Katie Parla Brings Rome to Chicago

Tasting Rome Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City (Clarkson Potter 2016; $30).

“A lot of what I do is covering the lost or disappearing foods in Rome,” says Parla, a writer, blogger and certified sommelier who earned a master’s degree in Italian gastronomic culture from Università degli Studi di Roma “Tor Vergata”. “Food in every city is evolving as is the way we eat and in Rome that comes about with the change in family structure and such factors as their very high unemployment, very low wages, and a high cost of living. Women are working now and there’s not the time for long complex dishes which take hours to make. There’s a myth that there are no bad meals in Rome but there’s terrible food here.”

But, continues Parla who will be at Monteverde in Chicago on May 16 cooking from her book, there are also innovations and improvements as well. Farmers’ markets are opening up, some places still serve the classic dishes and chefs are evolving in how they make classic dishes, turning them into lighter fare.

“Rome continues to be an important place for food,” says Parla, noting that she just celebrated her 13th year of living in Rome where she moved after graduating from Yale.

Parla takes an intense interest in delving deep into the city’s culinary roots discovering fascinating microcosms such as how the recent influx of Libyan Jews is impacting long established Jewish-Roman cuisine.

“The firKatie_Parla_TastingRome_creditRickPoon_Fotorst Jews came to Rome about 2000 years ago,” she says. “A decade or so ago, thousands of Jews left Libya and because of the Colonial relationships between Rome and Libya there were all these people who brought the Libyan Jews to Rome and housed them. Now there are about 4500 Libyan Jews in Rome and about 13,000 Jews in Rome altogether so it’s a pretty large faction of a small group. Many Libyan Jews own restaurants in the Jewish quarter, so you’ll find their richly flavored and spicy foods different than local Jewish classics like deep fried artichokes, pezzeti fritti–battered and deep fried vegetables, aliciotti con l’indivia which are anchovies with endive. It’s a fascinating turn in Roman food.”

Though drinking in Rome and in Italy seems synonymous with wine, there’s also an emerging cocktail culture too that was important to include in her book says Parla.

When asked to recommend recipes in Tasting Rome for beginners, Parla says that Involtini di Manzo or beef rolls—slices of rump roasts layered with prosciutto and julienned carrots and celery and braised in a tomato and white wine sauce–are a delicious and simple one pot meal.

“Recipes when taken together with the culture and the history tell the complete story,” says Parla who offers as an example cacio e pepe, Roman pasta dish using ingredients that stretch back millenniums.

“Cacio is the local Roman dialect word for Pecorino Romano, a sheep’s milk cheese made in the region since ancient times,” she writes in her explanation of the recipe citing the dish’s provenance.

“Pepe (pepper) was an important ingredient in Roman cuisine as it was super valuable spice stretching back into Roman antiquity and was a symbol of Rome,” says Parla, expanding on the subject as we chatted on the phone. “During the Renaissance it was the symbol of nobility.”

Parla also offers advice to ensure the sauce is perfect—not to dry nor soupy.

“Finely grated Pecorino Romano and very hot water are essential to a smooth sauce, while fresh, coarsely ground black pepper gives flavor and texture–the most important component of a flawless cacio e pepe, however, is speed because if the water cools before melting the cheese, the sauce will clump,” she says noting that they adapted the recipe made by Leonardo Vignoli’s at Cesare al Casaletto for home cooks.

“Wherever you are when you cook with the Roman spirit which is cooking simply with fresh ingredients,” she says, “Then the food speaks for its self.”

Follow Parla at katieparla.com/blog

Cacio e pepe di Leonardo Vignoli

Servings: 4 to 6

Sea salt

1 pound spaghetti or tonnarelli

2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1½ cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a small ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste.

When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a juicy sauce that completely coats the pasta.

Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Recipe excerpted from Tasting Rome by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill.

Ifyougo:

What:  Kate Parla “Tasting Rome” Cookbook Dinner

When: May 16, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Monteverde, 1020 West Madison Street, Chicago Il

Cost: $120 includes dinner, wine, a copy of the cookbook, tax and gratuity.

FYI: (312) 888-3041

 

 

The Last Voyageurs

 

The Last Voyageurs cover_fIn her last year of college, Lorraine Boissoneault, an avowed Francophile and writer who lives in Chicago, became interested in the French history of North America and the journey undertaken by René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the first European to travel from Montreal to the mouth of the Mississippi River.

Her fascination with the great explorer led to a conversation with an underwater diver and the story of La Salle’s Le Griffon (The Griffin), the first full-sized sailing ship on the upper Great Lakes which disappeared in 1679 with six crew members and a load of furs—also making it the first shipwreck in the Great Lakes. Luckily La Salle had disembarked before the ship made its final voyage. She also learned about a Reid Lewis, a French teacher who decided to re-enact La Salle’s trip, an eight-month, 3,300-mile expedition he undertook with 16 students and six teachers dressed in the period clothing from that time to celebrate the country’s Bicentennial.

Interviewing the voyageurs as well as visiting places where La Salle had landed during the journey and reading original documents written in French (“nothing is ever quite the same in translation,” says Boissoneault), she wrote The Last Voyageurs: Retracing La Salle’s Journey Across America: Sixteen Teenagers on an Adventure of a Lifetime (Pegasus 2016; $27.95).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“It’s amazing when you think of how much they could withstand,” she says, meaning both La Salle and Lewis’ crews.

Indeed, Lewis and his group of students and educators had to trudge over 500 miles of Midwestern landscape during one of the coldest winters on record in the 20th century, paddle in Voyageur canoes across the storm tossed and freezing Great Lakes and, in keeping with their pledge to emulate La Salle, start their campfires with flint and wood.

Of all the thousands of miles they retraced, Lewis’ voyageurs felt that Canada’s Georgian Bay on Lake Huron was most unchanged and therefore the closest they came to what La Salle would have experienced in terms of the water and landscape.

“We’re fascinated by history but you can’t go back no matter how hard you want to,” says Boissoneault noting she can’t imagine seeing Chicago without civilization as La Salle would have done. “The past is unobtainable. Most poignant for me is their walk across the Midwest. They were doing the same thing La Salle did and wearing the same clothes but nothing was like how it would have been in La Salle’s day.”

Ifyougo:

What: Lorraine Boissoneault will be discussing her book The Last Voyageurs

When: Wednesday, May 18 at 7:00pm

Where: 4736-38 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (773) 293-2665

 

The Daughters of the Last Tsar

In her latest book, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra (St. Martin’s Press 2015; $17.99), historian Helen Rappaport writes about the four young women who, as daughters of the Tsar of Russia, were swept up in the Russian Revolution in 1917.

“I had a very longstanding desire to write about the Romanov sisters because I felt very strongly that they had been totally marginalized by history – they had always been the pretty set dressing to the bigger more dramatic story of their parents, Nicholas aRomanov Sisters cover_Fotornd Alexandra, and their tragic young brother who was heir to the throne,” says Rappaport. “I wanted to tell their story, as individuals, to describe their own unique personalities, for they were very different from each other, and show what a loving and supportive group of sisters they were to their sick mother and brother, and how they kept everyone’s spirits up after the revolution changed their world so irrevocably.”

Known to most of us by photos showing them dressed in exquisite white dresses and large hats and by the movies and novels based upon the mystery of Anastasia, the youngest of the sisters and whether she had escaped the mass slaughter of the rest of her family (she didn’t, says Rappaport), the author did extensive research finding newspapers, memoirs, journals and letters scattered across the globe.

It was a time full of so many imponderables and so much that could have been different says Rappaport including how the revolution could have been averted if Nicholas II had agreed to political concessions and the formation of a truly democratic government or if the tsarina Alexandra had not allowed herself to be so in thrall to Rasputin because of her desperation at keeping her son Alexey, who was a hemophiliac, alive, thanks to his supposed gifts of healing.

“I always live with my subjects very intensely when writing my books and immerse myself very deeply in the period of history,” says Rappaport, author of 12 books.  “But I have to say that of all the books I have written, the Romanov sisters lived in my heart and my mind much more than any of my other subjects. I am myself a mother of two daughters, and have a granddaughter the age Anastasia was when she died. By the end of my research Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia felt like my own daughters.   And they will always be with me, no matter what else I write.  I wanted so passionately to tell their story.”

Ifyougo:

What: Author Helen Rappaport Discusses the Romanov Sisters

When: 6:30-8:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 11

Where: Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State Street, Chicago IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (312) 747-4300