For FALL 2010's delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the NEW ISSUE of our online magazine FEAST--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.feastofbooks.com/

Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor

SNAX ONLINE is moving during the first quarter of 2011 -- stay tuned!

Snax Online is undergoing a redesign and will be moving to a new location. Check back from time to time for a link. In its new format, this blog will cover a wider range of topics but also its usual five. In the meantime, keep up with what's happening in the world of books, art, food, film, and travel at http://www.FEASTofBooks.com --

See you in 2011!!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

HOMEGROUND: Music, food, and memories

I had the pleasure this week of reading A Sacred Feast: Reflections on Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground by Kathryn Eastburn (University of Nebraska Press 2008). It was a treat on many levels and I loved it! I am not religious now, but was brought up going to church and Sunday school and singing all the old hymns. I loved that music and still recall most of the words and belt them out around the house from time to time, or when I’m riding motorcycle across country on a road trip. I love gospel music and classics like “My Country Tis of Thee.” But outside my own head, I haven’t encountered that music much lately.

Ever heard of “shape singing”—where instead of notes, you follow shapes along to give music to a song? Well that’s the basic grounding for what is called Sacred Harp singing—until I read this book, I had not heard of either one. The Sacred Harp is the human voice—makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s a form of music and singing that is done in community at all-day and several day “sings” and it dates back at least to the 1800s, but likely further than that.

Gatherings originated in the south, but are now held all over the United States. You sing all morning, then break for “dinner on the ground”—which originally meant a picnic, but now can be indoors or out—the one thing that is consistent is that tables are loaded with good homecooking, such things as BBQ, pulled pork, coconut layer cakes, and pies, pies, pies! These community sings are nondenominational and everyone is welcome, whether you can carry a tune in a bucket or, like me, not.

KATHRYN EASTBURN, a journalist and freelance writer, discovers Sacred Harp singing and, like me, falls hard for it. Her book is a record of her visits to various regions, the sings, and the people she meets at them, their history and generations-long connection to the phenomenon.

I’d love to hear if any of you have ever encountered Sacred Harp before and any memories you may have of it if so. Or any memories of church singing that you especially enjoyed. -- Rosemary

Friday, February 22, 2008

GLITTER AND GLAMOUR, Sometimes a Darker Side

OSCAR night again. I have rarely missed it in my lifetime. I love the beauty queen pageantry, the hype, the whole red carpet thing. The rest of the year I am seldom interested in the goings-on of celebrities—in fact, I often feel irritated by the amount of media time spent on them. But, on academy awards night, I hark back to my days as a young teenager when I wrote long, sincere letters to the stars and was thrilled to the bone when I received an “autographed” 8X10 photo back.

I grew up in a small town with an old-style auditorium cinema and marquee and went to the movies every time they changed—Wednesday night and Saturday matinee. We’d usually see a news short, a cartoon, and a double feature. The seats were low and many broken down; the walls sweated an aroma of decades of popcorn, candy korn, red licorice, Coca Cola, sweat, body odor, and dreams born on the wings of the dramas, comedies, and westerns played out on the screen. It was a place where, when the lights went out, country life faded and an exciting, glamorous life unfolded and seemed within reach of each of us.

Life happened in that small-town theater in Perris, California, in the fifties. I got my first kiss in the back row, spent time giggling and changing seats with girlfriends, watched boys, and gobbled junk food—long before we knew it WAS junk food. There were darker times, too. I was in the darkened theater when local police charged in and dragged a young black boy out, beating him brutally with nightsticks. When we left the theater later that evening, there was a line of cops and a line of blacks confronting each other outside in the street. It was also outside that theater that a father tried to gun down the teenage boy who impregnated his daughter. In our town, small as it was—four stop signs in the middle of a single main street—drama played out both on and off the screen.

But this Sunday night, I’ll be snuggled up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn, a glass of wine, a pizza for later, oohing and ahing over fancy dresses, beautiful men and women, gorgeous jewelry and hair—and rooting for my faves among the nominations.

I’d love to hear some of YOUR movie memories, your choices of best actors and films, movies that are connected in your mind with life events. The movie industry is an ingrained part of our culture. Many times our films reflect the preoccupations of our society, as well as our hopes and dreams. Please share yours -- Rosemary

ROSEMARY CARSTENS is the editor of FEAST eZine and this blog. She loves books, art, food, film, and travel pretty much in equal mesure. When the weather is warm, she can be found wandering the country roads of Colorado on her motorcycle the Road Goddess. When it's cold, she's under a down comforter with a book and a stack of Mr. Goodbars at her side. For more information, check out her website at http://www.carstenscommunications.com/, her eZine at http://www.CarstensCommunications.com/FEAST.html, and her other blog: http://artistspotlight.blogspot.com/

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Road Less Traveled--to Understanding

The eZine FEAST focuses on books, art, food, film, and travel, and I ask each guest bloggers to write about one of those topics. Our next guest, MELANIE MULHALL, has chosen a “road less traveled” to write about—the emotional and mental road we each must travel in negotiating relationships and making choices about belief systems. It’s a timely topic in many ways. Welcome Melanie!

Presidential election years seem to include so much divisiveness, posturing around social issues, and political shenanigans that it is easy to lose track of who we are—or can be—to each other as human beings. It is only February and I am already weary of it all.

Caring about issues without becoming as inflexible as a piece of petrified wood is not easy. I had an experience with that difficulty, literally in my own backyard, last summer.

My best friend was visiting from Illinois. It had been years since she had been to Colorado and I was savoring every minute. We have a long history of marathon talks about everything from philosophy to the mundane details of life and, one late afternoon, as we relaxed with glasses of wine on my deck, she brought up a social issue she is passionate about. As she spoke, I realized her position was very different than mine. I appreciated her rationale, and knew it had been forged from a mixture of sincere caring and deep thinking, but my own conclusions were very different from hers. We had weathered many things together, but I was not eager to express my disagreement.

Eventually my lack of comment caused her to lapse into silence and she eyed me with a commingling of curiosity and anticipation. I realized I was not getting off the hook. As I spoke, I watched her body language become antsy, then a bit rigid. I feared I was watching a thirty year relationship disintegrate before my eyes.

We did manage to weather that difference of opinion but I find myself wondering how people who are not as close as best friends can manage to disagree without making each another bad or wrong. It is not an easy stream to navigate. On the one hand, we each have a sense of what is moral, ethical, logical, and practical. On the other hand, we understand that there are many ways of looking at the world and want to honor other ways of being. That day I wanted to really listen to my friend, but I will not deny that I had to remind myself that her way of thinking was valid, not misguided, from her model of the world.

Of course, one’s model of the world is influenced by many things. Anyone who has traveled broadly and deeply enough to get past the artificial protection of the guided tour has probably been struck by both the similarities and profound differences between people who have been raised in different cultures and circumstances.

My own model of the world includes a belief that organic things (humans included) thrive and evolve through flexibility and diversity. I needed to remember that then and I’m going to remind myself of it often this election year.

Melanie Mulhall is a Colorado-based freelance writer and editor who specializes in making words sing, dance, and get attention. Melanie is also author of the EVVY Award–winning book, Living The Dream—A Guidebook For Job Seekers and Career Explorers. You can find her at her web sites, http://www.thatcopywriter.com/ and http://www.thedragonheart.com/, reach her by email at mmulhall@earthlink.net, or contact her by telephone at 303-469-5780.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Broadway Review: Isn't He Dead?

Our guest today is Kate Skinner, writing about something she knows very well—the theater. Kate has performed in over 60 plays on Broadway, off Broadway, and in leading regional theatres. She has also appeared on a variety of television shows and in a few films. Her enthusiasm in this piece makes me want to be with her at the theater! Welcome Kate!


I didn’t know what to expect from Mark Twain’s only known play Isn’t He Dead? currently at the Lyceum Theatre. But when an out-of-town friend listed it in her e-mail as something she wanted to see on her next visit to New York City, I agreed to arrange for tickets. Now it is always a pleasure to see a play at the Lyceum, which has one of the most beautiful interiors on Broadway—but that is not the only feast for the eyes currently on view at the Lyceum. Isn’t He Dead? is a confection of hilarity that takes you on an absolutely enchanting two-hour ride!

The play written by Twain in 1898 was never performed and it has been adapted by David Ives. Though he must have been daunted by the prospect of tinkering with that American master, he proves himself very worthy indeed. The show revolves around a group of starving artists in Paris in the 1840s whose ringleader and hero is Jean-Francois Millet. He was the most beloved European painter during Twain’s lifetime and his astonishing work speaks for itself in the many, many reproductions that decorate the first act set. At the beginning of the play, Millet is in debt and unable to sell his work so his friends convince him to play dead to drive up the price of his paintings. This means he must go into hiding, which consists of him pretending to be his own sister.

Cross dressing is almost always devised for comic effect and Isn’t He Dead? is no exception. Though a time-proven devise, in the hands of its leading actor, Norbert Leo Butz, it becomes supremely and hilariously unique. Mr. Butz won a raft of awards for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but I had never been privileged to see him on stage. And to behold him in this is to see one of the great “clown” performances of all time. He performs in the tradition of those great comic masters Zero Mostel and Jackie Gleason. Mr. Butz is considerably more lithe than either of those two giants but he shares in his own unique way the fearlessness of those comedic geniuses. I am sure acting with him is a challenge in the best sense of the word and, happily for the audience, the entire cast is up to it—each having their own fine comic moments.

From Michael Blakemore’s seamless direction to the brilliant costumes of Martin Pakledinaz (who never disappoints) and the sets of Peter Davison (which include a garret and a Paris salon) this production is as impeccable as it is delicious. When you aren’t laughing uproariously or unexpectedly, you will have a smile continually on your face at the infectious joy emanating from the stage of the Lyceum. I am positive Mr. Twain would be proud of this production. And it is theatre for everyone from 8 to 80, so spread the word to family and friends—for a good time head to the Lyceum Theatre on 45th Street to see Isn’t He Dead?

Kate Skinner has a new Law & Order episode to air soon and just wrapped up playing James Gandolfini’s sometime squeeze in a new film Kiddie Ride. She lives in New York City with her husband, author/actor Ron McLarty.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Art, Artists, and Hanging In . . .

We are fortunate to have as our latest guest blogger the best-selling author and actor RON MCLARTY writing today about art. Art as the centerpiece of short trips to some of the finest museums in the US is an exciting way to frame a travel adventure. In addition to the refreshment found in new surroundings, your imagination is sparked with bold palettes, fresh and traditional ideas, genius, and, for a writer, original connections to inspire your work. Welcome Ron!

--Rosemary Carstens


By Ron McLarty

Even with the plethora of exciting exhibits around New York, my wife, Kate Skinner, and I are occasionally drawn away from our traditional haunts to those one-of-a-kind presentations in other cities. A few years ago for example, we took the train to Philadelphia for the Museum of Art’s exhibit of some rarely shown works of Andrew Wyeth. We loved the drawings and watercolors, which displayed his gift for portraying the quiet simplicity and beauty of both interiors and landscape. And we had a ball playing hooky from our regular daily grind at the Ritz. So, a few months ago, when Kate read about two major exhibitions at the National Gallery in Washington D.C., we didn’t need to think twice about another few days of picture viewing to see their exhibits of Edward Hopper (1882–1967) and JMW Turner (1775–1851).

We traveled by train, which is quite nice as long as you steel yourself against the cell phone bores that are proliferating at an alarming rate—even in the “quiet car,” where you have to be asleep not to notice all the NO CELL PHONE signs, not to mention announcements regularly made by the conductor! I suppose it won’t get any better but it does make you think back to not so long ago when the tools of disruption weren’t in the hands of the traveler or the theatergoer and a little peace was possible.

We stayed at the Hotel George, a small hotel we first stayed at on the book tour for my novel, The Memory of Running. It’s an excellent base of operations as it is within walking distance of Union Station and the Mall and has a superb restaurant, Bisto Bis. Kate has appeared in 11 plays in D.C., including 8 at the Shakespeare Theatre and knows the Capitol like the back of her hand.

We began our tour of the National Gallery with their permanent exhibition of Small French Paintings, which is filled with small works by many well-known impressionists. Favorites included works by Berthe Morisot, Toulouse Lautrec, and Corot. From there we moved on to the Hopper upstairs. I was struck by how familiar all his work feels, even the many works I had never seen in any other venue. I had heard references to his arrangement of space and especially light but didn’t understand it until I stood in front of those paintings his wife posed for. He seemed to be saying that everything we take for granted can also be viewed as abnormal or even bizarre. And though his work is unlike Wyeth’s, they both understood the power and simplicity of the world around them to a profound degree.

That many of Hopper's astonishing paintings were completed while he earned his living as an illustrator was particularly thrilling to me. He didn’t sell his first painting until he was over forty. I was fifty-five before I got my first novel in print and while I’m not foolish enough to ever compare my efforts to this giant, it’s inspiring to know that along with his amazing artistic vision he brought substantial endurance to the table.

Even though Kate and I were quite overcome by Hopper’s life’s work, we took the stairs to the underground passage connecting the newer wing to the older part of the National Gallery to view the life’s work of that great English master, JMW Turner. I was put off at first by the exhibit because of what seemed to me super-patriotic depictions of events such as the Battle of Trafalgar. But Kate’s deep and delicate eye for art pointed out how his later work was the obvious precursor for the impressionists yet to come, and his work evolved right up to the end. He, too, brought endurance to the table though, as opposed to Hopper, he gained fame and fortune right away. In 1798 at the age of twenty-three he was elected to the Royal Academy. It’s nice to know that when he died he willed the English people all his paintings and left his fortune to “the maintenance and support of poor and male decayed artists.”

The following day, we set out to see the Impressionists by the Sea exhibit at the Phillips Collection. Phillips was a major collector of mostly modern art and the museum is housed in his old mansion which connects to a newer wing. It was a lovely if not startling exhibit and, as always, a pleasure to view the collection at what Kate considers one of the finest small museums in the country.

I’ve since been very busy in old New York, correcting the proofs of my third novel, Art in America (July 2008) and completing narration of the current season of “Murder By The Book” for Court TV. My series on Fox, ‘The Return of Jezebel James,’ debuts March 12. As time permits, we will continue to pursue our love of art and travel.

RON MCLARTY is the author of The Memory of Running (Viking 2004), Traveler (Viking 2007), and the forthcoming Art in America (Viking 2008). He is also a veteran character actor with a long career in films and television and one of the leading audio book narrators. He lives in New York City with his wife, actress Kate Skinner. For more information: http://www.ronmclarty.com/ .Photo of Ron McLarty by Jerry Bauer.