A Royal Review for Crown

We are very excited to share a KIRKUS STARRED REVIEW for the newest children's book from Agate Bolden's Denene Millner Books collection! Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James, takes young readers on a joyful ride through the barbershop experience and, according to Kirkus, "the swagger is on a million."


Safe to say, there’s nothing like the feeling of the fresh cut. You feel so extra visible with a fresh new cut, and this book built from that experience translates it in a way never before brought to the children’s bookshelf.

Basquiat-inspired king insignias and a bit of Kehinde Wiley flair shape portraits of all the various ways men (and women too!) come into the black barbershop to restore their cool, leaving the chair with high self-esteem, self-pride, and confidence—if only for as long as their hairlines remain crisp. It’s sacred. The all-important line and the diverse styles take center stage here. The Big Daddy Kane–homage flat-top. The part. The light shape-up surrounded by cornrows and locs. The taper. The classic wavy dark Caesar. Barnes’ imaginative prose mirrors the hyperbole and swagger of the barbershop. No cut is just good. It will have you looking “presidential,” “majestic.” Like you own “a couple of acres of land on Saturn.” The swagger is on a million. The sauce is drippin’. James’ oil-based portraiture will send many readers reminiscing. This book oozes black cool and timely, much-needed black joy, using the unique and expansive experience of the barbershop to remind young boys that their inner lives have always mattered there.

One of the best reads for young black boys in years, it should be in every library, media center, and, yes, barbershop. (Picture book. 5-12)

Crown will be in stores on October 10; mark your calendars! 

S'more Reasons to Celebrate

The word "s'more" can't help but conjure up fond memories of summer nights and sticky hands. Of that one perfectly browned mallow amongst a sea of blackened and burnt fluff. The faint but familiar buzz of a sugar high. But most delightfully? The perfect squish of marshmallow and melty chocolate against the crunch of a graham cracker.

Today, on National S'mores Day, we celebrate the beloved childhood treat with a grown up (but still gooey!) version. This S'more Lava Cakes recipe is a creation from Jocelyn Delk Adams' Grandbaby Cakes: Modern Recipes, Vintage Charm, Soulful Memories.

She suggests eating these particular s'mores “right out of the oven while they are still warm and gooey.”

As if we could wait for them to cool!

S'more Lava Cakes

Makes 4


½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided

½ cup graham cracker crumbs

1½ teaspoons granulated sugar

16 large marshmallows, divided

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

¾ cup confectioners’ sugar

¼ cup sifted all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

1½ teaspoons vanilla extract



Prepare 4 6-ounce ramekins with the nonstick method of your choice.

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the graham cracker crumbs and granulated sugar and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until toasted and golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Preheat your broiler for 5 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the marshmallows on the prepared baking sheet and broil them until toasted brown but not burned. Watch carefully that the marshmallows hold their shape because this process happens quickly. Remove the marshmallows from the oven and set aside.

Turn off the broiler and preheat your oven to 425°F.

In a medium microwave-safe bowl, place the chocolate and remaining 6 tablespoons of the butter. Heat on high in the microwave in 20-second intervals, stirring after each heating, until the mixture is completely melted and smooth. Whisk in the confectioners’ sugar, flour, and salt. Continue to whisk until the batter is thick. It should become more difficult to whisk.

Whisk in the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla extract and stir well to blend.

Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins until each is ½ full. Place 2 toasted marshmallows into the center of each ramekin.

Evenly distribute ⅓ cup of the toasted graham cracker crumbs over the marshmallows. Spoon in the remaining batter so each ramekin is ¾ full. The marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs should be completely covered with the batter. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.

Let cool for 2 minutes, then run a butter knife along the inside of each ramekin to help release the cake. Invert the cakes onto individual plates.

Top each cake with 2 of the remaining 8 marshmallows and sprinkle with the remaining graham cracker crumbs. Using a butane torch, brown the tops of the marshmallows. Serve warm.

Grandbaby notes: These are best eaten the day they are made and, might I add, right out of the oven while they are still warm and gooey.

If you don’t have a butane torch, you can always stick the finished lava cakes under the broiler for just a few seconds.

Q&A with Carrie Schloss, Author of The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook

Chef Carrie Schloss is adding some flavor to the culinary book world with the launch of her new cookbook! Inspired by the vast honey collection at Asheville Bee Charmer, Schloss has created a collection featuring 130 recipes, 20 honey varietals, and 8 special Bee Charmer blends. Many of the recipes accommodate dairy free, gluten free, or vegetarian dietary restrictions, making the book desirable to all who adhere to those restrictions as well as those who do not. In celebration of the cookbook's pub week, we decided to share our Q&A with the bee charmer herself. Enjoy!

The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook: Sweet and Savory Recipes Inspired by 28 Honey Varietals and Blends

A collection of 130 sweet and savory recipes inspired by the vast artisanal honey selection at Asheville Bee Charmer, a North Carolina shop located in one of the United States’ most bee-friendly towns. Twenty honey varietals and eight special Bee Charmer blends are featured in recipes and discussed in a guide to color, aroma, and flavor.


How did you become interested in cooking? 

My interest in food and cooking began at a young age. Growing up with an immigrant mother, I spent a lot of time every year in Mexico visiting my family. I vividly remember going on adventures with my grandparents, eating street food with my grandfather, and learning about traditional cooking techniques. This not only sparked my interest in traveling the world, but also my interest in the many flavors and smells of foods in other cities and countries. Upon returning home, I would try to recreate some of the dishes I had eaten while traveling.

I have always loved hanging out in the kitchen and watching people create dishes and make meals—from family members to friends and professional cooks. From the age of ten or eleven, I began making dinners for my family, not out of necessity, but because of my passion for cooking. I would regularly make special meals to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries for family and friends. I can still remember the menu from the first birthday dinner I made for my sister over 30 years ago. Nothing makes me smile faster than seeing the happiness and joy on people’s face as they sit around the table enjoying a meal I have made for them.

I wanted to go to culinary school right after high school, but my father wanted me to study finance. I followed my father’s wishes and was lucky enough to travel the world during a successful investment career, ultimately visiting all seven continents. Along the way, I always made sure to ask questions about ingredients and recipes as I dined all over the world and took culinary classes. I also asked chefs about their techniques and even staged at a few restaurants. About seven years ago, I finally achieved my dream of going to culinary school. Not only do I love to cook, but I love to teach people how to create great food that they can share with their friends and family.


The recipes in the book are inspired by the honey varietals at the Asheville Bee Charmer. How did you get involved with the store?

Kim and I have been friends since our freshman year in college. We both spent our junior year abroad in Luxembourg which deepened our friendship and our love of food and travel. We were also roommates for a year after college and always enjoyed eating a great meal together. I met Jillian through Kim when they began dating. Naturally, after Kim and Jill moved to Asheville, I went to visit them and to experience the store. When you go to the store, you can sit at the honey bar and try the different varietals. Over two days, I tried about 35 to 40 of them. As I tasted the different honeys, recipe ideas began popping into my head.

Author Carrie Schloss. Photo by Angela Garbot Photography

Author Carrie Schloss. Photo by Angela Garbot Photography

Customers kept asking Kim and Jill if they were going to write a honey cookbook. After hearing my abundance of ideas, they asked if I would write the cookbook for them, utilizing techniques from my culinary and teaching career.


What has your experience cooking with honey been? What makes cooking with honey unique?

It has been great creating and testing recipes with a variety of honeys. I must have close to 40 types of honey in my cupboard. They each have a unique smell, taste, viscosity, and level of sweetness. It’s been interesting to see how different a dish can taste depending on what type of honey you use.

What people fail to realize is how many savory recipes use some level of sweetening to enhance their flavor. I prefer using honey rather than sugar whenever possible because you can use less honey than you would sugar. Honey is sweeter than sugar, but it’s still important to taste the honey you plan to use because the level of sweetness differs between different varietals. However, not every recipe can substitute honey for sugar. For recipes where sugar crystallization provides some level of structure, it can be a challenge to use only honey. For example, I tried making meringues only using honey, and although they were tasty, they were very soft and never truly set up. When you substitute honey for sugar in sauces or dressings, you don’t have to worry about heating the honey to get it to melt. You can just mix it in right away, eliminating a cooking step. Honey also provides a unique mouthfeel that differs from sugar.


Do you have a favorite recipe in the book or a favorite honey varietal?

One of my favorite recipes is the Bee Pollen Nut Brittle. It is loaded with nuts and the bee pollen on top provides a unique flavor I have never tasted in a nut brittle. I also love the Duck a l’Orange. It tastes as great as duck at a restaurant, yet you can make it from start to finish in less than 30 minutes.

My favorite honeys are the Asheville Bee Charmer blended varietals like the Cocoa-Infused Honey, Chai-Infused Honey, Firecracker Hot Honey, and Smokin’ Hot Honey (chipotle-infused honey). My favorite monovarietals are fir honey, Corsican blossom honey, and lavender honey. The fir and Corsican blossom honeys are both dark with a rich flavor—both have lots of caramel overtones. I love how they taste in baked goods, on roasted vegetables, and in the brittle. Lavender honey is delicate with a floral and stone fruit taste. It’s delicious with tea or spread on toast with butter.


Where do you find inspiration for new recipes?

I find inspiration for recipes in lots of places: from old family recipes, friends’ family favorites, the farmer’s market, traveling around the world, eating out at a great restaurant, or even from reading magazines and cookbooks.


What’s next for you?

I would love to write another cookbook and continue to focus on teaching. I will also continue to experiment with honey and create many more delicious, healthy, and easy-to-make recipes.

Dine in on National Oyster Day

Saturday was National Oyster Day, and we treated ourselves to a home-cooked meal with this recipe from Good Stock.

If you love this recipe or its James Beard Award winning author Sanford D’Amato, head on over to the Good Stock website to find the latest pearls on cooking classes, demos, and more with Mr. D’Amato himself.



Traditional mignonette is simply red wine vinegar, chopped shallot, and coarse pepper. This preparation is all dressed up for the New Year with a small dice of papaya and an herb cream, which helps keep the sauce and oyster flavor lingering on your palate after they disappear.


Serves 4

24 large oysters in the shell (Blue Points, Malpeques, or Wellfleets) washed well in water

8 ounces (227 g) ripe papaya, peeled, seeded, and cut in small dice

1 jalapeño pepper, stem, seeds, and veins removed and cut in very small dice (brunoise) (optional)

1–2 shallots, diced very small (you will need 1/4 cup [1 ounce]), rinsed in cold water and drained

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

¾ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, plus additional to taste

⅛ teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional to taste

½ cup (115 g) sour cream

¼ cup (½ ounce [14 g]) fresh mint leaves, very finely chopped

1.        Carefully shuck the oysters. Reserve the oysters and liquid in a stainless sauté pan. (Rinse and reserve the bottom shells for presentation.) Place the sauté pan over high heat for about 30 seconds to just bring the liquid up to a simmer. When they just start to curl on the edges, remove the oysters, with a slotted spoon (do not overcook). Cool in the refrigerator.

2.        Reduce the oyster liquid to ¼ cup (59 mL) and strain into a bowl. To the bowl, add the papaya, the (optional) jalapeño, the shallots, the vinegar, the lime juice, the ¾ teaspoon black pepper, and the ⅛ teaspoon salt and mix lightly. Refrigerate the Papaya Mignonette for 1 hour to blend the flavors. Mix the sour cream and mint, adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and reserve in the refrigerator.

3.        Divide the reserved dry bottom shells onto 4 plates. Place a dollop of the reserved mint cream on each shell. Place 1 cold oyster on each of the dollops and top each oyster with 1 teaspoon of the Papaya Mignonette; serve immediately.

Eyes on the Raspberry Pies


Eyes on the Raspberry Pies

Happy National Raspberry Cream Pie Day! 

Any opportunity to celebrate our favorite dessert is ushered in with great delight over here at Agate. We like our pies savory or sweet, creamy or fruity, a la mode or with whipped cream. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find someone here who would deny a slice of such a delicacy.

So, naturally, the holiday has inspired us to share a seasonally-appropriate approach to raspberry cream pie from the Pie Queen herself. 

Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama Pie Company talks farmers' market, the collide of raspberry and pear season, and appropriate pie sprinklings. You can thank us while the pie is in the oven.


Pear-Raspberry Pie from The Hoosier Mama Book of Pie

This is a wonderful pie, made even more special by its short season. Each year, I look forward to the few weeks in early fall when the first pears and the last raspberries share table space at the farmers' market. If you are patient enough to wait for perfectly ripe pears, the results are spectacular. 

Photo from Instagram: @hoosiermamapie

Photo from Instagram: @hoosiermamapie

Makes one 9-inch (22.5-cm) pie


1 single-crust All-Butter Pie Dough shell (recipe p. 24)

10 All-Butter Pie Dough lattice strips (p. 42)

5 cups (750g) pears, peeled, cored, and chopped into bite-sized pieces (roughly 1 inch long by ¾ inch thick [2.5cm by 19mm])

2 (250g) cups raspberries

1 Tablespoon (16g) fresh lemon juice

¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar

2½ Tablespoons (22.5g) cornstarch

¼ teaspoon (.5g) ground ginger

Pinch kosher salt

Crust Dust (p. 21), for sprinkling

Pie Wash (p. 21), for brushing the top of the pie

Coarse-grained sugar, for sprinkling


Place the pears, raspberries, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Do not mix.

Place the sugar, cornstarch, ginger, and salt in a small bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined.

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the fruit, until most of the mixture is absorbed. Take care not to break up the raspberries.

Sprinkle Crust Dust into the empty pie shell.

Pile the pears and raspberries into the pie shell and smooth the top with a spatula.

Finish the pie according to the lattice-top instructions (p. 42), then freeze for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Brush the lattice with Pie Wash and sprinkle liberally with coarse-grained sugar.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 20 minutes, rotating 180 degrees every 20 minutes, until the crust is dark golden brown and the juices are bubbling thickly.

Cool for at least 2 hours before slicing.


The unbaked pie can be stored in the freezer for up to 1 week. The baked pie can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days and in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.



Cool Off with This Fresh Strawberry Daiquiri Recipe

Regardless if it's five o'clock or not, cool off with this recipe from Market-Fresh Mixology.

Fresh Strawberry Daiquiri

A traditional Daiquiri with a kiss of spring.



  • Mixing glass
  • Tin
  • Strainer
  • Muddler
  • Bar spoon
  • Citrus press
  • Knife
  • Cocktail glass






2 sliced strawberries (optional)

½ ounce orange liqueur (optional)

1½ ounces white rum

1 bar spoon super fine sugar

Juice of ½ a pressed lime

Whole strawberry (for garnish)

Rim Ingredients

4 bar spoons super fine sugar

Lime wedge

TO RIM THE GLASS: Measure sugar onto a small plate. Rim the outside top of glass with the lime wedge. Roll the outside lip of the glass in sugar. Set aside.

In mixing glass, muddle strawberry slices and orange liqueur, if using. Add rum, sugar, and lime. Add ice to tin. Shake well. Strain into sugar-rimmed glass.

Garnish with a strawberry.


The Daiquiri’s main ingredients are rum, lime juice, and sugar. Jennings Cox, an American mining engineer working in Cuba for the Spanish American Iron Company, invented this drink in 1905 at the Venus Bar in Santiago, Cuba. It was a favorite of John F. Kennedy and Ernest Hemingway, who popularized the Daiquiri in the United States.


Agate Relishes the Return of National Hot Dog Day

On this beautiful summer day, the nation pays homage to an American classic and we couldn't be happier! We hope you are celebrating by eating hot dogs, talking about hot dogs, and perhaps even reading about hot dogs. Here at Agate, we are showing our appreciation for Chicago’s staple cuisine by perusing a favorite— Hot Doug’s: The Book.  

To aid in your celebration, here is some wisdom from Doug Sohn, the man Anthony Bourdain calls “a master practitioner” of the hot dog, on the eternal and polarizing Ketchup Debate:

YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO PUT KETCHUP ON A HOT DOG and other food rules you can disregard

In keeping with famous Chicago hot dog lore, ketchup is not included in “everything” at Hot Doug’s. When a customer asks for everything and adds “no ketchup,” I assure them that ketchup is not part of everything; tsuris like that I don’t need.

Having said that, if you want ketchup, we will add it. I know this is a form of blasphemy in Chicago, but I am a firm believer in the mantra that there are no food rules. Eat what you like.

I did turn a little nauseous when I once watched three adults squeeze a whole lot of ketchup on their foie gras sausages (I’m not kidding). That was disappointing. And, as we all know, putting mayonnaise on a corned beef sandwich should seriously be avoided.


Frankly, we'll take them either way.

Happy Pesach! Keep it Kosher with Artichoke Confit and Fava Bean Salad

Passover and spring are both coming to a close, so take advantage of this Artichoke Confit and Fava Bean Salad recipe from Jewish Cooking for All Seasons before artichoke season is over!


Artichoke Confit and Fava Bean Salad

Serves 4

When spring has finally sprung, baby artichokes appear in the market, and I’m quick to grab them. One of my favorite ways to prepare them is to confit them in extra-virgin olive oil, so they absorb the fruity oil flavor and aroma. A big plus to making the confit is that the artichokes keep for up to a week, unlike traditional boiled artichokes. The fava beans can be prepared several days ahead as well, so this salad is perfect for tossing together at the last minute. I always save the extra-flavorful confit olive oil. I use it to confit other vegetables, such as cipollini onions, shallots, fingerling potatoes, garlic, and tomatoes. It’s also wonderful whisked into vinaigrettes.

MAKE AHEAD/STORAGE The artichokes can be prepared up to 1 week ahead, the favas can be prepared up to 2 days ahead, and the confit olive oil keeps for several weeks, each stored separately, covered, in the refrigerator.


  • 1 lemon
  • 8 baby artichokes or frozen artichoke bottoms, thawed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 medium shallot
  • About 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh fava beans in the shell
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 cups mixed greens


1. Make the Confit Preheat the oven to 275°F. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze the juice into a medium bowl filled with water, and place the lemon in the water (this will keep the artichoke from discoloring).

2. Snap off the outer leaves at the base of an artichoke. Use a paring knife to trim off the green outer layer of the stem; try to leave the stem attached to the artichoke. Continue to peel off the outer layer of leaves from the artichoke using a paring knife or a vegetable peeler. Continue trimming until the inner leaves are half green and half yellow, then cut off the top half, leaving a cup-shaped artichoke. Scoop out the fuzzy choke in the center using a melon baller or small spoon. Drop the cleaned artichoke into the bowl of lemon water. Clean the remaining artichokes in the same manner.

3. Drain the artichokes and shake off any excess water. Place artichokes (or thawed artichoke bottoms, if using) in a shallow ovenproof casserole or small baking dish and add the garlic, thyme, and shallot. Pour in enough olive oil to completely cover the artichokes. Loosely cover the casserole with a piece of crumpled parchment paper, pressing it right onto the surface of the artichokes to keep them from popping out of the oil too much. Bake the artichokes until they are tender when pricked with a paring knife, about 30 minutes. Carefully transfer the artichokes, garlic, and shallot to a baking sheet to cool. Cool the olive oil.

4. Shell the fava beans. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil, and prepare a bowl of ice water with a strainer that fits inside the bowl. Cook the fava beans until tender, about 5 minutes, and drain them into the strainer. Immediately shock the favas by submerging the strainer in the ice water (see page 41 for more information on blanching and shocking vegetables). When favas have cooled completely, remove the strainer from the ice water and peel the transparent skin off the beans.

5. To make the salad, slice the artichokes in quarters and toss them with the fava beans, mint, parsley, 2 tablespoons of the reserved confit oil, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. If desired, chop the confit garlic and shallot and toss with the artichoke mixture. Serve on salad greens, chilled or at room temperature, sprinkled with additional salt and pepper to taste. Extra confit oil can be stored in a container with a tight-fitting lid and used for vinaigrettes or for sautés.

Usher in Spring with this Ramp and Goat Cheese Pasta Recipe

Spring has sprung! This recipe from The Seasons on Henry's Farm, a yearlong memoir-diary-cookbook that takes readers through each season of life on a sustainable farm, is the perfect dish for a new spring day. Enjoy!

Ramp and Goat Cheese Pasta

Today, ramp hunters head into Illinois woodlands in late March and early April, before the trees even begin to bud, to gather this native plant for the first fresh greens of the season. Both the foliage and the bulbs, whether raw or cooked, can be used on pizza or sandwiches, in salads and soups, and in omelets, quiches, and other egg dishes. At the same time the ramps are coming into season, baby goats are being born, which means it’s also the start of the fresh chevre season. What better way to welcome the new season of earthly delights than with a ramp and goat cheese pasta?

1 pound linguine, spaghetti, or other pasta
15–20 fresh ramps, both stems and leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh chevre (or more, to taste)
Pecorino–Romano cheese, freshly grated, to taste
Olive oil (optional)

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil and begin cooking the pasta as directed.

Clean the ramps, removing the translucent husks over the bulbs (if they are freshly dug) and the roots. Slice the stems into ½- to 1-inch lengths, and coarsely chop the greens. Reserve the greens.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan until just smoking, and then remove the pan from the flame. Add the ramp stems to the oil and toss them well, until they are coated with the oil.

Return the pan to the heat and sear the ramps until they are blistered, brown, and soft. Reduce the heat and add the garlic to the pan, tossing until it is toasted to a light brown.

Drain the pasta as soon as it is al dente, and then add it to the pan along with the ramp greens. Toss until the leaves are wilted. Stir in the chevre. Transfer to serving plates, and grate the fresh Pecorino–Romano over the top. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.


What We Think About When We Think About Pie

Ah, pi(e) day. Upon us again. For one beautiful day a year, we cast aside our differences in celebration of two things that sound the same when spoken aloud: pie, a delicious baked dish with filling, and pi, a very long string of numbers. Different though they may seem—one a tasty treat; one the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter—they have much in common.

One contains fruit, or meat, or veggies. The other contains an infinite string of randomly distributed numbers that never fall into a recurring decimal pattern. See what I mean? They’re not so different, pie and pi. Just like we’re not so different, you and I. We contain multitudes.

Presented without further comment is the latest in Agate’s series of staff reflections on topics from our books. First vodka, then pizza, then a retrospective on the pizza one, and now pie:

I didn’t care for pie until I was about 18 years old, at which time I discovered the magic of pumpkin pie. Since then I’ve demanded a birthday pumpkin pie from my mother—rather than a birthday cake—because I am a weirdo. I come by it honestly though—my dad (who does not bake) has told me on several occasions that he would like to open a pie shop called pi2 that would serve square pies.
I’ll take huckleberry pie over any other, given the chance. It comes off in ways that all good food should: tastily – a charming counterpoint of tart sweetness cutting against a savory flake; spiritually – a stirring reminder of home; narratively – a wild berry, not tamed but subdued within the confines of a buttery prison; and theologically – a divine complement to coffee.
I love pumpkin pie. I have always loved pumpkin pie. My mom used to make the pies for Thanksgiving the night before and leave them on the buffet in the dining room to cool.  Once, when I was perhaps 5 or 6, I passed these pies and decided to take just a little taste of the pumpkin filling on my way by.  I scooped a small dollop of the custard out with my finger, right by the crust. No one will notice that, right?  It was really good. Just another little taste. So delicious. One more. I love pumpkin pie! But now there was a very visible hole in the pie. Hmm. They’ll notice that. Cover it up, somehow?  That looks worse. Best to make it look like it’s supposed to be there. So I dug (and ate) a shallow trough in the filling all the way around, along the crust, like an empty moat. Oh, much better; looks intentional. (Which, of course, it was.) Next morning: WHO DID THIS? WHO DUG A TRENCH IN THE PUMPKIN PIE? I admitted nothing. The dog maybe? I think I saw my brother in dining room yesterday? I’m pretty sure they knew it was me.  Despite the obvious fact that someone had repeatedly stuck their (undoubtedly unclean) fingers in the pie, we filled up the moat with whipped cream and ate it anyway. Because pumpkin pie! It’s so good.
Pie is good
Pie is fine
I hope you’ll have
Some pie of mine
Just kidding
I didn’t make a pie
I don’t know how to do that

Pen, highlighter, and Gelly Roll on Post-it

Like a luscious lemon meringue or a divine dutch apple, this piece has multiple layers that work together in perfect harmony to form something that is greater than the sum of its individual parts:

  • Acrostic
    1. Objectively true
    2. Works as 3 individual 1-word descriptions
    3. Also works as a 3-word phrase
    4. Also rhymes
  • Chart
    1. Pie chart (obvious)
    2. Looks likeapeace sign; peace –> piece –> piece of PIE
  • Aesthetic
    1. Pink = my favorite color; pie = my favorite food
    2. Lovingly handcrafted, just like—wait for it—PIE

Generally, I am a fan of most kinds of pie.
I ate plenty of pie growing up—my mom baked a mean lemon meringue—but I always considered myself a cake guy first and foremost. Then I had the great good fortune to marry a passionate pie baker, and in the years since I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a dazzling variety of delicious pies. I like all kinds of pie, but fruit pies rule, and my undisputed, unchallenged favorite is a sour cherry pie with a lattice crust. I love that the sour cherry season is only about three weeks long in the Midwest, which intensifies the sense of scarcity and specialness I identify with this pie. We’ve certainly frozen plenty of sour cherries over the years for later consumption, but there’s nothing like a still-warm pie after dinner featuring fresh sour cherries that were bought and pitted that day. Unless it’s having a slice of that same pie the following morning with a big cup of strong black coffee.
My favorite pies, all mom-made, include mixed berry, peach (with peaches from the backyard tree), and sour cream apple. My mom makes the crust with shortening, and while her pie crusts are always beautifully flaky and delicious, it’s the way she crimps the edges that makes them exceptional. I have studied her crust-crimping technique for years, and am still trying to perfect my own. I recently discovered a recipe for lemon pie with a crust of crushed saltine crackers. It is now one of my go-tos, and good for when I’m not feeling up to the crimping challenge.
My taste buds love pie much more than my stomach does. If possible, I would eat sweet pies every day—but alas, becoming an adult means giving up some of life’s sweet luxuries. My favorite pie? That’s a tough one, but I think I would have to go with pumpkin pie. I love it so much that I will only eat it once a year so as not to ruin it for myself: as Thanksgiving dessert. Although once every few years I can be convinced to indulge around Christmas time. Maybe every other year. Let’s be realistic, it’s every year. But still, only having my favorite pie twice a year? That’s some genuine self control right there!
I’ve always thought that food is the best way to show eternal love. So, naturally, a month before my high school crush’s birthday, I very casually asked the dude what his favorite dessert was. He looked a little confused (we pretty much never spoke to each other), but he said he guessed he liked cherry pie. My plan? Make him the best cherry pie he’d ever tasted to ensure that he would love me forever.

This was gonna be one sick pie, with a crust made from scratch, fresh cherries hand-pitted by yours truly, and a truly darling lattice topping. Once the pie was assembled, I knew it was my finest creation yet: those cherries positively gleamed in their lattice-topped crust. But perhaps the best part of all was that my mom had just gotten a new convection oven, which would bake my baby the way it deserved.

Spoiler alert! Don’t use convection ovens! Or at least reduce the temperature before you stick your little pie baby in there. After about fifteen minutes I checked my pie’s progress. Expecting to find a golden crust, maybe a few bubbling cherries, I cursed the gods who made me when I saw that the pie had been blackened by the oven’s merciless rays.

So what did I do? Well, I wasn’t going to let my love go to waste. So I wrapped up my pie in plastic bags and hid in an empty classroom at lunch time. When my crush walked by I called his name, said happy birthday, shoved the pie into his arms, and did a little jog-shuffle to get away. I’ve never made cherry pie again—but I do still use food to win eternal love.
For a good portion of my life, I don’t think I really understood that pies could contain things other than fruit. A chocolate pie? Who could imagine!? Had I been aware of non-fruit pies earlier, things would have been different, but alas. As a fairly picky eater myself, and the child of someone who often lies to waiters in restaurants to avoid any sort of fruit garnish or sauce coming into contact with an otherwise perfectly acceptable dessert, I was hesitant to indulge in pie at all. I had my first slice of pie—apple—when I was a preteen, and my life was forever changed. Apple pie remains my favorite, but I break with popular opinion regarding options a la mode. Pie served with ice cream ends up in a melty soup that makes the pie crust soggy, and that’s gross. Crust is the best part of pie, and it should be flaky, not soggy.
When someone mentions pie, I immediately think apple pie and my mind trails off to memories of apple picking in northern Illinois on a crisp September day. Hands down my favorite pie to buy is the brown bag apple pie from Long Grove Confectionery Co from the historic downtown Long Grove Apple Fest. It is the right amount of tart offset by the buttery crust and sweet cinnamon crumbles.  It is baked in a brown bag that makes the top layer of crust extra crunchy. This pie is only available during apple season and I think that is what makes it a special tradition for our family. 
One time . . . I thought I just might die,
When I sank my teeth into a cheddar cheese apple pie,
They go together like birds and the sky,
Cheddar cheese and apple pie.
You may find it odd and give it a sigh,
But your taste buds, my friend, they will not lie.
The cinnamon makes your heart soar,
And the gooey cheese and crumble galore.
All wrapped up in a buttery crust,
Try it, you must,
I implore,
And you will find yourself asking:
Why hasn’t this ever been done before?
Can I please have seconds or more?
And your life will never be the same
You’ll ask for that pie by name.
I am telling you, my friend, and I would not lie,
Just try a piece of cheddar cheese and apple pie.
As a former member of the math community, pi has always been very close to my heart. In my experience, math people can’t get enough pie jokes. It’s great that on this happy day each year, language and math come together, because without either one—without both homophones and the first three digits of this weird number—I don’t know when we would designate a day to eat tons of pie.


The Making of Denene Millner Books

Last February, Agate introduced Denene Millner Books, a line of childrens books within our Bolden imprint dedicated to telling the everyday stories of black children and families. This week we published its first offering: My Brown Baby: On the Joys and Challenges of Raising African American Children, a collection of essays from Denene's award-winning parenting blog of the same name. In celebration of the first book in the new line, here's a look back at how it all came to be. As Denene puts it, “This [line] is a love letter to children of color who deserve to see their beauty and humanity in the most remarkable form of entertainment on the planet: books.”

Q&A with Doug Seibold, president of Agate, and Denene Millner about My Brown Baby and the launching of Denene Millner Books

Denene Millner: So Doug, as we prepare to bring out our first books together: What initially interested you in adding a children’s book line to Agate’s broad range of imprints? And why take a chance on me, specifically, as your partner in this venture?

Doug Seibold: This is something I’m always thinking about—sensible ways to grow Agate and do worthwhile things. I’d first become interested in publishing books for young readers about five years ago, when it was looking like the rise of ebooks might substantially alter the whole book world. I thought that books for kids—always one of the strongest categories in publishing, if not the strongest—could be a hedge against a rapid and massive shift to digital. I didn’t see picture books, in particular, going away anytime soon. But I couldn’t figure out a good way to integrate this into our existing business—until I realized something that should have been obvious from the beginning, which was that it would be a natural complement to our existing Bolden imprint. If Bolden has a mission, beyond publishing great writing, it’s to provide stories illustrating the diversity of African American life. Extending that to books for young readers just made sense.   

And as far as working with you goes—what “chance”? I’m just thankful I got to meet you via my work with your husband, Nick Chiles, when Agate published his book Justice While Black. As I got to know more about you and your work, I couldn’t believe how well your expertise and sensibility fit with what I’d envisioned. And as I got to know you better personally over the time we spent putting this project together, I really got an appreciation what a great partner you’d be. But what got you interested in doing this?

Denene: I’ve always loved children’s books—the illustrations, the color, the whimsy, the beauty of the stories. As a child, though, the numbers of books that featured kids who looked like me seemed nonexistent. The same was still true when I had my first child in 1999; there were a few black children’s books, but not nearly enough to fill the library I’d planned for my baby. It was a gift from a dear friend of mine—The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats—that inspired me to make it a personal mission to collect books that speak to the human experience of African American children, beyond the typical subjects saddled on them, like the civil rights movement, slavery, and the lives of sports and music icons. Don’t get me wrong: I love those kinds of books, too. Our history deserves an airing with children. But so, too, does the everyday beauty of being a little human of color. Black children believe in the tooth fairy, get scared when they contemplate their first ride on the school bus, look for dragons in their closets, have best friends who get into mischief with them; in other words, they have the same universal childhood experiences that any other human revels in as a kid. Black children deserve to see themselves reflected in those kinds of stories. Denene Millner Books aims to add to that small but important canon. I have a lot of favorites, but if I had to mention only a few, they would be: Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach, Debbie Allen’s Dancing in the Wings, bell hooks’s Homemade Love, Jacqueline Woodson’s We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past, Patricia McKissack’s Precious and the Boo Hag, and Derrick Barnes’s Ruby and the Booker Boys series.

From your vantage point as a publisher, what made this particular moment in time ripe for Denene Millner Books?

Doug: Meeting you was really what catalyzed something I’d been trying to figure out for a few years. I think it was a good time for Agate in terms of my desire to expand the company and a good time for you in terms of your interest in expanding the breadth of your already hugely successful career as an editor and writer. I feel like I had a good idea, and you responded eagerly and intuitively to what it would take to make it a reality. For my part, I’ve always felt the value of the kinds of books Agate publishes through Bolden is self-evident. But not long after we started working on it (just to show how great the need was for what we’re doing), the We Need Diverse Books movement just exploded into greater prominence. By now, I think everyone in the book world is more aware of why this moment is ripe. It’s certainly calling on the full scope of your own abilities.

Denene: Whoo boy: it’s something else to wear both hats! I worked for some time as a magazine editor before dedicating my writing exclusively to books, so I’m familiar with what it takes to be both a writer and an editor. But being an author and a book editor is something else entirely. I can’t say that I was ready for all of the responsibility that comes with being an editor: acquiring projects, negotiating contracts, doing profit and loss analysis, putting together marketing and publicity campaigns. Being a book editor isn’t just about . . . editing. I raise my hand and admit, finally, that simply writing the book and handing it in is a lot easier. But working on this side of the business is exhilarating. It’s stretching me creatively in a different way, and for that, I’m grateful. I’m most proud of the fact that my work as an editor is opening the door for African American authors and illustrators whose work deserves to be seen. And these days, I kinda live for our regular Friday talks about the business; in the two years since we met, and the year we’ve been working on the new line, I’ve learned so much from you. Why do you think our relationship works?

Doug: For starters, we probably have a lot more in common than most outside observers would think. To the world, you are the social-media postin’, selfie-shootin’, highly prolific and highly engaging persona behind not just MyBrownBaby.com—and your new inaugural title in the Denene Millner Books line based on the blog—but also dozens of bestsellers across multiple genres. You are a very public person; by contrast, I am a 100-percent behind-the-scenes kind of guy, and even if you do penetrate my wall of bland, you will find that I might be the straightest white man in America. Our differences are obvious. But we were born only a few years apart, both had religious upbringings, and both grew up on Long Island less than 20 miles away from each other. Both of us have been married once, both have two kids (and love being parents), and both have had careers that saw us jumping among a variety of different roles in publishing and writing. I think we respect each other first and foremost, but we like each other, too. The latter is great, of course, but I think it’s the former—and the deep trust that’s come with it— that’s really what allowed us to make this project flourish. We both care an enormous amount about what we do, we both believe in the tremendous value of bringing these kinds of books to the reading public, and we both are having a great time doing so. 

We have a good thing going here, I think. Agate has no board, no investors, no corporate parents; it’s just me stopping the buck here, and we were able to set up this venture in a way that gives you maximum freedom. This allows us the opportunity to have complete control over what we want to do, as partners. I think it’s already working in terms of the great projects we have in the hopper for 2017—I hope it works in terms of finding a big audience of readers, too. What are your plans for how to reach that big audience of readers for Denene Millner Books?

Denene: I know that there is a readership of black parents and parents of children of color that is thirsty for titles like those Denene Millner Books has to offer. I meet them every day on MyBrownBaby.com and across the vast MyBrownBaby social media footprint. I’m counting on them to represent by supporting the stellar works we are producing. I’ve planned an extensive email campaign with updates on the books’ progress, and will communicate the same on MyBrownBaby’s social media channels. A few of the offerings are also natural fits for audiences in venues that are important to black folk: churches, barbershops, black parenting organizations, and the like. I’m also prepared to get down and dirty and do hand-to-hand combat, bringing our Denene Millner Books authors and illustrators directly to the people—the children who I know will love them and want to engage the art. I’m rolling up my sleeves and trusting that the audience I love so very much will dig in with me. In the meantime, as we prepare the first of our books for young readers to appear later this spring, I’m grateful that you recognized the jewels that make up My Brown Baby. Why’d you put your money behind this project, and what do you think will make this book a standout in the parenting space?

Doug: The fact that you wrote it, first and foremost, and that your strong and singular voice comes through on every page. I think it’s a terrific introduction to the entire Denene Millner Books project because, in essence, it establishes your bonafides as a parent and literary sensibility in one very readable package. And I think readers will agree.

Celebrate Casimir Pulaski Day with this kolacky recipe

Many Chicagoans (and Chicagolandians, and Illinoisians) have the day off today to celebrate the life of Polish-born Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski. WBEZ has the history of the holiday here, and we have have the perfect recipe from Holiday Cookies here:

Grandma Hazucha’s Kolacky with Walnut Filling

Julie Hazucha Westbrook received an honorable mention for these cookies in 2012. She said both parts of the recipe can be halved.

Yield: 100 cookies

Prep time:
1 hour, 10 minutes
Chill time: Overnight
Bake time: 12 to 15 minutes per batch


  • 4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese or neufchatel, softened
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Walnut filling:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 pound walnuts, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

1. Place butter and cream cheese in a large mixing bowl. Cut butter into pieces; break up cream cheese. Add dry ingredients; work mixture with hands until dough is the size of peas. Add egg yolks; knead with hands again until well-blended. Divide dough into 5 pieces, wrap in wax paper and refrigerate overnight.

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. To roll out dough, remove 2 portions from the refrigerator. Let soften, about 15 minutes. Open 1 package on a floured board; roll out with floured rolling pin very thin, about 1/8 inch. With pastry wheel, cut 2-inch rows across the dough; then cut diagonally across the rows to make slight diamond shapes, about 2 inches wide. Put pastry diamonds on ungreased cookie sheets.

3. Meanwhile, for walnut filling, slowly warm milk and butter in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently, until butter melts. Stir in sugar. Remove from heat; stir in walnuts and vanilla.

4. Put rounded 1/2 teaspoon walnut filling on each diamond. Fold over 2 opposite corners; to seal, wet inside of corners with a fingertip dipped in cold water; pinch corners together firmly so they do not open during baking. Bake until lightly browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from cookie sheet; cool on a rack. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

5. As the first bundle of dough is finished, take out another bundle to soften while the second bundle is being rolled out. Repeat until all bundles are used.



National Pizza Day: Agate reflects


It’s been nearly two years since we celebrated the release of Passion for Pizza: A Journey Through Thick and Thin to Find the Pizza Elite. At the time, we solicited staff opinions on the dish as part of a modest series of reflections by Agate staff on the topics of new Agate releases; much has changed since then. We have a new president. Beyoncé is having twins. The Cubs won the World Series. We published 48 more books. We have better pictures of Pluto than ever before. Amid all this change, one thing remains largely the same: pizza. We still have pizza, and it is still very good. Let’s look back on these opinions and celebrate our differences, for it is our differences that make us great. No matter our preferred styles—be it deep dish, be it thin crust, be it personal pan—we must remember that we are united in a common goal: to eat some more pizza, and hopefully, to eat it soon. 

With that, here are Agate’s reflections on pizza from March 2015:

--"I make my own, usually, with my own pasta sauce as the base, dough made from a blend of mostly atta but also bread flour, and with buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil, and either pulled pork (if we have any left over from a previous meal) or prosciutto as the toppings. The only brand of frozen pizza I buy is Paul Newman. The extra thin multigrain crust is excellent; our favorite is the margherita. If we eat pizza out, it's always Giordano's stuffed with spinach. It's not really pizza, per se, but it's the best."

--"Oh, you know I'm a pizza curmudgeon. I could spout off about this topic in my sleep. Even after 10 years of Midwest living, I flinch whenever "deep dish" and "pizza" are used together. Deep dish is not pizza. It is casserole. And don't even get me started on how they cut thin-crust pizza here into squares. [I like a] thin, floury crust that's crispy outside and soft inside—the idea is that it should provide a solid base yet be receptive to being folded in half, lengthwise. Tangy sauce, but not too much of it. Enough mozzarella to cover it but not so much that it's a gooey mess. Cut into slices. Heaven. All-time faves are Joe's in NYC and Salvatore's in Allentown, PA."

--"Deep dish all around. My fav? Lou Malnati’s—butter crust, sausage pieces (NO wheel please), and pepperoni. On the other hand, one pizza lover in this house favors Gino’s East, wheel/patty of sausage and extra sauce, while the other prefers a classic Giordano’s deep with cheese only. We have been known to bring back one of each from Chicago on many occasions. Thank god for the half-baked option."

--"My favorite pizza includes margherita toppings on sourdough thin crust, cooked in a brick oven. I prefer pizza that doesn't use any canned tomatoes and includes only the freshest basil—tons of it! After living in Europe, and in Chicago where deep-dish reigns supreme, I've come to find the simplest pizzas with the freshest ingredients are the best. My favorite pizza restaurant has to be, hands down, Biga Pizza in Missoula, MT. The pizzas are seasonal and the specials change regularly. Each pizza is made fresh to order and once they run out, they're out! The place is small and always has a line."

--"For years, probably into my early thirties, I would have told you that the best meal I ever ate was a large slice of pepperoni pizza washed down with a Dr. Pepper, which was presented to me one summer evening when I was ten years old and which I consumed outdoors. The town I grew up in on the East Coast didn’t have terrific pizza, but I certainly consumed lots of it, especially after late nights out with my friends. After moving to Chicago, I embraced deep-dish and stuffed pizza—I believe there’s good pizza and the other kind, to paraphrase Duke Ellington’s judgment regarding music. There’s great thin-crust, deep-dish, neo-Neopolitan, cracker-crust pizza all over, but unfortunately there’s also plenty of terrible renditions of same. I believe that it’s important to understand pizza as bread with stuff on top of it. Whatever kind of crust you’re using, if it’s not good, it’s hard for the pizza to overcome that. Favorites: Lou Malnati's for deep dish, John's on Bleecker for the traditional."

--"To me, a pizza can be thin crust or thick (or deep dish, which I also love), but it's not pizza without mushrooms. There is just something about the flavor and texture of high-heat-roasted mushrooms that makes pizza, well, pizza to me. My favorite deep dish is Gino's East, but that's probably simply because that was my first, real Chicago deep-dish pizza. I still love deep dish, and my favorite is mushroom, spinach, tomato and garlic from Lou Malnati's. After going vegetarian in the late '90s, and for a while, dairy-free, I've also branched out into more non-traditional pizza. One of my favorites is the super-thin crust pizza at Bluestone in Evanston, with pesto, goat cheese, mushrooms (of course), garlic, and basil. I once asked how they got their crusts so thin and crispy, and it turns out they use flour tortillas instead of pizza dough! It changed how I make pizza at home forever. If I want thin crust, I've found the best way to cook it at home is to use flour tortillas, brushed with some olive oil, tossed on the grill until they are firm and crispy. Then top with whatever you want and grill again to warm the toppings through. It's amazing (and SO easy)." 

--"I make my own pizza on a fairly regular basis using a variety of ingredients: San Marzano tomatoes, sweet Italian turkey sausage, fresh baby bella mushrooms, provolone, and mozzarella cooked in the oven is the standby for me. I go for a white pizza with a mushroom bechamel sauce, fresh mushrooms from the farmer's market, white truffle oil, and parmesan cheese cooked on my grill when I am feeling ambitious or when it is a nice day. The grill imparts an amazing smoky flavor to the bechamel sauce and a nice crispy crust. I tend to seek out authentic Neapolitan pizza or Chicago-style deep dish when I go out, but nothing beats the pizza of my childhood. Someguy's Pizza in Indianapolis, IN has my favorite pizza of all time. It is cooked in a wood-fired oven and uses the best mix of cheeses that I have ever tasted on a pizza. I always go for my standard (some would call it boring) childhood pizza consisting only of the fresh wood-oven cooked sausage and cheese. It immediately sends me back to my childhood every time I visit and take a bite. I tend to eat my pizza in a fairly non-traditional way. I typically cut the crust off of the pizza first and eat it before I start on the main portion of the pizza slice. I think this goes back to my childhood mantra of 'always saving the best for last.'" 

--"Pizza is best when it's circular, simple, and spinached. Its procurement should spring from spontaneous circumstances dictating the need for unassuming and filling sustenance—pizza should never be a planned meal. Its consumption should be effected—always—with the cutlery that distinguishes gentleperson from oaf."

--"This may be shocking, but as a child I didn't like pizza. I thought it was greasy and rubbery, and pepperoni weirded me out. That and pizza's association with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who scared me at the time, combined to create an impression of it being a non-food. Then my family got into grilling pizza outdoors during the summer on the barbecue. My dad was into buying fresh dough (pulled into random shapes—not circular) and using fresh garlic and tomato slices instead of canned sauce. It was SO GOOD--super smokey and melty. And thus, I became a pizza snob."

--"I have many fond childhood memories of celebrating my birthday at Chuck E. Cheese's, hopped up on pizza and video games. My tastes became more refined with age, and as a family we began ordering from purveyors by the names of Edwardo and Malnati. Of all my favorite pizzas, however, I think the one with which I have the most deep-seated personal connection is of the frozen variety. There are few things that remind me more of home, or of late nights spent hanging out with my brother, than popping a Home Run Inn "froze peez" into the oven. My brother and I have been accused by friends of having an unhealthy loyalty to this Chicago brand, an accusation that reliably spurs heated knee-jerk defenses from both of us. Several years ago, my mother thought she would be creating a warm family memory by taking her sons to the original Home Run Inn pizzeria on 31st Street before a White Sox game. Though the pizza was satisfactory, the consensus was that it did not compare to the kind in the grocery aisle that came in the box. Maybe with its ubiquity and variety across the country, pizza has as much to do with sense memory as it does taste. It's a food as much about where you are and who you're with as it is about shape, style, and toppings." 

--"Who am I to say what is and is not good pizza? Who died and left me in charge? No one. How I feel is this: All pizza = good pizza and any pizza > no pizza. Would you rather eat a piece of pizza out of the garbage, or nothing? The pizza one. To burn the roof of my mouth on a piping hot piece of pizza is to live. So seize the day, I say. Embrace the pizza—all pizza. I can't change the direction of the wind, but can I adjust my sails to reach my destination? You bet. And my destination? It's that piece of pizza over there. It's on the floor, sure, but it looks good, and will I eat it? I will."

Eight Years After Racism Ended

The celebrated Leonard Pitts, Jr., longtime Agate author and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, has offered us this brief essay about how Grant Park, his 2015 novel recently released in paperbackbears on the end of the Obama Presidency and what looms ahead.

My novel Grant Park ends with a beginning.

The narrative of race, rage, and recrimination has reached its denouement. The characters have contended with kidnapping, assassination, and long-lost love and have met their respective fates. And then, they find themselves faced with the astonishing fact that Barack Obama has won the election of 2008, ushering in a presidency that, in the eyes of one character, will pave the way for a new America, transformed and post-racial.

“All that old racial stuff,” he says, “we’re moving past that. “These next four years, you’ll see. It'll be different from now on. We just elected a black president. You can't tell me that doesn't mean people are finally getting over all this stuff.”

I hope the average reader found that speech as sweetly naïve as I meant it to be. I hope it made her ponder America’s stubborn insistence upon deluding itself where racism is involved, its determination to believe this cancer of the human spirit can be excised in some singular, dramatic moment of progress after which we can finally declare ourselves well.

It doesn't work that way, of course. It never has.

“I'm an old cat,” the historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. told me not long after Obama’s inauguration. By which he meant that he's seen this before.

“In assessing the Magic Obama phenomena,'' said Bennett, who was born in 1928, “I think we've got to remember the [other] times history turned on a dime and racism was solved forever. This is not the first time. Can we make that clear to people? This is not the first time the race problem has `ended' in America.''

He's right, of course. As Bennett reminded me, it first ended in 1865 when the slaves were set free. It ended in 1868 when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, and in 1870 when the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified.  It ended in 1954, when the Supreme Court shot down “separate but equal” schools. It ended in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act. It ended again the next year with the Voting Rights Act.

And it ended on that Tuesday in November of 2008 when the son of a white Kansan and a black Kenyan became the president-elect of the United States.

Except, obviously, that it did not.

If that was a painfully self-evident truth when Grant Park was released in 2015 after years of racially-charged invective aimed at Obama and his family, it is even more so as the nation prepares for Obama’s successor.

The new president brings to office a record you would think only a Klansman could love: he’s been sued twice by the federal government for housing discrimination; he once objected to the hiring of a black accountant, saying he wanted only “short guys that wear yarmulkes” counting his money; he has called laziness “a trait in blacks;” he continues to insist upon the guilt of five black and brown men wrongly convicted in the Central Park jogger rape case even after DNA testing long ago proved their innocence; he spent years seeking to delegitimize President Obama by questioning whether he was born in this country; he described undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers; he declared a U.S.-born judge unfit to preside over a case because of his Mexican heritage; he re-tweeted racist and anti-Semitic graphics from white supremacist organizations.

And yet, 62,979,879 American voters saw no reason any of that should bar him from the White House. Some percentage of that total doubtless represents people like the white meth-head who is one of my villains, people whose futures have always been circumscribed by their own poverty and ignorance, but who now find themselves having to live with the added indignity of seeing their perceived inferiors—like Obama—climb to unprecedented new heights. But what is more troubling are the millions of Americans who don’t fit that easy caricature, those with some education, some money in the bank, some hope for the future, who nevertheless voted for this guy, self-defined “good” people who saw his bigoted behaviors, yet were not offended enough to deny him their support.

Taken together, it all represents a repudiation of racial amity to a degree and with a force that would have seemed unthinkable that night when Barack Obama stood before a rainbow coalition in Grant Park and declared that, “Change has come to America.” One is reminded once again to be wary of moments when racism “ends” in a sudden thunderclap of progress.

And I keep thinking of my poor character, banged up both physically and emotionally by all the tortures I have put him through, yet still leaning toward the belief that this time, finally, we have gotten it right. The reader, knowing the things that came afterward—“You lie!” and “subhuman mongrel” and the birther movement—is supposed to find that character’s certainty bittersweet.

But this week, the nation's first African-American president will be succeeded by a white supremacist. And it strikes me that this moment in my novel was more bittersweet than even I could have known.

Agate Round-Up: News, Reviews, and More About Titles New and Old


It's All in the Timing and its author, Gail Monaghan, were featured in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Two recipes were included, as well as some extra-helpful tips for making a perfectly timed meal.




1,001 Best Hot and Spicy Recipes by Dave DeWitt was reviewed in the Wisconsin Bookwatch, a monthly book review magazine published by the Midwest Book Review for librarians, booksellers, and the reading public. The piece gives some background on DeWitt, aka "the Pope of Peppers," and called the book “the most comprehensive and exhaustive culinary resource for planning memorable meals of hot and spicy dishes.”


Anupy Singla was part of an article in Natural Awakenings Chicago about plant-based dishes for holiday meals. The featured recipes included vegetable-based dishes from her cookbooks Indian for Everyone and Vegan Indian Cooking .




TalkMediaNews wrote an article about Leonard Pitts Jr.’s discussion of the 2016 presidential election. It included quotes from a column he’d written on the topic, as well as mentioning his novel, Grant Park, which was recently chosen as the One Book, One Community selection for Richland County, South Carolina. Free Times, a daily newspaper serving the Columbia, SC, community said in a feature  "Grant Park is a great selection. . . . Pitts is a familiar name who has a reputation for writing thoughtfully in a plainspoken style, making his writing widely accessible even as he tackles fraught topics with complexity and imagination”



Yvonne Maffei and her cookbook My Halal Kitchen were mentioned in an interesting essay published by Epicurious that discussed the ways in which food can be political. The writer also linked to an earlier interview she had done with Maffei on the site 



How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, by Kiese Laymon was included in a list of books that authors are thankful for on Bookish. It was chosen by Elizabeth Crane, the author of The History of Great Things

Opportunity Knocking and Trump

In the weeks since Donald Trump's surprise victory in the presidential election, the world has questioned what is to come. Americans, regardless of political leaning, wonder what sort of leader the new president elect will be. Considering that he has no political experience, has provided little transparency for how he conducts his business, and has flip-flopped on many issues after the election and during his campaign, no one seems to know the answer. Perhaps looking back at some of the philosophies that shaped the PEOTUS's approach to business will shed some light on the issue. Mr. Trump called Opportunity Knocking: Lessons from Business Leaders by Lori Ann LaRocco, published by Agate B2 Books in 2014, “a must-read filled with big ideas from some of the best in business.” He went on to say “LaRocco breaks down the steps to achieving success with a unique and actionable strategy. Compelling.” Can the business strategies housed within LaRocco's book give us a primer for what to expect starting January 20, 2017? Anything is possible.

Cyber Monday

Yesterday—which was, of course, Cyber Monday—I learned that the first item ever sold on Amazon, and one of the first ever items ever sold on the Internet, was a book! This really shouldn’t have been surprised me as much as it did, considering that around 806 million books were sold online in 2015, and that Amazon largely built its diverse online retail business on the foundation of bookselling. The Atlantic has a fascinating look at the actual copy of the book, a hardback edition of Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought by Douglas Hofstadter. The man who purchased it, John Wainwright, even kept the original packing slip! Agate sells a fair amount of books online, of course, either through sites like Amazon, or through our own website. One important feature of our online business is that we produce eBook editions of all of our titles and release them at the same time as their print edition counterparts. We have a list of all of our eBook titles on our website, if you are interested in checking them out! 

Fall Recipe from the Fly Creek Cider Mill Cookbook

We focus a lot on Chicago and the Midwest here at Agate, especially via our Midway imprint but we thought that on this perfect autumn day we should look east and feature a delicious seasonal recipe from another part of the country. The Official New York State Apple Muffin recipe was created to honor the apple, the official state fruit of New York, and make for either a great breakfast or a dessert. Here is a spin on it taken from The Fly Creek Cider Mill Cookbook, out now from Agate Surrey.

Makes 24 muffins

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped apples
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Topping:

  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts

    1.     Preheat oven to 375 degrees

    2.     Line 2 12-cup, large muffin tins with paper liners. Set aside

    3.     Combine the flour with the brown and granulated sugars, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl. Stir to blend completely. Set aside

    4.     Combine the apples with the raisins and walnuts in another medium mixing bowl. Stir in the eggs, cream cheese, melted butter, and vanilla. When blending, begin adding the dry ingredients, a little at a time, stirring until just combined. Do not overmix.

    5.     Prepare the topping. Combine the brown sugar with the flour and cinnamon in a small mixing bowl, stirring to blend. Stir in the walnuts and orange zest and, when blended, stir in the melted butter.

    6.     Spoon and equal portion of the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle an equal portion of the topping over each filled cup. Place in the over and bake for 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of a couple of the muffins comes out clean.

    7.     Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

    8.     When cool, store, tightly covered, at room temperature for up to 2 days.