NYC's Best Book-Pickle Pairings!
Plus! Eric Adams Watch!! Rubber Plant Update #5!!!
Welcome to Issue #46 of CAFÉ ANNE!
First, thanks to everyone who helped celebrate last week’s One-Year-Anniversary. I am filled with warm fuzz.
Second, I got a bigger response than I expected from my account of making Nyquil Chicken in Issue #44. Lots of emails. “I can’t unsee that chicken leg,” wrote reader Frank D. in Youngstown, Ohio. My neighbor Shelly, who reads the newsletter, sent a text: “Are you home? I’d like to come gawk at a crazy person.” Reader Nina H sent another $5 Venmo donation, “For almost killing yourself cooking chicken.”
I also got a lot of feedback on the issue’s Drugstore Shoplifting Quiz, which offered a multiple choice test looking at which items at my local Walgreens are now under lock and key. I asked for insight on how the chain decides which items merit what’s known in the industry as “product protection.”
Several readers wrote to note that gift cards aren’t locked up because they aren’t activated until purchase. Ah! Aaron in Bed-Stuy wrote to brag about his nearly perfect score on the quiz and shared some of his thinking. “Stealing delivers a rush from beating the system. Stealing generic products (ex: Walgreens mouthwash) does not get one over on the man,” he wrote. “Stealing larger objects like hair irons or bottles of wine is problematic because where are you going to stash this larger object? It is easy to stash Advil because it is hand-sized or smaller.”
Speaking of which, reader Tim C. on the Upper West Side emailed to recount his youthful dalliance with shoplifting: he swiped a pack of Necco Wafers, an Elvis $5 bill and a cheerleader’s bayonet. “The Neccos and fake fiver were for me. The bayonet was to be laid at the feet of an individual of romantic interest (that didn't work out),” he wrote.
Golly! CAFÉ ANNE readers are clearly a seedy and degenerate lot.
On the bright side, a big shoutout to new paid subscribers Caitlin, Phil, Bruce, Fred, Melanie, Jennifer, Alex, Randa, Emily, Amran, Bev, Betty, Scott and Andrew! I’m going to blow the funds on donuts and crack, but not all at once.
Finally, I am, as always, very excited about this week’s issue. Not only do we have the latest installment of Eric Adams Watch and an update on my rubber plant, there’s an exclusive interview with NYC used book store/pickle shop owner Leigh Altshuler on what books go with which pickles. Please enjoy.
ERIC ADAMS WATCH
On Meditation, Fries and Intelligence
I continue enjoying the exploits of Eric Adams, whom my friend Aharon refers to as “New York City’s first AI-generated Mayor.” As a profile in Politico put it, “In a city of weird people and weird mayors, Adams is maybe the most idiosyncratic figure to ever hold the office.”
Here, round-up #9 of the mayor’s doings:
September 18: At a celebration for a consciousness-raising outfit in Queens, the Mayor coins a new phrase: “You can’t hate if you meditate!”
September 27: At a press conference addressing international travel trends, the Mayor declares, “New York has a brand. And when people see it, it means something. Kansas doesn’t have a brand!” People in Kansas promptly lose their minds. “Mayor who?” says Kansas State Attorney General Derek Schmidt. “Kansas isn’t New York and we sure as heck don’t want to be. I’ll stay focused here in God’s Country on making life more affordable and keeping communities safe, neither of which can be said about New York.”
October 2: Mr. Adams tweets a photo of himself nibbling a french fry offered by a NYC baby with the caption: “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no one is as kind and generous as New Yorkers.” Readers respond with their own suggested captions: “Mayor Eric Adams Steals French Fry From Baby,” and “This halloween babies are giving out fentanyl laced french fries get the latest at fox news at 5” and “If you squint, it looks like Eric Adams is projectile vomiting onto a baby.”
October 3: A reporter asks the Mayor if the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau had approved a plan to give his deputy mayor a dedicated security squad. The Mayor responds, “I AM the Intelligence Bureau.”
MY WILD BROOKLYN LIFE
Rubber Plant Update #5
Readers with excessive recall will remember that back in March, I posted on NextDoor, offering my giant rubber plant up for adoption. It was almost dead and I was hoping a neighbor could nurse it back to health. I was thrilled when the plant was claimed by Ann, a sweet grandmother who was new to Brooklyn from Sri Lanka via Kentucky.
Over the summer, Ann noted that the plant was looking healthy but scraggly. She wondered if it’d be a good idea to propagate our friend by lopping off and replanting the head.
How should I know? This seemed like a good question for CAFÉ ANNE readers, so in Issue #37, I posted a poll. The results were decisive:
When I shared the results with Ann, she agreed to abide by the wishes of the bloodthirsty majority. But apparently she lost heart. When she reported in last month, the plant was still intact!
She actually sounded downright proud of her refusal to abide by majority rule:
I assured Ann I was just kidding about the lawsuit, but that was a while ago. I hope I didn’t scare her away!
NYC’S Best Book-Pickle Pairings!
People love pairing suggestions. This wine with that cheese. This whisky with that cigar. So when I learned of Sweet Pickle Books in Manhattan, a used book store that also sells pickles, my immediate thought was to ask owner Leigh Altshuler to suggest some book-pickle combos.
Ms. Altshuler was happy to oblige, and invited me to come by to get her recommendations. But first, a little about the store.
Sweet Pickle Books is for sure my new favorite NYC book shop. For one, it’s all used books. Which means more surprises and lower prices. Win!
Second, it’s a very funny place. The featured book in the front window is a handsome edition of the out-of-print classic, “How to Keep Your Teeth After 30.” Inside, there’s a pay-what-you-want cart. Jars of Mr. Altshuler’s line of sweet, spicy and dill pickles are displayed on the store shelves along with highlighted selections such as “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pleasing Your Woman.” There’s a zine section and a wall displaying old photos found between the pages of donated used books. A hand-lettered sign warns:
“JUST A LITTLE REMINDER THAT STEALING FROM A SMALL BUSINESS INDIE BOOKSTORE IS F---’D UP. IF YOU WANT TO STEAL, GO TO THE AMAZON BOOKSTORE 7 W 34TH STREET. THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT THE BOOKS.”
Folks who donate books, meanwhile, get a free jar of pickles. I asked Ms. Altshuler, who opened the store two years ago during the pandemic, how many books get you a jar.
“We have a ‘Don’t Be An Asshole’ policy,’” she said. “That’s about it. Use your best judgement. But we say at the minimum, four or five.”
I love that this shop has something for everyone. Ms. Altshuler says she just wants people to feel comfortable in her store. “There’s nothing they’ll be judged for,” she says. “If they want to read Valley of the Dolls or Ulysses or Goosebumps, I don’t care! I want people to feel excited to read whatever they want, and to talk about it.”
You’ll also be happy to learn that the whole pickle store/book store thing is not just a whacky schtick invented to grab attention. It’s a reference to both Ms. Altshuler’s Jewish heritage—which included a lot of childhood pickle eating—and the store’s location on the Lower East Side, which once served as the city’s pickle district.
My first question for Ms. Altshuler: “Are there particular genres that go with particular kinds of pickles?”
“I think you can read any book with any kind of pickle. It’s a good snack!” she said. “You can sit there and crunch on it. I would say maybe it goes seasonal. You know how people read cozy books in the winter and romantic or travel books in the summer? We see the same trend here with our pickles. We sell more spicy, hot pickles when it’s cold out, and the dill pickles are more refreshing in the summer. So maybe the pairings go that way as well.”
“I brought the book I’m reading right now,” I said. “And I’m not liking it that much. I was hoping you might recommend a pickle that would make it better.”
I pulled Robert Grave’s “I, Claudius” from my bag.
“Seems like it’s pretty dense reading,” she said.
“More than I thought it would be!” I said. “That’s the problem.”
“Mmm. Mmm,” she said. “It looks serious, so I think you gotta go classy. Classic dill pickle to keep up with the classic book.”
“Would you say that a dense, or a non-fiction type of book, is more of a dill-pickle thing?” I asked.
“I think so.” she said. “You gotta stay focused. You gotta know what you’re getting into. The dill pickle is not going to take you by surprise.”
I next asked her to recommend pickles to accompany some favorite books I’ve read this year, taken from my Goodreads list. The most recent: two novels by Honoré de Balzac, “Cousin Bette” and “Père Goriot.”
“It looks like you’re reading some French stuff,” she said. “Maybe the little pickles. Like a gherkin! Because they’re all over France.”
Next was “The Family Moskat,” a novel set in Warsaw, Poland between the wars. “Well, he’s from the Lower East Side,” she said of the author, Isaac Bashevis Singer. “So you gotta go classic, you gotta go dill, or maybe a half sour. He wrote all about the cafeteria which used to be on East Broadway and is now Wu’s Won Ton King. They definitely served pickles and half sour pickles.”
“I hated the Kite Runner!” I said, referring to the next book on my list. “What kind of pickle would go with that?”
“Kite Runner? You gotta go with something spicy, something hot, to keep up with the pace.”
“Evelyn Waugh?” I’ve read four of his novels since January.
“Bread-and-butter pickles,” she said. “Because there’s so much you can do with them, and there’s a lot you can do and learn within Evelyn Waugh.”
“Anthony Trollope?” I’d enjoyed “Barchester Towers” back in June, one of the English author’s 500,000 novels.
“There’s so much Trollope, it keeps going on and on, so it can’t be something spicy, it’s going to hurt your insides,” she said. “Something mild. Maybe a half-sour for that one.”
“I just got through my last Tolstoy,” I continued. “I finally read ‘Resurrection.’ What’s a Tolstoy pickle?”
“Oh my God,” she said. “Tolstoy is just so big and old and solitary. You know those single pickles in a bag? I’m from Florida. They always have them in Publix, but they also have them in gas stations. Just one giant pickle in a bag, full of brine—that’s what Tolstoy is to me.”
For an Orwell classic like “1984,” she suggested pickled mango and pineapple. “Because when you’re reading something like that, you gotta keep questioning. Why are you eating this pickled mango? Why this pickled pineapple? Who decided to pickle it? You gotta question authority.”
And to accompany my reading about Buddhism, she suggested pickled cabbage: “It’s really probiotic. And they say that your gut is your second brain, and when you’re learning a lot about Buddhism, you’re trying to think within, and connect. So that’s what I say—take care of both brains!”
“I really loved ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley,’” I continued, referring to the next book on my list.
“Love Patricia Highsmith!” Ms. Altshuler said of the book’s author. “What would go with that? Definately our spicy pickle. It’s slender cut, like Ripley! It looks pretty nice, but it’s spicy. Keeps you on your toes.”
I asked Ms. Altshuler to name her own favorite books, and pickles to go with. Her suggestions: Norah Ephron’s “Heartburn” or Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving.” Both would pair well with a classic dill, she said. Michael Chabon’s “Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” meanwhile, call for a half-sour.
“I love all of Stephen King,” she added. “Particularly I love ‘On Writing’ which is his non-fiction. Definitely something hot and spicy there. Because he’s got a specific cadence that you gotta keep up with. He’s very pow-bam!”
The discriminating reader, of course, will have already noted that the whole premise of this story is flawed. Eating pickles while reading is actually a really bad idea. You’ll get pickle juice all over the book!
“Are you a fan of eating while reading in general?” I asked Ms. Altshuler.
“I definitely do it, so I guess I am,” she said. “But not if you’re reading a book you really like, because then your pages will get dirty. That matters. You can’t have any Cheetos—can’t have anything that will stain your fingers.”
“I know,” I sighed. “It’s like, do I want to read, or do I want to eat Cheetos?”
“You have to pick,” she agreed. “You absolutely can’t be doing both.”
I asked Ms. Altshuler if given the choice between reading books or eating for the rest of her life, what she would pick.
“Books always and forever,” she replied.
I’d pick reading too. While this might sound odd coming from someone like myself who is relatively sunny, I do think that books are one of the few things that make life bearable.
After my visit, I gave “I, Claudius” another try. It still felt like a slog, and I remembered Ms. Altshuler’s response to the last question I’d posed: “What are your thoughts about when to give up on a book and move on?”
“Life is too short to read books you don't like!” she said. “Put it down and read something you're excited about. If it's meant to be, it'll find its way back to you.”
Huh! It had never occurred to me that even when it comes to books, there’s always a second chance. I set “I, Claudius” aside in favor of the latest Gary Shteyngart catastrophe and immediately felt better. It’s especially good with Ms. Altshuler’s spicy farmhouse pickles—a combo of which I’m sure she would approve.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
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