Amy Pennington at the Check, Please! premiere party. Credit: Ronald Holden
Urban farmer Amy Pennington, 38, says if she can’t eat it, she doesn’t grow it. Three years ago, the cookbook author and host of KCTS’ Check, Please!, re-committed to reading more regularly. “Just this morning I was thinking about buying all of my nieces and nephews books for Christmas. Boring Aunt Amy.”
Valerie Easton: Do you have a new book in the works?
Amy Pennington: I’m working on a monthly e-book series highlighting one seasonal ingredient. It debuts in January with winter squash.
What book is open on your nightstand right now?
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.
Have you read a truly great book lately? One you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?
Last summer I read yet another amazing book by Michael Ondaatje, In The Skin of A Lion, and I recommend it to anyone.
What makes it so recommendable?
His grasp of language is incomparable and I find myself simultaneously wishing for a highlighter and tearing through the pages. This book is really special and quiet.
Any book you’ve read lately that caught your imagination, inspired you or changed how you look at the world?
The Cloudspotter’s Guide: The Science, History & Culture of Clouds (by the Cloud Appreciation Society) is doing that, for sure. It has completely changed my airplane travel.
Since your boyfriend lives in Scotland, you must get plenty of chance to view clouds on high?
Yes, but just last week I took a puddle jumper out to Port Townsend, the morning fog was hugging the tops of the trees and I thought "Oh, the ground is still holding heat.” I knew I had another few weeks to get my garlic in.
You do such a great job of linking garden, kitchen and pantry in your books. Do you have any favorite food authors?
I’ve tried to read MFK Fisher, but she just doesn’t resonate, which makes me feel like a really bad food person. I like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall; he writes the River Cottage Cookbook series.
Why a British celebrity chef over MFK?
He’s short and sweet, and has a practical voice. He’s not interested in the fluffy stuff.
Any books you couldn’t cook without?
I love The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers. It was one of my first cookbooks when I started cooking regularly in my 20s. And my sister gave me Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook many years ago and it's a great inspiration tool. I like seeing how they put menus together. That's more influential to me than a single recipe would be.
Are your cookbooks pristine or splattered?
My books are splattered, as are many of my old Martha Stewart Living magazines.
Do you tend to buy books, get them from the library? Download them?
Now I mostly download books onto my Kindle. Or I'll buy a book that’s not available in an e-book, such as The Master and Margarita, which is on my list to read just now.
How long is your library queue?
Empty! I can't borrow books from the library. I have a problem with prompt returns. I'm the worst.
Do you have a favorite genre?
It’s what I think of as proper literature. I love Ernest Hemingway and I'm so sad that he isn't around to write more. I love all the classics and of course anything from Michael Ondaatje. I used to read Dean Koontz and Stephen King when I was in junior high.
What were your most cherished books when you were a child? Can you name a childhood favorite that influenced you?
Shel Silverstein's poems. They were so fantastical that I remember being transported. I also loved the kids’ detective series called Encyclopedia Brown. Those were the best!
Do you have a book or two that you’ve re-read over the years and will no doubt read again?
I have never re-read a book and don't plan to. It's not my thing. I like the memory each book creates on first impression.
Are you a fast or slow reader?
Fast. I consume books in days, so I have to be sure I have room in my schedule so I can let the book rule for a few days.
Do you write in the margins, take notes?
I do now, because I can make searchable notes on my Kindle. Most of these notes are thoughts on sentence structure, or food quotes I may use. Other notes are lines or sentences that I adore and want to chew on.
I have the category "love" on my Kindle and store quotes there that take my breath away so I can read them over and over again.
When and where do you settle down to read?
I tuck into books on vacations or trips. I read on mass transportation, so when I'm home in New York City, I read constantly. I read every night in bed before sleep, even if only for five minutes or so — often it's remnants from the Sunday New York Times if I'm not currently into a book.
How many books do you usually have going at once?
I've only ever been a one-book-at-a-time-gal until I got my Kindle last summer. Now I have about three going at a time.
Can you think of a particularly powerful passage from a book that’s stuck with you? That you return to?
In The English Patient, Hannah is in an empty house in the countryside with her patient and a broken piano. She can’t play it because they’re hiding. It just gripped me; I wrote it down in a journal that I lost. In The Skin of a Lion has a conversation between a man and a woman that’s just ….wow.
Is there a book or author you turn to for comfort or to cheer yourself up?
I treat myself by saving the “Modern Love” article in the Style section of the Sunday New York Times to read just before bed. I look forward to it all day.
What book do you plan to read next?
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner is already loaded up on my phone so I have it with me 24/7.