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Salmon Pink; Poet Food

March 2, 2012 | by

Dear Masters and Mistresses of The Paris Review,

I would like to take you up on your offer for free advice. Could you, as arbiters of high taste and culture, please settle a disagreement that occurred between me and my husband this morning?

He just purchased a very nice Western-style shirt by Ralph Lauren that is clearly salmon-hued (or coral). We agree on this much. The point of disagreement comes when I lazily refer to salmon as pink. He contends that salmon is much more closely related to orange. I contend that salmon/orange/pink all derive from the primary color red and so can also be thought of as pink.

Might you have any unbiased, quasi-official information in your arsenal to settle this marital spat? Our cocktail hour this evening depends on it.

Most sincerely,
Suzanne (Austin, Texas)

For starters, why does your husband object to pink in the first place? As he doubtless knows, the association of pink with femininity is a relatively modern phenomenon, and in any case, it’s the one color that can truly be said to flatter all complexions.

Those watching the pre-Oscars red carpet this past Sunday will recall that Michelle Williams’s Louis Vuitton gown spawned exactly such a discourse. (Tim Gunn, to my mind, settled the debate when he came down on the side of “coral.”) It’s a largely arbitrary determination, at the end of the day.

Since salmon is so often twinned with the word pink, I feel safe in asserting that it is, indeed, on that color spectrum. (Although the actual flesh of the fish varies greatly in hue.) However, when you claim that orange is a shade of pink, well, you’ve lost me: it’s a different color. So I think you both score points here.

(All that said, in my experience, whenever a man gets defensive about a garment’s color and trots out “Nantucket red” or “salmon,” we’re dealing with pink.)

I am heading off to the last frontier (Alaska) from the crowded metropolis of New York. What books would you recommend to enhance my journey?

When I was young, my grandfather gave me a copy of Margaret Murie’s Two in the Far North, an account of growing up in the Alaskan wilderness. I loved it. It’s an evocative portrait of a very different time in the state, and interesting in that the author and her husband went on to found the Wilderness Society. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union may bear little resemblance to anything you encounter in the actual last frontier, but it’s a good read. And a friend in Juneau recommends James Michener’s Alaska, Into the Wild, and, if you’re a mystery fan, any of Dana Stabenow's books. (Jack London goes without saying!)

I'm having a poet I admire over for dinner (+1) and have no idea what I should cook! Also, cook is a limited term in my case. Any suggestions (or even just a cookbook rec) appreciated!

When I googled “what do poets eat,” out of curiosity, I immediately came across this. So, you know, take that for what it’s worth.

This question prompted another fond memory from my childhood, this one of a peculiar and beloved cookbook, which, after some long online searching, I located. It’s called Written with a Spoon: A Poet’s Cookbook and is full of food-related verse, like this:

The syrup should drip in an amber pool
Over the white flan, reflecting the light.
Uncomplicated, delicate
Cooked so it slides gently on the plate.
A taste like sun-dried roads,
Red geraniums in shaded patios,
And dreaming in the afternoon....

In my personal experience, poets eat lots of different things. I know several who are vegetarian, one who is macrobiotic, another who makes her own sausage. What I’d do is what I’d do for any guest, which is to say, shoot said poet a note and ask whether poet and +1 have any requests/restrictions/lifestyle choices/unreasonable prejudices of which you should be aware.

Barring any particularly alarming responses, a few good, basic cookbooks are Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food, and one that was recently mentioned to me as very helpful to the beginner, Alton Brown’s I'm Just Here for the Food.

But let’s talk specifics. If I had to give you one recipe, it would be this one from Marion Cunningham’s The Supper Book, which I made for my first-ever dinner party and still cook regularly. My one note would be to cut the potatoes much smaller than the recipe indicates, so they cook through properly. Serve with salad and bread; have guests bring wine or dessert; otherwise serve ice cream or poach some pears the day before. If your guests are vegetarian, couscous is a good route. If you want a recipe, this is a good starting point. Good luck!

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  1. andrew | March 2, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    re: alaska question

    if ‘journey enhancement’ is our objective here, i would enthusiastically suggest putting down the chabon and finding a copy of john mcphee’s ‘coming into the country’. that book got me real excited about alaska as a 16 year old, despite having been born and raised there. i still read it every 2 or 3 years. when a grizzly bear attacked the tent i was camping in last july, i threw my copy of ‘coming into the country’ about 3 meters away from the bear to distract it, and sure enough it ended up trotting away a few minutes after dutifully examining my old john mcphee paperback.

  2. Angus Trumble | March 2, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    The whole question of pink in eighteenth-century culture is to be the subject of exhaustive treatment in an exhibition currently being organized by my excellent colleague Cassandra Albinson here at the Yale Center for British Art, and my suspicion is that even then that color enjoyed a particular association with the betrothal of young ladies. Nor are modern concerns arising from the terminology of pink restricted to men only. For example, when in the mid-1950s Lady Churchill wore the mantle of Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, it was widely reported as being “petunia” in hue, and not pink. Assuming that the representatives of Fleet Street were not wearing sunglasses, there appears to have been some widespread need on this occasion to avoid the term “pink,” though undeniably pink is synonymous with petunia. Perhaps “pink” was felt to lean too heavily toward the sort of wild gestures captured by Kay Thompson soon afterwards in the famous “Think Pink” sequence from Funny Face (1957). I agree with Sadie, though, that orange is an entirely different kettle of salmon than pink.

  3. Joe Carlson | March 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Poets are partial to roasted, deep-fried, or parboiled poetic feet, which have been properly denailed, skinned, boned, and marinaded overnight in a solution of vinegar, lemon juice and soy sauce, to enhance tenderness. Repasts varying from a light snack of disyllables, to a hearty meal of trisyllables, to a feast of tetrasyllables, provide many options for the busy homemaker entertaining a poet, who prefer bum wine with their food. Or even without it.

  4. AYC | March 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Regarding Alaska: David Vann’s Caribou Island–though it will make you very glad to come home.

  5. Dana Stabenow | March 8, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for the mention! I would also recommend Nick Jans’ Last Light Breaking, a beautifully witnessed and written “stranger in a strange land” account of a white man in the Inupiaq village of Ambler, Alaska.

  6. Karen | March 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    And then there is “military pink”. And the fact that those riding jackets in the equestrian/hunting world are called “pinks”. Just another example of the English language rampaging out of control.

  7. Rick Bannerman | March 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    A year or so ago when I was getting ready to move to Alaska I boned up on Dana Stabenow’s books, both for the pure pleasure of the read and also to immerse myself in the flavor of Alaska. She captures that unique flavor well.

  8. Leah | March 8, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    If you like a more historical view of Alaska, Where the Sea Breaks It’s Back is a great book. Discusses (the naturalist) Stellar’s journey to Alaska. Very interesting. Also, Dana’s books are wonderful.

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