Electric Review

Culture & Criticism Since 2003

On the Road & Pageantry

Kerouac’s Original Scroll

Featuring Actress Melanie Minichino

Ms. Liberty International

Audio Books

Noted Cooking Books

Ten Minutes With Chef Walter Staib

Automotive Texts

ON THE ROAD: The Original Scroll. Jack Kerouac. Special 50th Anniversary Edition. Viking/Penguin.

This book by Jack Kerouac marked the birth of a new culture; even though Rock and Roll predates the release of Road, it nonetheless was Jack Kerouac’s words that tied the vision of the youth together and offered some semblance of meaning to a war-torn and confused America. Once they found this book, the kids never looked back — suddenly infused with holy energy, mad-eyed, chasing ghosts through the rusty moonlit dusk. Make no mistake – On the Road was the great beginning of it – the seed of the inspiration, the first step in a journey that wouldn’t end for some 25 years (inspiring musicians like Bob Dylan and cultural movements like the San Francisco Summer of Love along the way). Road tells the story of the friendship between Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty (Kerouac and Neal Cassidy, respectively), chronicling their travels scene-by-scene as they flew down the lost roads of these primitive Americas. This particular edition recently released by Viking celebrates the 50th birthday of the world-shaking novel, presenting it to readers just as Kerouac had penned it in 1951: One continual flow of words in a single paragraph taped together and unfolding as this perfect ‘scroll.’ Simply, this was Kerouac’s first holy book and it would come to christen the visions of several wayward generations that followed.

by John Aiello

Audio Spotlight: Christmas Fiction Pick

THE QUIET GIRL. Peter Hoeg. Audio Renaissance.

This audio is quite a literary achievement in that it brings the idea of the novel back to its classical underpinnings – Quiet Girl a book that grips the reader with its deep sensibilities and then refuses to let go. Hoeg is a notable prose writer because of his lyrical style which recalls the best passages of Fitzgerald or Mailer – poetic and layered, this symphony for the senses and the subconscious that carries us from place to place in a completely captivating fashion. Here, Hoeg tells the story of Kasper Krone, a circus clown who plays the edges, gambling and wandering, consumed by the music of Bach which serves to both inspire and cleanse him. As the book moves forward, we are asked to assume Krone’s mask as he dances through the pages of our collective mind seeking his actual identity. Masterfully written – and masterfully read by James Gale (whose voice is somehow able to capture the hidden nuance and lyricism of the writing, elevating this performance to that of a great theater production). 15 hours on 12 CDS.

by John Aiello

Ms. Liberty America International: A Beauty Queen With A Message

New York City’s Staci Shands is not your typical book publicist. Even though she is one of the top-flight PR folks working in the marketing division for stalwart McGraw Hill, Shands also wears the crown of Ms. Liberty America International (produced by Virtue International Pageants).

Yet, going further, what’s truly remarkable about this story is that Shands found her way into the world of pageantry at the age of 40.

Yes, that’s right – 40. It’s an atypical journey to say the least. However, Shands is anything but typical; instead, she bristles with enthusiasm and a true social consciousness, her mind set on the ‘bigger picture’ of which we are all a part:

“I got into pageantry because I thought it was a great way to create a new and special awareness for subjects that were dear to my heart,” says Shands, who accepted her year-long place under the Ms. Liberty crown in January 2007. “Really, it gave me a real opportunity to spread vital information about important topics that touch people’s lives on a daily basis.”

A cursory glance shows that Shands ‘subjects of choice’ are truly important to each of us.

As part of her Ms. Liberty platform, Shands is a member of the Junior Board of the Bowery Residents’ Committee, a widely-respected non-profit dedicated to helping New York’s homeless find shelter. In addition, Shands, who was diagnosed as a diabetic 14 years ago, works tirelessly to circulate information on Juvenile Diabetes (a disease which afflicts millions worldwide every year).

Again, not your typical platforms for a beauty queen to preside over. But again, this is not your typical beauty queen. To the contrary, this woman is about furthering the community in which she lives, fighting to enlighten each of us along the way:

“I know many might think that 40 is a bit old to be entering your first beauty pageant,” says Shands, “but I think that’s hardly what this is about. This is really about doing something important for your community. Truly, age is just a number. And I would advise women in their 40s to follow their hearts and become involved, because these pageants offer a great chance to bring awareness to issues that are important to all of us.”

For more information, go to virtueinternationalpageants.com.

Ten Minutes With Actress Melanie Minichino

Melanie Minichino

Photo by Bill Strong. © 2007. All rights reserved.

New York actress Melanie Minichino is a rising star, not so much for her pristine and  chestnut-stained old-Italian beauty as for the intangible ‘presence’ she brings to the screen.

Before June of this year, few had heard of Minichino, as her film work had mostly been limited to roles in B-grade shorts yet to screen nationally. However, this past spring, David Chase, creator HBO’s The Sopranos, cast Minichino in a small part as a relative at a funeral in the epic series’ final episode (Tara Zincone, episode number 86), immediately giving viewers a new face to monitor.

Even though Minichino’s Sopranos role was tiny, her energy was huge. There she stood: A relatively unknown name in the midst of the likes of strong male personas like Tony Sirico and Robert Iler as they sparred for the lion’s share of the lines. However, Minichino did more than hold serve here, managing to steal a few seconds of the scene for her own dossier.

In that Sopranos episode, Minichino used mannerism and the motion of her eyes to balance the scene, pushing the other actors with subtly and nuance, the cast now blooming as one across the stage, carving the reality of the moment; andthe cast now blending into one sterling voice: 6 actors in a circle fighting through this funereal tension, this last labyrinth of faces gathering in grief poring through these ancient tastes of mortality and madness.

The Electric Review is proud to feature Melanie Minichino in this interview—this actress and model talking of her motivations and influences, building onto the foundation she forged in her Sopranos debut. As you will readily see, what stands out about Minichino is her candor and resolve – traits she brings to the screen not so much as the embodiment of a character, but instead, as real pieces of the self fused together with the mortar of words in the grand tradition of theater and art.

Can you tell me a bit of your background and how you came to the craft of acting?

Melanie Minichino

Original portrait by Eric Ward, © 2007. All rights reserved.

I was born in the Bronx [New York] and then moved to Italy with my parents when I was about 2 years old. We lived in Milan for a couple of years, and then came back to the States. I started acting when I was around 7. I got hooked up with an agent, but things didn’t really work out in the beginning. I was very shy as a child. Directors found me cute – but I wouldn’t speak. So I initially stopped acting: In part because of my shyness and in part because I was temporarily pulled in other directions. For example, I became interested in photography and ended up going to The School of Visual Arts. But the acting bug was still inside me I guess – because I was completely drawn back to it. I started studying privately with Ted Bardy at the Ted Bardy Acting Studio, and this eventually led me to go out on casting calls and get my feet wet a little bit. Ted teaches the Miesner Technique [an acting technique developed by Sanford Miesner which teaches the student to master multiple faces through a series of exercises that build strategically on one another]. He’s been a great mentor, and a very inspirational person in my life. We have grown very close, and he has pushed me quite far.

Tell me about The Sopranos audition: That has to be every unknown actor’s dream call…

My manager scheduled the audition for me. It was actually my third audition for Sopranos work (for different characters). This time I got a call back. And I got booked for the Tara Zincone role. It was really that simple…

What was it like working on the set of The Sopranos in light of you being in the last episode? What was the cast like to work with? And what will you take from the experience as you move toward other projects?

Working on the last episode of the Sopranos was such an amazing experience. I was very excited to be there, but it was work, so I kept my cool. Everyone [the regular cast] seemed emotional, obviously because everything was coming to an end. The cast and crew seemed very close, and it was apparent to me that they were really a tight-nit family. The feeling on set was extremely warm –and they were all so down- to-earth and so sweet to me. I felt respected. Being a part of that will definitely set precedence for future projects I work on. But I am not sure if they’ll measure up to working with such talented people and with such an amazing writer/director in David Chase. I am looking forward to being cast again, though, and will try and bring what I learned on the Sopranos set to future work.

Even though the part in The Sopranos was small, you really did stand out among all those other heavy-weights on stage. Has that role brought you to the threshold of any other work?

Not yet. But I’m hopeful. Right now, I am doing some limited modeling work, doing marketing promos for the Speed Channel. That role on the Sopranos was truly different in that I was in only one little scene. But I did have some lines and was featured for a few moments. Looking back, I wonder why David Chase introduced such a brand new character to the series in this way, giving me a whole name, placing me in the scene the way he did. I haven’t quite figured out the answer to that yet.

One of the many lingering mysteries to that final episode!

Yes! Definitely! (laughing).

Where do see your career going from here? More modeling? Or perhaps a feature film that might showcase your look and your unique presence?

I don’t see myself doing much more modeling. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do these Speed Channel spots, but  in the future I want to concentrate on moving my acting career forward. I’m serious about challenging myself with different kinds of roles and different kinds of writing. More than anything, I want to work with good writing in the future projects I do. I don’t see this as limited to only TV and film, but I also see the theater as a real possibility. I didn’t get into acting just to be seen; I want to try and do meaningful work.

You mentioned photography as being a point of interest: Have you pursued that in terms of publishing your pictures?

I haven’t tried to publish my pictures – because of my acting I’ve put that on the backburner. In the past, I thought I would get into photo journalism, which I’ve always enjoyed. But the reality is that photography, like all the arts, is extremely competitive – and nothing is easy, no matter how great your talent might be. Really, at this juncture of my life, I thought I should take advantage of my youth and pursue my desire to act. (pausing) I guess, really, this life is a part of me: My parents are both artists, and I was brought up with this way of life, so a lot of it comes naturally to me.

Do you have a day-job that supports your creative impulses?

Actually – it’s a night-job: I work as a bar-tender, like most every other actor in New York City.

Since you’re based in New York, you’re able to indulge in the rich history of the theater which is one of the hallmarks of the city. However, can you see yourself eventually making the leap to LA in order to get into the more mainstream film world?

I’ve been to Los Angeles, and I am not a big fan of that city. New York has a certain energy, and frankly it’s hard to leave it. I am drawn to it. I want to try and make it here first. It’s true, there are mainstream opportunities in LA. But it’s competitive out there, too. There’s more work. And more actors fighting for the jobs. It’s not that easy out there either. I guess one day I might find my way to LA, if I were to be cast in a film, or if it seemed likely that I could do regular work there…

Notable Cookbooks

BLACK FOREST CUISINE: The Classic Blending of European Flavors. Walter Staib. With Jennifer Lindner McGlinn. Running Press.

In this cook book, the majesty of the European kitchen is ignited to life by chefs Walter Staib (who owns the famed City Tavern in Philadelphia) and Jennifer Lindner McGlinn. In an age when Emeril Lagasse’s recipes elevate the Food Channel to new heights, the classic Euro-flavored entrée has once again been resurrected to the head of the table. Here, the authors stake out some elegant territory and then produce the goods via an array of recipes that revisit the way meals used to be made and the way that good food used to taste. In Staib and McGlinn’s world, the whole idea of cooking is tied to the fusion of flavors as chefs learn what ingredients build into other ingredients to create a ‘dish.’ The recipes collected here simply sparkle, a collection of different kinds of cooking for different kinds of occasions as cooks learn to fit the meal around the event. Many items standout, including the Oxtail Soup which combines lentils and beef oxtails with various vegetables to create this dish which is known in many regions extending from France to Germany. What’s best about this pot of soup is the way that the taste of one ingredient enhances the taste of the next. Also notable is theTripe a la Mode: This dish is also a classic in places like Italy, and this version rocks by virtue of its naked simplicity, the inclusion of shallots and garlic serve to sweeten the acrid backbite of the tripe, rendering it a savory and satisfying plate. Insofar as desserts, the Chocolate Soufflé and the Crème Anglaise rise up and shine like beacons – perfectly sweetened, each respective bite tinged with the elegant echo of sugar and cognac and chocolate. In sum, readers who pick-up this book will not be disappointed, as it exposes the world of high-end dining and brings it to the intimacy of the home kitchen. Notable for the clarity of the recipes and for the tantalizing photography which carry the paper images of these different plates into real-time life.

by John Aiello

Other important books by Walter Staib

Readers interested in transferring a bit of Chef Staib’s City Tavern to the comfort of their own kitchens should make a point of finding these titles, as they bring elegant versions of Staib’s Tavern menu to at-home-cooks:

CITY TAVERN COOKBOOK: 200 years of Classic Recipes from America’s First Gourmet Restaurant. Walter Staib. Running Press.


Both of these cookbooks brim with the life of the long-gone past, immediately in touch with the world that Chef Staib speaks to (see the interview printed below). What makes the City Tavern a special place is intertwined in the years of history it presents (presenting this sacred shape of food on the table).

Simply, food is a bonding agent, the one thing that carries the power to bring people together, the one thing that helps communities to form and reform among families and amid perfect strangers.

Look back on your own past. It is likely that some of your most special moments (graduations; weddings; birthdays; anniversaries; funerals) all took place in the midst of a meal.

Accordingly, these volumes celebrate this idea by providing a stunning record of the City Tavern’s menus on both the dinner and dessert side of the ledger. Even though this is elegant food, it is by no means impractical for at-home-cooks to give these dishes a try – follow the recipes and the instructions and the platters literally make themselves.

There are so many stunning examples here that it is impossible to note every worth-while entry. However, these dishes serve as random high-points:

The Chicken Madeira is extraordinary – boneless chicken breasts bathed in Madeira cooking wine show-off a meat that’s been enhanced and tenderized by a combination of rosemary and garlic and sweet basil (served with buttoned mushrooms and a turnip/potato/parsnip mash).

The Mushroom Bisque is also delightful – collecting different varieties of mushrooms cooked in butter and then combined with vegetable broth, dry sherry and heavy cream in order to create this delectable soup (which pays homage to the bounty of wild mushrooms that grow in the vast Pennsylvania woods).

On the more exotic side, the Tripe Soup takes this European staple to another level, assembling wedges of beef tripe with beans, vegetables, red wine and herbs. This soup eats like a vibrant and lively stew – layered in flavor, throbbing with old-world intensity. I venture to guess that some might consider this “peasant food,” but they would be way off-base. Instead, this is the food of rustic memory the food of a working-class Europe now saluting the cultural divide with class and creativity.

For dessert, the Lemon Curd Tart is incredible – light and airy, it pulls together the tastes and textures of pudding and pie and then blends them into an original amalgamation that will make most diners forgo the ice cream for a second tart.

In addition, the Ricotta Cheesecake uses both vanilla and almond extract as well as citrus zest in order to build this delectable dessert that calls to mind the lightness of the Italian cookie cart with the rich decadence of a French creation. Simply, this is a special cheesecake that will cause you to forever pass-up an ordinary slice of frozen grocery-store cake in honor of this indulgence.

Chef Staib is an exemplary food writer with a real knack for transferring his immense expertise to the eye and ear of the general public. For those folks who can’t make a trip to Philadelphia to try the City Tavern’s fare in person, these cookbooks are a great alternative, allowing anyone with a little imagination and a kitchen to eat like the Aristocracy.

by John Aiello

Ten Minutes With Chef Walter Staib

Can you tell me how you developed your unique passion for cooking and how you came upon so many majestic culinary creations?

I was born in Pforzheim [Germany] and grew up in a restaurant family growing up around a butcher shop; consequently, I learned a lot of things about food and cooking at an early age. Later, I worked at the entrance of the Black Forest in Nagold [Germany], where I was able to experience a very unique approach to cooking. As a youngster, as far back as I can remember, I was fascinated by what went on in restaurants and in the butcher shop, fascinated by the way different foods and tastes could be created. From an early age, there was no question what I wanted to be [a chef]…

At first glance, some critics might call this a narrow idea for a cookbook. But your passion and the way you present the recipes really makes it work. What gave rise to this idea to memorialize the foods of the Black Forest?

I came into this country in 1969. And from the time I arrived here, people would always ask me for background about the Black Forest and want to know what it was like. There was abiding interest in the area, and people were curious about it. Plus, no one had a done a cookbook on this specific region of Germany. I thought it was important to show what Black Forest cuisine was all about – -what do the people really eat there? What do the home table and the café table look like? I set out to show readers answers to these questions and to share an inexpensive approach to building very flavorful foods…

The lesson that jumps from the pages of your book is about fusing flavors: How can you teach novice cooks this concept? How do you impress upon novice cooks that good food is about the pairing of flavors?

The biggest thing someone can do is follow the recipes – that’s what allows flavors to build on each other in the proper way. It’s all about combinations of ingredients and the recipes are there to serve as a guide. The central idea is to maintain flavors through use of the ingredients. These are simple but powerful recipes. And you shouldn’t change or alter the recipes until you try them and know for sure that they don’t work for your taste. However, people should realize that there is definitely a lot of prep work involved with these recipes (even though they are relatively simple to create). But going further, in terms of Black Forest cuisine – there’s a lot of history in the recipes, as this hearty kind of food is getting harder and harder to find…

So, Walter, how many restaurants do you own now?

Right now, I only have one restaurant. It’s in Philadelphia and called City Tavern. I’ve had it since 1994. It originally opened in 1773 – the finest British/North American restaurant to open before the revolution. Few people remember that Philadelphia was originally settled by Germans and there is certainly a lot of German history in this city. And that’s one of the reasons I still create so many German-inspired dishes, as a means to feed those tastes.

If readers want to go further and look for your recipes on TV, are you on any cooking shows regularly?

Yes, big-time (laughing)…I’ve done the Food Network in the past. And I will have my own show starting in a couple of months. Right now, people can see me on Fretz’s Kitchen several nights a week, and readers can catch the video stream on-line (at http://www.cn8.tv.). So all-in-all I’m pretty visible.

Learn more about Walter Staib at blackforestcuisine.comstaib.com, or citytavern.com.

Other Food Books of Note From the Running Press Shelf


Noted food and wine writer Matt Kramer has authored a rich and evocative study for the non-wine expert, a book that helps to expand the general reader’s knowledge-base of Italian wines. The modern-day wine market is as confusing as ever these days, with a huge selection of Italian wines from myriad vintners available for purchase. In turn, Kramer presents a crisp and well-paced text that helps readers become familiar with the basic characteristics of the different kinds of wine being produced in Italy, in addition to tips to properly evaluate them. Excellent guide for those readers with limited expertise in the discipline, but who want to learn more about the regional wine market.

by John Aiello

BOB’S RED MILL BAKING BOOK. John Ettinger and the Bob’s Red Mill Family. Running Press.

In this age of the calorie-conscious snacker, baked good have taken a hit, the victim of the stigmatization that says if it’s made with flour it can’t be good for the waistline – or the cardiovascular system. However, the Red Mill Baking Book serves as a cook book for the 21st century, outlining how to create healthy and sensible baked goods without sacrificing the essence of good taste. This reference collects over 400 recipes that utilize whole grains in the baking process. The lesson that Ettinger and the Red Mill Family teach here is that healthy eating does not have to forgo flavor, teaching us that we can feed our sweet-tooth cravings while still doing good many things for our bodies (and especially our hearts). Examples of sinfully good tasting items include the apple cinnamon bread and the ham and cheese yogurt muffins – snacks that double as healthy alternatives for either the breakfast nook or the lunch counter.

by John Aiello

To order each go to amazon.com.

Automotive Books


Synopsis: Part of the Thomson/Delmar TechOne series (known throughout technical writing circles for its easy to understand analysis of the inner-workings of the automobile), Basic Auto is the quintessential manual for both the student and the established mechanic. Even though Knowles’ book covers the “basics,” professional mechanics should not look down their noses at this information, since it provides a sturdy foundation from which they will be able to elevate their skills. Basic Auto is comprehensive in nature, providing insight on how one should approach maintenance and problem diagnosis for the modern car. All basic systems are analyzed in step-by-step format, including engines and lubrication, emissions, drive axles, transmissions and braking systems. In addition, there are in depth chapters detailing the fine points of the automobile charging system (batteries, voltage regulators and alternators) and the role these things play under the hood of your car.

Recommended because: Knowles (a former automotive instructor who has authored some 35 texts on the subject) writes with the reader in mind: rather than flaunt his knowledge and his mechanical acumen (as so many car techs do), Knowles takes us by the hand and escorts us step-by-step through these-oft complex ideas. By going slow and building from the basics, he has stripped way the intimidating face from automobile maintenance. The idea here is to show that once you understand how your car works (and why it works as it does), you will be better equipped to safely operate and maintain it. Moreover, the material is written in a way that is conducive to understanding that each of the many systems that comprise your “car” are inter-linked and over-lapped – until you appreciate each as individuals you can’t ever truly understand the focus of the whole.

Recommended to libraries on the college level and in the public sector as a general reference text – the information contained herein is useful to both the student and “shade-tree” mechanic and they should have immediate access to it. Also recommended as a class text in all high-school and college-level level auto-shop classes. Finally, the professional mechanic might want to consider adding this to his reference shelf for its comprehensive nature and well-developed analysis which make the basics easier to master.

by John Aiello


One comment on “On the Road & Pageantry

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This entry was posted on January 1, 2008 by in 2008, Books, January 2008, Quick Picks and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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