Bart Schneider is what he eats. He’s also what he writes. The San Francisco-born novelist and poet and the publisher of the book company Kelly’s Cove, divides his time between the East Bay and the North Bay with forays into The City for food and drink. Kelly’s Cove is named after the nook in the northernmost corner of The City’s Ocean Beach, where Schneider came of age and where the surf still gives him a thrill.
Over the past year or so, Schneider has cooked up a mouthwatering book, “The Daily Feast,” with art from his pal Chester Arnold, who lives in Sonoma and paints surrealist and apocalyptic landscapes that are out-of-this-world. The pandemic upended their lives, but it also reignited their friendship and prompted them to bond long distance through poems and paintings.
Sometimes, readers need a reprieve from the real world
Call “The Daily Feast” a post-pandemic buddy book that appeals to the eye and the ear with words and images. Arnold’s paintings, which grace the book, are on exhibit at the Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco. Copies of “The Daily Feast” are on sale at the Dec. 10 book launch, which includes a panel discussion, reading and book signing. Schneider also reads at Bird & Beckett in Glen Park. Fiction writer Dan Coshnear, who publishes with Kelly’s Cove, joins him at the event.
“Life’s menu drives us and unites us,” Arnold says. “We hope our book will stimulate appetites.” “The Daily Feast” honors Jewish foods like gefilte fish and Mexican dishes like sopa de ajo, plus all-American favorites like tuna fish sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs with sauerkraut, burgers, plus French items like steak au poivre, which Schneider’s French-born wife, Catherine Durand, loves rare with pepper galore.
Durand knows that Californians cherish time at the table with friends, family, food and wine as much as the French. A colorful painting at the front of the book depicts a dozen or so friends gathered for a sumptuous meal. It’s surely not the Last Supper, but it definitely looks like a supper to remember.
Duran brings a certain joie de vivre to the table in the house she shares with Schneider. They share a love of offal, various organ meats such as sweetbreads, which can be hard to find in restaurants and butcher shops, except perhaps at a place like Olivier’s Butchery in San Francisco. With the exception of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, there are no instructions for how to make any of the dishes in “The Daily Feast.” For his PB&J sandwich, Schneider suggests: “Choose the crunchy jar/and spread it thickly/on white bread or whole wheat,/but never rye.” He knows precisely what he likes.
The colorful cover image — a detail from a painting by Arnold titled “Anton’s Half-Dozen”— depicts six oysters on the half-shell atop a bed of shaved ice. In the poem ”Still Life: On the Half Shell,” Schneider names the oysters as Hog Island Kumamotos. Oysters, he adds, were “food for the poor, once,/now a delicacy for the wealthy.” Still, there is no snob appeal in “The Daily Feast.” The authors call out to folks who chow down, not foodies obsessed about an obscure sauce or a rare spice that tickles their taste buds.
Divided into four sections — starters, entrees, desserts and libations, including a dirty martini — “The Daily Feast” honors the kind of down-home cooking that’s often available at diners rather than at white-tablecloth restaurants. In an afterword, chef Cindy Pawlcyn — famous for two landmark restaurants, Fog City Diner and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen — writes that Schneider’s and Arnold’s book sent her right to her kitchen. There, she says, she made ratatouille, braised duck legs with thyme, red wine, red onions and potatoes steamed, then smashed and crisped on a hot griddle in duck fat.
In some ways, the story of the prep time behind “The Daily Feast” is as fascinating as the pictures and the poems in the book itself. When the pandemic hit, Arnold and Schneider retreated from their weekly gatherings to eat and talk and doubled down at home. “The pandemic turned me into an adventurous cook,” Schneider says. He shopped like never before at markets for fruits, vegetables and meat from organically raised animals.
Schneider calls himself “an oven and grill man” and explains that he “hammers thin and dry rubs” pork butt, and that he often roasts a whole chicken with garlic and cabbage. During the pandemic, Arnold learned to appreciate Dungeness crab right out of the ocean and for days at a time during the summer, he and his wife lived on the ripe figs from their fecund fig tree, along with fresh mozzarella, sun-ripened tomatoes and locally baked breads. Unlike Schneider, Arnold works late into the night, painting rather than eating and drinking. “I love quiet hours alone,” he says.
After his birth and formative years in San Francisco, Schneider spent much of his adult life in Minneapolis/St. Paul editing Hungry Mind Review and letting ideas feed him. “One time, I wanted to run a feature on how the Bay Area’s cultural revolution had devolved into an obsession with the palate,” he says.
“My view was shortsighted.” He adds, “After a while, I began to understand Northern California’s food revolution, appreciate local farming and the farm-to-table movement.
Over the years, Arnold has rarely strayed far from the paint, the pallets and the canvases in his studio, though he has fond memories of Northern California artists and art teachers he’s known, including Christopher Brown, and art collectors and art historians such as Peter Selz. A fugitive from Nazi Germany, Selz settled in the Bay Area, taught at UC Berkeley and introduced to the public the work of Richard Diebenkorn, Willem de Kooning and Helen Frankenthaler.
“Selz has meant the world to me,” Arnold says. “His writing on German expressionist painting is the summit of the literature about that period of art.”
Arnold also treasures the memories of his lively meetings with Schneider. “For the last decade or so, we have had many conversations about what each of us has been working on,” he says. “The conversations have nurtured me and have nurtured him.”
Rarely has a contemporary poet in California or the U.S. pointed so directly to enemies
“The Daily Feast” will likely nurture lovers of art, poetry and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.