15 Minutes With: Sean Eno and Kristin Benneman Eno

Kristin is a filmmaker, painter and teacher. Sean makes things move and takes pictures. These crazy characters met on the Frying Pan in 2000, started collaborative film projects the next year, got married in 2002, and found their dream neighborhood when they moved to Red Hook six years ago. Two years ago they added a tiny Eno to the mix — Magnolia is the name. She’s not so tiny … as it appears that she came from tall stock.

Special surprise: Kristen’s new film, Spirit Ship, is showing tonight (August 10) at Valentino Pier. The short starts at 8:15 p.m. and will be followed by Steven Sommer’s 1994 live action adaptation of The Jungle Book (111 min)

{Read more about Sean and Kristin after the jump.}

What was the food culture in your house growing up?

Sean: I grew up in Connecticut and Rhode Island, but I have Southern roots, so a lot of the favorites at home came from that tradition. Some of those things are grits, Brunswick stew, fried okra, pulled pork barbecue.  Are chili dogs Southern?  They might as well be if they aren’t. In Rhode Island I picked up an irrational preoccupation with clam cakes (I think they’re basically hush puppies with clams in the batter) and an amazing beverage called Del’s Frozen Lemonade.

Kristin:  I grew up in a town known for its barbecue, but somehow I ended up eating more Slow food than Southern. My hobbyist-chef Dad created (and has not tired of this pastime) exquisitely prepared meals with fresh-picked ingredients from our backyard garden in N.C., and he and my mom were adamant that our little family sit down to eat dinner together every evening.

One food you won’t you eat?

Sean: I find chicken livers pretty hard to stomach. Otherwise, I’ll pretty much try anything once.

Kristin: A huge steak.

Favorite vegetable?

Sean: Can I say olives here?  I want to say tomatoes, also, but I guess they’re technically a fruit.  How about broccoli rabe – that’s good.  I’ll go with broccoli rabe for now.

Kristin: Fennel.

Favorite food experience?

Sean: I love New York street food.  The basics are my favorite right now — summer in the city makes you want to simplify things, like having a perfect pizza slice, or a hot dog with the red onion sauce, from the hot dog-cart guy.  Something about walking and eating is very New York.  It’s anathema in most other cultures — eating standing up? Walking? Ridiculous, but somehow it works in New York, and it’s great, and I love it.  I try to do it at least once a week — a slice or a hot dog.  Walking through Washington Square Park in June with a hot dog covered in those cart onions — that’s my idea of a good time.

Kristin: It’s a toss up between two foodie adventures: a château along the northern coast of France where Mom and I splurged on a fancy meal, and a hole-in-the-wall gourmet bistro on an empty stretch of Oregon road that Dad discovered in his extensive foodie research. These now-nameless places are equally splendid in memory, one because it lived up to its 5-star hype, the other because its amazingness was a pleasant shock in the middle of nowhere. Strange too how memories are so vague. I never can seem to remember what food I ate where, just hazy pictures of what places looked like, and memories of general happiness. Due to the fact that we are both starting companies right now, eating out as a concept is also a nameless, hazy memory … hopefully not for long?

Favorite appliance?

Sean: The toaster oven sees a lot of action at our place. We’ve buried three or four since we’ve been married, so I guess I’m a serial killer of toaster ovens.  Without the refrigerator we’d be drinking hot beer, so maybe I’ll say the fridge is my favorite.

Kristin: A blender for smoothies.

Most disastrous kitchen or garden experiment:

Sean: The several batches of home-brewed beer that yielded five gallons each of perfectly undrinkable fluid. Discouraging…

Kristin: I collect seeds for use in my paintings and films. I see this in an artistic, educational and spiritual sense as “bringing the outside in,” but sometimes the outside comes in through my seed collection in the form of bug infestation, and this has caused some disastrous moments (ie: bugs in every food bag in the kitchen).

Why are you involved in CSAs?

Sean: It’s the freshest food for the right price, and it supports local people and systems — it’s very avant-garde, it in its way, because I believe that the current trucking/huge agricorp/supermarket model of infrastructure is such a huge failure of imagination that we all should be ashamed of ourselves for ever accepting it.  I know that’s something of a contradiction coming from someone who loves dirty-water hot dogs, haha.  We’re also members of a pork share from The Piggery, so maybe some sausage needs will be met in a more eco way this summer.

Kristin: I’m a recovering Park Slope Food Coop member. Plus, I love the Red Hook Farm (see a little movie I made w/ PS 27 kids a few years back), and I’ve been wanting to become more involved since we moved here six years ago. 12 years in NYC after growing up in a town where everyone knew everyone, I truly miss community, so any way I can reclaim that feeling of “being known” by the land and the people is welcome.

What’s the best lunch option near you?

Sean: I work at home often, and when left to my own devices I’ll spend lunchtime standing in the kitchen eating leftovers… but the leftovers at our place are usually pretty good.  I also love Defonte’s sandwich shop, one short block away from our place, and I also love Fort Defiance, because it’s brilliant.

Kristin: Home/Made and Prime Meats.

What inspires you?

Sean: In the kitchen, improvisation, mostly. Improvisation in cooking comes from what I think of as an actively cultivated background knowledge, an understanding of the basic natures of the different ingredients you have available at any given time. I’m always interested to know about basic, vernacular ways of food preparation, because the understanding the basics makes everything else possible. My most enjoyable times in the kitchen are when walk in there at 6 p.m. with out the slightest clue what I’m about to make for dinner, or even what ingredients might be on hand. For me the enjoyment of cooking is the solution of those challenges, not following recipes to the letter. You have to experiment, observe, and try crazy things.

Kristin: Our newfound CSA membership has provided inspiration for a new body of work — a little collection of original paintings of fresh produce. See the first of this pen & ink/watercolor series here. These pieces are for sale in my Etsy shop.

Besides that, young children inspire me — the strange and beautiful and profound things they say.

Your opinion: Does talking to plants help them grow?

Sean: No, not in itself.  But a side effect of talking to plants is that you’re near them for a longer time. If you’re near them, you’re likely to observe more about their condition, and thus more likely to see what they need — more sun, less water, etc. It’s the same as it is with people: paying attention to them lets you know what’s going on.

Kristin: Never crossed my mind … but maybe a good idea?

Do you sing to them?

Sean: No, but they’ve witnessed several heavy metal dance parties with Magnolia and me.

Kristin: Watch out, Rainbow fans: I just quickly looked this up and found that “loud aggressive music, like rock music, can make plants wither and die.” So aside from you and your daughter’s electric mayhem in the presence of our plants, my love of post-rock might explain why I’m such a plant killer.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Sean: “Try again.” It’s something I tell Magnolia every day. Encouragement is so important. I think a lot of the fears and obstacles that we face as adults connect with a fear of judgement or a fear of failure. Failure and trying again is the way we learn real lessons, and if you look at it that way, the best thing you can do is to fail early and often!

Kristin: Call the person. Enough with this passive aggressive email stuff.

Tell us one thing about yourself that would surprise us.

Sean: Once, as part of a freelance job, I lived for a month in a swanky Moscow hotel, a stone’s throw from Red Square and the Kremlin.  In the mornings, after saying hello to the hotel employee whose job it was to sweep for other people’s surveillance bugs, we’d head to the dining room for breakfast.  It featured all the usual breakfast foods, but it also served beer and sushi (what goes better with breakfast?) and had a white-gloved harpist playing throughout breakfast time.

Kristin: When I was 15 my painting of Jenna Bush won a national competition and almost hung in the Senate/House corridor, and I almost flew to DC to the ceremony where I would have met Tom Cruise (still haven’t gotten over this), but I was disqualified, ostensibly because the painting had been based on a published photograph (duly noted: her expression was one of utter despair). I can provide a jpg of this infamous image upon request.

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