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The Very First Fine-Dining Cookbook
I know a Good Story / November 21, 2016

Every Thanksgiving a fair proportion of the American populace tries to transform themselves into chefs.  Although we spend more money eating out than on groceries these days and not cooking 40 percent of the suppers we serve, Thanksgiving is the day when we take to our kitchens and attempt to cook “traditional” dinners.  Add that to this decade’s obsession with fine dining and there’ll be a lot of untrained cooks in the kitchen this week trying to pretend they’re Escoffier.  If you’re looking for a cookbook rich in tradition that will make your Thanksgiving feast the talk of the town, have I got one for you! How to Cook a Peacock a/k/a Le Viandier is so much more than an eye-catching cookbook, it’s a journey into medieval France.  These are the recipes of Gillioume Tirel, chef to Philip IV, Charles V, and Charles VI of France.  So when you serve dishes that come from this book, your guests can claim they feasted like kings. But I should say this is no ordinary cookbook. See, the 14th century wasn’t as obsessed as we are with precision.  There’s not a word about cooking temps or time in the book.  Nor are there any of…

What Booklovers really need: A sign
One of My Stories / November 20, 2016

When I became an office manager, my sister sent me a terrific sign that became my Prime Directive (sorry, Star Trek). If I ever forgot, this sign reminded me of the purpose of  my job.  I was the designated gatekeeper, tasked with running interference on every distraction that phoned or walked in the door.  I dealt with them so my bosses could focus on the work that kept us in business each month.  Most sales reps. were willing to work with me but if one of them complained, I showed them the sign. That message gave me that last word. These days, I’m beginning to think that stories, like people, also need signs.  I was in a bricks-and-mortar bookshop the other day and found a few I really liked. Now that’s great advice, no matter who you are.  Every life is a story and yours is only as good as you make it.  So live the life that will become the story you want to tell. If I ran the universe this sign would be on the desk of each teacher and librarian in every primary school. Maybe the secondary schools as well.  I’m just sayin’, okay? And now the sign that all…

A Story for the Broken-Hearted
I know a Good Story / November 18, 2016

Most of the time, I try to be happy.  I think everybody does.  Either we find that’s a good way to deal with the world or we think that’s what the world wants from us.  But sometimes, happiness isn’t an appropriate choice for what’s going on in our lives.  Now a motivational speaker might say the thing to do when you’re sad is paste a smile on your face anyway.  Fake being happy until you cheer up again.  While there’s something in the “fake it till you make it” idea, I don’t believe in divorcing yourself from your real feelings.  Sometimes, the only way to deal with grief is to feel the grief.  When that happens, I reach for Low Country by Anne Rivers Siddons.  It’s a guidebook for the broken heart. At first glance Caro Venable wouldn’t seem like the right kind of guide to learn about grief.  For one thing, she’s got a life most of us would kill for.  She’s got some talent, a loving spouse, a son that’s doing well and two houses, one on her very own island.  Sounds perfect right?  But Caro’s still tortured by the memory of her daughter’s death five years ago and there’s…

Finally, getting it right
I know a Good Story / November 16, 2016

There’s a wonderful line in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that says, “Everything will be all right in the end…if it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.”  There’s more than mindless optimism in that phrase, that’s an expression of faith. It encourages you to keep going, and not be dismayed, even in the face of disaster.  It’s a faith Jane Austen endorsed when she wrote Persuasion, her last story with a sensible heroine. Austen wrote about two types of women, those who think before they speak and the rest of us. The impulsive, strong-willed ones like Marianne Dashwood, Emma Woodhouse and Catharine Moreland are easy to identify with because they say what they feel and they cause most of their own problems.  The responsible heroines are a little bit deeper.  Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price and Anne Elliot are always aware that odds and circumstances are against them so they’re careful about what they say and when they speak. Most of the time, this is a good trait but in Persuasion, Austen shows the downside of being too careful. In case you don’t know it, Persuasion’s set-up is simple.  At nineteen, Anne Elliot broke her engagement to Lt….

See the Movie or Read the Book First?
Stories about Stories / November 15, 2016

The holiday season is coming up fast with its compliment of “prestige” films, those high-budget, critic-favored movies all aimed to become Oscar bait.  That’s fine, but since a lot of prestige pictures are based on written works, some readers face an unusual quandary.  When a book-based picture comes out, which should you do first: read the book or see the movie?  Or, if you love one of these, should you even look at the other? I found out how hard that question was long before I grew up.  Somewhere around age 9, I discovered Dodie Smith’s book, The Hundred and One Dalmatians.  To say I fell in love with the tale is a gross understatement: I re-read it so often, I could recite whole pages of it from memory.  So I should have loved the Disney adaptation, right?  Wrong!  I couldn’t stand the picture because it altered key parts of the original story and removed the comfortably British narrative voice.  I went home swearing at the film industry in general and Disney in particular for trashing a classic.  I believed no movie would ever respect a book. Flash forward 25 years or so.  I’m still a fan of British lit….

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