To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee


Hush little baby, don’t say a word,

Mama’s gonna buy you a Mockingbird.

And if that mockingbird don’t sing

Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring

  To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s 1960 coming-of-age novel won the Pulitzer Prize, made the names Boo Radley, Scout and Atticus Finch cultural touchstones and arguably, at least in the case of Atticus Finch, archetypes, and may well have helped pave the way for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

    The story is a familiar one, not only in terms of this book, but to childhood itself.  There’s a new kid in town who challenges the norms.  Figuring an offensive burst is better than defending himself for his exotic background and petite frame, Dill taunts Scout and her brother Jem into confronting the stranger who lives in the spooky house within their midst:  Boo Radley.

   All the while, Jem and Scout’s widowed father Atticus Finch, a small town lawyer in the town of Macomb, Alabama, is fighting the struggle of his life, in court and out, in defending a black man, Tom Robinson, from the unfounded accusations of Mayella Ewell and her father Bob Ewell.  The book, and the film adaptation, are so full of iconic moments that one simply needs to see an image or read a brief quote and be reminded of the fullness of feeling contained throughout this beautiful novel.

.   Atticus and Tom   mocking book     to_kill_a_mockingbird_photo

  On the eve of the novel’s fiftieth anniversary, American media outlets celebrated the novel in the way only American media outlets would:  by unleashing venom upon the book, Harper Lee and the novel’s fans.  The Wall Street Journal said, “It’s time to stop pretending that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature.”  The New Yorker published Malcolm Gladwell’s interestingly harsh criticism of To Kill A Mockingbird on the eve of the novel’s 50th anniversary.  Gladwell’s hypothesis is that Atticus should have been a stronger defender of civil rights and lacked moral fiber.

It just seems to me that to judge Atticus Finch by 2009 standards is unfair.  Atticus was a man of his time and place, as Harper Lee makes very clear.  “He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, they knew him and because of Simon Finch’s industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in town.”  He treats everyone with respect; including some people the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal writers deem unworthy.  And everyone, almost everyone, in the town respects him.

A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson.  The foreman handed a piece of peer to Mr. Tate who handed it to the clerk who handed it to the judge. . . .

I shut my eyes.  Judge Taylor was polling the jury:  “Guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . . guilty . . . ”  I peeked at Jem:  his hands were white from gipping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stage between them.

. . .

Atticus took his coat off the back of his chair and pulled it over his shoulder.  Then he left the courtroom, but not by his usual exit.  He must have wanted to go home the short way, because he walked quickly down the middle aisle toward the south exit.  I followed the top of his head as he made his way to the door.  He did not look up.

Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.

“Miss Jean Louise?”

I looked around.  They were all standing.  All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet.  Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:

“Miss Jean Louise, stand up.  Your father’s passin’.”



The book is plumb full of great food, from Calpurnia’s summertime daily does of lemonade, to the many angel food cakes, to the Halloween pageant costumes of Maycomb County agricultural products including ham, beef, butter beans and peanuts.

My book club menu for To Kill A Mockingbird would include:

County ham and biscuits

Butterbeans (baby lima beans) with butter, salt and pepper

Roasted new potatoes (400 degree oven, salt & pepper and olive oil til crispy)

My grandmother’s angel food cake

1 1/4 up soften cake flour

1/2 cup sugar

12 egg whites at room temperature

1 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/3 cup sugar

Measure sifted four, add 1/2 cup sugar and sift four times.  Combine egg whites, cram of tartar, salt and flavorings in large bowl.  Beat at high sped until soft peaks form.  Sprinkle in rest of sugar in 4 additions beating until blended after each addition.  Sift in flour mixture in four additions, folding in with large spoon, turn bowl often.  Pour into ungreased 10 inch tube pan and bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes.  Cook cake upside down in pan on cake rack.

And of course, Tequila Mockingbirds

  • 1 Jalapeño pepper slice
  • 2 oz Patrón Silver Tequila
  • 1.5 oz Watermelon-Basil Purée*
  • .75 oz Fresh lime juice
  • .75 oz Agave syrup (one part agave nectar, one part water)

In a shaker, muddle the jalapeño slice. Add the remaining ingredients and fill with ice. Shake for 10 seconds and double strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice.

*Watermelon-Basil Purée


  • 2 cups Chopped fresh watermelon
  • 7 Basil leaves

Purée both ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.


Must start with James Taylor and Carly Simon’s Mockingbird!  This video is too much fun, to see Sweet Baby James and Carly dancing the shag mid-song.

Rocking Robin, Jackson Five

Blackbird, the Beatles

Freebird (if you can stand it)

Little Bird, Annie Lennox


There’s no need to remake To Kill a Mockingbird, but if Hollywood should ever decide it wants to, I can only hope George Clooney will be cast as Atticus Finch.


Happy Reading & Eating!



Mockingbird illustration by Jon Janoski, credit Encyclopedia Britannica

The Vacationers by Emma Straub


    One married couple, on the rocks.  Check.

    One disaffected, about-to-leave-for-college, recently-Facebook-traumatized teenage daughter.  Check.

    One selfish adult son and his much older girlfriend.  Check.

    One gay couple awaiting news of an adoption.  Check.

   Add in the exotic locale of Mallorca, a Spanish tutor both mom and daughter have the hots for, a retired Spanish tennis stud and lots of gorgeous food and descriptions and you have The Vacationers by Emma Straub, who appears to be all of 12 years old.

 jpbook-master180photo by Jennifer Bastien

    Ms. Straub has quite the nice website, incidentally, on which she uses some language that is definitely not that of a 12 year old.

   Amidst the romantic comedy elements of vacation-location-vocation, Straub (daughter of horror novelist Peter Straub) weaves a recurring thread of infidelity.  Jim, one half of the parental married couple, has recently admitted an affair with a 23 year old assistant at his magazine for which Jim’s job was terminated.  Franny, his wife, is furious.  Mostly silently, but occasionally vehemently.  Franny cooks, fusses, intrudes into her Charles, her gay best friend’s marriage to Lawrence, aggravates her daughter and torments her son’s girlfriend.vacationers

    The Vacationers is one of those books that I had a very tough time finding a character to like.  Of them all, I liked Jim, Charles and Lawrence the best I suppose although I don’t think that is the author’s intention.  The teenage daughter Sylvia was whiny and attitudinal as a whole.  The adult son and his girlfriend were narcissistic body-building freaks.  Franny was the Barefoot Contessa gone mad.

    But one thing Emma Straub does very, very well is add food, music and flavor to her book.  The Vacationers is an excellent book club choice.  It’s an easy but fun read.  It has lots of issues to discuss:  infidelity, kids going to college, older women-younger men.  And the food options are wonderful.


   Spain is the land of tapas and every time the group goes out to eat, Straub describes beautiful Spanish food.  An “overflowing plate of blistered green peppers covered with wide flakes of salt, touted pieces of bread with dollops of whipped cod, grilled octopus on a stick.  . . . Albondigas, little meatballs swimming in tomato sauce; patatas bravas, fried potatoes with a ribbon of cream run back and forth over the top, pa amb oli, the Mallorcan answer to Italy’s bruschetta.”  Ensaimadas, a sort of flaky pastry with sugar, makes several appearances.

  Back at their borrowed vacation house, complete with pool, Franny whips up group servings of pancakes with blueberries, roasted chicken with asparagus, fish with couscous, guacamole, pies, bread.  The choices are myriad.

 I would roast a chicken, serve it with asparagus with vinaigrette and try to make ensaimadas.  Photo courtesy of  Here’s a recipe link:



   Ms. Straub happily includes many specific musical references in The Vacationers.  Elton John, Maroon Five’s Hands All Over, Enrique Iglesias’ Euphoria c.d., and native Mallorcan Tomeu Penya.  She also mentioned One Direction, but don’t get me started.


   Sylvia:  Sarah Hyland, from Modern Family

   Joan, the Spanish tutor, Alex Gonzalez


   Franny:  Marcia Gay Harden

   Jim:  Sam Waterston

   Charles:  Bruce Willis

   Lawrence:  I don’t know.  I didn’t get enough of a feeling for Lawrence.  Someone likable, intellectual-looking, patient.

   Bobby:  Chris Pine


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte


Jane EyreI confess.  I have never particularly enjoyed Jane Eyre.  The mischievous and frolicsome social world of Jane Austen is much more to my liking.  It always seemed to me that just opening the cover of any Bronte book brought darkness not only into the room, but conjured a rainstorm outside as well.  And Jane Eyre is even worse than Wuthering Heights, although better than The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.  Despite Jane’s orphanage and mistreatment at the hands of her aunt-by-marriage, I found little to empathize with her.  She was rather smart-mouth and goody two-shoes and self-satisfied.  For example, this is Jane’s parting outburst upon leaving her aunt’s residence:

I am glad you are no relation of mine. I will never call you aunt again as long as I live. I will never come to visit you when I am grown up; and if any one asks me how I liked you, and how you treated me, I will say the very thought of you makes me sick, and that you treated me with miserable cruelty. . . . You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity. I shall remember how you thrust me back . . . into the red-room. . . . And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me—knocked me down for nothing. I will tell anybody who asks me questions this exact tale. ’Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty. . . .

And Mr. Rochester! I’m down with the whole bad boy thing, but Rochester’s main appeal to Jane seems to be that he’s a man and he lives in the same place that she does.  He admits to having had a long-time affair with a French “dancer,” that may or may not have resulted in his ward Adele, he is moody, mean, often drunk and flaunts his relationship with Blanche in Jane’s face time and time again.  That’s even before we get to the point where we know he’s got his current wife penned up in the attic like an animal.  Here’s Jane’s description of his pre-marital, loving behavior:

In other people’s presence I was, as formerly, deferential and quiet; any other line of conduct being uncalled for: it was only in the evening conferences I thus thwarted and afflicted him. He continued to send for me punctually the moment the clock struck seven; though when I appeared before him now, he had no such honeyed terms as “love” and “darling” on his lips: the best words at my service were “provoking puppet,” “malicious elf,” “sprite,” “changeling,” &c. For caresses, too, I now got grimaces; for a pressure of the hand, a pinch on the arm; for a kiss on the cheek, a severe tweak of the ear. It was all right: at present I decidedly preferred these fierce favours to anything more tender. […] Meantime, Mr. Rochester affirmed I was wearing him to skin and bone, and threatened awful vengeance for my present conduct at some period fast coming.

Sounds charming doesn’t he?

Jane Eyre 3146901258_3e172db84f

    However, it is a classic of English literature.  And perhaps Jane Eyre does just what it should.  It is, after all, a Gothic novel fully inhabited by a Gothic Byronic hero, a Gothic manse, and multiple persons of Gothic malevolence or mystery.

    And according to scholars, much of the plot and characters derived from the life of Charlotte Bronte herself.  Her alcoholic brother, her sisters who died of consumption while in the charge of a less-than-ideal school.  It is, significantly, a first person narrative and Jane and Charlotte, her author, have been cited as early feminist models.  The Literature 100:  A Ranking of the Most Influential Novelists, Playwrights and Poets of All Time, by Daniel S. Burt.  (Charlotte Bronte is #20.  Jane Austen, I am pleased to report, is #20 and the highest ranking female, unless one believes the gossip and Shakespeare was actually a noblewoman and/or Queen Elizabeth.)  If you are interested in a very scholarly deconstruction and criticism of the novel, here’s a link to Arthur Shapiro’s journal article:  “In Defense of Jane Eyre.”

  I much prefer the story of Bertha Rochester, as told by Jean Rhys, in Wide Sargasso Sea.  Now there’s a good tale.  See my review:

  But school children will soon be moaning through the pages of Jane Eyre, or bewitched by them, and if you and your book club are interested in reading alongside as encouragement, there are many things to be appreciated and enjoyed about the book.  The creepy atmosphere, the saintly characters and the sinner counterparts, Jane’s own tortured self-examination to find she is in love with a married man and but for the nearly divine intervention of George Mason would be married to a bigamist.  And let us not forget, the big finish.  It’s a real barn-burner.



Jane is hungry much of the novel.  At Lowood, she eats burned porridge and frozen water.  And, at one point she begs a farmer for some of the porridge fed to the pigs.  Let’s see if we can do a bit better than that, shall we?

Pheasant/Dove Shepherd’s Pie

Breast meat of 4 pheasants/8 doves cut into bite-size cubes and browned in a skillet with olive oil, salt, pepper.  Remove the meat from the pan after browning.

Saute 1 cup of chopped carrots, 1 cup chopped leeks, 1 cup celery and 1 chopped onion in the same skillet, cooking until soft.   Add 1/2 cup chicken stock.  Cook until slightly reduced and then add the meat.  If it’s watery, add 2 tablespoons cornstarch to thicken.

Place mixture in a casserole pan and smooth out.  Then top with mashed potatoes.  Add a dollop of butter to the top and cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or so until the meat and vegetable mixture is bubbling up around the potatoes.  Ummmmm.

I would serve the Shepherd’s Pie with a green salad and take a cue from Bessie and Miss Temple’s cake kindness and serve tea cakes.  Bronte mentions “seed cakes,” but I found this tea cake recipe in my grandmother’s recipe box so that is what I will use.

1/4 cup blanched whole almonds

1 1/3 cup sifted regular flour

1/4 cup sifted corn starch

1/4 teaspoon mace

3/4 cup butter

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 whole eggs

4 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

Grease and lightly flour a nine inch kugelhof pan or a 9 x 3 inch tube pan.  (Note from daeandwrite:  Kugelhof?)

Arrange almond around the bottom of pan.  Sift together the flour, corn starch and mace.  Melt butter over low heat; cool to lukewarm; add vanilla and lemon rind.  Stir together the whole eggs, yolks and sugar in a large mixing bowl; set bowl over a pan of hot, not boiling water over low heat until eggs are warm — about 15 minutes; stir occasionally to prevent eggs from cooking.

Removel blow from over hot water; beat warm eggs until thick, coll and tripled in volume.  Sprinkle sifted flour mixture over eggs.  Fold in gently, gradually adding melted butter mixture.

Continue folding until all butter disappears.  Pour into prepared pan.  Bake in 350 degree oven until cake is golden brown and plus away from sides of pan, about 50-55 minutes.


Jane Eyre was published in 1847.  Even though Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) was French, I think his passionate music would be a fitting background for a Jane Eyre discussion and in fact his most productive decade coincided exactly with Charlotte Bronte’s writing.   Try the Symphonie Fantastique!


According to there have been about 20 full-length, film productions of Jane Eyre for cinema and television.  Most recently, Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska held forth as Rochester and Jane.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch.  Maybe next time there’s a dark and stormy night.

Go forth and read!

Night Film by Marissa Pessl


     She haunts the 583 pages of the book, moving “like an animal,” forever dressed in shiny black boots and a “red coat catching the light behind her, making a vivid red slice in the night.”  This despite the fact that she dies on page one of the narrative.  She is Ashley Cordova, beautiful, prodigal, prophetic Ashley, daughter of reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova.  In the telling of the story of disgraced journalist Scott McGrath’s attempts to revive his career by finding out what happened to Ashley, author Marissa Pessl uses a “multi-media” approach.

I wasn’t trying to break any boundaries but I wanted to find the best means by which to tell the story. I personally love archives and I love going through old antique stores and looking at old wedding photographs, and old class photos of people in kindergarten in the 1920s. I love looking at the ephemera people leave behind when they’re no longer here. I wanted to bring that feeling to “Night Film” and through those bits and pieces bring Cordova’s world to life. I wanted to make his world really immediate to the reader.

There’s a voyeuristic quality that I think is really compelling to be able to peruse old reports. I definitely went through a lot of old police blogs and read through crime scene reports. It’s absolutely fascinating the level of detail that goes into describing things like the blood spatter pattern and the positioning of the body, it’s absolutely fascinating. In this CSI world, where everyone knows a lot about forensics, it made sense to give that to readers, rather than just telling them about it.


    night filmPessl’s first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, sold 200,000 copies in 2006 and won her a mid-six-figure book advance, which is pretty much miraculous.  (Although as an aspiring novel, one can only hope that lighting does strike twice.)  As an aside, I read Special Topics with a predisposition to not liking it and ended up loving it.  But unfortunately, although at times I enjoyed Night Film, I can’t say the same for it.  It’s received a ton of press, and the film rights have already sold, but as a novel, whatever multi-media frippery may be added, it’s just not that great as a whole.

   Essentially, Night Film is an amalgamation of Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining, Pulp Fiction, Dracula (the one where Gary Oldman roller skates across rooms and up walls), The Shawshank Redemption, the Olivia deHavilland-Joan Fontaine feud, Chinatown and others.  Presumably on the theory that if you stuff all great things into one container the resulting mash-up is also great.  And at times it is.

   One of the key complaints I have about the novel is that so much time is spent describing movies.  Film is a separate medium meant to be experienced as a film.  There’s a reason for that.  They are visual.  It hampers the novel that so much of the reader’s understanding of the novel plot depends upon the author’s description of a set of movies that the reader has no reference to, other than the written information provided by Pessl.  Frankly, the movies don’t sound like anything I would ever care to watch anyway as Pessl describes them all as being a journey through hell.  I’d much prefer that Cameron Diaz Rom-Com Pessl mentions breezily near the end of the book.

Save us from the fire  green-hornet-la-premiere-2011-cameron-diaz-55162

   I should add that Pessl with the help of a bundle of her talented NY friends, actually directed a series of videos which are posted on Youtube.  These purport to be everything from audition interviews to lost footage of Cordova’s films.   But of course, that doesn’t make the novel itself a film.

Reviews on Night Film are mixed.  The New York Times was a definite thumbs down, Slate liked it a bit more, and novelist Meg Wolitzer writing for NPR really liked it:,,


lp1681-heaven-hill---white-label-kentucky-bourbon-4-year-oldMcGrath and his cohorts in investigation tend to eat in NYC diners or Chinese carry-out.  What could be easier than a book club catered by Chinese carry-out.  That’s what I would do.  Make double sure to buy fortune cookies for this book.

There’s a great scene with a washed-up actress downing a bottle of Heaven Hill bourbon.  Interestingly, there are several references to Kentucky in the book which makes me wonder if Pessl has some Kentucky connection.  And yes, there are lots of Heaven and Hells.  Anyway, I’d have a bottle of Heaven Hill on hand for book club.  McGrath drinks Macallan Scotch but I’m not a Scotch drinker.


The book is all about movie made about the path between heaven and hell.  But rather than go a darker route, I think I would play some songs about the movies themselves.

The New Yorker’s list of songs about movies:

Cinelist’s 50 Songs about movies, moviestars:


Scott McGrath — Robert Downey, Jr.

Nora — Anna Kendrick

Hopper — Alex Pettyfer

Ashley — Shailene Woodley or Lily Collins

Have fun reading and sweet dreams!

Image:  Beverly Brown designer,

Simply Beautiful: Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter


     On the rugged, Mediterranean coast of Italy, a land of five towns clings stunningly to the edge of the cliffs;  accessible only by boat, offering fresh seafood pulled daily from the Ligurian sea by men whose families have done the same for centuries and a hiding place from the modern world, the Cinque Terre seems just the place for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor to have sought refuge during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome.  In Jess Walter’s sumptuous novel Beautiful Ruins, they do just this.  And the tale of the IT couple’s visit to Porto Vergogna, a lonely innkeeper, a starlet, star-crossed lovers, a wannabe screenwriter (whose big concept is “Donner!,” a movie about the Donner party,) a nauseating Hollywood producer and fifty years of frustrated confusion make the novel one of my top five reads.


    According to Jess Walter’s website (, Beautiful Ruins has been recognized by just about everyone as one of the novels of the year 2012:

*Esquire’s Best book of 2012
*NPR-Fresh Air best Novel of 2012
*Audible and Salon best audio book of 2012
*New York Times Notable Book of the Year
*Washington Post Notable Book of the Year
*In UK, Guardian, Times and Sunday Times Best Books of the Year
*Best books of the year: Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, San Francisco Chronicle, Miami Herald, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, St. Louis Today, Kansas City Star, Goodreads, Hudsons, Barnes and Noble, Amazon

Read the NYT review here:

   From the first sentence, the reader is immersed in the world of the book.

     The dying actress arrived in his village the only way one could come directly — in a boat that motored into the cover, lurched past the rock jetty, and bumped against the end of the pit.  She wavered a moment in the boat’s stern, then extended a slender hand to grip the mahogany railing; with the other, she pressed a wide-brimmed hat against her head.  All around her, shards of sunlight broke on the flickering waves.

     Twenty meters away, Pasquale Tursi watched the arrival of the woman as if in a dream.  Or rather, he would think later, a dream’s opposite:  a burst of clarity after a lifetime of sleep.

     How Pasquale Tursi (proprietor of the ingeniously-named “Hotel Adequate View”) winds up in the office of Hollywood producer Michael Deane some fifty years later must be left to the reader’s own enjoyment.  I won’t spoil a second of it.  I just want to feature one more passage from the book, which I read and re-read and it still makes me snort with laughter.

     The first impression one gets of Michael Deane is of a man constructed of wax, or perhaps prematurely embalmed.  After all these years, it may be impossible to trace the sequence of facials, spa treatments, mud baths, cosmetic procedures, lifts and staples, collagen implants, outpatient touch-ups, tannings, Botox injections, cyst and growth removals, and stem-cell injections, that have caused a seventy-two-year-old man to have the face of a nine-year-old Filipino girl.BeautifulRuins_small-330-exp

     Suffice it to say that, upon meeting Michael for the first time, many people stare open-mouthed, unable to look away from his glistening, vaguely lifeline face.  Sometimes they cock their head to get a better angle, and Michael mistakes their morbid fascination for attraction, or respect or surprise that someone his age could look this good, and it is this basic misunderstanding that causes him to be even more aggressive in fighting the aging process.

     The novel is now available in paperback and I urge you to read it.  Right now.  Read it yourself.  Add it to your book club’s reading list (for next month), recommend it to everyone you know.  It’s just that good.


My book club read this book in December and in order to tie the holidays and the book together, I presented the Italian Christmas Feast of the Seven Fishes.  You may want to go a bit simpler, but this is what I did, all accompanied by some beautiful Italian wines, of course.

1.  Bruschetta with anchovies (lots of these recipes on

2.  Fried calamari (I ordered this)

3.  Artichoke and shrimp dip

4.  Potatoes topped with caviar and sour creme

5.  Cioppino

6.  Linguine with white clam sauce (I use the recipe on the can of clams!)

7.  Smoked salmon on toast points with cream cheese, capers, diced onions

Artichoke & Shrimp Dip:  1 cup of mayonnaise, 1 cup of parmesan cheese, 1 can of artichoke hearts and 1 cup of baby shrimp.  Put all in mixing bowl, mix until well blended.  Place dip in appropriate size baking dish and bake at 350 for 20 minutes or so, until hot and bubbly.

Potatoes:  Boil small potatoes until tender.  Scoop out top, leaving skin on.  Top with sour cream and a spoonful of caviar.

Cioppino:  Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a large stockpot.  Add 2 chopped medium potatoes, 2 carrots, peeled and chopped, 1 onion chopped and 2 garlic cloves, chopped.  Season with salt and cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender.  Then turn the heat to high, add 3/4 cup dry dry Italian Pinot Grigio and deglaze pan, leaving brown bits in.  Cook until most of liquid evaporates.  Add 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.  Reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook and cover until the vegetables are tender.  After about 20 minutes, add 1 1/2 pounds of skinless white fish such as halibut, cod or char, cut into 3/4 inch chunks.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through.  Season the stew with salt to taste then drizzle with olive oil and serve.  (Adapted from Giada at Home cookbook by Giada de Laurentiis)


There’s a Cleopatra soundtrack from the 1963 movie with Taylor and Burton available on iTunes that would be really fun.

If you are doing the book with the Seven Fishes at Christmas, you could also do a Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra Christmas album.


A movie is in the works and casting has actually begun.  Imogene Poots will play Dee, the American ingenue.  But apparently the rest of the cast hasn’t been announced, or at least I couldn’t find it.

May I suggest:

Claire Silver:  Emily Blunt

Shane Wheeler:  Garrett Hedlund

Pasquale:  I hereby volunteer to go to Italy and conduct the casting search.

Michael Deane:  OH MY this is too fun.  Who to cast in this role?  You know, Tom Cruise did such a great job with this type of character in Tropic Thunder, it would be fun to see him in this type of role.  You absolutely couldn’t cast someone in their seventies — I don’t think.  Michael Douglas?  Bruce Willis?  I would have to go though with Danny DeVito I think.

   In conclusion, oh dear friends, DO READ this book.  You will adore it.


Dominating the Puzzle: Dominance by Will Lavender


     There must be something about small, New England colleges that inspire literary minds.  Maybe its the snow.  Or maybe I’m just on a New England college streak.  But I’ve read several novels recently set in the cold, (often-bleak) world of New England’s bastions of higher learning:  Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, My Education by Susan Choi (UGH, by the way), The Red Book by Deborah Copagen Kogen (another “no”), A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams, Mary McCarthy’s The Group.  I’ve run across all of these within the past six months, and enjoyed some more than others, but none of them caused me to take notes fervently and stay up all night reading like Will Lavender’s Dominance.

In 1994, Alexandra Shipley is Dr. Richard Aldiss’ star student.  Aldiss, a brilliant literary professor, entrances Alexandra and her eight classmates who are enrolled in a very special night class.  So special, the nine students have been hand-picked and approved by Aldiss and Jasper College’s Dean Fisk in order to meet once a week, at night, in a basement where their professor is beamed into class via television.  This is a necessity, as Dr. Aldiss is in prison for two murders.


This man’s face was harder, its lines deeper.  He was in fact wearing a simple orange jumpsuit, the number that identified him barely hidden beneath the bottom edge of the screen.  The V of his collar dipped low to reveal the curved edge of a faded tattoo just over his heart.  Although the students didn’t know this, the tattoo was of the thumb-shaped edge of a jigsaw puzzle piece.

The professor’s eyes seemed to pulse.  Sharp, flinty eyes that betrayed a kind of dangerous intelligence.  The second the students saw him there was a feeling not of surprise, not of cold shock, but rather of This, then.  This is who he is.  One girl sitting toward the back whispered, “God, I didn’t know he was so . . .”  And then another girl, a friend sitting close by, finished, “Sexy.”

Indeed.  Sexy is as sexy does, so they say.  And Aldiss takes every advantage of his looks, his mental acuity and his innate, preternatural powers of observation to do sexy.  He begins the night class with the question:  “What is literature?”  A question Alexandra echoes at the outset of teaching her own course, at Harvard (no less), a decade or so later.  After Alex has freed Aldiss from captivity by discovering the real killer and become somewhat of both a literary star and police heroine by doing so.


     Alex has lost touch with her fellow night class students in the intervening years, but they have gone on to unique and varied lives.  An insane asylum warden, a police officer, a goth soccer mom, an alcoholic actor and a failing writer among them.  And then there’s Alex’s college flame, now a high school football coach and English teacher.  At the outset of Dominance, the students are brought back together, a la Agatha Christie, in Dean Fisk’s creaky mansion to attend the memorial service of one of the nine who has committed suicide.  Once all are gathered, a series of deaths begin among them which may or may not be copycats of the murders of which Aldiss was convicted (and then freed).  And may or may not be related to the very strange novels of the very strange writer Paul Fallows.


This is a great, compelling, want-to-figure-out, can’t-believe-it-ended-that-way novel.  Read it!  But start on a Friday night.


Professor Aldiss prepares a seductive dinner for Alexandra that includes “stewed hare and exotic vegetables” and red wine.  So … I did a little research trying to find a recipe for stewed hare.  And apparently, hare, which is different than rabbit, is only available in the US if you shoot it yourself.  Which I am unlikely to do.  (But I can envision Professor Aldiss potentially strangling some with his bare hands.)  If you want to try the hare, or just learn more about why Hank Shaw at Hunter–Angler-Gardner-Cook is such a fan, here’s a link to his blog with the recipe.


But I myself, to avoid all Bugs Bunny/Glenn Close associations, I would go with something else.  Maybe this Wild Game Stew recipe from my cookbook, Appalachian Home Cooking, by Mark Sohn.   For this, you can use beef, lamb, venison, bear (really? Bear?), elk, wild hogs or buffalo.  Here’s the recipe:

1 1/2 pounds of meat, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

3 cups water (I would use 1.5 cups water and 1.5 cups red wine)

1 pound cubed potatoes

1/2 pound carrots, scraped and cut

1/2 pound turnips, peeled, quartered and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Brown the meat over medium-high heat in a large saucepan.  Add the liquid and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover the saucepan and simmer the meat for 1 hour.  Add the vegetables and seasoning.  Simmer, covered, until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

Exotic vegetables.  Hmmmm.  Wondering if that’s artichoke or Chopped-level exotic?  Since I have the Appalachian cookbook open, and this sounds like it would be great together, how about Cushaw Casserole?  I LOVE Cushaw but it is such a difficult vegetable to peel that most people don’t bother.  The following is my own recipe:

Peel the cushaw neck, leaving it whole if possible and then cut it into 1/4 inch think rounds.  Boil a large pot full of water and place several rounds at a time in the water, just until they soften when pricked with a fork.  Cover the bottom of a buttered baking dish with the rounds and then add heavy cream to cover about halfway up the side of the cushaw, brown sugar and dot with butter.  Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

With the cushaw, you won’t need a dessert.  But you might want a salad and some good bread or warm rolls to go with the stew.

THIS is making me hungry.


The perfect album for this book club meeting is one my mother has handed down to me that she played when I was little.  It’s all piano music by Ferrante and Teicher on an album called “Moonlight in Vermont.”  Dreamy, chilly and beautifully sensual.  But the album is so hard to find, I can only find that one song on a Christmas album.  So go with Rachmaninoff.  Complex, intellectual, driven.


Alexandra:  Claire Danes

Professor Aldiss:  Richard Gere is kind of the obvious choice here, but I’d love to see Dennis Quaid or Pierce Brosnan

Jacob Keller (the football coach):  Jason Segal

Christian Kane (the writer):  Bradley Cooper

Frank Marsden (the actor):  James Marsden

Melissa Lee:  Kristen Wiig


The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro


Madame Zen a legendary and mysterious Russian perfumer who lived and worked in Paris, created Lanvin’s famous My Sin perfume, among others. Kathleen Tessaro’s character Madame Zed in her novel The Perfume Collector is, according to Tessaro, based on “a fistful of facts” surrounding the real perfumer. Thus, Madame Zed is both at the heart of and absent from The Perfume Collector.

In The Perfume Collector, Madame Zed launches at least one of the careers of Eva d’Orsay and also holds the secrets to Grace Munroe’s past.  She is the both the top note and base note in the novel, to employ the perfume phrase.

Eva D’Orsay works in the Warwick Hotel in New York City in 1927.  Grace Munroe is an unhappily married former debutante in England circa 1955.  When Eva dies at the opening of the book, she leaves specific instructions to dispense a plane ticket to Grace for her travel to Paris to collect an inheritance that includes a luxurious apartment, stock portfolio and a box of cheap, glass tchotches.  Grace has never met Eva, has no idea who she is or why Eva would leave her an inheritance with the bequest that Grace be able to “choose for herself.”

warwick       The setting in the Warwick Hotel certainly appealed to me, as it’s one of my favorite places in New York, both to stay and just to stop into the bar for a drink.  I always expect to see Carey Grant right around the corner.  Tessaro said in an interview with the Keep Calm and Read a book blog:  “I researched and used the Warwick Hotel in New York City, which has the kind of glamorous history that embodied the extravagant, wildly optimistic spirit of the age. Built in 1925 by William Randolph Hearst, it catered to the needs of his Hollywood friends and especially his mistress, Ziegfeld Follies, and screen star Marion Davies, who had her own specially designed floor. It was always a show business hotel and so was from the outset, was accustomed to dealing with outrageous and larger than life characters. It was also the New York home of Carey Grant for twelve years.”

   So between New York in the Roaring Twenties and Paris at the height of Dior’s New Look and post-war euphoria, the setting of The Perfume Collector are marvelous.  And there’s a mystery at the heart of the book, that even once you have solved, keeps you turning the pages for a bit more information.

   But to me, the most appealing element of the novel are the descriptions of the perfume creations:

My Sin, the label read, in gold lettering.

Very carefully she opened it, holding the gold stopper to her nose.  Up wafted the intense floral top notes of narcissus and freesia, warming to a dark, almost animal muskiness.  It was intoxicatingly beautiful and, at the same time, dangerous, with jarring hidden depths.

My Sin has been discontinued, alas.  And from what I can find, the perfume named Aureole Noire by its creator Monsieur Valmont has never actually existed.

Bright, icy clear and yet tender at the same time — built on the original idea of contrasting states that had inspired him with rain.  Top notes of velvety violet leaves, luxurious white flowers and light geranium, warmed to fiery depths, created from ambers resins, smoky wood and smoldering dry citrus leaves.  Underlying does of ouhd and ambergris lent it a melting, shifting quality; metamorphosing from an apparition of pure light, to a burning dark core and back again.  It was a scent that lacked coyness, made no concessions to charm.  Like standing on the edge of a great and terrifying cliff, it was shocking, beautiful, sublime.


  The novel is a swift, pleasant, escapist journey that transports the reader through exotic places and scents and times without requiring much effort from her.

  While writing this post, I found a beautiful blog on perfumes with reviews, history, and even personalized recommendations.  You might want to check that out.


Salade Nicoise

Use Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa recipe.  We had this at book club recently and it was the most popular dish ever served.  Our hostess mounded the salmon and vegetables on a beautiful platter and made the dressing easily available for us to serve ourselves.  Heaven!

Crusty French bread (buy it)

A French wine, perhaps a white Burgundy, Macon-Villages

For dessert, beautiful French chocolates


Josephine Baker is a must.  Blue Skies, Bye Bye Blackbird

American in Paris, Leonard Bernstein

Soundtrack from Gigi


Madame Zed:  Shirley MacLaine

Eva D’Orsay:  Shailene Woodley

Grace Munroe:  Natalie Portman

Andre Valmont:  Chris Colfer

Roger Munroe:  Benedict Cumberbatch

Monsieur Tissot:  Jean DuJardin


*Vintage Lanvin ad, postcard of the Warwick Hotel

The Miracle of Saint Myrtle by Donna Ison

Saint Myrtle

    Local author Donna Ison, frequently known by the sobriquet The Bourbonista, joined me for a look at her novel, The Miracle of Myrtle: Saint Gone Wild, a frolicking, festival of fiction.*  In The Miracle of Myrtle, Ison posits that the Myrtle, aunt of Jesus Christ has found herself adrift in Purgatory and after two thousand years, would like to join the rest of the family in Heaven.  For some reason, in order to do so, Myrtle has been sent to rural Kentucky to accomplish several “good works” during the weekend of the annual Ham Happening in Steadfast, Kentucky.

     Donna answered some questions, gave me a great menu and perhaps the best playlist ever featured on daeandwrite!  I want to create this playlist just for everyday listening.  Thank you, Donna Ison.

Dae&Write:  Having read the Miracle of Myrtle: Saint Gone Wild, I know you have a wacky sense of humor.  Where did you ever come up with the idea for this book?

Donna:  It was threefold.

First, everyone has an insane aunt, an Auntie Mame, that they adore. I personally had a crazy Aunt Maida. One day, I started wondering whether Jesus had an aunt, and the concept of Mother Mary having an evil twin became a hysterical premise to me.

Second, I love the festival culture of small towns and how seriously they take themselves. When someone visits from a big city, I always try to find a festival for us to attend, so I can see it through virgin eyes. It never disappoints. Plus, the backdrop offers up so many characters, sights, smells, sounds, and tastes.

Third, approaching forty, I was feeling the overwhelming pressure of not living up to my potential and really wanted to explore that topic.


Dae&Write:  In my book club, we always begin with this question:  what character did you most identify with?  I’m curious about your answer to this one.  Tancy, Miss Rosalind, Myrtle, Mary Sue Ann?  Someone else?  And why?

Donna:  Easy, Myrtle–because as hard as she tries to curb her Bohemian nature and stay on the straight and narrow, she always manages to veer off course and find the nearest trouble and closest bar.

Dae&Write:  Another favorite part of our book club is casting the movie version of the book. What famous movie star do you see as Myrtle and the other primary characters?  I know of your acting experience so what part will you play?

Donna:  I love this question!


Myrtle: Chelsea Handler or Leah Remini       THE KING OF QUEENS           chelsea

Tancy Sloane: Jennifer Lawrence or Kaley Cuoco

Beau Sloane: Matthew McConaughey (with about forty extra pounds).

Miss Rosalind: Melissa McCarthy

more melissa

Stevie de Panache: James Franco  (Dae&Write:  this cracks me up!)

Mary Sue Ann: Taylor Swift

Roy McGuire: Bradley Cooper

Janie Beth Barlow: Eden Sher

Alexis Monroe: Kirstie Alley

Crystal June Johnson: Kristin Chenoweth

As for me, I want to take the Stephen King route and just show up in a totally random scene as a bit player like “Woman Being Mauled By Chicken” or “Cotton Candy Stand Girl.”

Dae&Write:  What are you working on next?

Donna:  A little novel called Hemlock Holler. Hemlock Holler is not only the birthplace of country-punk superstar, Jezebel Jackson, but the most paranormal place on the planet. The Barbarian Queen, as Jezebel is known to her fans, is hanging up her electric fiddle and fur thong and retiring. But first, she is determined to throw one more successful Hootenanny in the Holler concert. In the process, she unleashes a battle between good and evil where the warriors include: old hippies and new-age punks; a psychic drag queen; a mermaid; an ex-extreme sports star; a trio of witches; and The Morality Maidens, a zealous, pro-celibacy group. Caught in the midst of the madness is Quinzie Prewitt, a former child prodigy turned young adult slacker. Against her better judgment, she agrees to ghostwrite Jezebel Jackson’s life story, which is punctuated by boozing, brawling, pills, promiscuity, and a sordid past that invites a supernatural nemesis bent on revenge. Once Quinzie discovers the truth about the Barbarian Queen, neither she nor anyone else is safe.

Dae&Write:  If a book club is reading Saint Myrtle, and wants to base a menu on the book, what would you suggest?

Donna:  Southern with a twist. Follow each course with a healthy shot of good Kentucky bourbon.


First Course:

Country Ham on Beaten Biscuits

Purgatory Eggs (Elevated Deviled Eggs) – Recipe Included.

Main Course:

Fried Chicken

Bacon-Cheese Grits

Collard Greens

Dessert Course:

Funnel Cake Bread Pudding with a Chocolate Bourbon Glaze.

Purgatory Eggs

12 large eggs, hard-boiled, peeled, and halved.

1 ripe, avocado, seeded, peeled, diced, and smashed.

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. garlic powder

1 Tbsp. red onion, finely chopped

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

½ tsp. salt

2 splashes Red Hot sauce

1 squeeze of fresh lime juice

  • Boil eggs for 13 minutes, rinse in ice cold water.
  • Peel and split eggs.
  • Remove yolks and blend with all other ingredients.
  • Put a healthy dollop in each halved egg.
  • Try not slap your mama…cause it’s so good it will make you want to

Dae&Write:  What about a soundtrack for a book club? 

Donna:  Crank up the volume and put on this eclectic line-up.

Girl from Ipanema, Astrud Gilberto & Stan Getz

Neutron Dance, The Pointer Sisters

Salzburg Symphony, Mozart

YMCA, The Village People

I Love to Hate You, Erasure

William Tell Overture, Rossini

Dirty Deeds, AC/DC

Jolene, Dolly Parton

Fox on the Run, Emerson & Waldron

Boogie Wonderland, Earth, Wind, and Fire

Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Baby, Barry White

Thank you Donna!  I can’t wait to try the recipes and that funny cake sounds too devilish to be anywhere near purgatory.   The book is available on Amazon:


*Style in homage of the Bourbonista.

Images from the Kentucky Bourbon Trail logo, More Magazine, vintage Country Life magazine

School Classics


   Hard to believe the school buses are on the streets running prep routes, the teachers are supplying their classrooms and students are mourning (while parents celebrate) the “end of summer.”  I swear, I don’t think we ever went back to school before the final week of August, and of course, it was uphill, both ways, in the snow.

  If your student was supposed to read a book over the summer and didn’t because he/she couldn’t get too excited about it, or for future reference, here are links to some classics I’ve reviewed.

    Adapt the book club theme to a family meal and VOILA!  Instant Excitement!  Or perhaps a public “Oh mom that’s so stupid” with a private, “My mom is the coolest.”  Fix a family feast based on the book club menu included in the review and play the music list to generate a little excitement about the book.  Ask your student who they would cast in some of these characters’ roles, too.

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger:

Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain:

The Great Gatsby, by F.Scott Fitzgerald:

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

archie ap comic

   And if you are just wanting to engage a teenager with the written word, here are some wonderful young adult books, again with menus and music suggestions.

 Breakfast Served Anytime, by Sarah Combs:

 The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green:

  Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell:

apple box 1

   Happy Reading & Eating!

*Images are vintage cards and Archie Comics.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon


Jamie Fraser.  Sigh.  The kilt-wearing, sword-wielding, quick-witted, torture-bearing, Scottish hunk with a heart of gold who ensnared me several years ago from the pages of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander is finally coming to the screen.  And that photo right there above (actor Sam Heughen) is him.  Let me pause to jump up and down for several minutes.

I’m back.  And I have even more fun!  A Pocket Jamie, courtesy of the Starz network which will be bringing Jamie (oh, and Claire) to life beginning August 9.  Not that I’ve set my DVR or anything.  I can now copy and paste Jamie Fraser into all my favorite Facebook photos.  Want one of your own?

So, let me begin again.  In Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Claire Randall drops through a stone circle in the Scottish highlands in 1946 and falls into 1743 and the hands of the villainous Black Jack Randall, from whom her current husband is descended.  Claire needs to escape Black Jack in the worst way, and Jamie Fraser and his family, the Clan MacKenzie help her do it by abducting her.

Mackenzie_(and_Seaforth_Highlander)_tartan  outlanderpic-copy__140502200834-575x383

Along the way, Claire must marry Jamie for her own safety and the two fall desperately in love.  Which means that on many lovely occasions, Jamie wraps Claire in the great swatch of MacKenzie plaid cloth that he generally wears as a kilt to keep her warm.  And he runs about heaving massive muscles having worn his kilt in the true Scottish way.  Which is great.  As they say, when in Scotland two centuries ago  . . .


  As Claire is trained as a nurse, and worked as a combat nurse in WW2, she has lots of specialized knowledge that helps out in the Clan wars.  And of course makes her suspect as a witch.

Amid trying to convince the Clan and town that Claire isn’t a witch, avoiding Black Jack Randall who has a very special and perverted yen to torture Jaime, and trying to decide which century to live in or whether she even has a choice, Outlander tells a whopping good story.

Did I mention Jamie Frasier?  The series begins on Starz on August 9.  And Diana Gabaldon’s latest novel in the Outlander series is called Written in My Own Heart’s Blood and was released in hard back on June 10, 2014.  Diana has a really lovely website that has excerpts from all of her books and fan art (she vehemently is opposed to fan fiction) and videos and lots of other stuff.  Find her at


Jamie and Claire’s wedding feast includes “fresh bread, roast beef and wine.”  Claire collects herbs in order to supply her makeshift pharmacy.  Based on that, for a book club meeting where we were discussing Outlander I would serve:

Fresh bread with butter:  This I would buy.  I know my limits.

Arugula Salad with Dunlop (A Scottish cheddar) cheese, apples and herb vinaigrette.

Vinaigrette:  2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, fresh herbs (tarragon, thyme, mint even) finely chopped, salt, pepper to taste and a smidge of sugar.  Stir together then drizzle in olive oil until you have the consistency you like.

Roast Beef.  This is from my grandmother’s recipe vault:  Wipe the roast with a clean, damp cloth. Dredge with flour.  Place in roasting pan with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons Crisco.  Put in a very hot, 500 degree, oven for 15-20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 400 and cook, allowing 8 to 10 minutes per pound.  Baste frequently but do not add water.  My grandmother the Southern Baptist would disagree, but you could add some red wine.  Add carrots, celery and turnips when you turn down the heat.

Oatmeal Shortbread for dessert.  You can’t do Scottish without oats!  There’s a lovely recipe for Oatmeal Shortbread with Whiskey Chocolates, Marinated Raspberries and Whiskey Caramel on the website and it has lots of other Scottish recipes as well.  I think I’d try that.


You could definitely do the bagpipe thing or find a Celtic music c.d., but it might be fun to intersperse that with some WW2 songs.  Then, like Claire, you will find yourself somehow in two centuries at one time.


No need for me to cast this, as Starz has already done so.  But I can’t wait to see if I agree!