After the Race, A Menu

readingOur book club of 22 years met last night for the first time on an online forum. Eight women, long-time friends, who had not been out in society for about five weeks. You can imagine the explosion of conversation! The book of the month, Heartburn by Nora Ephron, got some minor attention before we launched into an animated discussion of the virus, our work, our children, what we’ve been watching on television, when this all might end. I tried to lead a rousing chorus of the theme song for The Brady Bunch but was dissuaded.

heartburnWhen our book club meets, we have a custom of planning a menu derived from the book  under discussion. Heartburn would’ve been the perfect book for this as author Ephron filled Heartburn not only with her heartbreak over her marriage falling apart, but the recipes that accompanied those events. Pasta alla cecio, key lime pie, bread pudding, arugula salad, the world’s most perfect vinaigrette. I had the menu planned before I even finished reading the book.

It was not to be. Although I have promised an independent dinner for my friends, during which we can eat the Heartburn menu and talk in person about everything we normally table to discuss the book.

Although it looks like things will remain closed for at least a few more weeks, I promised a menu for After the Race. When you are ready for your book club, and want to provide a menu inspired by the book, you will have this menu (and recipes!) handy. You can also create a playlist of songs featured in After the Race from this post: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2020/02/27/after-the-race-a-playlist/.

If you’d like a Skype or FaceTime visit with the author, I would be thrilled to join your group for a discussion.

ATR COVERMENUS

Long Island Ice Tea and Patty Melts. Alex and Meg visit Bear’s in Bloomington at the end of the semester and indulge in these two favorites.

Aunt Trudy’s Baked Chicken and Pie. When Banner and Nellie first arrive at Uncle John and Aunt Trudy’s house, this is the dinner Trudy has prepared.

Baked Chicken

  • 1 5- to 6-pound roasting chicken
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 Vidalia onion, thickly sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the chicken in a large roasting pan. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of the lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Scatter the onion slices around the chicken.

Roast the chicken for 1-1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove to a platter and cover with aluminum foil while you prepare the gravy.

sugar cream pieFor the pie, Indiana is famous for Sugar Cream Pie, also known as Hoosier Pie, the unofficial pie of the state. Here’s a great recipe from Saveur: https://www.saveur.com/sugar-cream-pie-recipe/

 

Breakfast. Dottie, Alex and Billy have breakfast after Alex and Billy’s first date. Omelettes, fried onions, hash browns, orange juice.

Dottie’s Texas Fried Onions

  • Sweet Onions
  • 1 tbsp Butter per onion
  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil per onion
  • Salt to Taste
  • Pepper to Taste

Cut the onions into strips, uniform in size. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Use a larger skillet than you think you need. Once the skillet is hot add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is sizzling add the onions and stir to combine. Let the onions sit, uninterrupted, for about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium and stir to combine. Repeat stirring then allowing onions to sit for about 20 minutes. If needed, add an additional tablespoon of butter or olive oil. Continue to stir every 5 minutes until you’re left with golden caramelized onions.

Dottie’s Texas Omelette

Make any flavor of omelette you want (consider some jalapeños, black beans, monteray jack cheese) you want then douse it with HOT SAUCE!!

The Celtic Fling hosted by Jake’s fraternity served roasted turkey legs, roasted vegetables, shrimp cocktail, and mead (lemonade mixed with pure grain alcohol).

Gamma Chi Omega Lunch The Gamma Chi house always served a salad bar. The girls heaped the lettuce on their plates, then scattered Lay’s potato chips on top and covered the whole thing with homemade Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.

ThanksgivingThe Alt Family Thanksgiving The Alts have a typical Southern Thanksgiving with Maker’s Mark bourbon, pumpkin pie, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes. Here are a couple of my family’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes culled from the treasure trove of my grandmother’s recipe box.

Cornbread Stuffing

1 Cup turkey broth

4 cups cornbread crumbs

3/4 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons chopped onion

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

Mix together, then round into balls about the size of tennis balls. Bake at 350 until browned.

Pumpkin Pie

2 cups pumpkin (from can)

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 cup half & half

1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 450. When it is hot, pour mixed ingredients into pie shell. Bake at 450 for ten minutes then turn the oven down to 350. Bake another 45 minutes or until pie is set.

Extras

Lizzie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Lizzie makes her famous chocolate chip cookies for the Alt’s at home and sends them to  Alex at college when things get rough. The secret ingredient is substituting bourbon for vanilla extract in the Toll House cookie recipe.

Robert Redfordredford

Served on special occasions at the Gamma Chi house and a favorite of all its residents, the dessert is so called because it’s the next best thing to Robert Redford. Substitute butterscotch pie for the chocolate and you get Paul Newman. It’s SOOOO good.

For Crust

1/2 cup softened butter

1 cup flour

1 cup pecans, chopped

For Cream Cheese Layer

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

1 container (10 ounces) of Cool Whip, thawed

Pudding Layer

4 cups of chocolate pudding, prepared

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed cream butter. On low speed gradually add the flour and mix just until blended. Stir in pecans. Press into a 13 by 9 inch pan and bake for 15 minutes. Let cool completely.
  • In a medium mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Fold in half of the whipped topping. Spread cream cheese mixture over cooled crust.
  • Spread chocolate pudding over cream cheese mixture. Then spread vanilla pudding over chocolate pudding. Then spread the remaining whipped topping over vanilla pudding. Sprinkle with chopped pecans and grated chocolate. Chill for several hours before serving.

 

There you go! I hope you are safe and well.

Remember, a signed copy of After the Race is available for order directly from publisher Rabbit House Press,https://www.rabbithousepress.com. You may also order it from Joseph Beth Booksellers, MacIntosh Books and Paper in Sanibel, and Amazon.com.

 

 

 

In Five Years, by Rebecca Serle

2020 calendar

In Five Years has been hyped by multiple on-line sites and news outlets as one of the buzzy books of Spring, 2020. I ordered a copy frombookshop.org (which delivers books AND supports local bookstores at the same time) with a couple of other buzzy books. In Five Years is short, only 251 pages, and breezes right along so I read it first.

Danger: SNARK ahead. This is probably the snarkiest review I’ve ever posted. Generally I don’t post about books I don’t like. But this one is getting so much positive buzz, I can’t in good conscience let another person (of my sensibilities) spend their money on it. It may very well suit you.

I do however recommend you order any number of other delightful books from bookshop.org or your local book dealer who, like Joseph-Beth Lexington https://www.josephbeth.com and MacIntosh Books and Paper Sanibel Island http://www.macintoshbooks.com, is probably shipping or delivering books curb-side. I’ll highlight some favorites at the end of this review.

It’s 2020 and Dannie Kohan is living large as a Manhattan (naturally) lawyer engaged to a great guy . (Of course) Maybe my aggravation is that they are millennials? And eat avocado toast? (Just wondering if life ever happens anywhere else in the world? Only Manhattan and London? Is that just me?)

fa34a772-6d15-42e5-8778-8d5462d27c0b.__CR0,0,970,300_PT0_SX970_V1___

Anyway, Serle’s novel begins with Dannie’s recitation of numbers.

Twenty-five. That’s the number I count to every morning before I even open my eyes. . . .

Thirty-six. That’s how many minutes it takes me to brush my teeth, shower, and put on face toner, serum, cream, makeup, and a suit for work. If I wash my hair, it’s forty-three.

Eighteen. That’s the walk to work in minutes from our Murray Hill apartment to East Forty-Seventh Street, where the law offices of Sutter, Boys and Barn are located.

Twenty-four. That’s how many months I believe you should be dating someone before you move in with them.

Twenty-eight. The right age to get engaged.

Thirty. The right age to get married.

With all these numbers and the interior book copy proclaiming that Dannie “lives her life by the numbers,” you’d expect Dannie to be a bit more OCD about numbers throughout the rest of the book, wouldn’t you? You would be mistaken. That’s it folks for the numerology. Which is fine — I just don’t understand why the focus on it on the first page when you aren’t going to carry that trait through the novel.

So . . . in Chapter 2, it is 2020. Dannie is twenty-eight. She gets engaged to David, her nice financial planning boyfriend, who chooses the perfect cushion-cut diamond “flanked by two triangular stones in a simple platinum band” (naturally) and presents it to her after a stunningly elaborate and expensive meal at the Rainbow Room, now closed to the

rainbow

The Rainbow Room

public. But David’s firm has access to reservations (naturally) which the rest of the world can’t get. Bella, Dannie’s beautiful, bounteous, blonde, rich, “zaftig,” Skiksa best friend, (are all gorgeous, blonde, best friends named Bella? Is that just me again?) helped to choose the ring. Dannie says yes. 

Two hours after dinner, Dannie falls asleep on her sofa back at home with David. But when she wakes …

I am in Dumbo; I must be. Did David take me to a hotel? . . .

The apartment isn’t giant, but it gives the illusion of space. Two blue velvet chairs sit necking in front of a glass-and-steel coffee table. An orange dresser perches at the foot of the bed, and colorful Persian rugs make the open space feel cozy, if not a little cluttered. . . .

Where the hell am I?

I hear him before I see him. He calls: “Are you awake?” . . .

The well-dressed stranger comes over to me, and I leap onto the other side of the bed, by the windows.

“Hey,” he says, “are you okay?”

“No!” I say. “No, I’m not.” . . .

And that’s when I catch the TV. It has been on this whole time, the volume low. It’s hanging on the wall opposite the bed and it’s playing the news. On the screen is a small graphic with the date and time: December 15, 2025.

And there you have it. The big hook of the novel. Well, shortly followed by this:

His face hovers close. Here we go, he’s going to kiss me. Am I going to let him? I think about it, about David, and about this Aaron’s muscled arms. But before I can weigh the pros and cons and come to a solid conclusion, his lips are on mine.

. . . Slowly, and then all at once, I forget where I am. All I’m aware of are Aaron’s arms wrapped tightly around me.

The novel progresses (naturally) over the next five years as Dannie gets the job of her childhood dreams at a THE Mergers & Acquisitions LAWFIRM in MANHATTAN, doing deals 80 hours a week for VERY IMPORTANT CLIENTS while having quaint weekend dinners in Greenwich Village bistros with her fiancee and splendiferous weekend brunches with her best friend Bella and late night dinners brought home by her dedicated fiancee. (while wearing great designer clothes.) (and not ever gaining weight.) (due to all that NYC walking, I suppose.)

Here’s my big problem with the novel told in the best way I can figure to spell it out without giving away the entire plot: the promise the author made in the beginning of the novel was not kept. Whatever expectation you may have about how this romantic comedy-in-waiting will resolve is not what happens. Not only that — but the ending explanation of the flash-forward completely subverts the written intention of the initial scene. Frankly, dear reader, it irritated me.

If you’d like some other recommendations for good reads, take a look at the chronicles of daeandwrite@wordpress.com. Some that I haven’t yet reviewed include: Exposure by Helen Dunmore, Writers & Lovers by Lily King, Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. And my debut novel, After the Race, is available at all the outlets listed above as well as rabbithousepress.com,

MENU

If your book club does choose In Five Years, there is a veritable feast of meals from which to choose, including:

Pasta with pesto made by Aaron on the night of December 15, 2025

Bagels with whitefish (PLEASE KEEP THIS AWAY FROM ME), Dannie’s choice of victory breakfast

The engagement meal from the Rainbow Room: a simple salad, lobster, champagne, chocolate soufflé.

BUVETTE+STOREFRONT

Buvette New York

Brunch with Bella at “Buvette, a tiny French cafe in the West Village we’ve been going to for years” (naturally): eggs and caviar on crispy French bread, avocado toast, a plate of delicate crepes dusted with powdered sugar.https://ilovebuvette.com/#global

 

 

If I were planning this book club, I’d serve champagne, scrambled eggs and caviar on toast points, avocado toast, and I’d attempt a chocolate soufflé’.

MUSIC

For such a New York-y book, Sinatra seems a natural. Or Billy Joel. Of course, when David and Dannie dance at the Rainbow Room right before they are engaged, the band is playing “It Had to be You.” (NATURALLY) My favorite version of this song is by Southerner Harry Connick, Jr.

MOVIE

Inevitably, this will be made into a movie.

Dannie          Daisy Ridley

Bella              Dakota Fanning

David            Adam Driver

Aaron            Alex Pettyfer

Happy Reading! Stay safe and distant but social.

P.S. Are you having virtual book clubs? What are you doing? I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a line and let me know.

After the Race, A Playlist

ATR COVER

I promised I’d post a playlist for those of you reading After the Race (or about to read it!).

Music is an integral part of writing for me. In fact, the weekend I finished writing the first draft of After the Race, I checked into the hotel section of the Indiana University student union building, found a 1980s station on Pandora, and let it play the entire time I was there. There are many times when a song encompasses all of the elements I want to convey in the scene.

 

In Chapter One, Alexandra and her friend Meg are preparing for the Little 500 race and John Cougar Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane plays. (Still one of my favorite videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h04CH9YZcpI)

         Three years from that date and 500 miles away from her mother, Alexandra stared into the lighted mirror considering Jane Ann’s educational objectives. Other than mascara, I don’t think I’ll need any of the First Lady training today. I’m about as far away from the White House as possible. The opening bars of Jack & Diane boomed from a radio down the hall, “Two American kids growing up in the heartland.” With that, all thoughts of her mother slid right out of Alex’s head.

      220px-John_cougar-jack_diane_s      Slathering her upturned nose with zinc oxide, Meg Swenson turned from her own makeup mirror. “Don’t forget sunscreen,” Meg said. She pulled a blue and white Gamma Chi Omega sorority visor over her short, dark hair to screen her fair skin.

            “Meg, I am not going to the social event of the year with a white nose. I tan anyway, I don’t burn. It’s you Yankee girls that have to worry.”

            “Jane Ann isn’t opposed to tanning for First Ladies to-be?”

            “Men love seeing a healthy glow on a girl.” Alex imitated her mother’s sugary, Southern voice. “It makes them feel virile and virile means nuptial.”

        “I really think your mother could rival Phil Donahue with her own daytime talk show. Sort of a Southern etiquette-dating-fashion expert and Dear Abby all in one.”

          “She would adore that. You should offer to be her producer.”

      “I’m so sure.” Meg laughed.  “What team are you for today?”

      “Celts, I guess. You?”

     Meg nodded agreement. “The party will be definitely be more fun if the men of Chi Lambda Tau win.”

       Alex checked her teeth in the mirror then turned to approve the rear view of her new Girbaud jeans with the white tab on the fly, a GCO t-shirt and Reeboks. Good. She stuffed her college ID, the Little 500 ticket, and a five-dollar bill in her pocket. From outside Becky Boone’s room, they heard John Cougar ending the song and Alex joined in the refrain, “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”

        “I never get that line,” Meg said.

      “Maybe Cougar himself’ll be at the race and you can ask him to explain it. Becks!”

      Becky emerged splashed with a cloud of Jean Nate, her hair falling in luxurious blonde Farrah Fawcett wings and curls. “Ready!” Becky’s voice rose an octave on the last word and the three left in a fit of giggles, hair spray, and perfume.

John Cougar Mellencamp’s music was ubiquitous on the campus of Indiana University in the mid-eighties and sightings of the singer happened frequently. In the book, the girls call him “Cougar,” because in the early part of his career, he performed under that name. He switched to John Cougar Mellencamp in 1983.

In one of the early interactions with her Washington, D.C. roommate, Alex overhears Dottie singing in the shower. I wanted Dottie’s penchant for malaprop singing to show her character’s personality.

A night of thundering rain dissipated the cloying humidity seeping up from the District’s marshy foundation. Alex woke to the rush of pink-blossomed morning air and car exhaust fumes and Dottie’s shower warbling what sounded like “every snake you shake.”

“Dottie, are you almost done?” Alex pressed the bathroom door open a crack and heard Dottie sing, “I’ll be washing you.”  She slammed the open window, girls with short hair had no concept of frizz.

“Hurry up.” Alex chose a rose-colored silk dress and black patent sling-back pumps. She lay back on the bed, the cooled air and Dottie’s singing washing over her enjoying the thought that another day in the nation’s Capital was about to begin.

After five more minutes of waiting, she returned to the bathroom door. “I need to get in the shower. Now!”

“OK, OK! I am out… NOW!” Dottie emerged naked, a viridian green towel turbaned around her spiky hair. “Whatcha got going that you’re in such a hurry?”

“Ugh.  This bathroom is disgusting. Could you at least rinse the sink out after you brush your teeth?”

album_everybreathyoutake_thesingles  “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” She sang, “Every fart you fake… “

“Poor Sting. If he only knew what you’ve done to his beautiful lyrics.”

“Don’t tell me those aren’t the right words?” Wide-eyed innocence.

The scene takes place in 1984, Every Breath You Take was released in 1983. https://youtu.be/OMOGaugKpzs. A year isn’t quite long enough for Dottie to learn the words.

When Alex and Billy go on their first official date to a piano bar in Georgetown, they unexpectedly bump into what will become “their song.”

So Bill led her toward a brick building with a narrow M Street doorway that led to a piano bar overlooking C&O Canal. Within minutes, they each held a frigid fishbowl of beer and were sitting in front of a pianist silking jazz from the keyboard. The golden, buttery perfume of steamed clams suffused the air. Bill slipped a dollar bill in the performer’s tip jar, then rested his arm on the back of Alex’s chair.

“Do you want to hear anything special?” The musician ran his fingers up the scale waiting for a response.

“Play ‘Misty’ for me,” she said, playacting a sultry voice.

“I love that movie.” Bill squeezed her shoulder as the first three notes rang down the keys.

“I’ve never actually seen it. But I do like the song.”

Couples wandered hand in hand down the towpath outside their window, pollen spun gold by the setting sun settling into their hair. Bill, his skin tan and smile warm, drew Alex closer and she relaxed against him, swaying slightly to the music. The burble of conversation from other tables grew louder.

Although Johnny Mathis’ Misty was released in 1959, Alex and Billy would’ve been familiar with it. https://youtu.be/DkC9bCuahC8

Here’s the rest of my list, though there may be song references I’ve omitted. I hope you’ll enjoy reading After the Race even more with its own soundtrack. And if your book club chooses After the Race, you will be able to surprise them with all the music for the night.

After the Race is available from rabbithousepress.com, Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578618346/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_4ZewEbCWT807Q),

In Lexington, Kentucky at

Mulberry & Lime, https://www.facebook.com/MulberryandLime/, and

Black Swan Books, https://www.facebook.com/Black-Swan-Books-174020642630246/.

In Bloomington, Indiana, at The Book Corner: https://www.facebook.com/btownbookcorner/

On Sanibel, Island, at MacIntosh Books & Paper: https://www.facebook.com/MacIntoshBooks1/

If you don’t find After the Race in your local bookstore, please ask them to order it.

PLAYLIST

Always on My Mind, Willy Nelson

Stardust, Hoagy Carmichael

Here I Am, Air Supply

Jack & Diane, John Cougar Mellencamp

American Pie, Don McLean

Waiting for a Girl Like You, Foreigner

It’s Getting Better All The Time, The Beatles

Bad Boys, Wham

Little Red Corvette, Prince

Every Breath You Take, The Police

Misty, Johnny Mathis

Wonderful Tonight, Eric Clapton

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys, Waylon & Willie

Lucky Star, Madonna

Electric Slide, Marcia Griffiths

What a Feeling, Irene Cara

Dixieland Delight, Alabama

She Works Hard for the Money, Donna Summer

Beat It, Michael Jackson

Hurt So Good, John Cougar Mellencamp

Double Trouble, George Jones & Johnny Paycheck

Happy Reading! And Singing along!