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Showing posts from 2016

A Perfect Meal in Solitude

A Feast for Cephrael’s Hand

I’ve always loved epic fantasy. The genre has been a staple of my reading lists ever since I can remember. The old favorites line the bookshelves, and the new discoveries fill space on the apps on my phone. There’s nothing better for a commute on Boston’s crumbling public transit system than a story that pulls you in so deeply you nearly forget your stop. In the era of indie publishing, my go-to authors for epic fantasy have been Terry Simpson and Melissa McPhail.
I first read McPhail’s work when Cephrael’s Hand was new. Through a post on a Facebook group, I volunteered to help with a blog tour, and aspired to do a review. My timing was off. My then-boyfriend-now-husband was just moving in, and digging into a 600+ page novel wasn’t going to happen. Fortunately, the blog tour organizers had premade materials to post in lieu of a review. But for the 150 or so pages I read at the time, the story made an impression.
Fast forward to this year, when my commute became longer after a move, an…

Cinnamon and Gunpowder: A Pirate’s Feast

This is one of those novels that I knew would sweep me away into a beautifully described world when I saw it on the shelf. A kidnapped cook is taken aboard the Flying Rose, led by the fearsome-yet-captivating Captain Mabbot, and cooks wondrous meals for her one a week. What follows is a delightful tale—the language full of culinary references (“The pinnace dumped me out like a dumpling from a spoon”) and vivid characterizations (Mr. Apples might have been drawn by a particularly violent child. His torso is massive, but his head is tiny and covered by a woolen hat with earflaps.”).
The descriptions of the food served makes you wish you were taken by Captain Mabbot and her crew as well. On the night of the kidnapping, Owen is bringing out a platter of roast duck with cherry sauce to follow up an opening course of basil beef broth when the terrifying figures interrupt the feast. The dish stuck with me, and shortly after finishing the book, I traveled to Maine to stay with mom and stepdad…

The Culinary World of Tombstone, Arizona

Whiskey and Rue was an unusual novel for me to write for many reasons. I hadn’t been inspired by westerns previously, and most of the women in history I’ve written about have been difficult to research, because little is known about the ones I had grown most attached to. That changed in 2008, when I traveled to Tucson to explore the idea of moving there. One of my favorite places to visit was the Arizona Historical Society, and it was there a simple handwritten form captured my imagination. An affidavit described a woman, May Woodman, who shot her lover, and was sent to Yuma as the only female prisoner at the time. During her time in Yuma Prison, she helped run a contraband cigar operation. It was as though her ghost sensed I’d write about her story. I took a few notes about the affidavit and went on my way.
Back in Boston, the story lingered, and I contacted the historical society to ask if they had more information about May Woodman. Indeed they did. For a small fee, they offered to…

MFK Fisher: The Art of Eating and Serve It Forth

As a kid, I was a tomboy. I wore scuffed dungarees and Converse sneakers, and was happier watching dirtbike races than playing with dolls. I spent little time in the kitchen. Passing though, usually, on the way to my next adventure. But there was a special collection of books on the shelf that caught my eye even then. Especially one in the series: How to Cook a Wolf. How intriguing! Just like the Dungeons and Dragons stories my brother and I created, it inspired imaginative worlds. Only when I was older did I realize it was about living frugally in times of war.
Over the years, I’ve read portions of M.F.K. Fisher’s books. It’s a fascinating body of work. As I re-read the series, it was clearly a perfect fit for the “How Do They Feast?” series I originally started to talk about how food is portrayed in historical fiction. The series has grown to take on a lot more, and I’m looking forward to exploring M.F.K. Fisher’s books as a subseries to “How Do They Feat?” Thanks to Mom for letting…

Dijon Gingerbread for M.F.K. Fisher

In 1943, M.F.K. Fisher introduced her book with a question that was posed to her frequently: Why do you write about food, eating, and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?
It’s a quandary many writers can relate to. There’s an inherent judgment that rears its head when people meet writers. We’re asked to account for other authors, such as when a fan asked Neil Gaiman whether George R.R. Martin “had a responsibility” to finish the Song of Ice and Fire series in a timely manner, lest he make his audience upset. The now-famous “George R.R. Martin is not your bitch” meme has become a joke at comic cons and blogs everywhere. When you’re an author, people are eager to share their ideas for books you should write, regardless of whether they’re in your oeuvre or if you are even remotely interested in the topic. And they’ll follow up on it at the next barbeque you attend, too. Most of it is perfectly benign and well-meaning. …

MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf

The destiny of nations depends upon what and how well they eat.” —Brillat-Savarin
Years ago, the title of M.F.K. Fisher’s book evoked fantastical images. I read a lot of Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, and others that would lead me to believe that a book about cooking wolves had to be intriguing. Alas, as a child, I was disappointed, as there were no monsters of mysterious elf rangers. Just practical advice about making ends meet. Having spent years with my great-grandmother, I’d already seen the economy she practiced: slapping the toast onto the cast iron skillet to cook it in bacon fat. The things we preserved and stored in the cellar.
Decades passed, and as I search for the best in food writing, I was drawn to her books again. How to Cook a Wolf has probably been my favorite so far. Like The Ravenous Muse, the theme of the book is anthropomorphized into a recurring character. The wolf stalks M.F.K. Fisher throughout: “The wolf has one paw wedged firmly in what looks like a widening crack of…