“Fruit cart!”

“Fruit Cart!” An expletive used by knowledgeable film buffs during any chase scene involving a foreign or ethnic locale, reflecting their certainty that a fruit cart will be overturned during the chase, and an angry peddler will run into the middle of the street to shake his fist at the hero’s departing vehicle. (Of all…

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[Only peripherally a book review today, insofar as it pertains to moi, who writes books.]

This is a clip from the hour-long episode of Faces of Alaska, where host Kathleen McCoy is interviewing me about my family, and of course I have to tell stories. Hey, it's what I do.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muLZzcLAaHk&fs=1&hl=en_US]

Here's the Faces of Alaska page about me. The first week they talked to musher Lance Mackey, and this week they'll talk to Alaska Native leader Willie Hensley. I've never had better bookends. And the week after Willie Faces of Alaska will feature Alaska Olympian Holly Brooks.

You can watch us all on KAKM or listen to us on KSKA. Go to the website to see slideshows of the photos that ran during our shows and read Q&A's.

And email Pat Yack at pyack@alaskapublic.org to order a DVD copy of any or all of the shows.

# Permanent link to Faces of Alaska

Who, let's face it, had to put up with an awful lot from Zeus.

I don't know what I was looking for when I stumbled across mention of the Hera series, but I googled it and wound up on this page on Library Thing.

One of the books on the list was Cecelia Holland's Great Maria, a book set in southern Italy in the 1100's. Maria is the daughter of a robber baron who is married off to the strongest and most ambitious of her father's knights, and the next fifteen years are adventurous indeed. I read this novel when it first came out in 1974, and I remember how struck I was by Maria's strength, determination and independence, all conveyed without any sense of anachronism. Maria is a heroine, but she is definitely of her own time and place. And she sure isn't someone anybody, including her husband, wants to cross.

I decided it was time to read it again, and went to Amazon, where, lo and behold, I noticed that Soho Press had published a series called "the Hera Series." The other books are also historical novels about women written by women, like Gillian Bradshaw's Beacon at Alexandria, about Charis who escapes an unwelcome marriage to Roman emperor Festinus to disguise herself as a eunuch and study medicine in Egypt, and Nancy Zaroulis' Call the Darkness Light, about a minister's daughter in 19th century New England.

Since discovering the existence of the Hera series, I have reread Great Maria and it's even better than I remember it. I think I'll give the other titles a try.

# Permanent link to In Homage to Hera

Interview with author Pat Conroy on NPR, about his new book, My Reading Life.

As a child growing up in a military family, Conroy learned from his mother that books could be his constant companions as the family shuttled from Marine base to Marine base.

"What I remember about her, from the very earliest time of my life, is her reading to me," Conroy tells NPR's Scott Simon. "She had a great tone, a warm style, a terrific Southern accent. She read us lots of poetry ... I can still hear her voice." She read him Gone With the Wind, and gave all the roles to family members--Melanie Wilkes was an aunt, Frank Kennedy was an uncle.

Reading was a refuge for him, both emotionally and physically. Conroy's father wouldn't hit him when he was reading; he thought his son was studying and approved of it. "It was the one place you could go to get away from his fists," says Conroy. "And it worked every time."

# Permanent link to “Conroy’s father wouldn’t hit him when he was reading…”

Christopher Kimball, whom I know well from my subscription to Cook's Illustrated, finds an old cookbook in an older house and spends two years translating and testing recipes to put on a Victorian spread for twelve (using a coal stove, no less, which I find by far and away the most horrific part of the process). Along the way, Fannie's Last Supper treats us to a history of Boston by way of fresh oysters and calf's foot jelly, in Fannie Farmer's kitchen.

I love The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, it is my go-to cookbook whenever I pull something unidentifiable out of the freezer and need a recipe to put it in. I am seldom skunked by one of the recipes therein. So I was amazed to discover that Fannie was more of a marketer than a cook, but if she inspired my favorite cookbook, so what?

I would have preferred more about the preparation of the food and less of the history of Boston markets in this book, but there are wonderful observations and nuggets about Victorian dining habits that make the book well worthwhile:

"Victorians were also less apt to invite friends over for dinner. Dining in someone else's home was an intensely personal event, and an invitation was the "highest form of social compliment.""

and

"The essence of table etiquette in Victorian times derived from the disturbing relationship between eating and animal behavior. One manual said, "Eating is so entirely a sensual, animal gratification, that unless it is conducted with much delicacy, it becomes unpleasant to others." These dinner parties were, in effect, a test of one's control over bodily appetites."

I'll never make a Victorian, I like to eat too much, but reading the book I was immediately inspired to create an Alaskan-style Victorian menu. I'd make the punch directly from Kimball's recipe for Victoria Punch, it sounds fabulous, and he and his co-conspirators certainly made and sampled their share. I can get oysters right across the bay. If I could wrangle some moose bones from friends I could make a clear moose broth. The fish course could be either salmon or halibut, whatever is fresh out of the Kachemak at the time. Venison from Kodiak, I have a source. Poultry, hmmm, maybe duck? Or, hey, maybe ptarmigan, my dad used to serve a fabulous pan-fried, oven-finished, wine-soaked ptarmigan breasts dish.

photo15

Vegetable, a potato gallette, from Yukon Golds grown in Alaska, but of course! Raspberry sorbet, from Alaskan raspberries. Burned butter frosting cake, not particularly Alaskan, but one of my favorites, and I know I can make it successfully. The cheeses will have to be from Costco. Only one liqueur, my grandmother's framboise.

Serving twelve? Maybe eight. In two hours? Even Kimball could only manage four and a half. Still sounds like a lot of work, but as Kimball rightly says, "...cooking, it seems to me, offers the most direct way back into the very heart of the good life. It is useful, it is necessary, it is social, and it offers immediate pleasure and satisfaction."

They did a PBS special on it, too, I can't wait for it to be on DVD. The one thing lacking in this book is photographs.

# Permanent link to “These dinner parties were, in effect, a test of one’s control over bodily appetites.”