Dinner & A Story






     I always tell my writing students to make a bold entrance with their stories, capture the reader's attention, invite curiosity. Consider the first line from “Love Is Not A Pie,” this month’s story by Amy Bloom,  from her collection, Come To Me.

In the middle of the eulogy at my mother’s boring and heartbreaking funeral, I began to think about calling off the wedding.


     Bang! I’m in. Funeral and wedding, boring and heartbreaking, this is a narrator with a story I want to hear. Bloom moves us from the funeral to the house for the mourners to gather and then back in time to an idyllic summer at this family’s lakeside cabin in Maine. She captures the easy elegance of the lost mother, the heart of this family, who’s summer outfit is a black swimsuit, who makes sangria on rainy days and has three simple rules of summer: “Don’t eat food with mold or insects on it; don’t swim alone; don’t even think of waking your mother before 8:00 A.M. unless you are fatally injured or ill.” 


     The vacation unfurls with lake swims and romps in the woods, family friends come to stay, Mr. DeCuervo and his daughter, who blend with the family beautifully. Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin play on the stereo, and the narrator, Ellen, notices something different about the relationships between the three grownups. When everyone dances together in the living room, her mother and father dance goofily, but between Mr. DeCuervo and her mother there is intimacy and beauty in their movements. Later, Ellen, catches her mother embracing Mr. DeCuervo in the night, her hand beneath his white t-shirt, and she is curious, uncertain. Before the summer’s end, the daughter glimpses something in her parent’s bedroom and again, doesn’t quite know what to make of the adult's behavior. Time moves seamlessly forward, back to the mourners where Ellen and her sister discuss that summer at the cabin, their mother’s slow demise, and her relationship with the two men. As much as I want to talk about this with you, to say more…I’m holding back.  All you need to know is that this story explores the huge capacity of our hearts.


     When the mother is dying, she has a conversation with her daughter Lizzie, who wonders about Mr. DeCuervo.  The mother says, “Love is not a pie, honey.” She goes on to explain that she loves people differently, her two men, her two daughters.  “And when the two of them are in the same room together and you two girls are with us, I know that I am living in a state of grace.”  After you’ve read, “Love Is Not A Pie,” and PLEASE, do yourself a favor and read this beautiful story, talk to me in the comments below. 




     How to match the grace of this mother and the big heart of this story? With a galette of course, almost a pie, but more forgiving, more generous. It comes to the table with its free form elegance, the tender crust offering homey comfort for the sweet and savory. I was delighted to find two wonderful galette recipes in the New York Times and I made them both with a few modifications.




For the Summer Vegetable Galette, I replaced the white flour with buckwheat flour with terrific results. I used all the vegetables they recommended in the recipe, though you could easily switch things around as the seasons change.  I imagine a very delicious Autumn Vegetable Galette with butternut squash and chantrelles and a sprinkle of blue cheese.




Peaches, nectarines and chester berries filled my Fruit Galette. I omitted the sugar, replaced the cream with maple syrup, used whole wheat pastry flour in place of white. And, I substituted 1/3 cup of the flour with 1/3 cup of ground walnuts. Delicious!





All you need to complete the meal, lightly dressed salad greens, and someone you love. (It helps if the someone you love, loves to eat and lets you know it!) In honor of Lila, the mother in the story, I’d suggest serving Sangria.  Happy reading, happy eating and happy end of summer.


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Dinner & A Story




This month’s story is from the wonderful Maile Meloy.  I’ve been a fan of her stories since I stumbled upon her terrific collection, Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It.  When I opened up my June 23rd New Yorker I was thrilled to see a story from Ms. Meloy. 



Madame Lazarus” is the story of a heavily loaded gift between lovers.  A newly    retired   French gentleman receives the gift of a small dog from his partner.  At first the narrator resists the sweet terrier, Cordelia, as he rightfully recognizes her as a first step in his lover’s retreat.


(It is funny how a gesture, like the gift of a puppy, can foretell the end of a relationship.  When I was young and unhappy in my first marriage, planning on leaving but not certain how to go about it, I learned how to tune up my car, change the spark plugs, etc…  I remember one afternoon, I was washing and vacuuming my Volvo 122s and my husband looked out the window and said, “Your leaving me.” He was right.)  



As any dog-loving person would suspect, our French gentleman comes to adore his dog.  When he walks Cordelia around Paris he finds that people who might have ignored him before now speak to him.   He says of Cordelia, “At first I believed that the appearance of love from a dog is only a strategy, to win protection.  Cordelia chose me because I was the one to feed her and to chase away the hawks and the wolves.  But after a time we crossed over a line, Cordelia and I.  We went out each day to chase the pigeons and smell the piss of other dogs on the trees, and we came home to read the paper.”  The story follows the unraveling relationship of the narrator and his lover, the grip Cordelia gains on the narrator's heart, and the way in which the man and dog age together.

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Writer, With Kids





Recently the writer, Cari Luna, invited me to participate in her blog, Writer, With Kids.  Luna is the author of the highly readable novel, The Revolution of Everyday, from Tin House Books.  You can read my Oregonian review of her highly readable novel here. Below is an excerpt from the interview. 

How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?

Before children, I never felt the joy/fear mix so fully. The awe and wonder of holding your baby, along with this suddenly deep deep connection you have with your partner as you two share the intimate knowledge and appreciation of this new little being. Parenthood blew open the doors of my heart.

In relation to my writing, being a mother made me more compassionate, empathetic, and open. It made me understand how important it is for a writer to have great affection for her characters, no matter how much they screw up, no matter how much you might not want to eat dinner with them, you have to recognize and honor their complexity, their ability to surprise you. (Think teenagers here!) No judging.

Read the full interview!




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Goodbye to My Hometown Bookseller


Though I no longer live in Santa Cruz, the news that a beloved bookstore will be closing at the end of February, hit me hard. I visited Capitola Book Cafe as a young women who dreamed of someday writing a novel. I discovered writers that inspired me, browsed the cookbook section planning dinner parties, dreamed of great trips in the travel section. One of my first writing groups ever met in the attic. I drank coffee, ate scones and wrote stories in the cafe. When my children were small we would stop in after   preschool to have a cookie and read Kevin Henkes books. Later, I brought them to the midnight release parties for Harry Potter. My husband went to his first author reading at The Capitola Book Cafe.  He saw Ann Packer read from her book, The Dive From Clausen's Pier, and he made the gaff of asking, incredulous, "How could you end it book that way?" offering up a huge spoiler. Ms. Packer told him, graciously, "Some people may not have read the book."  And my poor husband was so mortified.  She and the staff and the other readers made him feel fine.  It was a gracious moment at the book cafe.  Oh, and the authors I heard…Sherman Alexie whose voiced boomed over the explosions seeping through the walls of the adjacent movie theatre, Adrienne Rich, Andre Dubus III, so many I cannot recount. Then the cafe was kind to invite me to read at the store at the launch of my book. It was truly a homecoming for me.  My 7th grade English teacher, my first Creative Writing teacher, family and friends were all there.  What a generous and supportive community. I feel very lucky to have had the book cafe as a feature in my life in Santa Cruz. I will miss them terribly.


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I feel bad about my blog.  I haven’t visited for months.  Not because I forget, au contraire, I think about it often.  It’s like a neglected plant that I keep forgetting to water.  It just sits there in the corner, all droopy and accusatory.  Yet like the potting soil, my mind goes dry whenever I think about the blog (usually at a stop light or right before I fall asleep). Nothing seems postworthy... 

And then our family had this cruddy holiday season—uncovered lies, nasty outbursts, a latke grease fire, cathartic weeping, crashing on a neighbors couch, interspersed with good food, lovely homemade gifts, apologies, friends, the small kindness of coffee served in bed—really it was like the worst holiday movie ever, all the heartbreaking scenes from “The Family Stone” and “Home for the Holidays” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” with tiny bits of slapstick, humor, and harmony.  If it’s any indication of how ready we were to say adieu to the season, our Christmas tree was naked and abandoned on the curb by 9:00 am the day after Christmas.  We’re a volatile bunch with exposed nerve endings and not afraid say how we feel. Of course, in the end we're all fine.  We hang together in the same inelegant way burlap holds together, big chunky gaps, itchy and sometimes ugly, but überfunctional. We exhaust and forgive and love one another. 

The emotional exhaustion of the season left me reeling and recognizing that all I can do is shift is my outlook.  Expectations always get me in trouble.   And so, my New Year’s Resolution:  find joy anywhere it pops up.  Hence my #onegoodthing project.  Everyday on facebook I’ll post the apex moment of my day.  And then on Sundays, I’ll post the week’s good moments here. Voila!  A blog post and a happy outlook.   Any readers that care to, please post your good thing, I’d love to know about it. 


1 January: gorgeous day at the Oregon coast: expansive horizon, the light, the company.


2 January: received TWO rejections today: they said: the piece succeeded on its own terms, especially strong closing paragraph, lovely essay, near miss, lacked a narrative hook, nice (this one feels particularly damning!), keep sending. Trying to upset my paradigm and see these rejections as an open invitation to dig deeper and submit again.


3 January: "Just a pimple, a minor irritation, end of story," said the Oncologist.

4 January: Songbirds! In Portland, in January.

Wishing you all #onegoodthing each and every day.  Happy New Year.


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