Thursday, November 22, 2012

"I've prepared and handled raw food?"

. . . as Goldie Hawn says in bewildered tones, in Overboard, that towering piece of cinematic majesty.

Dandy Gilver would be much the same.   Cook, to Dandy is a noun.  Cook, is Mrs Tilling, and you can find some of her recipes below stairs on the Dandy Gilver website.

As for giving thanks?  “My dear, I don’t think so, do you?  One shouldn’t gush with emotion in public.”
Not me.  I love Thanksgiving.  I don’t really get it, but I love it.  It’s a four-day weekend and there’s lots of food.  (For a hilarious take on this holiday from a UK point of view, see Simon Wood, who blogged about it yesterday.)

This is my third since moving here.  First time out I was on Martinelli’s duty.  Impossible to get wrong.  Last year I served my apprenticeship on appetisers.  Possible to get wrong, but no one cares because Thanksgiving dinner is all about the main course and the truckload of sweet things to follow.
But this year?  Oh-ho, this year I have been promoted to – drum roll – green bean casserole.

I’m making two.

One with fresh beans, crimini mushrooms, sour cream, onions that I’ll caramelise in my cast-iron frying pan for two hours with nutmeg and garlic, and chicken stock that I made with three chicken carcasses and handfuls of herbs and which is in my freezer in small batches against just this eventuality.

And the other one.  You know the one I mean.
Now, I feel very affectionate towards the idea of mixing together products and calling it cooking – what a friend on Facebook this week called “the Midwestern Lutheran church-basement pot-luck tradition”.  Some of my happiest evenings in Scotland ended with an after-dinner game using the Amish Barn Cookbook I brought home from a winter in Ohio.

No one ever guessed the seven ingredients in Amish waldorf salad.  Foodie friends would say – very airily – “Well, celery, apples and walnuts.  Let’s get them out of the way.”  And I’d say, “Nope.”  Endless fun.
That Thanksgiving in Ohio was also the time Neil and I wondered if the stores were open the day after the holiday and drove out to a mall to see.  It seemed quite busy.  We laugh about it now.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What, no sex?

“How much of your character's political and religious belief do you put in a book or do you shy away from those topics?” was the question and it’s a good one.  What’s amazing is how quickly that question – whenever it’s asked – becomes “How much of your political ideology and religious fervour should you cram down a reader’s throat like a shift-worker on a foie-gras-goose farm?” 

As I pointed out, commenting on Reece’s posting on Monday (before I realised I should keep my mouth shut so’s I’d have something to say on Thursday), no one ever thinks having a character kill their entire family with a nutmeg grater is a suggestion for how readers should live their real lives.

Well, anyway, I've got it easy. Dandy Gilver’s political beliefs – the unthinking Toryism of the Brtish upper class in the 1920s – and her religious beliefs – the unthinking  high-church Christianity of the British upper class in the 1920s – are not mine to cram.

Not everyone gets that, mind you.  In pre-facebook days, once or twice a reading group or lunch club invited that delightful Dandy Gilver’s fragrant creator to speak and were horrified to have the likes of me roll up.

And once I was accused of being an apologist for social stratification because I write about “toffs coming along and solving the problems of the plebs.”  Needless to say my accuser hadn’t read any of my books.

To tell the truth, drip-drip-drip bias in fiction bothers me as much as it did that angry if uninformed class-warrior.  Three examples:

In Enid Blyton, the rich kids were always taller, stronger and braver than Edgar the cook’s son, who always snivelled and went to pieces at the first whiff of danger.  Also they were clean-limbed.  What does that even mean?  What would someone look like who was dirty-limbed?

I had to stop reading Jonathon Kellerman’s The Butcher’s Theatre because all the Israelis were tall, strong and brave (and probably clean-limbed too) and all the Palestinians were low-down cheating scalliwags.   Who smelled bad – yes, really. 

Every week when the X-Files was on I’d think: “Come on.  Just once.  Let the scientific explanation be right.  Just one week and then back to all the spookety-woo next time.”  Not one single time did Scully ever carry the day for reason, though.  In this case, I watched every episode in every season, just to make sure.

So, in conclusion, politics and relgious belief are just another part of a character’s make-up to me and if they’re key they need to be depicted with the same reckless devotion to the demands of the story as everything else.  But when an author builds a world, you don’t half get a good look at the builder too.