I just finished a book that made me laugh and broke my heart. Somehow I have made it to the year 2014 without reading a book by Lorrie Moore. She is well known and well acclaimed for her short stories, which I tried to find at the Boynton Beach library but they were all checked out that day. So I borrowed her novel, A Gate at the Stairs.
Ignore the reviews on this one. She has 3.0 stars on Amazon and 3.1 on Goodreads. But we live in a time when everyone has an opinion and it seems those with the loudest voices are the ones with the cruelest things to say. The naysayers, the negative Nellies, the people who don’t like your politics or your religion or your clothes. One reviewer actually wrote Ms. Moore was a single mother and she’d heard she was recently going through a rough time which might be the reason this novel wasn’t as good as her short stories. ??? That’s a valid comment in a book review? Ignore them and read this book.
It is the story of a young college girl named Tassie, and the year she learns more about life and love outside the classroom than in it. More than any book she will ever read, and she does love books and words and language, it is the people she meets that teach her what the passage of time, family, and love are really all about.
Lorrie Moore is a master of making the ordinary seem extraordinary. Whether it is the weather or the delicious food one of the characters creates or the landscape of the mid-west, you see the pictures in your mind and taste the food. Very early on in the story, she described Tassie’s home so well, and it was so familiar and similar to my old farmhouse in New Hampshire, that I thought she had dropped by my house one day and used it as research for the setting.
The house struck me once more with its warm neglect and elegant poverty-the Hitchcock chairs that were beat up, scarred, never treated as special antiques but as serviceable items that had to earn their existence on this planet the hard way: at our house, a kind of hard-knocks house for furniture. ~ Lorrie Moore The Gate at the Stairs
The story has a lot of themes-adoption, marriage, racial prejudice, intellectual snobbery. It’s funny and engaging and I couldn’t put it down. It’s the kind of book I wished I’d written. It’s the kind of book I’m currently trying to write.
One of my favorite characters in the book, Tassie’s Dad, is a boutique farmer who grows coveted heirloom potatoes. While reading the book, I had to cook something, and it had to be fresh and delicious. Real food that came from the soil, food Tessie’s Dad would grow. So I rooted around in the fridge and made a salad. There is no real recipe for this. I made it up as I cleaned the fridge.
There is a line in the book that reminded me of my food blogs. I am a novelist not a cookbook author, and I am just a home cook and so is my husband, who does a lot of the cooking. But there is food in my books too, so I’ve been sharing the recipes. Okay, yes, it’s a marketing ploy.
In the scene I’m referring to, Tassie makes a clothesline type of thing in her family’s backyard, a rope strung between two trees where she hangs pieces of paper filled with poetry, first Sufi then Sylvia Plath. I imagined it looked like Tibetan prayer flags. She lies underneath this invention and reads the poems. Then she moves on to recipes from old cookbooks and reads those lying on her old rug under the prairie sky.
I would study their notation, their confident sorcery, their useful busyness. They were the opposite of poetry, except if, like me, you seldom cook, and then they are the same. ~ Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs
Like my recipe for the Best Boy’s Eggs Benedict, where I forget to add step one until the end. Or give you variations on a theme, as in, I used swiss cheese but you can use cheddar or parmesan or whatever the hell you have in your fridge. Cooking is poetry, make it up as you go along.
And what does this have to do with recipes from my books? Andy Radcliffe, in Take Me Home, would definitely serve this salad at Whole Pie Pizzeria. I’m calling it:
A Riff on Chef’s Salad
Baby lettuce mix
Hard boiled eggs
Radishes, thinly sliced (I had multi-colored ones from Fresh Market)
Edamame (lightly steamed and salted)
Thinly sliced pears
Sliced red pepper
Crumbled goat cheese
Compose a piece of art on each salad plate
We used Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette but you can use anything you like or even better, make your own.