Eating Authors: Delia Sherman

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Delia Sherman

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to 2018. I’m happy to put the past year in the past, to focus on a shiny new year full of potential and renewed purpose. I invite you to come along for the ride.

We begin this new year of EATING AUTHORS with Delia Sherman as the first guest of 2018. Delia writes for both adults and children. She’s published three novels for the former (one co-written with her spouse, Ellen Kushner), all in the Fantasy of Manners vein, receiving a Mythopoeic Award for her troubles. Her middle-grade stories and books have earned her a Norton Award, a Prometheus Award, as well as a second Mythopoeic Award. She’s also a past nominee for the Crawford Award and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

In addition to her own writing, Delia is one of the founding members of the Interstitial Arts Foundation. Delia’s a teacher and lecturer (Ph.D. in Renaissance Studies from Brown). She’s also an experienced editor of both anthologies and webzines. And she regularly pays it forward, sharing her expertise by teaching at Clarion and Odyssey and Alpha, and plenty of other workshops throughout the world (which fits in nicely with her self-professed love of travel).

LMS: Welcome, Delia. What meal stands out most in your memory?

DS: Memory is an odd and selective thing. I know that I’ve eaten a lot of good food—formal meals in restaurants, lunch stops on road trips, picnics off the roof of a car ditto, dinners and lunches and parties in the houses of friends. But mostly I don’t remember what I actually ate. There is, however, one meal—or rather one set of meals—that I remember perfectly, because I’ve cooked it annually for ten years. It’s my wife Ellen’s and my favorite family tradition, and we take it a lot more seriously (for a given value of seriously) than Thanksgiving (for which we often hide and write and maybe fry up a duck breast for two). We hold it on Twelfth Night, traditionally the night when the magi brought the traditional baby gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus. It also—in England, anyway—is a time of feasting, entertainments, music, and plays. And since we’re both enthusiastic about all those things, it seems like the perfect time to throw a Twelfth Night party.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone

The feast, to begin with, was an afterthought. The play’s the thing, and the friends we invite to help us read it. Shakespeare, of course, is a favorite. We’ve done Twelfth Night and As You Like It and Winter’s Tale. Ben Jonson was less successful—we didn’t make it all the way through Volpone, although we gave our best shot. Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia was a real hit, and we almost repeated it a second year, but substituted Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not For Burning at the last minute. We’ve done Noel Coward (Private Lives) and Moliere (The Miser) and Liz Duffy Adams (Or,). The core group of readers has always been me, Ellen, and two merry gentlemen she’s known from the 1980’s, when she last lived in New York. Since a lot of what we read is male-heavy, we practice gender-blind casting. Every scene is recast by our Perpetual Stage Manager, Patrick, who is kind enough to give favorite speeches to whoever begs hardest for them. By long tradition, Daniel gets first crack at the ranting elderly ladies and Ellen has a corner on the clever, snarky heroes. I prefer sensible characters of either gender, but will chew scenery when called upon.

We’ve played with the timing of dinner to accommodate both art and hunger. If we try to read the whole play beforehand, we either eat too much cheese or get so hungry the reading becomes a slog instead of a pleasure. If we use dinner as a long intermission, sometimes we don’t get to the second half of the play. We’ve never tried putting off the play until after dinner because that way lies a Twelfth Night without any play, and where would be the fun in that? Of course, everything would be easy if this were just a bowl of potato chips and maybe a steak or burritos kind of party, with ice cream afterwards, or maybe some homemade cookies, if we get ambitious. But it’s not.

Changeling

You see, I have a thing for goose. It’s probably having read Dickens at an impressionable age, but for me, it’s just not Christmas without a goose. Except that we don’t actually celebrate Christmas, so the goose has moved to Twelfth Night instead. I use a recipe I found in Gourmet magazine in 1977, involving a dried fruit stuffing and port wine gravy and a certain amount of fussing with the hot fat that is the inevitable side-effect of roasting a goose. It is always moist (if I don’t forget to turn the temp down after the first 30 minutes) and usually crisp and tastes very faintly of fruit. I used to make red cabbage with it, but have recently turned to roasted brussels sprouts. Given the size of the oven in our apartment this year, I might go back to the cabbage, or maybe I’ll sautè the brussels sprouts with chutney. Potatoes, of course, and green beans and sweet potatoes mashed with sautéed apples. We carry in the goose (carved, because carving a goose is a greasy, messy affair best achieved without an audience) to The Boar’s Head Carol, because we like to sing. Dessert is a King Cake, a French tradition traditionally supplied by Daniel, to be eaten after we’ve either finished the play or voted unanimously to give up and tell bad jokes instead. Whoever gets the bean (or the little china donkey) in their piece has to wear a gilded cardboard crown. One year, Patrick forgot to take it off when he left and didn’t notice he was still wearing it until Daniel took pity on him before they got on the subway.

Young Woman in a Garden

The evening always ends with a rousing rendition of The King, a traditional Twelfth Night ballad that begins, “Joy, Health, Love, and Peace / Be all here in this place!” It is about a king (which is really a wren, the king of the birds) and is full of hedges and ribbons and cannon and joy in the New Year, and has a rousing good tune, which is the important thing with folk songs.

Like all traditions, our Twelfth Night feasts are both different every year and exactly the same. They exist in a timeless space wherein goose is eaten, songs are sung, toasts are proposed, a play is read, and friends laugh and pull Christmas crackers (bought, this year, in a branch of a Dutch department store) and talk about Shakespeare and comics and life. The cast of characters swells and shrinks, depending on who is in town and is willing to read long speeches aloud, but somehow everyone who has ever been there is always there, wearing a little paper crown, laughing and singing in chorus. It’s that fellowship I remember, and the faces around our table, golden in the candlelight as we raise our glasses and toast the New Year.

Also, the goose.

Thanks, Delia. You had me at Shakespeare. Though, the goose didn’t hurt a bit.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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photo credit: Beth Gwinn

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