By Toria Emas
On April 4, Chicago Dames gathered over oysters and champagne to discuss Ashley Warlick’s The Arrangement, an historical fiction about the legendary food writer M.F.K. Fisher. The Dames dined in the Oyster Hall of Fame room at Shaw’s Crab House, where both M.F.K. Fisher and co-author/editor Dame Joan Reardon were inducted in 1990 and 1997, respectively.
Ashley Warlick stated that at least a dozen pages of Joan’s book influenced her. The book troubled some Dames, however, because M.F.K. Fisher’s inner thoughts still remain a mystery. Dame Carol Haddix enjoyed reading a different viewpoint of M.F.K. Fisher’s life since so little is really known about her.
Unfortunately, Dame Joan Reardon could not attend, but she must have felt the love during the toast, and she sent a brief note with these comments: “What I was going to mention briefly was M.F.K. Fisher’s love life as a continuing publishing phenomena. In 2011, Counterpoint published An Extravagant Hunger: The Passionate Years of M.F.K. Fisher by Anne Zimmerman. And the list goes on–biographical or fictionalized–often obscuring her real contribution as one of the first ‘literary food writers’ in the United States.’”
Nina Barrett called The Arrangement a “sexy little book that makes you want an affair rather than a meal.” Dame Jennifer Anderson mused about the theme of hunger – especially the Hunger for Life. Dame Judith Hines reminded the group that M.F.K. was not known for her cooking, but more for the emotion of food. Others thought the book missed an opportunity to expand on the worldview during M.F.K.’s life.
From a writer’s perspective, Dame Stacey Ballis, reads one of M.F.K.’s books cover-to-cover at least once every year for inspiration. Dame Mary Kay Gill said is new to the writings of M.F.K. and wants to read more of her work.
Joan’s friend Steve LaHaie, who reserved the room for us, selected a menu that was far more generous than the $40 cost of the event. The menu came from one of M.F.K. Fisher’s books and Steve annotated the inspiration for each course. To start, Steve selected two styles of oysters—east coast, crisp shell and flavor versus West Coast, wavy with vegetal overtones. The Champagne Shallot Sauce was also a good accompaniment to the crusty bread. M.F.K. liked simple food exemplified by the salad. Dame Patti Erd suggested chervil was one of the flavors and noted that there is a Chervil Club that began in France. The entrée of broiled Lake Superior Whitefish was served with steamed butter peas and boiled potatoes. Capping the meal was Raspberry Romanoff with a substitution of Grand Marnier for the Kirsch.
For future Dames Who Read events, Books for Women’s Prison Project is collecting used books and Judith Hines will have a tote bag at each meeting for book contributions—biography and history are best.