This time of year, our thoughts often turn to food. There is always a plethora of cookbooks, but there are also books that treat food and recipes in unusual ways.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest (Pamela Dorman Books, July 2015), the debut novel of J. Ryan Stradal, centers on the importance of food on our emotional and social life and on the sensitive and explosive palate of Eva Thorvald. Her dad, Lars, suffered in his youth from the lingering odor of his family’s lutefisk business. Eva put her chocolate habaneros and other hot pepper talents to unusual uses. From Jordy Snelling’s venison to Pat Prager’s peanut butter bars, it all adds up to a Babette’s Feast on the South Dakota prairie.

And speaking of the earlier story, Babette’s Feast (Modern Classics: Babette’s Feast and Other Stories, Penguin Classic , April 2015), by Isak Dinesen, is another example of how food can change the lives of people. Two elderly sisters, in a dreary Norwegian village dominated by a Puritanical fear of pleasure, take in a refugee from Paris to be their maid and cook. Grossly underestimating her skills, they try to instruct her. But a financial windfall gives Babette the opportunity to repay their kindness with an extraordinary feast for the body and soul.

Then, of course, there is Chocolat (Penguin, 2000), by Joanne Harris, the story of how a stranger with a gift of irresistible chocolate changes the spirit of a small French town.

VALLEY WRITERS

Fowler native Juan Felipe Herrera, the poet laureate of the United States, continues to stir up the poetry world as he sprints into his current mode of expressing his multi-faceted talents. At his inaugural reading in Washington, D.C., he repeated his story of how his
teacher, Mrs. Sampson, turned his life around in third grade when she told him he had a beautiful voice. Then, in a poetic moment, he introduced 94-year-old Mrs. Layla Sampson, sitting in the front row in the audience. As not only a poet, but a performing artist, he entertained his audience throughout the evening with humor and pathos.

Jane Porter’s book five of the Taming of the Sheenans series comes out this month. A Christmas Miracle for Daisy revolves around media mogul Cormac Sheenan and his two-year-old goddaughter, Daisy. When Daisy is orphaned, the work-oriented bachelor adopts her and moves back to Montana. There, a meddling Santa promises Daisy a mommy for Christmas.

WRITERS’ CONFERENCES

Registration for the 2016 Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference opens on Dec. 15. The conference will take place in Pittsburgh, PA, over Memorial Day weekend, May 27-29. Attendees will spend three days with authors, editors, agents, and publishers. Details at: creativenonfiction.org.

Applications for the Daryl and Robert Davis scholarships for the Seaside Writers’ Conference will be accepted until Jan. 10. The scholarship includes full tuition plus a housing discount. Details, including scholar obligations, at: seasidewritersconference.weebly.com.

WRITING CONTESTS

The Colorado Prize for Poetry contest will accept manuscripts of book-length collections of poems through Jan. 14. The winning collection will be published by the Center for Literary Publishing and the author will receive a $2,000 honorarium.

The online entry fee and one-year subscription to Colorado Review is $28. Details at: coloradoreview.colostate.edu/colorado-prize-for-poetry.

The Literal Latte K. Margaret Grossman Fiction Awards offer a $1,000 first prize. Stories of 8,000 words maximum in any subject or style are eligible. Deadline is Jan. 15. The reading fee is $10 for one story or $15 for two. All entries will be considered for publication. Details at: literal-latte.com/contests/fiction-award.

TIME MOVES ON

For 42 years the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, ME, trained students for writing, radio, photography, and news media. Many students went on to distinguished careers in these fields. However, students who had signed up for this fall semester were notified that the institute was closing its doors for good and they would have to seek other sources of training. School officials cited declining enrollment and inconsistent funding as the cause for the discontinuance

THE LAST WORD

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.” – Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973)