A READABLE FEAST

Dallas literati gather for a New Year’s salon celebrating good food, fine wine and great reads.

SOMETHING ?S HAPPENING TO DALLAS MINDS. COFFEEHOUSES are hosting poetry readings, new and used bookstores are opening at a heated pace and everyone you know has joined a book club. All of a sudden, we find ourselves in the midst of a literary revolution.

To celebrate the New Year of the Book we invited a diverse group of Dallas literati to join us in the library of the historic DeGolyer estate at the Dallas Arboretum. The city’s first bibliophile, Everett Lee DeGolyer gathered an impressive personal library before his death in 1956. We could think of no better place in which to host a dinner party with literary aspirations, Gathered around our table were poet James Mardis; Bob McCranie. publisher and editor of the new literary journal The Dallas Review; Patty Turner, owner of Shakespeare Books (with one of the best-stocked poetry shelves in Dallas); Paula Bosse, who recently published a catalog on collectible books, now working with Borders Books & Music; literary agent Jan Miller; George Toomer, writer, book collector and food consultant; Emma Rodgers. owner of Black Images Book Bazaar; Kay Cattarulla, founder of the Arts and Letters Live series at the Dallas Museum of Art; and Robert Nelsen. a fiction writing instructor at The University of Texas at Dallas and the executive editor of Common Knowledge, a journal of literature, art and culture. Surrounded by walls of books and led by Moderator Chris Tucker, D’s executive editor, they discussed the literary life in Dallas.

“People out there want to find the writer,” said Kay Catlarulla. “There is a public for the story, the novel, the poem, for text of all kinds. The challenge of bringing the public and the creative person together is just totally fascinating and consuming. Everyone at this table is doing it.” Or as Bob McCranie put it: “Dallas has a community, Dallas has a voice. We need some way to express that. We could pump a lot more life into this area.”

“What is literature compared to cooking? The one is shadow, the other substance, ” -E.V. Lucas

Of course, there always has been a connection between literature and gastronomy. Proust spun the seven books of Remembrance of Things Past from the evocative taste of a madeleine; Melville devoted a whole chapter of Moby Dick to clam chowder. Everything at our salon had a literary connection in one way or another: Dinner was served on an Irish wake table (recalling Joyce’s The Dead ), borrowed from Tony Clingly, a poetry-quoting descendant of Lord Byron who happens to sell antiques in Dallas. The mosaic-patterned dinnerware recalled the traditional Roman triclinium floor-appropriate for a dinner where we hoped Veritas would be found in vino. First-edition books supplied by George Toomer graced the table, inspiring thoughts of Henry Miller, Ana?s Nin and William Burroughs among the guests. The linens from Artisana continued the theme-each piece was covered with excerpts from a printed page; the ivy-draped centerpiece of antique books, grapes, pears and pomegranates was flanked by English candelabra. Even the menus were bound into faux books by local bookbinder Polly Waddington using hand-decorated paper made by “Miss Marble,” Catherine Levine.

Jack Johnston, music writer and chef at Parigi, an Oak Lawn restaurant with a loyal following among Dallas’ creative community, hit the books for his culinary inspiration, developing a menu from his favorite works. “Of course, me first thing I thought of was Proust’s madeleines, then “Tender Buttons” because that’s one of my favorite poems. I also remembered they’d done a Gertrude Stein birthday dinner at Chez Panisse; that led me to Alice B. Toklas’ Cookbook. Then we had to decide whether we wanted to go after the puns or actually use foods mentioned in literature. Finally I realized Thai food and literature are so intertwined that I did an assemblage of both ideas.”

Martin Sinkoff, wine importer and free-lance wine writer, selected the wines. Even our server, Dean Williamson, does double duty as a waiter at Parigi and an assistant to literary agent Jan Miller.

“An empty stomach is not a good political adviser.” -Albert Einstein

As dinner progressed, the conversation became more animated, touching on the conflicts of interest between writers and publishers, on the age-old issue of art versus commerce-what does a writer really want, a million dollars or “the next word”? (Or as George Toomer put it, “Man’s desire to create has always been there. That’s why we have MJDesigns, you know?”) Guests continued to toss out food for thought: Does the writer want to write or does he have to write, and what will be the effect of electronics on writing and publishing? With a tightening economy and shrinking NEA funding, how will new writers get a start? Will there still be books in the next 10 years or will they merely be interesting collectibles? How is literary content changing?-a question which prompted a response from Robert Nelsen: “Intellect didn’t get us anyplace. Poetry and fiction are becoming less intellectual and more sentimental. That’s contemporary fiction-it comes from the heart. It’s bleeding onto the page.” The evening ended with some literary resolutions and a few predictions:

“Not long ago I found a copy of Going to Meet the Man on the floor of a recreation center; I’m going to read all of James Baldwin.” said James Mardis. ’TU let you know next year if I make it.”

“I’m reading more in the area of AIDS poetry, which is an expanding literature right now,” noted Bob McCranie. “Any book which deals with personal tragedy

I hale people who are not serious about their meals.

-Oscar Wilde

draws me in. Sheryl St. Germaine-who is from Dallas-has a book, Making Bread at Midnight, which is very emotional.”

Jan Miller’s professional prediction pointed out the influence of contemporary culture on art: “I think poetry will make a resurgence because it’s abbreviated and people’s time and energy are abbreviated. I think MTV has helped poetry.”

And. since everyone likes a happy end ing, it is encouraging to note that the group’s outlook is positive for a lively lit erary scene continuing to grow in Dallas. I’m optimistic that writers are writing and publishers are publishing and the commu nity is finding all this out in new ways,” said Kay Cattarulla. “I think the different communities finding their own books and their own bookstores is very important,” said McCranie. Emma Rodgers agreed: “People come to me at me store and say. well what should I read? You’re like a gateway.”

THE MENU

Appetizer: Raw oysters (inspired by a Parisian exile’s bistro browse in Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast), pheasant-pear paté, hearts of romaine, roast garlic and marinated olives. Served with Cordomiu Brut.

First course: Ishmael ashore clam chowder (inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick). Served with Reserve St. Martin Chardonnay 1991.

Second course: Roast squab with apples, brandy and currants (inspired by M.F.K. Fisher’s notion of how to make a pigeon cry in her book How to Cook a Wolf). Served with haricots verts and tender button mushrooms (inspired by Gertude Stein’s poem ’Tender Buttons”), risotto and a Meridian Pinot Noir 1990.

Third course: The Unbearable Lightness of Soufflé, a frozen crème fra?che soufflé with poached figs (inspired by Milan Kun-dera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being). Served with Muscat de St. Jean de Minervois.

After Dinner: Coffee and madeleines (inspired by Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past).

RECIPES:

JACK’S RISOTTO

2 shallots, chopped

2 tablespoons each, oil and butler

2 cups arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine

8-10 cups (beef or chicken) slock, warmed to boiling

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese. grated

Heal butter and oil together; sauté shallots till transparent. Add rice, cook three minutes, stirring to coat rice, Add wine and reduce by half, then add enough stock to just cover rice. Stir often till almost all the liquid is absorbed, and repeat. Cook 18-20 minutes, until rice is still toothsome but not soft. Consistency should be slightly runny. Stir in butter and cheese and allow to rest five minutes before serving. Serves 10.

FROZEN CRèME FRA CHE SOUFFLé

12 egg yolks 1/2 pound sugar

1/4 cups cream, brought to a boil 1/2 cup Grand Marni

1/2 cups whipped crème fra?che (available from The Mozzarella Company and Simon David)

Whip yolks and sugar together for 20 minutes. Add hot cream and whip till cool. Add the Grand Marnier and fold in the crème fra?che. Pour into buttered ramekins and freeze till firm. To unmold, run a knife around the edges and hold the ramekin with a hot towel. Top with fruit or candied figs. Serves 10.

Mary Brown Mahouf is a restaurant critic for D.

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading I the life of a lion or wolf”

-Epicurus

“All human history attests That happiness for man -the hungry sinner!- Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner. “

-Lord Byron

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