Today’s Fun Friday includes a little lesson in photographic technique. Here is author Margaret Ann Spence to explain.
Thank you, Betty, for the opportunity to introduce your readers to Lipstick on the Strawberry, a book about food and family secrets.
A little salt, a little sugar and more than a dash of vinegar characterize caterer Camilla Fetherwell’s relationships with her family – and the men in her life. As for love, the main ingredient, will it be burned to a crisp, or served tender and delicious?
What Camilla loves to do for fun is to travel and sample the food of other countries! When the book starts, she’s already relocated “across the pond”, to Massachusetts. She may have gone from the frying pan to the fire as, newly divorced, she struggles to keep her business afloat. But experimenting with new dishes keeps her clientele happy and all her senses engaged.
Camilla is English. She chose her profession because she feels unable to live up to her family’s academic expectations in the storied, historic, university town of Cambridge, England. She feels excluded from the academy, and learned to cook in the kitchen of one of the university colleges, horrifying her snobby parents.
This photo of one of the famous university colleges shows how our Camilla feels about her home town. Not welcome!
Camilla was cut off from her family for a youthful indiscretion. She’s always wondered why her teenage relationship with a boy who came to live with the family was so taboo, and escaped her family’s stifling respectability to live in Boston. Returning to England for her father’s funeral, she finds he had a secret that upends her assumptions and threatens her reunion with her first love. Her father is not the only one with a secret, however, and Camilla is the catalyst for their uncovering.
In family relationships, are things ever really what they seem?
That thought led me to my title. It’s a food photographer’s trick. Just as a freshen-up of lipstick can do wonders for a face (especially mine!) so a photographer can swipe a lovely red over an unripe strawberry to make it look perfect. What truths lie under a supposedly unblemished life?
One reviewer said, “This story moves along at a cracking pace. I found it hard to put down…We are led down some tantalizing paths, until the final resolution. Appropriately, food features a great deal in this book, in fact, the writing itself is quite luscious.”
I imagined Camilla when we lived in Cambridge for a year. While in England I discovered a surprise – British food has had a bad rap! Says Camilla, “We’re long past the stodge and school-dinner stereotype.” I started researching and cooking British specialties, and many of them appear in the book as Camilla’s adaptations from the originals, using American measurements.
In keeping with Camilla’s feeling like a “fish out of water,” here she introduces a Scottish fish soup with a funny name – Cullen Skink.
This mouth-watering chowder is from the fishing town of Cullen. The word “skink” means “shin” in the Scots dialect. How we got from shin, which implies meat, to smoked fish is a mystery. But the word also means soup. It’s a great dish for a cold winter’s night, which is exactly when its eaten in Lipstick on the Strawberry.
Camilla’s Cullen Skink
1½ pints whole rich milk, 1 oz. butter, 1 bay leaf, 1 lb undyed smoked haddock or any smoked white fish*, one large onion, diced finely, one leek, washed and thinly sliced, two large potatoes, diced into quarter inch by half inch cubes.
Poach the fish and bay leaf in milk, very gently, until fish is cooked through, about five to ten minutes. Turn off the heat and remove fish with slotted spoon and reserve.
In a pan, melt the knob of butter and cook the onions and leeks gently until translucent, add potatoes and sauté till they are golden all over. Add the potatoes and onion to the milky fish stock. Poach the liquid mixture until potatoes are tender – this could take up to 40 minutes, because the milk should never boil.
In the meantime, as soon as the fish is cool, skin it (skin should lift right off), flake the fish meat, and chill in refrigerator until the rest of the soup is ready.
When potatoes and onions are tender, remove the bay leaf, replace fish into the soup, bring gently to the simmer, and pour into bowls, garnishing with parsley or chives.
Traditional cooks mash the potatoes to make the soup thick. I find chunks of potato poking out of the soup with the fish to be more interesting. An option is to mash half the potato to thicken the soup and chunk the rest. This is the most delicious chowder with a wonderful smoky flavor. Serve with crusty bread and a salad for a complete meal.
*Smoked fish is hard to find in the U.S. I found a delicious compromise by using canned smoked trout I found at World Market together with a fillet of cod. Drain the trout of oil before using.
Estranged from her English family, Camilla Fetherwell now lives in the United States and owns a successful catering business. Returning home for her father’s funeral, she reunites with her first love, Billy, whom she hasn’t seen since her father broke up their teenage romance. Billy seems eager to resume their love affair. But after one blissful night together, things take a turn.
Camilla suspects her father may have led a secret life, and when Billy reveals something he, too, has discovered, her apprehension grows. Billy holds her heart, but their relationship might be tainted by what her father hid. A reunion seems impossible.
Her life feels as splattered as her catering apron. As she watches her food stylist make a strawberry look luscious with a swipe of lipstick, Camilla wonders if a gloss has been put over a family secret? Can she and Billy survive what’s underneath?
As a child, Margaret wanted to run an orphanage or be an author. Perhaps the Madeline books inspired both ideas. Debating whether to do good or have fun, she gave up studying to be a social worker and pursued a life around the written word. High heels, tight skirts and makeup won over sensible shoes, though publishing promised a permanently low salary. She worked as an editorial assistant for a major publishing house, for a magazine and for a university. She earned a master’s degree in journalism, wrote a slew of press releases as a publicist, and as a freelance writer when her children were small, published feature articles in newspapers and magazines.
In the past few years, she’s turned to writing fiction and essays. Her essay, The Dog Catcher of Jabiru, won the Tara L. Masih Intercultural Essay Prize in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition in 2014.
Get to know her at www.margaretannspence.com.
I love to cook and to read, so reading about cooks and recipes is always a good fit for me. Thanks for sharing, Margaret!
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