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Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love

Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love

by Kim Fay
Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love

Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love

by Kim Fay

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Overview

The Instant National Bestseller and #1 Indie Next Pick

In the vein of the classic 84, Charing Cross Road, this witty and tender novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine.

When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter--as well as a gift of saffron--to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine, and while she can hunt elk and dig for clams, she’s never tasted fresh garlic--exotic fare in the Northwest of the sixties. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the unexpected in their own lives.
 
Food and a good life—they can’t be separated. It is a discovery the women share, not only with each other, but with the men in their lives. Because of her correspondence with Joan, Imogen’s decades-long marriage blossoms into something new and exciting, and in turn, Joan learns that true love does not always come in the form we expect it to. Into this beautiful, intimate world comes the ultimate test of Joan and Imogen’s friendship—a test that summons their unconditional trust in each other.
 
A brief respite from our chaotic world, Love & Saffron is a gem of a novel, a reminder that food and friendship are the antidote to most any heartache, and that human connection will always be worth creating.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593419342
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/08/2022
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 21,290
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Born in Seattle and raised throughout the Pacific Northwest, Kim Fay lived in Vietnam for four years and still travels to Southeast Asia frequently. A former bookseller, she is the author of Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam, winner of the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards’ Best Asian Cuisine Book in the United States, and The Map of Lost Memories, an Edgar Award finalist for Best First Novel. She is also the creator/editor of a series of guidebooks on Southeast Asia. Fay now lives in Los Angeles.
 

Read an Excerpt

October 8, 1962
Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear Mrs. Fortier,

I hope this letter finds you well. For that matter, I hope it finds you, since I am sending it to Northwest Home & Life magazine, where I so enjoyed your recent tale about digging for clams. I laughed out loud at your smug heron and briny crown of kelp. I admire women who do not care if they look foolish in front of others, even though I am not one of them.

I am a dedicated reader of "Letter from the Island," and I send my congratulations for your ten-year anniversary as its author. I have known it from the beginning when I was seventeen. Mother loves her magazine subscriptions, and every month, as soon as they arrive, she folds back the pages to her favorite columns. The first two she reads are always yours and Gladys Taber's "Butternut Wisdom" in Family Circle. I prefer yours. It makes me feel like I am having a conversation with a good friend, and your enthusiasm for life has taught me to be more aware of my own world around me, and especially the outdoors. Believe it or not, Los Angeles has much to offer in the way of natural beauty if you pay close attention.

I notice you have written about mussels a few times, but you only ever mention cooking clams. I recently learned a creative mussel recipe from a Frenchwoman I met on a voyage to the Far East. I am enclosing a packet of saffron from that voyage. It is my small way of thanking you for "Letter from the Island."

For steamed mussels, in a stockpot add a generous pinch of saffron, coarsely chopped garlic, and parsley to a half cup melted butter. The red enamel pot you mentioned in your column about racing Dungeness crabs, the one with the pockmark from your niece's Red Ryder BB gun, will do perfectly. If you can't find fresh garlic, shallots can be substituted, but in my opinion, without fresh garlic the dish isn't worth making. The Frenchwoman told me the addition of a cup or so of white wine is considered standard for this broth, but she prefers vermouth. I agree with her. It gives the dish a crisp, botanical flavor, and I can save my Chablis for drinking with my meal.

Your not-so-secret admirer,
Miss Joan Bergstrom



FROM THE DESK OF MRS. IMOGEN FORTIER

October 12, 1962
Camano Island, Wash.

Dear Miss Bergstrom,

Greetings from the eye of the storm. Typhoon Freda churned to life a few days ago in the far reaches of the Pacific and got it into her stormy head to roar in our direction. I wonder, is she still a typhoon once she lands on American shores? Meteorological semantics isn't my area of expertise, and my trusty Britannicas are safely hunkered down on the shelves at home. Francis and I came out to the cabin for the Columbus Day weekend to pick mussels and try the saffron you so thoughtfully sent. Instead, we've been battening our hatches.

Apologies for the tottery penmanship. I didn't bring my typewriter with me since my intention was to write to you next week after I made your recipe with great success. Not only do I not mind looking foolish, I'm an optimist! Unfortunately, we didn't collect a single mussel, and I'm writing by the light of a kerosene lantern because the power has gone out.

I'm writing rather than pacing because my pacing was driving Francis crazy. He finally told me to do something to take my mind off the storm. Easier said than done. This afternoon the sky turned black and filled with spectral yellow streaks, and now it feels like our wood-clad cabin will wash away at any minute. This isn't an unreasonable fear, considering it's old wartime housing that we had floated to its present location four years ago on a barge from the naval shipyard down west of Seattle. I've never experienced gales like this before, or maybe I have, but the windstorm of 1934 came at the height of the Depression when I was a weary housewife, feeling a thousand years old rather than the thirty-one I actually was, and my larder was down to a questionable jar of dried beef. A house blown off its foundation seemed like the least of our worries during those bleak times.

I tried reading but can't concentrate on the only unread novel here on our shelves. A Book of the Month selection, Rabbit, Run, by a self-satisfied-looking stuffed shirt named John Updike. It was left behind by my friend Hazel. After tormenting myself with a few morose chapters, I began to suspect Hazel abandoned it on purpose. While the storm could fairly be blamed for my lack of charity, I'm sure I would find this book a toil in clear weather, too. The protagonist gazes at his navel as if he is the first man in history to have feelings of dissatisfaction about his life. He doesn't have any interest at all in making the best of things. I wish I'd brought the new Nero Wolfe to read instead.

I hope you don't find it insulting that I'm using you for my mandated distraction. I do realize I'm rambling. I was pleased to receive the saffron, which I read about in an article by Elizabeth David. I think it was in Gourmet. Does she write for Gourmet? Or maybe it was in one of M. F. K. Fisher's delectable books, but now that I think about it, perhaps Freya Stark mentioned saffron in her writings about Persia. Rambling, indeed. Francis calls it my specialty and says that if I were paid for it, we'd be rich. Anyhow, at your mention of your Far East voyage, I immediately pictured you tall and most certainly elegant, draped in silk, perched on a camel in a spice bazaar. My fascination with National Geographic gives me a vivid imagination. I'm not an adventuress like you, though. My spirit and appetite wander extravagantly through the pages of books and magazines, but my body and stomach stick close to home with few exceptions, Canada and Yellowstone, and a long-ago visit to San Francisco where I enjoyed chipeeno (I'm positive I'm not spelling that correctly) at the Old Clam House.

I close with a heartfelt thank-you for your intriguing gift and generous words about my column. I'm always surprised when I receive a fan letter, since I associate them with movie stars and grand authors like Edna Ferber and Pearl S. Buck. I've never considered myself a professional writer. Occasional vignettes in a garden club newsletter were seen by a former high school classmate in a position of editorial power, and voila! For a decade now, "Letters from the Island" has been a monthly staple in Northwest Home & Life. I send additional gratitude for giving me good reason to put pen to page while the wind whips, the windows shudder, and the roof shakes.

With warm regards,
Mrs. Imogen Fortier

P.S. My thanks as well to your mother for bringing my column into your home, and as a result, your gracious letter to me.



December 12, 1962
Los Angeles, Calif.

Dear Mrs. Fortier,

After I mailed my letter to you, I worried that you would consider it impertinent, especially the part where I gave you cooking advice, as if you of all people need advice on cooking shellfish. I was relieved when you replied, and with such kindness. It is my turn to thank you for providing me with a necessary distraction.

Your letter arrived in my mailbox three days into the Cuban crisis. There is an air raid siren a block from my house, and Mother shouted a curse on the bald head of old Nikita every time it practiced wailing. Between the sirens and her outbursts, my nerves began to fray. Your mention of Elizabeth David reminded me of her recipe for risotto alla Milanese, which I have wanted to try for a long time. As I am sure was the case in your area, the grocery store shelves went bare as everyone prepared for end times. In a harebrained panic, I rushed to C & K Importing for their gallon cans of artichoke hearts, and by the time I got to the Mayfair, all the macaroni and bottled water were gone. Fortunately, I already had the ingredients for risotto in my pantry.

It was a balm to turn my attention to rice and butter. It was my own small way of rebuffing shattered nerves and the Reds, although I suppose hamburgers or hot dogs would have been a more appropriate form of patriotic resistance.

I made enough risotto to fuel the entire naval blockade. Instead, I invited the neighbors for dinner, along with their carpenter, Mr. Rodriguez, who was over building special cabinets for their fallout shelter. Everyone enjoyed it. Mrs. David's approach is to pound the saffron in a mortar and then steep it in broth before adding the liquid at the end of the recipe.

Regarding your comment about my looks, I am tall but hardly elegant, and as for my being an adventuress, while it is flattering, it is also untrue. I cannot begin to imagine traipsing into the woods to hunt for elk with your passel of sisters-in-law, as you described them in your column a few years back. Five women alone in the wild. That is adventure. I have simply always had an interest in people from other countries. I like the way their kitchens smell. At Stanford I was drawn to students from India because they cooked up little pots of curry in their rooms.

My Far East voyage came about through Mother's friend Jean Bartel, who has traveled all over the world. She suggested that it would broaden my horizons, and Mother is a firm believer in this. Mrs. Bartel is a remarkable woman, a former Miss America. She even hosts her own travel program called It's a Woman's World. After my graduation, she made arrangements for a cabin for me on a Norwegian freighter and set up the land portions with lodgings in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangkok. There were twelve passengers on the ship. We were met by a representative at each port and fully escorted to restaurants and cultural sites. As you can see, it was a tame trip. Nor did I sit on any camels, since they are not found in that part of the world, but I did pet a well-behaved elephant named TipTop. I also bought beautiful shawls at the Thai Silk Company. It is the same company whose fabrics outfitted The King and I on Broadway.

The news reports about your Columbus Day storm were harrowing, and the photographs of the aftermath remind me of our earthquakes. I hope your cabin survived unscathed.

Your not-so-secret admirer still,
Miss Joan Bergstrom

P.S. I am also a Nero Wolfe fan, and I enjoy Simenon, as well. My favorite local writer of suspense novels is Charlotte Armstrong.

P.P.S. If you don't have Elizabeth David's Italian Food please let me know. I will copy the risotto recipe and send it to you.



FROM THE DESK OF MRS. IMOGEN FORTIER

January 5, 1963
Camano Island, Wash.

Dear Miss Bergstrom,

If you won't consider yourself an adventuress when it comes to travel, at least please admit that you're one in the kitchen. I'm glad my letter helped you weather the Cuban crisis. Up here in our soggy neck of the woods, I trembled in a state of shock, and Francis was struck with a violent migraine.

Men are such obvious creatures. During the storm he could do practical things to safeguard us, such as nail plywood over windows, secure the boat, etc. etc. During the standoff he could only sit glued to the radio and wait for Kennedy and Khrushchev's despicable game of double-dog dare to run its course. Women are groomed to accept a certain degree of helplessness, but men, especially men like Francis who fought face-to-face in the trenches, are unsettled I believe by this new, impersonal style of warfare. Maybe that's why I didn't like the John Updike novel I wrote about to you. It's selfish to have one of these faddish existential crises when there are so many more genuine concerns, like the next Hiroshima.

Francis and I finally tried your recipe, and I must fess up. We've never had mussels before. We always thought of them as freeloaders clinging where they're not wanted, and you must agree, their beards are unappetizing. What a small-minded misjudgment on our part. I didn't have garlic or even shallots, so I had to chop an Italian red onion. Mea culpa! But you're right about the vermouth. What a divine flavor. I will never look at those ebony shellfish the same way again.

I want to reciprocate. I don't have anything as exotic as saffron. I hope a jar of my blackberry jelly will do. As you know, I write often about picking wild native blackberries. It's a chore since they're not easy game like the big purple bubbles that grow all over the sides of the road around here. Whenever I set out to hunt for a hidden patch in an old clear-cut, Francis accuses me of looking like a hobo with my canvas sunhat, khaki trousers, and Folger's cans tied over my shoulders. I don't care. When I'm in the brambles, I'm happy as a clam at high tide. Just writing to you about it makes me wish for July mornings. There's always a perfect moment when the sun strikes the bushes and a deep, sweet, earthy smell rises into the air.

Your mention of Italian Food gave me an excuse to drive into Seattle for a visit to Shorey's booksellers. They didn't have a copy on hand but assured me they will chase one down and mail it to me. In the meantime, I found a novel by Charlotte Armstrong. Have you read The Seventeen Widows of Sans Souci yet? If you have, please don't give anything away. Once I finish, I'll let you know and we can share our thoughts on it.

You also mentioned your neighbor's carpenter, Mr. Rodriguez. I believe there's a large Mexican population in Los Angeles. Despite my extensive culinary reading, my palate is embarrassingly sheltered. Can you recommend any Mexican recipes for me to try? Francis surprised me by how much he loved your broth for steamed mussels, not to mention how much he loved mussels, and your travels inspire me to become more international in the kitchen. After your saffron, the most exciting spice in my cabinet is paprika. What would a good American housewife's rotating dinner party repertoire be without Hungarian chicken? Mea culpa-again! We eat with scant creativity, grilling fish and roasting meat. Francis would live off cans of Dinty Moore beef stew if I weren't here to make pot roast. Like any couple married so long (forty years!), we're probably too set in our ways.

Thank you for allowing me the pleasure of rambling once again.
 
With warm regards,
Mrs. Imogen Fortier
 
P.S. Since you refuse the description adventuress, I propose cosmopolitan. After all, you’re a city girl, as well as family friends with a former Miss America. The closest I come to such distinction is a second cousin who was a runner-up for Ellensburg Rodeo queen.  
 
P.P.S. While our dormant rhododendrons took a beating in the storm, our cabin is intact, and Francis is the talk of our Maple Grove Beach. The morning after the storm, all the boats that had been tied to the buoys out front were found down on the rocks past the boat ramp. All except for Francis’s! His had moved down the shore a bit, but it was still attached to its buoy. My clever husband used two lines, so even though the lead line broke, the backup line held. Needless to say, he was pleased as punch about that.



January 19, 1963
Los Angeles, Calif.
 
Dear Mrs. Fortier,

Your jelly puts Welch’s to shame. As I ate it on a fresh croissant from the French bakery at the Farmers Market down the street from my house, I savored the image you painted with your words. I would love to spend a summer morning in the Pacific Northwest sunshine picking wild blackberries. I also crave your back yard access to crisp apples, plums, and pears, although I am not sure I would trade them for the grapefruit and oranges I pluck from my own trees for breakfast whenever I like.

You are correct. There is a large Mexican community in Los Angeles. Scarcely a century ago, this part of America was another country entirely. It makes for exciting food discoveries. I take Spanish lessons with regular trips to Tijuana and down the Baja peninsula for extra practice in case the borders ever shift again.

My favorite Mexican dish is the tamale, but it is not easy to make, and I suspect you would not be able to find all the ingredients you need up in your Nordic region, especially masa flour which is a special ground corn. I asked Mr. Rodriguez if his wife has any simple dinner recipes she could recommend. It turns out that he is a widower and did all the cooking for his two daughters when they were growing up. He claims to enjoy it. Imagine that. A man other than James Beard who loves to labor in the kitchen. He suggests carne asada. He is taking me to his local mercado on Saturday to stock a basic Mexican pantry. I will try the recipe first before sending it to you.

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