Read an Excerpt
O'Neal / THE ALL YOU CAN DREAM BUFFET
Dead Gulch, Kansas
Camera in hand, Ginny Smith bent over the still life she had created on the kitchen counter. Her husband, Matthew, had built her a photographer’s light box, but she preferred natural light when it was available, and this was one of the prime spots in her house. The pale-green counter and heavy swaths of indirect light pouring through the big kitchen window gave everything a serene look. It was one of the secrets of her blog, this very spot.
This afternoon, she was shooting a slice of pistachio cake. Two generous layers of white cake frosted with the palest shade of green. The beauty was in the depth of field, the fine, pure white crumb of the cake against the cracked satin of the antique plate, the alluring color of the frosting. In the background of the shot was an antique green glass vase overloaded with roses she’d just clipped from the bushes surrounding the house, and in the foreground were six pistachios in various stages of undress, suggesting decadence.
As she clicked and moved and clicked and moved, zooming in and zooming out, changing angles, she hummed along with Bach. The music played on her iPod, a gift from her daughter, Christie, two Christmases ago, and it was loud. Ginny hoped it would drown out the emptiness in her chest.
She thought about the invitation from Lavender. Again.
This morning she had rushed out to the grocery store to pick up a small bag of pistachios for this photo shoot. She had forgotten last night to set some aside when she made the cake. Although they were not strictly necessary, she had time to run out to the Hy-Vee after Matthew left for work—the light this time of year reached its prime glow around ten-thirty—and she took pride in having the best details in her photos.
She came out of the supermarket and decided to make a quick stop at the drugstore for some ribbon—seeing in her mind’s eye a curl of thin, shiny dark pink satin to pick up the color of the roses. To get there, she passed the Morning Glory Café. . . .
And stopped dead.
Standing there, staring through the window, she made up her mind to go to Oregon.
It was a shocking decision. She had never gone anywhere, except once to Minneapolis when her cousin got married. She hadn’t even gone to Cincinnati for the funerals of Valerie’s family, because—she would admit this only to herself—she was a coward and had been afraid to go alone.
She certainly had not ever driven herself nearly two thousand miles, even without a trailer. Much less driven herself and a trailer.
But this bright morning, she happened to catch sight of her three best friends sitting in the Morning Glory, eating pancakes and bacon without her. They were dressed up, probably heading to Wichita after breakfast to do some spring shopping. Karen had her long hair swept up into a comb, with feathery bits carefully falling over the top like a fountain, and she wore her beaded earrings. Marnie wore her gray top from Victoria’s Secret, embroidered around the edges, and Jean had red lipstick on, making her, with her cropped hair, look sophisticated.
The three of them plus Ginny had been the best of friends for nearly forty years, ever since they sat together in Mrs. Klosky’s fourth-grade class. Ginny knew everything about them, and they knew nearly everything about her. Not the part about her sex life, of course. That would be too humiliating. And nobody had known about the blog until the piece in Martha Stewart’s magazine seven months ago had blown Ginny’s cover.
What did you expect? Matthew had asked in some disgust. That nobody would know it was you?
Maybe that was what she had expected. That nobody would connect Ginny the housewife they’d known their whole lives with the “Cake of Dreams” blog, even if they saw a picture of her in it. How many people in Dead Gulch read Martha Stewart Living, after all? It wasn’t exactly Family Circle.
Or maybe what she had expected was that people would be proud of her. The blog had sixty thousand readers. Every day. She’d had no idea that people would like her pictures so much, or her recipes, or whatever it was, but she was secretly very, very proud of it. She didn’t know anybody in real life (not counting her online friends, of course) who had ever done anything like it.
And it was paying her, too, from several directions, a lot more money than she’d made at the supermarket. It came in through ads, first of all. She could pick and choose among the best ones and charge a pretty penny for them. After that, funds came through demands for her photos, which had become so cumbersome to supply that she finally had to pay someone to fill the orders and set up a store on Etsy. Her assistant, a woman who worked with her virtually from Wisconsin, suggested that Ginny offer some framed and matted versions of her stuff, which tripled the income stream from that end. That same assistant also suggested that Ginny should have a subscription service for photographer wannabes, and that had proved to be the most lucrative of all. Every week she sent out tips and lessons. It seemed crazy at first—what did she know?—but some students had begun to have success on their own, so maybe it wasn’t so crazy after all.
When the Martha Stewart Living people contacted her for a feature story, Ginny had started to realize her secret wouldn’t stay secret that much longer anyway. Sooner or later, someone in town would put together the Ginny of “Cake of Dreams” with Ginny Smith, who was a supermarket cake decorator until the blog freed her.
Matthew had known she was making money on photos, of course. But he had not understood what kind of reach the blog had, how famous she had become, until the magazine people showed up.
Standing on the sidewalk this Monday morning, with a pounding hollow in her chest, Ginny blinked back tears.
What had she expected?
What she had never expected was this, that her friends would exclude her. That her husband would be embarrassed. That her mother would needle her slyly. Only her daughter, her sister Peggy, and Karen had been genuinely happy for her. But as much as Karen cheered her on, she was never the strongest in the group. Faced with Marnie, who was furious with Ginny, Karen didn’t stand a chance.
Stinging, Ginny marched toward the door and yanked it open. The bell attached to the top rang violently, banging back toward the glass, and a lot of people looked over, including the traitorous three, who had the grace to look uncomfortable.
“Did you forget to call me?” she asked with a tight smile.
Karen looked abashed. She covered by pulling out the fourth chair at the table. “Hey, girl.” She patted the seat. “Join us.”
For a minute Ginny wavered, wanting to believe it was a mistake or something.
Jean dabbed her mouth with a napkin. “Sit down, Ginny. You’re making a spectacle of yourself. And maybe you like that, but we don’t.”
Ginny felt her cheeks burning, and tears welled up in her eyes, the same thing that happened anytime she became furiously angry. A part of her wanted to take a seat, to offer the forgiveness they would ask for now that they’d been cornered, to just not rock the boat. That good-girl part of her had been a straight-A student and the president of the PTA and never colored her ordinary dark hair even though she knew she’d look better if she did. That girl screamed for Ginny to sit down.
But the day she had opened up a blog and posted her first photograph of a slice of German chocolate cake, crumbs trailing over an antique plate with a cracked glaze and flowers ringing the edge, another Ginny had been born. Now, whether she or they liked it or not, there was no turning back.
“I thought you would be proud of me,” she said, “but you’re embarrassed. And I don’t know if it’s because you didn’t do it yourself or because now you have to start thinking about what you could do if you didn’t spend all your time gossiping and having pancakes and focusing on all the ways life has cheated you, but it doesn’t matter.”
All three of them stared at her as if she’d grown devil ears. Karen began, “Ginny, you’re making too big a deal—”
Marnie, her face bright red, interrupted. “You just think you’re so important now,” she hissed, glancing over her shoulder. “You ruined everything.”
“No,” Ginny said. “You did.”
Bending now over the still life she had created in her kitchen, she knew she would go to Oregon. She also knew that Matthew would be furious. That her mother would warn her about all the bad things that would happen to her “out there,” a woman alone.
But she didn’t care. She would bring her dog and drive herself to Oregon, and she would have an adventure for the first time in her life.
The Flavor of a Blue Moon
a blog about great food . . .
I am in bliss. Purest, deepest cherry bliss. I am going to become a cherry in my next life, born to open my soft pink petals to the new spring sun. Honeybees will buzz around my stigma and drink of my juices and bring me the secret nectar to impregnate me. I’ll close my petals tightly and rest in the cradle of bright mornings and rainy afternoons until I grow big and fat and red, the very red of lips and lusciousness, and then I will be plucked with gentle fingers and carried, ever so tenderly, into the hot, waiting mouth of a hungry woman. I’ll feel her tongue wrapping around my roundness, feel myself explode into her throat and cascade into her belly to nourish her, to bring sunlight into her body.
Cherries are in season. You can cook them if you want to, make them into pies, or put them in pancakes or slice them into a salad. But, really, why? Just eat them.
Cherries are packed with vitamin C and fiber. They’ve been used as anti-inflammatories for gout and arthritis. Legend has it that cherries signal fertility.