Alice Munro’s “Dance of the Happy Shades”

13 Mar

I hosted Book/Food Club at my home on February 25 to talk about Leslie’s book choice: Alice Munro’s first published collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades, published in 1968. It won the Governor General’s Award, and we could see why.

Although the title of the book has the word “happy” in it, and although the stories are beautifully written, happy they are not. The food that she describes in the stories tended toward the plain and dismal, so I remained true to the food references but I engaged in interpretation to honour her beautiful writing.


In some of her stories, the mention of food was straightforward: pickles, cheeses, rolls, apricots, raspberries, pears, grapes, radishes, tomatoes and cucumbers.


However, I fancied up the “cabbage & carrot salad with raisins” that was in the story Postcard. I went to one of my favourite sources, Alive magazine. The February 2016 issue had an intriguing Kohlrabi Slaw. I see kohlrabi in stores, I have painted kohlrabi at a farmer’s market, but I have never eaten kohlrabi. Until now. It is good.

veggies in Annapolis Valley, NS Sept 2015

Watercolour sketch of kohlrabi and tomatoes by Marlena Wyman

Here is the recipe:


Page 105, Alive magazine, Issue 400, February 2016

I also chose an interpretation of the salmon loaf that was mentioned in the story Postcard, and I combined it with the potato salad from the story Sunday Afternoon. My ever-dependable Jamie Oliver provided me with that inspiration from his Jamie at Home cookbook.


The full table for Dance of the Happy Shades. Potato Salad with Smoked Salmon is lower centre.

Here is Jamie’s superb recipe. I couldn’t find crème fraîche so I substituted sour cream, but I did find fresh horseradish root at the Italian Centre Shop.


Page 186, Jamie at Home cookbook by Janie Oliver

The Walker Brothers Cowboy story mentions lemon, orange & raspberry concentrate for making refreshing drinks. I settled on Okanagan Sparkling Ripe Raspberry juice and Gerolsteiner carbonated mineral water. The wine was a new organic wine that I had not tried before: Villa Theresa’s Merlot from Italy.

I also could not resist including gorgeous Clementines from the Italian Centre Shop. They carry such beautiful food at that market.


Because this Book/Food Club fell between my and Pat’s birthdays, Leslie kindly offered to bake us a birthday cake. Fortunately, two of the stories featured birthday cakes. Leslie recreated the pink on white” birthday cake with strawberry ice cream from the Day of the Butterfly story.

Since Neapolitan ice cream had also been mentioned in one of the stories, and as one of the birthday girls, I felt entitled to express my loathing of that particular type of ice cream, especially the sickly-sweet fake flavour of the strawberry layer. I found a food blogger’s post about Neapolitan ice cream that contains too many expletives to repeat, but he calls it “I hate my friends” ice cream.  Don’t get me wrong, I love real strawberry ice cream made with real strawberries and with chunks of real strawberries in it. It’s just that fake berry flavour is one of the worst. However, Leslie came through, and how!


Pink and white birthday cake (with candle holes)

I think I terrified Leslie sufficiently, because her splendid scratch-baked strawberry cake was made with real strawberries, iced with cream cheese icing containing real strawberries, and served with Sicilian brand strawberry ice cream made with – yes – real strawberries! Thank you Leslie.


We enjoyed birthday cake in front of a warming fire provided by our new wood stove (the mighty Osburn 900).

Happy Book/Food Club we.

Posted by Marlena Wyman aka Truly Scrumptious



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