Linda Francis Lee
The Glass Kitchen
St. Martin's Press / June 17, 2014 / $25.99 print, $12.99 digital
Portia Cuthcart never intended to leave Texas. Her dream was to run the Glass Kitchen restaurant her grandmother built decades ago. But after a string of betrayals and the loss of her legacy, Portia is determined to start a new life with her sisters in Manhattan . . . and never cook again. But when she moves into a dilapidated brownstone on the Upper West Side, she meets twelve-year-old Ariel and her widowed father Gabriel, a man with his hands full trying to raise two daughters on his own. Soon, a promise made to her sisters forces Portia back into a world of magical food and swirling emotions, where she must confront everything she has been running from. What seems so simple on the surface is anything but when long-held secrets are revealed, rivalries exposed, and the promise of new love stirs to life like chocolate mixing with cream.
I love books that deal with food preparation and elements of enchantment or magic. Back in May of 2013 I talked about it in Eat it Up: Food and Magic Combine into Deliciousness. So you can imagine my delight when I read the blurb about The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee. My pleasure only intensified once I started reading the story.
The book has a delicious, tumultuous romance and quarrelsome family conflicts, along with a wonderful sixth sense sort of magic about food that coalesce in an emotional satisfying ending. In The Glass Kitchen, Lee has found the perfect recipe.
Now, I enjoyed all aspects of the book, but Portia Cuthcart’s ability is the icing on the cake. Portia has the knowing:
Without a single one of those promised lessons from her grandmother, Portia began to see and taste food without having it in front of her, the images coming to her like instincts, automatic and without thought. She found that she knew things without having to be taught. Rich dark chocolate would calm a person who was hiding their anxiety. Hot red chili mixed with eggs first thing in the morning relieved symptoms of someone about to succumb to a terrible cold. Suddenly her world make sense, as if she had found a hidden switch, the meaning of what she was supposed to do blazing to life like a Christmas tree lighting up in a burst of color.
But wouldn’t you know it, Portia’s life goes off track in part, because of her desire to please a man:
He blinked, then blurted, “You’re telling me that after I had sexual thoughts this afternoon, and you went out and put together the very things I fantasized about, that that’s normal?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, his eyes widened. Portia was shocked, too, but then she laughed. “You were fantasizing about me? Me and ropes of taffy and whipped cream?”
For half a second, the good Christian politician started to succumb, but then he took her hands and gave them a reassuring little squeeze, placing them against his heart. “I want to marry you, Portia. But I need you to be like other women. I need you to…not bake pies before the church announces a bake sale. I need you to be normal. Can you do that for me?”
After a tragic incident with her grandmother, and because of her husband’s wishes, Portia buries an essential part of herself. We all know how that typically works out!
Now divorced, Portia has moved to New York City to be closer to her sisters and to make a new life for herself. She hadn’t planned on the Knowing showing up again, but it has:
She knew the minute he saw her, the way his eyes narrowed as if trying to understand something. She felt the same thing, as if she knew him or should.
Images of food rushed through her head, surprising her. Fried chicken. Sweet jalapeno mustard. Mashed potatoes. Biscuits. And a pie. Big and sweet, strawberries with whipped cream—so Texan, so opposite this fierce New Yorker.
But Portia is fighting its return, because what does the knowing really tell her? She has an uncontrollable urge to bake a certain food for someone, but she doesn’t understand why. Is Portia baking the cake because she going to have company? Or is it someone’s birthday, or could it mean, that there is going to be a funeral?
It was her fingers that wanted to betray her. But her brain knew the real cost of baking. She didn’t want to be someone who knew things. She didn’t want to sense that something was going to happen and have no idea what that was until it was too late.
The knowing spelled worry and stress and desperately trying to save people.
But Portia’s older sisters, Cordelia and Olivia require her ability, in a new hoped for venture, opening a quaint version of their grandmother’s Texan restaurant in New York City. Cordelia needs to halt her family’s free fall into financial ruin. And Olivia has zero security as she treks from one dead end job to another, living paycheck to paycheck. In some unexplained connection, Cordelia and Olivia complement Portia’s ability:
It had been a day when she and her sisters had argued. Afterward, all Portia could think about was making strawberry preserves. She had ended up making a huge vat of the preserves only to realize she didn’t have anything to can them in. Cordelia and Olivia had shown up with boxes of Ball jars they’d gotten at a yard sale for a penny apiece. They had ladled in tense silence, filling jars, setting them aside to cool, much as their tempers cooled.
Once they were done, without a word of apology, Olivia had smiled with that impudent glint of hers and pulled Portia and Cordelia into a dance. Then they took the preserves to an outdoor flea market and made enough money to pay for the dress Cordelia needed for her wedding to James.
If dealing with her family drama isn’t enough, Portia is reluctantly drawn into the lives of her upstairs neighbor, Gabriel Kane, and his two daughters, Ariel and Miranda:
“Hi Miranda,” Portia said.
The girl stood there scowling, not looking even a bit happy to be there. “Yeah, hi—“The words froze in the air, and she stared at the table. “Oh, my gosh! How did you know?”
Portia took a deep breath. “Know what?”
“The cupcakes! How did you know I needed cupcakes? We’re having a sophomore class bake sale and everyone has to bring something.”
If she allows herself, Portia’s gift has the potential to make a different in the lives of Gabriel, his two troubled girls, and the people around her.
Once the apartment was ready, Portia had begun to plan out what foods they would showcase in this little glimpse into a Glass Kitchen world. Her sisters couldn’t help her with this part. Portia had let go, and the dishes had come to her, all of which she wrote down and prepared to make. . .
She decided to make salmon baked in a touch of olive oil, topped with pine nuts, and served over spinach flash-fried in the salmon and olive drippings. She added brown rice that she had slow-boiled with the herb hawthorn. Just as she finished, Cordelia arrived with a woman she had found standing on the sidewalk out front.
“My husband has high blood pressure,” she explained, negotiating the stairs down into Portia’s apartment with care. “He's never happy with anything I make for supper, so I should tell you that you probably don’t have anything that will work for me."
Portia and Gabriel’s story—full of drama, and passion will satisfy your cravings for romance, but the “Knowing” will utterly charm you! I hope that Olivia’s and Cordelia’s stories are in the future, because I’m not ready to leave behind the enticing characters and world that Ms. Lee has created.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee, available June 17, 2014:
Leigh Davis, blogger