alexandra alger


Archive for the month “December, 2013”

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Christmas Eve. Decades out of childhood, years after my own children stopped believing in Santa, I still feel the thrum of anticipation, a sense that something exciting is about to happen.  Some of this is the thrill of giving presents to loved ones (surely my teenage daughter will like that necklace?); and the undeniable pleasure of receiving presents (my son’s giving me the Nora Ephron collected works!); and the food, that’s huge. I’m making an eggnog cheesecake and a pear upside-down cake to bring to my sister, who’s hosting us all for a holiday meal. Taken together these are rich, gorgeous, extravagant displays of love that we don’t show each other any other time of year. Alas. I’m trying to love people more all year. I’m getting to an age at which I realize that I can’t be unthinking, thoughtless. I won’t have forever with the people I love.

Here’s what can only happen in New York on Christmas Eve. My husband Dan and the kids and i had dim sum at Nom Wah in Chinatown.  We went there on a whim; we had no plans and couldn’t remember the last time we’d had dim sum. Nom Wah was new to us, but it’s been around since 1920. It was practically empty, to our intense pleasure. We sat down and ordered. Sometime between the soup dumplings and the pork buns, Vanessa started mouthing something to Dan and me across the table. “What? What?” Dan said. I shrugged helplessly. Finally we got what she was telling us: Jake Gyllenhaal and Maggie Gyllenhaal and their immediate family–their mother, Maggie’s husband Peter Sarsgaard, and their two daughters–had sat down next to us. Naturally, being a New Yorker, I didn’t look around. I know how to give movie stars space! I managed a casual glance to the left and saw Peter’s close-cropped salt-and-pepper head (poor guy–he’s losing his hair.) Standing to go I finally got a look at Jake in the mirror by our table. Jake, with hair to his shoulders and a beard. “Did he look hot?” My sister Nicole asked later. It was just the right question. And you know the answer. 

Merry Christmas!

Getting Dialogue Right

In his recently published How to Write a Novel,  middle-grade writer and former literary agent Nathan Bradford makes a key point about dialogue: Characters should speak more clearly and grammatically than real people.

Bradford writes:  “In real life, our conversations wonder all over the place, and any conversation transcribed from real life will be a meandering mess full of free associations and stuttering. In a novel, good conversations are focused, and they are, for the most part, articulate.”

He’s right. If we had to read  a character’s every “umm” and “you know” and “what’s that thing called again?” we’d lose interest fast.

It’s not as easy as taking out the umms, though. Especially if you’re developing middle-school characters, as I am. There is nothing more challenging than coming up with an authentic voice for each of my young characters. I want them to be well-spoken, but not too well-spoken. They can’t sound like mini-adults; they can’t sound like older teens, either. They have to sound like young people who are in the midst of growing up, still vulnerable but questing for independence and a sense of self. It’s a tough balance. Maybe this is why so many novels feature a verbally precocious kid who sounds like an adult. We adults love these kids–how could we not?  They’re the ones who will actually talk to us, instead of grunting or ignoring us completely–and let’s face it they’re easy to create. Easier. Nothing about writing is easy.

Lurid, II

Author Michael Cunningham would raise an eyebrow at my recent off-the-cuff discussion of “lurid.”  On page 7 of his 2011 novel By Nightfall, which I impulsively picked up at the Grand Central bookstore (how did I miss this back in ’11?), he describes “a white Mercedes canted at an angle on Fifth-ninth, luridly pink in the flare light.”

Right. I missed a meaning. So lurid can mean pale as can be, and it can refer to a color that glows in a disturbing way.

And now to move beyond the lurid lights of Cunningham’s accident, in which a car hits and kills a Central Park carriage horse. I wonder why a horse had to die. Terrible! Perhaps there a critique of the New York City horse-carriage business here, or the callousness of the moneyed classes. I’ll have to read on and see.


My first turkey in years led to my first turkey hash in years. Damn, it’s good stuff! And there’s not much to it. I modified Julia Child’s recipe from The Way to Cook, taking out the veg (except for a handful of peas) and the cheese.

I’ve also managed to do a pretty good job on the leftover apple crisp and pumpkin cheesecake. I’m not the kind of person who can ignore two of the tastiest desserts in existence. Mysteriously, disturbingly, I’ve gotten  little help from those kids, who are supposed to be growing and needing calories, for crying out loud.

Julia Child’s Old-Fashioned Hash:

Serves 4

2 cups boneless, skinless cooked turkey, cut into small pieces

2 cups of diced potatoes

1 cup diced onion

1 TSP fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. minced fresh thyme

2 TB butter

2 TB olive oil

2 TB flour

1 1/2 cups hot liquid (milk, chicken stock, gravy; I used stock)

2/3 cups diced vegetables (peas, carrots, broccoli;I used frozen peas)

2/3 cups grated cheese (Swiss, cheddar, Monterey Jack or mozzarella)

salt and pepper to taste

In a bowl, toss the turkey with the lemon juice, olive oil, and thyme; set aside.

Peel and dice the potatoes. Drop them into a pot of lightly salted water and simmer, 5 minutes or so, until barely tender. Drain.

Saute the onions slowly in a 10-inch frying pan with the butter until tender. Raise heat slightly and brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Blend in the flour; cook, stirring for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and blend in one cup of hot liquid. Simmer, stirring, for two minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Fold in the potatoes, turkey and the peas, and the remaining hot liquid. Cover the pan and simmer slowly, uncovering to stir occasionally, until the potatoes are tender and you can’t wait to eat any longer! That was about 10-15 minutes for me; Julia likes to keep it simmering 35 minutes, adding liquid as necessary, and then adding cheese and cooking uncovered until the bottom is browned and well-crusted.

Post Navigation