Mariana's Letters
by Mariana de Saint Phalle

"Living well means simply having knowledge of what makes the difference, what makes a meal appealing, a garden more beautiful, or a dress...something special."

This book documents a collection of newsletters—written several times a year during the mid-1980s and then again 20 years later—and sent to friends who requested copies. The author revealed how to decorate, what to serve, and how to prepare the food for a memorable experience. She sprinkled in world travel trivia and tips from her husband, Thibaut, regarding drinks to serve with a meal or stocking a wine cellar.

Use of the first-person narrator/hostess thoroughly engages her readers. De Saint Phalle’s familiar writing style tones down the formality of cooking a stuffed goose or soufflé, serving caviar, and fearlessly utilizing cream and butter without stint in every recipe. She effortlessly weaves a tale of times gone by when manners were as important as the people you invited to your table. No one came to a dinner party with a cellphone in hand. Banter and politics were easily passed along with the butter dish around the table. Cloth dish towels were the perfect replacement for napkins at a garden party. Life seemed simpler and yet more complex at the same time.

This is not merely a collection of forty letters with easy recipes. Like Dorothy on the way to see the Wizard, it draws one with authority. De Saint Phalle has lived the life which she describes—on the fringe of luxury yet with common sense enough to use what is currently at hand to achieve what servants once provided the well-to-do. The book is perfect for leaving near the breakfast nook in the kitchen or for giving as a thoughtful gift to one’s dearest friend. Readers may feel inches taller, slenderer, better dressed, and well-informed as the author shares her secrets to maintaining a gracious ambiance.

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