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Short Stories 365:179

Christmas.

It's less than six months away. And today, I got my first e-mail related to the whole shebang, and I perhaps died a little inside. Nah, that's not true (though I will say that after mumble-mumble years in retail, the joy of the season is a wee bit tarnished). I'm not a huge fan of most of the ways the season is celebrated, but I do love many of the traditions we have made ourselves. There's the ornaments thing, which I'm sure you're sick of me mentioning by now, and there's also this practice we came up with four or five years ago now: we get Indian takeaway for Christmas dinner.

It's fantastic. No one is stuck in the kitchen all day, the dishes are minimal, and the food is phenomenal. It's a win-win all around, and means we can chat and hang out more, rather than put on a massive event. I love it.

"Christmas Comes to Otter's Gap," by Jeff Mann

If you've ever read Jeff Mann (or heard me praising Jeff Mann) then you know by now that the man is a master of the poetic turn of phrase and has the most incredible ability to balance dichotomies you wouldn't normally expect to go well together. This story has that, of course, but it also has another ideal that I associate with Jeff Mann's writing - the love of Southern food.

No matter what Mann I read, I always end up hungry. The descriptive powers that he conjures when describing food - never mind it's food I've never seen or had, given my northern habitat - is mouth-watering. So when I saw this tale pop up in The Dirty Diner I knew I was in for something enticing as well as - likely - something bearish, a little (or a lot) edgy, and likely the taste of sweat alongside whatever southern delicacy was about to be cruelly trotted across the page in front of me with no hope of an actual sample.

The story is set in Virginia, and features a man caught in a snowstorm that brings him to Otter's Gap, to meeting a fellow in his restaurant, to sampling Appalachian food - and then more of what the chef has to offer. It's a lovely little story, and filled with enough of Mann's heat to melt even my own cold holiday heart.

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