‘Best Food Writing' hasone of Observer's own

Many things we admire about Observer Food Editor Kathleen Purvis. For one, her ability to whip up delicious dishes that she generously shares with colleagues.

Also, her skill at writing about said dishes. Consider the opening of her story about pork belly:

“Meat in the middle. Soul on the edge.

“Pork belly inspires thoughts like that for me. Maybe it's just the fat rushing to my brain.

“But when I introduce someone to pork belly – to soft meat surrounded by fat that is meltingly tender on the inside and crisp on the outside – what I usually hear (through the moans) is, ‘that is to die for.'

“‘Yes,' I reply cheerfully. ‘And with that in your arteries, it won't be long.'”

If you missed the Observer's story earlier this year, read it in “Best Food Writing 2008,” edited by Holly Hughes ($15.95, Da Capo Press), out Saturday. Purvis shares space with such heavyweights as Michael Pollan, Calvin Trillin and Alice Waters.

She also shared with colleagues some of that pork belly she made last winter. And trust us, it was to die for.

Lee's favorite poet?

Donald Beagle, Belmont Abbey College's library director, made a fascinating discovery while researching his new book, “Poet of the Lost Cause: A Life of Father Ryan” ($48.95, University of Tennessee Press), co-authored with Bryan Giemza.

Abram Ryan was a Civil War poet, Catholic Confederate chaplain and newspaper editor during Reconstruction. Legend says Robert E. Lee carried one of Ryan's poems in his billfold. In a carton of Lee's papers at Duke University, Beagle found a poem with fold marks. He can't prove that Lee carried it, but it is in Ryan's handwriting.

Halloween reads

Looking for reading to match the spooky spirit of the season? Check out the new “Ghost Cats of the South,” by Randy Russell, ($19.95, John F. Blair Publisher). Russell, who lives outside Asheville, offers 20 original stories, including the tale of a benevolent Black Mountain ghost kitty that haunts a summer camp and an Edgefield, S.C., cat whose meow lasts longer than he does.

Want something grislier? Charlotte writer David Moore's new “Charlotte: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem” ($19.99, The History Press), recounts memorable deaths and crimes over the last century, including 19-year-old Nellie Freeman nearly decapitating her husband with a straight razor in 1926. At the trial, vendors sold razor pins emblazoned with her name. She was acquitted.