The sights of sleepy Frenchtown, New Jersey, include several horse farms, three steepled churches, and, in front of one yellow Victorian house, a large supine Buddha. The deity reclines on the lawn of the writer Elizabeth Gilbert, who greeted a visitor recently wearing an apron on which was scrawled, “In her presence flowers blossomed, bees buzzed, and the sun shined brighter than before.” Gilbert was about to attempt a recipe for Celery au Gratin from the cookbook “At Home on the Range; or, How to Make Friends with Your Stove,” which was published in 1947, by her great-grandmother Margaret Yardley Potter.

The barefoot author bore little physical resemblance to her predecessor, who died before she was born (“Well, you must be the one who cooks,” someone said of Potter, upon meeting her and her sister). But both Potter, a marmish débutante-turned-housewife with a drinking problem, and Gilbert, an ashram-hopping exemplar of self-discovery, have something of the guru about them. Both writers dispense aphorisms with a wink—the elder on learning to love dandelion greens and cockscombs with wine in the heyday of Jell-O, the younger on learning to love oneself, post-marital meltdown

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