Saturday, January 31, 2009

Book Travels - January 2009

A few years ago, I was in an online book discussion group, and one of the members used to write posts about where her books had taken her each month. That person now has a blog called Musings of a Bookish Kitty, and has graciously allowed me to use her idea. I think it's a fun way to pay attention to one's reading, and I'm finding it particularly interesting in this year of reading just my own books.

January took me once to the Scottish Borders, with O. Douglas, and the rest of the month was spent in England: the Yorkshire Dales with Peter Robinson, twice in a Cotswold village with Miss Read, London with Winifred Watson and Virginia Woolf, and a Suffolk village with Sheila Radley. The time span was sixty years during the twentieth century from the 1920s through the 1980s.

First orange juice

the practice or art of choosing, cooking, and eating good food

There are several highlights of my gastronomical year: the first strawberries, the first peas, the first blueberries, the first yellow beans, the first raspberries, and then the one that comes around this time of year, the first juice oranges. They make a quiet entrance into the produce section of the grocery store. One day they aren't there, and the next they are. The juicing season begins with Florida Minneola Tangelos, and proceeds to my most particular favorite, the Florida Temple Oranges. For a couple months, I am in flavor heaven. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, which comes even close to fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Death in the Morning by Sheila Radley

7. Death in the Morning - first in the Inspector Quantrill series
by Sheila Radley
mystery, 1978
paperback, 244 pages
finished, 1/31/09

I hardly ever guess whodunit in a murder mystery, but I did in Death in the Morning, and far from being disappointed in the book because I guessed, I am completely delighted. When the first solid clue appeared on the page, very, very near the end, I smiled and said, right out loud, 'ah.' Not only was I correct, but it was the person I wanted to be responsible. Isn't it funny when you read along in a book and take a dislike to a character, and think wouldn't it be nice if that one were guilty? No doubt, this is why so many read detective novels. Real life rarely affords this particular pleasure.

It was interesting to read Death in the Morning directly upon finishing Village Diary, because it too is set in a little English village just about twenty years later. Miss Read felt lucky that the Fairacre school had two teachers.

The biggest difficulty in these one-teacher schools is the age-range from babes of five years old to children ready for secondary education at the age of eleven. Conscientious teachers who have tackled this type of school single-handed, year after year, realize how impossible it is to do justice to each child.

Chief Inspector Quantrill, in Death in the Morning, is a product of that very situation:

where one harassed teacher had had to cope with thirty children whose ages ranged from five to fourteen, he'd been handicapped educationally from the start...

Some of the concerns Miss Read had in the late 1950s have come to be realities in the 1970s. The little village has become much larger, with housing estates for the poor, and housing developments for the rich. A teacher says,

I can't communicate with most of the children. They aren't even local, most of them, they've been brought from London to live on the new estates. They've been uprooted, disoriented, and they feel anonymous and unwanted. They hate the town, and they hate school because what we try to teach them seems irrelevant.

Quite a difference from Miss Read's students, who are so rooted in their communities and their landscape. Toward the end of Village Diary, Miss Read muses:

I felt, perhaps more keenly than ever before, just what it means to be a villager - someone whose welfare is of interest (sometimes of unwelcome interest) to one's neighbours - but always to matter. It was a warming thought - to be part of a small, living community, 'members one of another,' so closely linked by ties of kinship, work and the parish boundaries...

Twenty years later, and of course because Death in the Morning is a mystery, the reader sees another side to this life.

Villages can be unpleasant places to live in. I expect you think that country life's idyllic, but you'll soon find that there's a surprising amount of spare hatred about. ... In a village, you see, everybody is expected to be the same - anyone who gets on in the world is disliked for it.

On the first of May, an eighteen-year old girl's body is found in a shallow stream. She's wearing a long dress and is surrounded by picked flowers. To the literary minded, she is reminiscent of Ophelia in Hamlet, and this story comes to play its own special part in the book. The village is peopled by those who all loved the girl, who was heading off to Cambridge, so it could not have been murder, right? She must have slipped and fallen as she gathered flowers on May Day. Yet, there are many questions. Why did her mother burn some of her possessions? Was her brother resentful because she was going to get the education he was supposed to receive before life took a different turn? And what about all these people who used to give her rides everywhere because she had no 'transport' of her own?

Chief Inspector Quantrill is a wonderfully drawn character, and we learn a lot about him in this first book in the series. We also meet the highly educated young Detective Sergeant Tait, who is unhappy about his posting in this little place where he fears his talents will be wasted. The reader learns how this area has changed over the years until it is almost unrecognizable to someone who has come back to live here. I so much enjoyed this excellent mystery, and look forward to reading more in the series by Sheila Radley. I want to know more about this thoughtful policeman and how he copes with the demands of work and family. I can see the relationship between Quantrill and Tait developing into a real partnership, with each of them bringing their own particular strengths to the solving of crime.

In these times of bookstores closing and dire reports of dwindling readership, Felony & Mayhem is a shining light. I mentioned this publishing house recently as it also published Robert Barnard's The Skeleton in the Grass. I have a few others on the shelves to read this year. They are beautiful editions with good covers, fine paper, and best of all great writing within the pages. You may take a look at their homepage and see all they have to offer to us lucky readers.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Village Diary by Miss Read

6. Village Diary
by Miss Read
fiction, 1957
paperback, 246 pages
second reading
finished, 1/29/09

This second book in Miss Read's Fairacre series is even better than the first. Village School was more of a record, even a report in some ways. Now we know the characters, the village, and the school as we begin our second year in Fairacre. There is more humor, of the Provincial Lady sort. The crabby Mrs Pringle helped Miss Read with a little cleaning:

To hear her disparaging comments on the condition of the backs of the bookcases, and the loot that she extracted from the sides of the arm-chairs, one might wonder why I hadn't died of typhus.

When Miss Read, a very new driver, comes upon three children in the middle of the road "popping tar bubbles," she scolds them. The young boy says,

'We wasn't doing no harm' to which Miss Read retorts: 'You wasn't doing no good either.' ... it wasn't until I had changed into third gear, and was cooling down slightly, that my ungrammatical echo burst fully upon me.

Miss Read has given a lecture to the students about saving a little money "for a rainy day." She is then appalled at the state of her own finances.

'Always put a little by!' as I told my children firmly last week ... Sometimes I wonder that a bolt from heaven doesn't strike me.

Village Diary contains many observances on the rapidly changing village life; fears that the young will move away from the country, concerns that the 'new' people are attending all the village meetings and the old-time residents are staying home, worries about old people not having enough money to live on, and the lack of small, affordable housing for the residents.

Yet, this is only part of the story, as these things are only part of real life. There is also delight in nature, and great contentment in the daily life of the villagers.

With all the windows in the house opened, I sat down with my tea tray and thought how lovely it was to be back. I feel like a sword in a scabbard, I told myself, and instantly decided that a sword was much too dashing. Perhaps a cup, hanging again on its accustomed hook on the kitchen dresser, would be a better simile. At any rate, to be a village school-mistress, with a fine border of pinks just breaking before me, and the sound of rooks cawing overhead, seemed a very right and proper thing to be, and I envied no man.

I find both the character, Miss Read, and the author, Miss Read (Dora Jessie Saint) to be sensible, honest, clear-headed. She (they) see both sides of all controversies that pop up in this village. The characters are so real, and so distinct one from another, that as the books go along the reader gets to know and care for each one as a person. I own another in the series, Storm in the Village. As much as I'd like to dive right into it, I'm going to wait a little while. These are beautiful paperback editions, and in time I hope to own them all, since they are books I will happily read over again. I also have on my shelves the first two in Miss Read's Thrush Green series, and I'm sure there will be book reports coming up on them as the year unfolds.

Today's Picture/What a difference a day makes

4:30 pm

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another winter day, another stew

Chickpea and Bulgur Stew
Last night I thought I'd like to make something today with chickpeas (garbanzo beans), so I put 1/2 cup in the crockpot (not turned on) with water to let them soak over night. This morning I turned it on high, and after a few hours they were softened. I added 3/4 cup bulgur. When the water was pretty much absorbed, I put the stew in a saucepan, and heated it on low. I added 2 cups of my tomato sauce. And that's it. I thought I might sauté a bunch of vegetables and add them, but the taste is so perfect just as it is, I decided not to. There are already onions, garlic, and tomatoes in the sauce. I just love this stuff, and have been 'tasting' it all day. There's bread rising in the oven right now to have with it for supper.

Today's Picture/Snowin' and blowin'

3:30 pm

Mrs Bale has a special guest

Mrs Bale is going to sit out this storm and let Jim Trott from The Vicar of Dibley talk. Is this going to be the big, big, big storm of 2009?? No, no, no, no, yes! At least it seems to be from all the weather reports I've heard. And what I see out the window is "little flakes, big snow." We've cancelled plans to have supper with our son and daughter and her boyfriend this evening. We'll sit and watch the dvds from Netflix or we'll sit and watch the snow if the power goes out (and it does so often in our neck of the woods). Stay, stay, stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quote du jour/Hugo 'Hurley' Reyes on LOST

Hurley: Want a fry?

Sayid: No, thank you.

Hurley: You know, maybe if you ate more comfort food you wouldn't have to go around shooting people.

Episode: Because You Left, LOST

Monday, January 26, 2009

Muffin Monday/Poppy Seed Muffins

Poppy Seed Muffins
from Scratch Made Easy at Adair Country Inn by Judy Whitman

Preheat oven to 375º F.
Grease muffin tins.

Mix together:
2 cups flour
1/4 cup poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

In the bowl of the electric mixer, cream:
1/2 cup softened butter
3/4 cup sugar

Beat in:
2 eggs

Blend in:
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 Tablespoons lemon juice (called for 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract, which I didn't have)
zest of one lemon

Add dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling them about 3/4 full.
Bake about 20 minutes.
Cool 5 minutes in pan before removing them.

I love lemon, sour cream, and poppy seeds so I was quite sure I'd like these muffins, and of course I do. They are really wonderful. We've having them with Louise's Soup which I changed a bit tonight. When I sautéed the onions, I added some frozen corn and zucchini, and left out the garlic. Still delicious and light with just a little different taste.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The London Scene by Virginia Woolf

5. The London Scene
by Virginia Woolf
nonfiction, 1931
hardcover, 90 pages
finished, 1/25/09

Today is the 127th anniversary of Virginia Woolf's birth. Many years I celebrate in my own little way by reading something by her or about her. The past two years have been about her: (2007 and 2008) and this year I chose a little book of essays by the author. These were written in 1931, and published in Good Housekeeping magazine over several months time in 1931 and 1932. Can you imagine seeing an essay by Virginia Woolf in a magazine at the grocery store checkout?! Think of it! So many of the great, great writers were published in a variety of magazines. Now those same magazines feature a recipe on one page and a diet plan on the next.

Each of these six essays talks about London. She writes about the docks and the churches and the houses of famous people. Exactly four decades after she visited Thomas and Jane Carlyle's house, and John Keats' house, Tom and I entered those very places. At that time in our lives we had newly discovered Virginia Woolf, as we had Carlyle and Keats. Those houses were shrines to our English- literature-major selves. After all this time, I can still remember the interiors and even how I felt there.

Virginia Woolf brings an attention, a focus to the familiar and the commonplace. She really sees. And she really thinks about what she is seeing, and what she isn't able to see anymore. Writing about the riverside:

When suddenly, after acres and acres of this desolation one floats past an old stone house standing in a real field, with real trees growing in clumps, the sight is disconcerting. Can it be possible that there is earth, that there once were fields and crops beneath this desolation and disorder? Trees and fields seem to survive incongruously like a sample of another civilisation among the wall-paper factories and soap factories that have stamped out old lawns and terraces. Still more incongruously one passes an old grey country church which still rings its bells, and keeps its churchyard green as if country people were still coming across the fields to service.

Virginia Woolf's work deals with this very idea: the passing of time and the changes that come with its passing, both on people and on landscape. Not everyone can or will think of these things. Most of us bustle along in our daily lives not really noticing a house being torn down to put up yet another gas station/mini mart or a road widened and decreasing the spacious green lawns of old houses. When the changes come, we forget so quickly how the landscape used to look. When a local man dies, we soon forget how he used to walk every morning down the same streets swinging his arms with strength and vigor. Virginia does not forget. She remembers things she never even saw or knew. She thinks about past and present and future.

When she visits the homes of those great dead writers, she tells us that "all houses have voices."

Take the Carlyles, for instance. One hour spent in 5 Cheyne Row will tell us more about them and their lives than we can learn from all the biographies. Go down into the kitchen. There, in two seconds, one is made acquainted with a fact that escaped the attention of Froude, and yet was of incalculable importance - they had no water laid on. Every drop that the Carlyles used had to be pumped by hand by a well in the kitchen. And here, too, is the wide and wasteful old grate upon which all kettles had to be boiled if they wanted a hot bath.

She goes on in great detail describing their lives and how they lived them, and ends by saying:

It is impossible not to believe that half their quarrels might have been spared and their lives immeasurably sweetened if only number 5 Cheyne Row had possessed, as the house agents put it, bath, h. and c., gas fires in the bedrooms, all modern conveniences and indoor sanitation. But then, we reflect, as we cross the worn threshold, Carlyle with hot water laid on would not have been Carlyle; and Mrs, Carlyle without bugs to kill would have been a different woman from the one we know.

These are the very things that interest me when I visit a house; whether touring an historical home, or visiting a present-day friend. I notice things like this. I think about how they live(d) inside their structure, and that the very home they inhabit is part and parcel with who they are. At the top of my Persephone wish list is a book by Thea Holme called The Carlyles at Home, which was written thirty years after Virginia Woolf's visit, and ten years before mine.

I could go on and on quoting the wonderful writing, but then my book report would be longer than this little book of essays. If you haven't ever encountered Virginia Woolf, this is an excellent place to start. If she is an old literary friend, these "vignettes" will add to your knowledge and admiration of her work. As always, she takes my breath away with her depth of understanding and as I noted before, her observation. For those who know London, this is an enjoyable look back at the city before the Second World War. I think you will be surprised at how 'modern' some of her thoughts are: traffic complaints, crowded conditions, people so busy that they have no time to think about the big subjects. "The mere process of keeping alive needs all our energy."

The first five essays were collected and published twice before, but this is the first time the sixth "scene," The Portrait of a Londoner, has been included. This is a special little book, enhanced by the illustrations of Suzanne Barton.

If you have a minute on this special day, and are so inclined, here is what Virginia wrote about her 1915 birthday.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

January sunshine

Pink Sugar by O. Douglas

4. Pink Sugar
by O. Douglas
fiction, 1924
hardcover, 288 pages
finished, 1/24/09

"There is something to be said for the pink sugar view of life"
Colonel Archie Home tells his tenant and main character of this book, Kirsty Gilmour.

"Pink sugar!" cried Kirsty, and laughed a little. "It's odd you should say that. When I was a child I was taken once to a market held in a little town. I was allowed to ride on a merry-go-round and gaze at all the wonders. But what I wanted most of all I wasn't allowed to have. At the stalls they were selling large pink sugar hearts, and I never wanted anything so much in my life, but when I begged for one I was told they weren't wholesome and I couldn't have one. I didn't want to eat it... I wanted to keep it and adore it because of its pinkness and its sweetness. Ever since that day when I was taken home begrimed with weeping for a 'heart,' I have had a weakness for pink sugar. And good gracious, surely we want every crumb of pink sugar that we can get in this world. I do hate people who sneer at sentiment. What is sentiment after all? It's only a word for all that is decent and kind and loving in these warped little lives of ours."

Kirsty is a woman of thirty years who hasn't had much 'pink sugar' in her life. After her mother's death her father remarried, and then he died when she was eight. She was away at school until seventeen, and then traveled around with her stepmother until the woman dies six months before the book begins. A friend of Kirsty's comments on the stepmother.

the smooth sweet voice that could say such cruel things ... her absolute carelessness as to the feelings of others.

Now Kirsty has settled down, and is leasing a house in her home country of Scotland, where she hasn't lived since her father's death. She is blissfully happy. She loves her house, the hills, the village. Pink Sugar tells the story of the first several months of Kirsty's new life. She takes in three children whose mother has died and whose father has gone traveling to ease his despair. They are great joys to Kirsty. Her older aunt comes to live with her, and they share cozy times reading and having tea in front of the fire. She feels the deepest contentment in her chosen life. She becomes friends with a local writer who is probably expressing O. Douglas' own sentiments here:

... in the War... the thought came to me to write a book, something very simple that would make pleasant reading - you see there's nothing of Art for Art's sake about me. I thought of all the sad people, and the tired and anxious people, and the sick people. Have you ever had any one lie very ill in a nursing home while you haunted libraries and bookshops for something that would help through sleepless nights for him? If you have, you will know how difficult it is to get the right kind of books. Merely clever books are of no use, for a very sick person has done with cleverness. You need a book very much less and very much more than that. ... The world is full of simple plain people who like plain things, and who are often bewildered and unhappy. Perhaps my books are a sort of soothing syrup: I don't know.

Life isn't all cheery, as it never is. There is poverty; there are grim lives; there is illness and death among the people. Though Kirsty is bright and gregarious, she is not always liked or appreciated by others. When she is rudely criticized, she doesn't just get mad at the person. She considers what has been said, and often finds the words are what she calls "home truths." She is willing to learn about others and about herself and she grows to understand herself better in the pages of this book.

There are two books that have a particular affinity with Pink Sugar in my reader's heart: My Dear Aunt Flora by Elizabeth Cadell and The Quiet Hills by Iris Bromige. They share the motif of nature and home offering solace, strength, renewal, healing. It is a favorite theme for me, and has been for as long as I can remember.

O. Douglas was Anna Buchan, and if that name sounds familiar, it is because she was the sister of John Buchan, renowned statesman and writer. The greatest joy of my self-imposed ban on buying or borrowing books this year is 'finding' books such as Pink Sugar on my shelves. I bought it several years ago from anglophile books, and have walked by it so often thinking, I really must read that lovely little book. Now I have and am so very happy to have made the acquaintance of O. Douglas. There's another of her books in an antique shop in town. I hope it will still be there in 2010. Or maybe I could ask Tom to get it for me for my birthday.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mexican Wedding Cake

This recipe was given to me a long time ago, and I have no idea why it is called Mexican Wedding Cake. It is absolutely delicious and very easy to make. Everyone I know loves this cake.

Mexican Wedding Cake

Mix by hand or in a mixer:

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup chopped nuts
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple

Put in a greased 9x13 pan, and bake at 350º F. for about 35 minutes.


8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups confectioners' sugar
juice of one lemon

A plain buttercream frosting with a little lemon juice is also great. Same as above only instead of cream cheese, add a little milk.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

3. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
by Winifred Watson
fiction, 1938
paperback, 234 pages
finished, 1/16/09

Who knew that Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day would be so funny? Not me, that's for sure. I haven't read any reviews very closely because as I go on and on about, I like to come to books with a fresh and open approach. This was a joy to read. I loved the whirlwind confusion of the old screwball comedies which came out during the same time Miss P. was written. One of the prime ingredients of those movies is a misunderstanding. Another is quick banter that often makes no sense. It is words following words following words, all spoken at the speed of light. And this book does the same thing. Miss Pettigrew goes to the employment agency and hears of two job possibilities: one a maid and one a governess. Because she has worked (though unsuccessfully) as the latter, that's the address to which she goes. On her way, we learn a lot about her. She is quite poor and is actually facing the "workhouse", is plain looking, isn't happy. As she gets nearer, she prays for help, and:

She added a rider to her prayer, with the first candid confession she had ever made to her conscious mind. 'It's my last chance. You know it. I know it.'

I'm reminded of the prayers offered up in It's A Wonderful Life, which prompts God to send down Clarence the angel to help George Bailey.

As her knock on the door is answered, so is her prayer. The door opening to the apartment is a symbolic opening up of Miss Pettigrew's very life and being. Everything changes. The aforementioned misunderstanding occurs, and she does indeed begin to live for that day. She feels like she is in a movie, which is interesting because the only pleasure she has had is going to the cinema. She gets caught up in the lives of people as unlike her (she thinks) as is possible.

And that's about all I want to say. I loved this book. I loved being in its pages, and in the new life of Miss Guinevere Pettigrew. It is a delight. I laughed at how Miss P. takes care of all the characters' problems. She reminded me of another "miss" - Miss Marple, in the way the detective solved cases based on her observations of fellow villagers. Miss Pettigrew has worked for a number of people, and learned much from their various behaviors.

Oh, but two more factors that make this book great! Illustrations. These are new ones, done by Mary Thomson. They are reminiscent of J.S. Goodall's for the Miss Read books, and the Gluyas Williams' drawings for the Robert Benchley books, and the Arthur Watts illustrations for E.M. Delafield's Provincial Lady - all three coincidentally (or maybe not) are some of my personal favorite writers. The drawings add enormously to the pleasure of reading these books. They bring a little smile whenever they appear.
And the other is that each chapter is a time of day, such as: 1.17 pm - 3.13 pm. The reader experiences Miss P.'s new thrill-a-minute life right along with her.

I was excited when I first heard of the Miss Pettigrew movie, but now I've read the book, I probably won't watch it. This is a movie that should have been made in the late 1930s or early 1940s with the actors who were working then. This story could be acted to perfection by:

Miss Pettigrew - Katharine Hepburn
Miss LaFosse - Myrna Loy
Nick - Clark Gable
Michael - Cary Grant
Miss Dubarry - Jean Arthur
Tony - Jimmy Stewart
Joe - Spencer Tracy

I'm grateful that Henrietta Twycross-Martin (who wrote the preface - and what a preface: she met the author who was 93!) suggested this book to Persephone Books, and that Persephone published it. And I'm grateful I got the copy with the 'dove grey' cover, rather than the new one which notes the movie. I love these covers. I'm a plain Jane kind of reader, who doesn't like a cover suggesting to me what the inside is supposed to be like. Too often, way too often in my experience, the words inside rarely resemble the cover or live up to its beauty and promise. The Persephone books are like the old-fashioned books in the library. You pick them up quite unknowing of what is inside and are sometimes astonished and thrilled by the great writing and story, and Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day is the perfect example.

A little note: as in many books written in those days, there creeps into its conversations some racial/national descriptions that make this reader cringe. "I do think when it comes to marriage it's safer to stick to your own nationality" gives you an inkling.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The death of a most beloved writer - John Mortimer

The death of someone we don't know is a strange, strange thing. That person isn't part of our lives. He isn't 'essential' to our being. We won't mourn with grief unending. Yet, I still feel enormous sadness when that someone is John Mortimer. The tears flow as if I did know him. And maybe I did, a little. We've all heard that Rumpole, dear, dear Horace was very like his creator. I've read and reread the series so much that I feel as if I know Mr Mortimer. I put a picture of him on the blog not too long ago, and it is one I dearly love. But I love this one even more with his daughter, one of my favorite actresses, Emily Mortimer. It is from a piece in The Times.

I don't really have any more words. I just loved him, without knowing him, as perhaps all readers love a favorite writer. May he and P.G. Wodehouse be having a lovely time together in the Heaven that two of my favorite writers now share.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Quote du jour/Gladys Taber

The winter suns burns like white fire on the snow.
Gladys Taber
Stillmeadow Sampler, 1959

Mrs Bale doesn't fret

Mrs Bale doesn't whinge (whine) when the temps get low.

5:30 am

She simply dons her wool jumper (sweater), pulls on her Wellies (rubber boots), puts a rug (blanket) over her knees and she's off on her adventures, undaunted by the cold.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Potato Loaf

The name potato loaf comes from a long time ago when we used to make this in a loaf pan. Over the years, I found that a shallow, longer pan cooked the potatoes better, but the name remains. This, along with hummus and soyburgers, was one of our first vegetarian recipes, and it is still a big favorite today. We both find it incredibly delicious!

I've measured out the potatoes to make a more accurate recipe.

Potato Loaf

20 oz. peeled potatoes (unpeeled if desired)
1 small-medium onion
1 egg
2 T. olive oil

Whisk together the egg and oil. Grate in the onion. Grate in the potatoes.
Put in greased 7 x 11 pan, cover with tin foil, and bake in preheated 350º F. oven for about an hour.
Remove tin foil halfway through the baking.

I like to add some roasted garlic to the top after it comes out of the oven. And here's my little tip of the day. I've changed the traditional way of roasting garlic where you cut off the bottom and remove part of the covering. I never liked having to handle the hot garlic and squeeze it out of the peeling. So now before cooking, I peel the garlic, chop it up, put it in a square of tin foil, cover it with olive oil, make a pouch of the foil, and bake it about half an hour at 350º F. It is perfectly wonderful this way, and a whole lot easier for the diner.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tara's Popovers

Popovers are a treat I cannot count on. Sometimes they are perfect - right out of a bakery shop window perfect, but with better taste. Sometimes they completely and literally flop. They don't rise and they are doughy inside; a treat only for the dogs who don't seem to mind a bit. Most often they are somewhere in between great and terrible - simply okay. Not too high and a little bit doughy. I've tried a lot of recipes over the years, and the one which has worked the most consistently is from The Joy of Cooking which I posted here.

The past couple times we made them, they weren't good, so when Tara left a comment saying she got a new popover pan, I asked her to let me know how they come out. She wrote back to say they turned out great, so I asked for and received the recipe. It turns out to be the same, except for 1/2 t. salt instead of 1/4 t. But there are some differences in preparation. And those little differences created some great popovers which we had with leek and potato soup last night. I'm calling them:

Tara's Popovers

First off, don't use a mixer.

Whisk together 1 cup milk and 2 eggs

Stir in 1 cup flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt

Whisk in 1 T. melted butter

Let batter sit for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450º F.
While it is preheating, put 1/2 t. vegetable oil (I used olive) into each popover cup. I don't have Tara's pan, so still am using the custard cups.
Put the cups in the oven to warm them.
Remove and put in the batter. We used 7 custard cups, filling them about half-full.
Put into oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Turn down heat to 350º F. and bake another 15-18 minutes.

The last part is where it gets a bit tricky. Your own oven and ingredients and who knows what else determines the time. I think we took ours out just a smidgen too soon because we feared them getting too dark.

Anyhow, they were absolutely delicious, and I thank you, Tara!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Today's Pictures/Dining for deer

Because our road is technically a town road, not a private one, the town highway people plow and sand in winter, and grade in the summer. I can't imagine what an expense this would be if we had to take care of it ourselves.

When there's a lot of snow to plow, the plowman makes a little shelf alongside the road, which you can see on the right of the photo. You may also see a dark area - that is what's left of the little pile of food Tom put down for the deer last night.
Closeup of the deer's table, and a hoof print!

I noted in a comment on the Deeries post that Tom put out some leftover 'sweet feed' that our late donkey, Juno, used to eat, on the recommendation of the woman at the local feed store. When it runs out, we'll probably buy some specific feed just for deer. Some people frown on doing this, but our neighbor has fed deer for a long time with no problems. Years ago, they didn't believe in feeding wild birds either. Someone we know in the neighboring state, where it is actually against the law, says, no one is going to tell her what she can do in her own yard! Oh, we New Englanders are an independent lot.

Quote du jour/E.B. White

So I am lingering in Maine this winter, to fight wolves and foxes. The sun here is less strong than Florida's, but so is the spirit of development.
E.B. White, A Report in January, 1958

I wondered if there were still wolves in Maine, and found this.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Village School by Miss Read

2. Village School - first in the Fairacre series
by Miss Read
fiction, 1955
paperback, 229 pages
second reading
finished, 1/12/09

I think Miss Read has a reputation which is not quite accurate. Her books are most always listed in the 'gentle reads' category; and while they are gentle, in that there is no horrific abuse or crime, still they are not bland - oh what a beautiful day and life I'm having sort of book. Fairacre is a lovely little English village, and we may look back at the 1950s with longing for the simplicity, but there is still trouble and sadness among its people. Poor little Joseph Coggs who wants nothing more from his school experience but the wonderful lunch which is served, is denied this because his father says, what's good enough for him (the father) is good enough for Joseph. That 'good enough' is "thick slabs of bread smeared with margarine and an unappetizing hunk of dry cheese." At school that first wondrous day, he ate "cold meat, mashed potatoes, salad, plums, and custard" with third helpings of the last two. As soon as his mother gets a job, the first thing she does is give her son the money for lunch at school. Not a team, these parents. And it gets worse. We learn that the father is a terrible drunk who beats his wife and children. This isn't expounded on in any great detail, but it is spoken in words, not whispers. These things did go on in those days. Joseph explains why he is late to school:

Me dad overdone it, and we was all up late.

It doesn't take much reading between the lines to realize the hell that was within those walls that night.

And then there are the two women - one a newcomer in town, with money and a nice house, and the other a substitute teacher - who share a dream.

'What I should like better than anything,' confessed Mrs Moffet, 'would be to have a dress shop!'
'Me, too!' rejoined Mrs Finch-Edwards, and they looked at each other with a wild surmise. There was a vibrating moment as their thoughts hovered over this mutual ambition.
'If it weren't for the family, and the house, and that,' finished Mrs Moffat, her eyes returning sadly to her seam.
'If it weren't for hubby,' echoed Mrs Finch-Edwards, gazing glumly at a gusset. They sewed in silence.

These two situations are indicative of the times, just as much as a quieter, simpler life. The truth is that all times have their goods and bads. There are no 'good old days' just old days, with their measure of pain and joy, the same as the days we inhabit.

I don't mean to imply that this sort of trouble or discontent is the crux of the book because it certainly isn't. The episodes are mentioned in passing, as another component of the several characters' lives. The book centers around the school life and calendar, which itself follows the church calendar because this is a parish school, attached to the local Anglican church. It is a rich life with harvest festivals, where the children bring fruits and vegetables to decorate the church, and Christmas programs which are attended by the whole community. I found myself thinking, what if a Jewish or Muslim child came to the village? What if a couple adopted a child from South Korea? How would they have been accepted and acclimated into this very safe, yet very closed community.

People often compare the Miss Read books with Jan Karon's Mitford series, and indeed Jan Karon is a fan of Miss Read's work. Their books share that small town life, with its ups and downs, and Jan Karon doesn't gloss over the troubles of life either.

Village School is a lovely, lovely story, introducing us to the town of Fairacre and its inhabitants. But it could also serve history very well as a report, a testimonial to post-War England in the rural towns. There isn't running water in the school. It is heated by a big coal stove which must be tended. There isn't a proper playground. Food is not taken for granted. The teacher lives in a house next to the school, and when she takes a bath:

I switched on the electric copper ready for my bath-water, when I returned. ... The kitchen was comfortably steamy when I put the zinc bath on the floor and pour in buckets of rainwater from the pump. As I lay in the silky brown water...

Good old days, ha!

And yet, there is great happiness. The teacher takes the children on outdoor excursions - not field trips for which permission must be granted and bus rides taken - but honest to goodness walks out into nature. The children learn about things I think are important - flowers, trees, food crops - things I'm quite certain many kids don't know about today.

I think that present day elementary school teachers in particular would so enjoy this book. They would see the many changes which have occurred in the fifty-nine years since it was written, but I think they would also feel at home in the village school. One note that made me smile, as the wife of a teacher:

Jim Bryant had brought the precious envelope containing our cheques; fantastically large ones this time, as they covered both July and August. Such wealth seemed limitless, but I knew from sad experience, how slowly September would drag its penniless length, before the next cheque came again!

There is a chapter called Perplexed Thoughts on Rural Education which voiced concerns still spoken of today such as rural schools closing and becoming consolidated into large regional ones. Miss Read writes of this with much fairness and understands both points of view. She also examines the private/public school issue in the same manner.

There is another chapter which tells of the log books these rural schools have kept since they first began:

The log books thus form a most interesting account of a school's adventures; the early ones are particularly fascinating and should, I sometimes feel, be handed over to the local archivist who would find them a valuable contribution to the affairs of the district.

This is just how I feel about this book. It truly is an historic record of a time and place of a school, told with fictional characters and events, yet very accurate in its portrayal.

Oh, and those women I spoke of above - Miss Read tells us in an unusual little fast forward that they did have their dress-designing business with a team of dressmakers.

I first read the Miss Read books when my kids were little. I had an exercise bike upstairs with a book holder, and I rode many a mile while my head and heart were in the English countryside. They were my 'adult' reading, while the rest of my reading time was spent within the pages of picture books and chapter books. I loved them then and love them today.

Muffin Monday/Maple-Oatmeal Muffins

Here is another recipe from the writer Eileen Goudge's cookbook. You may find the first one I posted here.

Maple-Oatmeal Muffins

1/2 cup milk
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup melted butter (she called for vegetable oil, but you know by now that I always use butter!)
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I used walnuts)

Preheat oven to 375º F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or line with baking cups.

Stir the milk into oats; set aside.

Place the maple syrup, egg, and cooled butter into large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon or beat with an electric mixer on low speed, until blended. (I used the mixer)
Add the oat/milk mixture and blend well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add to the maple syrup mix, and stir just until incorporated. Stir in 1/2 cup of the nuts. (All muffin recipes say to stir just until mixed, and I usually do, but today I just let the mixer beat everything together and the muffins turned out great)

Spoon batter into muffin cups to about two-thirds full, and sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup nuts over the tops.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
Let cool in the tin for a minute or two, and then turn out onto cooling rack.

Boy, were these ever good!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday Supper - Aebleskiver

I found this great pan in the local kitchen store and thought Tom would like it for Christmas. What a success it has been. Essentially, the Danish aebleskiver pan makes round, puffy pancakes which you top with any of the usual toppings you'd use for pancakes or crepes - maple syrup, butter, confectioners sugar, lemon juice, chocolate, jam, on and on. You can use any pancake recipe, and tonight we're using one from At Grandmother's Table carrying on the Scandinavian theme.

Grandma's Finnish Pancakes

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

The notes from the book say:

These light, thin pancakes are the Finnish version of crepes suzette. They are quick to make, and most cooks have the ingredients on hand. This recipe makes 4-5 pancakes. To make 15-20 pancakes, increase both the milk and flour to 1 1/2 cups, but keep all other ingredients the same.

We did make the larger amount, and this worked just great. We ended up with 3 batches, 21 little aebleskivers.

Now, onto this nifty new kitchen pan. You grease the individual cups, pour in the batter, and then you do something different and interesting. Some people use a skewer or even a knitting needle, but not having either, we used one of the forked ends of a little knife. You kind of lift up the batter to make an edge, and then you move it around in the cup a bit, while it is cooking at medium heat. Because if I were reading this, I wouldn't have a clue what I was talking about, here is a you tube that shows you just what to do. Pancakes have never been so much fun!


In the January entry of Walk When The Moon is Full, the family hear deer outdoors and the mother puts apples on the windowsill to 'see if the deer come to eat them' and of course they do. If I had had apples in the fridge, I would have done the same last night. When I went outdoors for a (very) few minutes, I didn't see or hear any deer. But last night I suddenly awoke and looked out the window and there were two of them - one rustling the phlox bushes and the other eating right out of the bird feeder! This had actually happened twice earlier this week in the daytime so I could take pictures out the window.

This dear deer was munching on a lilac.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Today's poem - Silver by Walter de la Mare


Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

by Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)

With my great thanks to K. for telling me about this wonderful poem - so perfect for the full moon at perigee.