Thursday, March 31, 2011

Today's poem by Grace Paley

A Walk in March

This hill
crossed with broken pines and maples
lumpy with the burial mounds of
uprooted hemlocks (hurricane
of ’38) out of their
rotting hearts generations rise
trying once more to become
the forest

just beyond them
tall enough to be called trees
in their youth like aspen a bouquet
of young beech is gathered

they still wear last summer’s leaves
the lightest brown almost translucent
how their stubbornness has decorated
the winter woods

on this narrow path ice tries
to keep the black undecaying oak leaves
in its crackling grip it’s become
too hard to walk at last a
sunny patch oh! i’m in water
to my ankles APRIL

Grace Paley
(1922 – 2007)

Beech leaves this last day of March

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

At Grandmother's Table edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley

25. At Grandmother's Table
edited by Ellen Perry Berkeley
nonfiction, 2000
fourth book for the Foodie's Reading Challenge
finished, 3/22/11

I have no memories of either of my grandmothers doing any cooking, except for one who made homemade bread. Perhaps this is because by the time I came along they were old and tired from having brought up many, many kids. Maybe they were ready to not cook anymore. I loved my grammies but they weren't part of my everyday life. I saw them occasionally, but they didn't impart any words of wisdom to me, or play games, or bake me cookies. They were simply kind, dear women who wore housedresses and sat in chairs most of the time.

Two of my favorite pictures. The left is my mother's mother with me on her lap, and the right is my father's mother at sixteen, a photo given to me when I turned that age.

This book is a tribute to many grandmothers. The chapters are organized according to when the grandmothers were born, beginning in the 1840s and going through the 1910s. There are as many different stories as there are grandmothers. Some of the women never knew their grandmothers while others were practically raised by them.

There is a grandmother named Katie Pearl Spinks Chester who was a great reader, and her granddaughter says:
Today I'm a buyer of books that I wish my Gran could have read, for during her entire life she devoured the printed word much as her family devoured her food.
I remember my garrulous Gran when she had auburn hair and freckles and dished up butter beans and talk on summer Sundays; but I also remember my solitary Gran in late afternoon, with her books.
Another grandmother named Charlotte Flemings Myers never touched alcohol, and yet her son (the writer's father) was:
an alcoholic full of table-thumping rage or back-slapping joy, usually yelling or laughing too loud.
There is poetry in the pieces such as this writing about Maria Arcangela Barbara Ferrarese Savino:
All I have to do is inhale deeply, and in the bottom of my lungs is the air of my life with her, the sweet, spicy scent of a basil, rose, and mint garden.
There is a grandmother who is known only as Grandmother Komninos:
I do not know her first name. In fact, I know her only through one of my father's precious few photographs from "the old country," as he called his native Greece. Was she stern like her pose, or lighthearted and fun-loving like my father? ... she starved to death during the Nazi embargo of Greece, along with her husband and hundreds of thousands of their countrymen.
A granddaughter writes of her grandmother's great love story. Josie Lou Lydia Walker Blakey married late in life for 1929. She was thirty-two and her husband, thirty-four. They were married for sixty-four years.
They never walked down a hall without her arm through his. She always laughed at his jokes. He couldn't sit next to her without touching her. Even late in life, they were frequently taken for honeymooners.
This wonderful book is made up of such stories. Each is only a few pages long written with love and sometimes longing. And each story contains a recipe or two. The other night I tried one from a grandmother called Madeline Heiskanen Fiedler.

Grandma's Finnish Pancakes

These light, thin pancakes are the Finnish version of crêpes suzette. They are quick to make, and most cooks have the ingredients on hand. My mother made them as a special treat in the middle of the winter when we wanted something different for dinner. Grandma made them on Halloween when we were too excited and rushed to eat a regular meal.

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Butter or oil for oiling the pan

Beat the eggs well, then add the milk, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Mix until there are no lumps and the batter is the consistency of cream.
Butter a hot, medium-sized frying pan. Ladle in just enough batter to fill pan. Turn the pancake over when the top is full of bubbles and the bottom looks cooked. (Because these pancakes are thin, they cook very fast.) Serve with preserves or powdered sugar.
This recipe makes 4 to 5 pancakes. To make 15 to 20 pancakes, increase both the milk and the flour to 1 1/2 cups, but keep all other ingredients the same.

The only thing I did differently was to use cooking spray in the pan. These were just great, and a little different from another recipe I posted a few years ago. Tom topped his with maple syrup and I used a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar.

Just as I finished the first chapter of At Grandmother's Table, I texted my cousin in Texas to see if she would like a couple recipes from our grammy, which I posted here and here. Of course she wanted them, and sent them on to her sister-in-law and her nieces. I can't imagine why none of the cousins have exchanged family recipes. I plan to remedy the situation, and am hoping someone has a lot more than I do. This is the power and rippling effect a book can have. It warms my heart.

I think that everyone who reads my letters would love this book, whether you knew your grandmother or not. It is a fascinating concept and I'm so glad that Ellen Perry Berkeley put together such a very special book.

I read this for the Foodie's Reading Challenge. You may go here and click on the various categories to read many, many reviews of excellent food-related books.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sugar on snow

Please go visit Beth Fish Reads to see what everyone else is making this weekend.

Before the snow is all gone, I thought we'd better make some sugar on snow. It is a delightful way to say goodbye to snowtime in our neck of the woods.

Here is the wikipedia entry about sugar on snow in case this treat is new to you.

Maple taffy (sometimes maple taffee in English-speaking Canada, tire d'érable in French-speaking Canada; also sugar on snow in the United States) is a confection made by boiling maple sap past the point where it would form maple syrup but not so long that it becomes maple butter or maple sugar. It is part of traditional culture in Quebec, Eastern Ontario and northern New England. In these regions, it is poured onto the snow and then lifted either with a small wooden stick, such as a popsicle stick, or a metal dinner fork. The event in New England is called a sugar on snow party, and the soft candy is traditionally served with yeast-risen donuts, sour dill pickles, and coffee. The pickles and coffee serve to counter the intense sweetness of the candy. Maple taffy is also made in the Canadian province of Manitoba using Manitoba Maple syrup, which is made from the Manitoba Maple tree (also known as a Box Elder). The syrup and taffy produced from a Manitoba Maple are generally darker and have a mustier flavour than that which is made from sugar maples.

The confectionery is made by boiling maple syrup to about 112 °C (234 °F). It is best to use a candy thermometer. The thick liquid may be kept hot over a very low flame or in a pan of hot water, but should not be stirred as it will form grainy crystals. This liquid is then poured in a molten state upon clean snow whereupon the cold causes it to rapidly thicken. If the syrup runs rather than hardens when it is poured on the snow, then it has not yet been boiled long enough to make the soft maple candy. Once sufficiently hardened the candy can be picked up and eaten. The higher a temperature one boils the initial syrup, the thicker the final result will be. As it is popularly eaten soft it is usually served fresh. It is most often prepared and eaten alongside the making of maple syrup at a sugar house or cabane à sucre.

Here are the steps at Windy Poplars Farm this day.

I began boiling up some maple syrup

while Tom went out and got a panful of snow

This is how it looks after boiling for about ten minutes - we don't bother with a candy thermometer

Then we poured it over the snow

And spooned it out into a dish

There is truly nothing sweeter. Delicious with or without donuts and pickles and coffee.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Quote du jour/Rose and Onslow

From the television show Keeping Up Appearances:

Rose says to Onslow:
Don't you think we ought to tidy up?

Onslow replies:
Given the transience of life, biology's awesome potential for instability, and the possible meaninglessness of the entire universe, do you think it's worth the bother?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Today's pictures/ Flavored icicles

This small branch on our sugar maple was hanging out over the road and the plow hit it sometime during the winter. The split in the branch serves the same purpose as tapping a tree, and these icicles have a slight maple flavor.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Big Four by Agatha Christie

24. The Big Four - an Hercule Poirot mystery
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1927
Kindle book - 12
finished, 3/22/11

The Big Four is an unusual Hercule Poirot mystery. It has elements of international intrigue. The lives of Hastings and Poirot are in danger. There are four people who intend to take over the world. They are from China, the United States, France, and England. They each have their particular strengths, and in combination they are slowly working on achieving world domination. It is up to Hercule Poirot and his 'little grey cells' to save civilization. The book is comprised of various cases which on the surface seem like regular criminal investigations but which in reality are related to these four people. This is the first book I am aware of in which Poirot has operatives - people who do various jobs for him, including his brother (!!) Achille.

I found the book rather disjointed. There would be a chapter with a case, and then the next one was several months later. They all had the 'big four' connection, but for me they didn't hold together that well as a book. The book had an odd feeling about it. Poirot didn't seem like himself. It was worth reading, but it definitely didn't shine.

After I finished, I read in my Agatha Christie - A Reader's Companion by Wagstaff and Poole that:
The book was written at a difficult time for Christie. The year had begun with the death of her mother and was followed by the collapse of her marriage, which led her to the verge of a nervous breakdown. An indication of the degree of the trauma is contained in a letter to her publishers in which she proposed a change of name. But they insisted that her public had become used to her as Agatha Christie and she accepted this with considerable reluctance. Written when she was desperate for money, the novel is a rewriting of twelve Poirot short stories first published in The Sketch.
Well, that explains it. Poor Agatha. I really must read more about her life.

Here is the first US dustjacket. I do love reading the titles by 'popular authors.' It is so interesting to see how her work has survived and thrived heartily while so many of her contemporaries have, as they say, drifted into obscurity.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Quote du jour/Thalassa Cruso

March is a month of considerable frustration - it is so near spring and yet across a great deal of the country the weather is still so violent and changeable that outdoor activity in our yards seems light years away.
Thalassa Cruso (1909-1997)

Monday, March 21, 2011


On this first full day of spring, it is 31º F. And it is windy. And we are supposed to get 3-5 inches of snow. So, I'm going to focus on the indoors instead of the outdoors and direct you to one of my favorite, favorite places on the internet. It is a site which shows photos and information about movie and television houses, and you may find it here. The entire Hooked on Houses site is great fun.

When I watch a movie or a television show, I quite often push the pause button so I can look more carefully at a room, a shelf of books, a paint color, or the dishes in a kitchen. I've already written about Kate Winslet's cottage in The Holiday, and in fact, modeled my own study on the one in the movie. I think often of places that I love - like the kitchen in When A Man Loves A Woman. Or Meg Ryan's desk in You've Got Mail. Or Jessica Lange's childhood bedroom in Tootsie.

And I'm not the only one! Pamela at The House of Edward did a fantastic piece a couple years ago on her favorite movie houses. There are 51 comments, illustrating that there are a whole bunch of us out there really paying attention to the details of a movie or tv set. It was one of those comments which first led me to Hooked on Houses.

Here are some pictures to whet your appetite.

The kitchen in Practical Magic

The screened porch in Hope Floats

The living room in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

Saturday, March 19, 2011

It's five o'clock here!

Please head over to Beth Fish Reads to see what's on the menu this weekend.

For this last full day of winter, I thought I'd post a cocktail recipe. The brandy is kind of a winter drink. One pictures people in a comfortable library with their brandy, having a light conversation or reading. But the lemon juice zings the drinker into spring which begins around here tomorrow at 7:21 pm.

I posted my Sidecar recipe a couple years ago, and this one is rather a poor man's Sidecar. Brandy instead of cognac, and triple sec rather than Cointreau. It has quite a racy little name.

Between The Sheets

1 part brandy. I used Christian Brothers.
1 part white rum. I used Bacardi.
1 part triple sec. I used Bols.
and the juice of a lemon.

Just the ticket as we sit on the porch, watching the snow melt away, as winter melts into spring.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy

23. Minding Frankie
by Maeve Binchy
fiction, 2010
seventh book for the Ireland Reading Challenge
Kindle book - 11
finished, 3/17/11

Well, here I am. I've finished the latest Maeve Binchy book, and I'm sad I don't have another one to go on to. I am especially sad because it felt like Minding Frankie might be the last visit with these Dubliners. The reader is now all caught up with their stories. People have married, had children, begun careers, moved away, and died. I stayed up two nights reading this book - one till 5 am and the other till 3:30. I just couldn't put it down until tiredness overcame me. I adore this cast of characters, and it is such a joy to see so many of them doing well.

This is the story of a baby girl, Frances Stella, nicknamed Frankie, and all the people in her life. Out of the blue, a fellow named Noel Lynch is told by a dying young woman, Stella Dixon that she is carrying his child, the 'result' of a very short relationship. Stella wants him to raise the child who will be born via Caesarean section. She will not live through this operation, and will never see her little girl. The raising of his daughter is the making of Noel. He goes to Alcoholics Anonymous, starts night school classes, and moves out of his childhood home. The famous saying, 'it takes a village to raise a child' was never better illustrated than in this marvelous book. Relatives and friends, old and new, share in the taking care of, the 'minding' of Frankie. Many of these people we know from the other books: Fiona, Declan, Muttie and Lizzie, the twins Maude and Simon, Clara. And as always in a Maeve Binchy book, we meet some new endearing folks like Emily and 'Hat.' All except one. The social worker, Moira is just awful, and I felt that she featured way too much in the story. She had a tough childhood (though not as awful as some) and she's become a grouchy, controlling, insensitive person who is trying to make perfect families unlike the one she has. To balance her, there is Lisa, whose parents are much like Moira's but she isn't nearly as difficult a person. But she is one of those Binchy characters who drives me wild - the woman who just can't let go of a man who isn't Mr. Right. These two situations aside, it was a perfect, perfect story.

This has been such a fantastic few months of rereading, and reading this wonderful author with the biggest heart I've ever come across in literature. All my book reports may be found in the 'book lists' or 'book reports' tabs under the blog header picture.

And though I technically finished the Ireland Reading Challenge with the book Bog Child, I hope to continue on with the many Irish books I have on the shelf.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Boxty on St. Patrick's Day

On this St. Patrick's Day, I made Boxty for the first time. It is a bit like potato pancakes, only there are both grated potatoes and mashed potatoes. I mashed them without adding milk or butter. There also isn't any grated onion, but I might try that another time.

1 1/2 cups grated raw potatoes
1 cup flour
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 egg
1 T. milk

Toss the grated potatoes with flour in a large bowl.
Stir in the mashed potatoes until combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg with the milk, and then mix with potatoes.

Cook on a griddle, or electric fry pan, or a skillet on the stove. You may use olive oil, cooking spray, or a combination of both.
Form patties about 2 inches in diameter.
Fry on both sides until golden brown.

I topped mine with a bit of sour cream and applesauce. Being Irish myself, there's nothing I like better than potatoes and this made for a perfect supper. Very different in taste and texture from potato pancakes. You may read more about Boxty here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

22. Bog Child
by Siobhan Dowd
young adult fiction, 2008 (published posthumously)
sixth book for the Ireland Reading Challenge
finished, 3/15/11

I may be wrong but I have a sense there is a whole generation of Americans that has never heard about 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland. I would guess that there are kids who think terrorism is a word that came into being on September 11. The flow of time is relentless and events overtake events. Names that were so familiar like Bernadette Devlin and Bobby Sands are likely unknown today.

Here is where a book such as Bog Child could be very helpful. Inside its pages, older teens could learn what life was like for young people growing up in that place in the early 1980s. It wasn't a happy, idyllic time. You never knew when a car bomb would go off. It was a time of war.

And yet, regular life went on. In Bog Child, Fergus and his uncle Tally are up early in the morning cutting turf (illegally) to sell (illegally) for heating fuel before the 'real' diggers come to work when Fergus finds a body in the peat bog. They must get the police before the company comes and destroys it with their big machines. Because they have crossed over the border into the Republic of Ireland, it is the 'Gardai' they contact, telling them they were birdwatching when they came upon the body. This isn't a new body, or even a body from a few years back. It is a well-preserved young girl from a very long time ago, AD eighty. Fergus begins dreaming about her and her life back then. The dreams are all done in italics and they are scattered throughout the book. These dreams eventually tell of how she died. An archeologist comes to investigate along with her daughter, and they stay at Fergus' house. There is an empty bedroom because the older son Joe is in prison for terrorist activities.

Fergus is studying for tests which will decide if he can leave this place and go to college. His brother Joe begins a hunger strike in jail. Fergus is known as a runner, and is approached to deliver and pick up 'packets' while on his early morning runs. He doesn't want to get involved but does so in the hope that these people will convince his brother to stop his fast. And then later when this doesn't happen, he is blackmailed into continuing. Fergus has gotten to know the border guard, a young man from Wales who is on the 'other' side of this political situation. If he doesn't keep doing the pick-ups and drop-offs, Owain will be killed.

Perhaps Irish or English teens reading the book will know the history and will understand what is going on, but for a reader who doesn't know, it may not be so clear. There are initials and words that are incomprehensible - RUC, Provo, Fenian, IRA, Prod. I felt like an outsider who didn't know the codes, and I imagine a younger person who wasn't familiar with the time or the place or The Troubles, would throw up his hands and just quit the book. And this made me sad. A book that could have explained and illuminated this Irish situation just didn't do so.

I wanted to know more. I wanted more details. I wanted to get to know Fergus and his family better. They didn't feel real to me, except in one part near the end of the book. I was especially disappointed because I loved the late Siobhan Dowd's The London Eye Mystery.

If anyone knows of fictional accounts of Northern Ireland during the long years of The Troubles, I would welcome recommendations. In fact, I'd also like to read some nonfiction about those times. There is an excellent film which gets to the heart of it all called Five Minutes of Heaven, starring Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt. This and some other films about The Troubles are listed here.

Addendum: I did a search for other reviews and you may enjoy these more favorable views of the book from:

and some who feel about the same way the way I do:

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tinky's Cranberry Key-Lime Squares

You may go visit Beth Fish Reads and see what's cookin' this weekend!

This fantastic recipe came from Tinky, and you may find the original at her cooking blog.

Tinky's Cranberry Key-Lime Squares

My notes in are in blue

for the crust:

1 cup flour
6 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

for the middle:

1/2 to 2/3 cup cranberries - I put them through the food processor to chop them up a bit, since mine were quite large. I used 2/3 cup and may use a few more next time because I love cranberries.

for the filling and top:

2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons key-lime juice
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons flour
confectioner’s sugar as needed for dusting - I forgot this but they were still great

Preheat the oven to 325º F.
Butter (I used cooking spray) an 8-inch-square pan. I didn't have one so used a 7x11 which worked fine.

First, prepare the butter crust.
In a small bowl combine the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt. Cut in the butter.

Press this mixture (it will be crumbly!) into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes. I baked it maybe 15-20 min.
Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Press the cranberries into the crust (they may or may not press down effectively; if they float up, they will be just fine!).

Move on to the key-lime filling. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, and key-lime juice until they are thoroughly combined. Whisk in the milk, followed by the flour.

Pour the filling over the crust and cranberries, and return the pan to the oven. Bake until the filling sets and the edges are just a little brown. In my oven this took about 45 minutes.

Allow the bars to cool in their pan; then cut them into squares.

Out of this world delicious! If you don't have any Nellie & Joe's Key Lime Juice, lemon juice would suffice, but the flavor would be different. N & J's is great stuff, which you could even use in a margarita!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Poirot's Early Cases by Agatha Christie

21. Poirot's Early Cases - Hercule Poirot short stories
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1974
Kindle book - 10
finished, 3/10/11

According to my often quoted, and much-referred to, copy of Agatha Christie - A Reader's Companion, in 1974:
In place of the usual novel, given her advancing years [she was 83 that year], Christie's publishers brought out a collection of eighteen short stories written in the inter-war years and earlier serialized in newspapers or magazines. Roughly contemporary with Poirot Investigates [which I wrote about here], they are in no respect inferior to that collection, published fifty years previously. Fourteen are narrated by Hastings, the remainder were written after his creator banished him to Argentina.
It gave me great joy to read the two short story collections back to back, which according to this is the suggested reading order. The only one I had read was Wasps' Nest. One of the stories, The Chocolate Box, was referred to in Peril at End House. Someone in that book says to Poirot:
'I've been hearing all about you and what a wonderful chap you are. Never had a failure, they say.'
'That is not true,' said Poirot. 'I had a bad failure in Belgium in 1893. You recollect, Hastings? I recounted it to you. The affair of the box of chocolates.'
'I remember,' I said.
And I smiled, for at the time that Poirot told me that tale, he had instructed me to say 'chocolate box' to him if ever I should fancy he was growing conceited! He was then bitterly offended when I used the magical words only a minute and a quarter later.
This story stayed in my head, and so I was very pleased to come upon it in this collection. The tale begins as Hastings and Poirot are sitting comfortably by the fire on a wild and windy night. They are feeling cozy and contented when Hastings asks:
'No, but seriously, have you ever failed?'
'Innumerable times, my friend. What would you? La bonne chance, it cannot always be on your side. I have been called in too late. Very often another, working towards the same goal, has arrived there first. Twice have I been stricken down with illness just as I was on the point of success. One must take the downs with the ups, my friend.'
'I didn't quite mean that,' I said. 'I meant, had you ever been completely down and out over a case through your own fault?'
'Ah, I comprehend! You ask me if I have ever made the complete prize ass of myself, as you say over here? Once, my friend -' A slow, reflective smile hovered over his face. 'Yes, once I made a fool of myself.'
He sat up suddenly in his chair.
'See here, my friend, you have, I know, kept a record of my little successes. You shall add one more story to the collection, the story of a failure!'
I quote this whole passage because it completely delights me. It shows the warmth Poirot feels toward Hastings: he calls him 'friend' four times in this little space. Often in the books, Poirot gently, and sometimes not-so-gently, makes fun of Hastings so I liked this affirmation of how much he cares about him. I also like seeing Poirot mildly humble as he is here. He really is a genius. He does solve many cases, and so has earned the right to gloat a bit, but it was nice to see him accepting the fact that he isn't perfect.

Another of the stories is The Plymouth Express which is really The Mystery of the Blue Train, told in shorter form with a few changes in names. I found this so odd and went looking for more information. I discovered that the 1928 book is based on this 1923 short story. But I couldn't find out why she wrote both a story and a full-length book on the same theme.

You may tire of my wholehearted praise over and over again, but each time I read a Christie book, I am in awe of her. I'm beginning to see her in the same light as my favorite writer of all time, P.G. Wodehouse. And that's the highest praise this reader may offer.

The Reader's Companion has a review from Publishers Weekly when Poirot's Early Cases first came out calling it:
'fine wine in a new bottle for aficionados of the mistress of mystery. It's exhilarating to be back in the company of the Belgian dandy, Poirot, as the little grey cells land him again and again one meaningful step ahead of crook, cop and reader. As always, the author is scrupulously fair with her audience - the clues are all there - but she invariably surprises us just the same.'
I'm hoping that Agatha Christie read these words and that they gave her much pleasure in her twilight years.

Thought you might enjoy this view of the 1974 cover
And this is what The Reader's Companion has to say about it:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Blizzard! by Jim Murphy

20. Blizzard!
by Jim Murphy
juvenile nonfiction, 2000
third book for the Dewey Decimal Challenge
finished, 3/9/11

Sometimes a nonfiction children's book is exactly what I want to read to learn about an historical event or person. It isn't 400 pages of details I might not be interested in. It is written in clear, simple, understandable language. It usually offers true case histories. And Blizzard! does all of these things. This is a most satisfying and interesting book about the blizzard in the northeastern United States in March 1888. It is filled with all sorts of details that will draw in a young, as well as an older reader:
Many other things were being blown about as well. Like most cities back then, New York had no antilitter laws, so newspapers, household trash, bits and pieces of debris, broken glass, and ashes were routinely tossed into the gutter without thought. Add to this a daily deposit of two and one-half million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine from the city's 60,000 horses! All of this garbage hardened into chunks that were picked up by the wind and slapped into the traveler's faces.
Jim Murphy offers true stories, with real names which really helps bring those far-off days alive to the modern reader. When someone collapses, we think of him as a real person not a statistic. The author did an incredible amount of work as is presented in the endnotes. There is a lot of documentation on this particular storm and in fact there was even a group formed called The Blizzard Men and Blizzard Ladies of 1888. He is clear about the fact that there were other horrific storms both before and after this one, but that more has been written about this because it crippled cities like New York and Washington, D.C. President Grover Cleveland and his wife were stranded at their country home 'without any way to contact his cabinet or the Congress.'

Because of this storm, big changes were made all over the country. Before it happened cities were not responsible for clearing the snow on residential streets. There were no subways. Wires were a tangled mess above ground.

The book is full of photographs and drawings from the time and there are actual pages from newspapers. It tells us of the many aspects of the storm: transportation, food, clothing, and most importantly the people. Here is an overturned train, a common occurrence during the blizzard days.

He doesn't focus on the cities alone. He tells about the problems in more rural areas as well. There's an account of children lost in the storm which reminded me of Erlendur's story in the Arnaldur Indridason books, though with a happier result. He also tells of the toll on the poor horses.

When it finally ended on March 14, it headed across the Atlantic and brought snow to northern England and other parts of Europe, and became known as 'the American Storm.'

Monday, March 7, 2011

Winterland by Alan Glynn

19. Winterland
by Alan Glynn
fiction, 2009
fifth book for the Ireland Reading Challenge
finished, 3/7/11

In one evening two Noel Raffertys die. The younger, an obnoxious punk who was involved in many shady enterprises, is shot in the smokers'outside garden of a pub. The killer shoots and leaves, gangland style. A few hours later, his uncle, for whom he was named, dies after a drunk driving accident. Two horrible and tragic incidents for the mother of the young Noel; and for her and the other three sisters of the older Noel. Only the youngest sister, Gina wonders in the midst of her sorrow if they are really just awful coincidences. What are the chances that these two family members would die on the same night in different manners? Could there be any connection?

And with that we are off on a thrilling, exciting nonstop adventure. Unlike many books that are deemed political thrillers, this one is also very literary, very well-written. There is a strong sense of place - modern Dublin, and strong character development. And it features one of my favorite themes; how past events connect with, and influence those in the future.

Although I did love this book, I should let you know that there is coarse language and there are scenes of violence, but Winterland isn't nearly as gross as some television or some other books of this ilk. There wasn't violence against women or children or animals. And the language and action fit the story.

There are passages of great sensitivity such as this:
'You know, I had a brother who died, many years ago now, in Korea actually, but it's not something you ever really get over, is it, the death of a sibling? I mean in the sense that it affects your identity, it ... it redefines you in a way.'
I love the use of modern technology in Winterland. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how any police work was done without cell phones and computers. In this book, some emails which had been deleted were retrieved and became very important to the story.
It's the last field in the message header, right there along with the others, with the sender and the receiver, with the date and the subject line ...

Digital, ineradicable.

Cc: ... [I don't want to give anything away by writing the name]
The drugs taken by the rich and powerful utterly astounded me. Everyone is on a first-name basis with tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and pain killers. When a doctor stops prescribing, one addict just finds another doctor who will. These drugs really play a part in the lives of the people in the book, and even in the story. This is an example of the 'new' Ireland. The Irish used to drink their pints of Guinness. I don't think beer was even mentioned in this book except in conjunction with an incident from twenty-five years ago.

From the top of a new skyscraper a man looks out on Dublin:
The scene is spectacular, with the city spread out below - Liberty Hall, the Central Bank, the spire of Christ Church Cathedral, and then, farther out, the parks and greenbelt areas, the housing estates that look like electronic circuit boards, the gigantic shopping centres, the new ring roads and motorway extensions, lanquid and serpentine, laid out in every direction ...
The new city.
In Winterland, the beginnings of all this development echo in the present day.

A pivotal event toward the end of the book takes place near the Martello Tower in Sandycove. This got me thinking about the days Tom and I spent in Ireland in 1971, and how not only have we changed in the years since, but also how much the country itself has changed.

Simply a marvelous, exciting, interesting book. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy

18. Heart and Soul
by Maeve Binchy
fiction, 2008
fourth book for Ireland Reading Challenge
finished, 2/28/11

Finally I read the book which started (or, I should say, re-started) my whole Maeve Binchy binge. Months ago my friend Judi, who has been noted in my letters several times, loaned me this book to read. She told me that many characters in Maeve's recent books show up in other books, and mentioned connections between Heart and Soul and Nights of Rain and Stars, which I had read a few years ago. Well, I wanted to go back to the earlier books before reading this one, and boy, am I ever happy that I did. I have loved rereading Scarlet Feather, Evening Class, Nights of Rain and Stars and Quentins. I so enjoyed reading This Year Will Be Different and Whitethorn Woods for the first time. And now I come to Heart and Soul. I believe it has overtaken Scarlet Feather as my favorite Maeve Binchy book. She expresses the characters' voices and their personalities so well. And again, there is that Maeve Binchy kindness, warmth, and real love of humanity that suffuses her work. I am simply wild about this author.

There's a recent article on Maeve Binchy in The Guardian which you may enjoy reading. This photo accompanied it.

And a video here! How very wonderful to hear her voice.

The book is dedicated 'in memory of my dear younger sister Renie,' who was a doctor. Heart and Soul features a new heart clinic; 'a day clinic that would help patients to manage their own lives.' Here they learn about exercise and nutrition. They realize that their lives are not over because they've had heart attacks. They don't have to live in fear of the next one, or of dying. They are taught that life truly does go on afterwards.

Almost as soon as the book begins, we meet an old friend from Whitethorn Woods, Chester Kovac. A few pages later two women go to eat at Quentins restaurant. This book is like a newsy letter from home to someone who has moved away, and it might go something like this:
Dear ----,

You wouldn't believe it but the twins, Simon and Maud are seventeen now and wanting to work in Greece during school break; and guess who is helping them out - Fiona, who got rid of her slimeball boyfriend, and is nursing with her great friend Barbara at this new heart clinic. She sets up a job for the twins with Vonni, the woman who runs the craft shop in Aghia Anna.

And our dear Father Flynn has been transferred to Dublin. He had quite a challenging experience with a 'mad' girl but with help from his great friends, all is well now.

Aidan Dunne, the teacher, now lives happily with his wife but is facing his own challenges in his job. The kids are not like they used to be. They taunt him. They bump into him, scattering his books with nary an apology. He is urged to retire but he feels he must continue. We'll have to see how this situation is resolved.

There are more and more references to earlier books, and having read them all within the last few months, this was such a treat for me. What could be more wonderful than this book for the fans of Maeve Binchy?!

The clinic is the center of Heart and Soul, as we learn about the lives of the doctors, nurses, and patients. Maeve Binchy doesn't skirt over the problems in the 'new' Ireland - for example, the prejudice toward the 'foreigners' who have moved in. We get to know a young girl, Ania, who has come over from Poland. There is a death from a drug overdose. We see all the buildings where fields used to be. And we read of the more personal situations that people must deal with. Along with those who have heart disease, there is also a character with Alzheimer's. The author really captures what the experience is like living with someone who has this awful affliction, and there's a cautionary tale. Perhaps a reader might say this was overly dramatic and 'novelistic' but I think we've all heard stories of those who go wandering at night. In the book's case, the woman managed to get the key out of a hall vase and open a door. We first knew my own aunt had something wrong when Tom showed up at her door and she asked who he was. Later she was found wandering at night, and then was moved to a place where she could receive care. We may think we are doing the best for those we love by keeping them home, but if we realize they may be at a stage where they could injure themselves or others, we must accept the fact that it is time to let professionals take over. As I say, Maeve Binchy doesn't avoid the sad parts. Yet just as in real life, the sad is intertwined with the joy. In Heart and Soul romance and friendship abounds.

This is my fourth book for the Ireland Reading Challenge 2011, and all four so far have been by Maeve Binchy.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Cranberry Pie

Please visit Weekend Cooking and join in if you wish.

I clipped this recipe from a magazine - Yankee, I believe - and it comes from a book called, Cider Beans, Wild Greens, and Dandelion Jelly by Joan E. Aller. The pie is so, so delicious. Tom and I and Margaret finished off the whole thing in an evening. Yes, it's that good! My apologies to those of you who are trying to help me get over my fear of piecrust baking. I promise I will try it someday. For this crust I used a frozen one from a fantastic company. It was excellent. I could have eaten just the crust with nothing inside.

Cranberry Pie

1 9-inch piecrust
1 1/2 cups cranberries (recipe called for fresh; I used frozen)
1 cup sugar
1 heaping tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 egg white (I gave the yoke to our dog, Sadie)
1 cup heavy whipping cream (not whipped up)

Preheat oven to 425º F.
Roll out piecrust and arrange in a 9-inch pie pan.
Pour cranberries into crust to form a thick layer.
In a medium bowl, sift together 2/3 cup sugar and the flour.
In a separate bowl, beat egg white until stiff peaks form, and then fold into the sugar/flour mixture.
Slowly stir in cream until combined.
Cover the cranberries with the remaining 1/3 cup sugar.
Pour cream mixture over the top.
Bake for 10 minutes, and then turn heat down to 350º F. and bake for about 40 minutes longer. (Mine took longer than this - just keep an eye on it after 40 minutes)

This is very quick and easy to make, and such a great treat!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie

17. Poirot Investigates - Hercule Poirot short stories
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1924
Kindle book - 9
finished, 2/28/11

I'd like to note that if you are interested in the order of Agatha's books - publication, Poirot, or Miss Marple, you may go here for all three lists. I have copied and pasted them into folders and refer to them frequently. When I began my little Agatha escapade I read hither and thither, not paying much attention to where a book fit in, but now I am a bit more serious in my reading. I am making an attempt to read the Hercule Poirot books in order, which doesn't mean necessarily publication order. It is not in the least imperative that a reader do so. I simply want to. This is not a series in which there is a whole lot of change or growth in the main characters. The mystery, the case is the thing!

Poirot Investigates comes after The Murder on the Links. There is a short story called Christmas Adventure in between but I don't have it yet. This book is a collection of eleven short stories, only one of which I had read before - The Case of the Missing Will.

These are full-fledged cases which are just shorter than the novels. I found them to be excellent and intriguing tales. In The Disappearance of Mr. Davenheim, Poirot tells Hastings that there are three classes of disappearance.
First, and most common, the voluntary disappearance. Second, the much abused "loss of memory" case - rare, but occasionally genuine. Third, murder, and a more or less successful disposal of the body.
In The Tragedy at Marsden Manor, Poirot uses a word association device to find the truth - 'to question your subconscious self.'

At the beginning of The Kidnapped Prime Minister, Hastings tells us:
Now that war and the problems of war are things of the past, I think I may safely venture to reveal to the world the part which my friend Poirot played in a moment of national crisis. The secret has been well guarded. Not a whisper of it reached the Press. But, now that the need for secrecy has gone by, I feel it is only just that England should know the debt it owes to my quaint little friend, whose marvellous brain so ably averted a great catastrophe.
My Agatha Christie, A Reader's Companion tells me that the original UK edition had eleven stories while the American collection had fourteen. The missing three were published in Poirot's Early Cases but not until 1974!

The first UK dust-wrapper

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mrs Bale sings the lyrics to Camelot

Here is the weather report for this day, according to Camelot.
winter ... exits March the second on the dot