Saturday, April 30, 2011

Today's poem by Edgar Guest

Plant a Garden

If your purse no longer bulges
and you've lost your golden treasure,
If times you think you're lonely
and have hungry grown for pleasure,
Don't sit by your hearth and grumble,
don't let mind and spirit harden.
If it's thrills of joy you wish for
get to work and plant a garden!

If it's drama that you sigh for,
plant a garden and you'll get it
You will know the thrill of battle
fighting foes that will beset it
If you long for entertainment and
for pageantry most glowing,
Plant a garden and this summer spend
your time with green things growing.

Edgar Guest (1881-1959)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Off to a wedding!

I won't be around much tomorrow since I'm going to a wedding via my satellite dish. I could be there in person if William and Kate had come up with the same idea as I did. I thought it would be cool to invite everyone to their wedding who had gotten married in London on April 29, which means us! But since they didn't I'll be happily watching in my own living room. I'm not getting up early but am setting the DVR to record it.
PS Kate is the same age I was on that day. And William is a month older than Margaret. Isn't time a funny, funny thing?

In a Dark House by Deborah Crombie

34. In a Dark House - tenth in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series
by Deborah Crombie
mystery, 2004
Kindle book - 19
finished, 4/21/11

This book was the most disturbing so far in the series. Though not the focus of In a Dark House, we learn that Gemma is haunted by an unsolved case in which a six year old girl simply disappeared. And now there is an unrelated case of a young girl who is kidnapped and locked in a room. The reader sees her situation from her point of view which makes it all the more upsetting. We also view fires from the point of view of an arsonist. I never enjoy being inside the head of a crazy criminal. A woman's shelter features in the book, which proves to be not as sheltering as it should be. On a nicer note, the reader's old friend, Winifred from A Finer End is working in London for a short time, and becomes involved in the life of a house-bound parishioner whose roommate has disappeared; just one of several disappearances, any of whom could be the body found in a burnt-out building. So you see, there is a lot going on in this book. And as always, the author connects everyone and does it in a most believable way. All in all, not such a cheery, easy read for me, but still an excellent book.

In addition to the crimes, there is an upcoming event in the lives of Duncan and Gemma which could turn their world upside down.

There are chapter heading quotes from Charles Dickens since this book takes place in 'his' part of London - Southwark. If you are lucky enough to live in, or visit London, and if you love Dickens there are walking tours through this area.

The book contains a great map. You may click for greater detail. The maps in Deborah Crombie's books are all drawn by Laura Hartman Maestro.

From the author's website:
Deborah Crombie and Laura Hartman Maestro began collaborating on illustrated maps for the series novels in 1999. Laura’s illustrations have graced five inside covers of Deborah’s books: Water Like a Stone, In A Dark House, Now May You Weep, A Finer End and Kissed A Sad Goodbye.

Before the first drop of ink touches the paper, Deborah sends Laura an advance copy of the manuscript tagged with suggestions for emphasis, maps of the area, and photographs of recognizable landmarks that are featured prominently in the book.

After conferring with Deborah, Laura submits a preliminary pencil drawing. Because Laura draws the maps by hand, rather than digitally, she takes great care in the preparation of the illustration. Once Deborah reviews the penciled illustration and they discuss the final details, Laura begins the ink version. The creation of these charming maps takes about three weeks.

With the help of Laura’s maps, readers have retraced Duncan and Gemma’s footsteps throughout the environs of east and south London, Glastonbury, the Scottish Highlands, and Cheshire, visiting the scenes of the crimes and the landmarks that figure prominently in the books.
I was asked if the Kindle offers the maps, and it does, but they are small. I prefer to visit the website and enlarge them to see the fine details. I love these maps. And, as you know, I love these books.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pineapple Pie

This is a refreshing, delicious pie for our first really warm spring day. I used the same pie crust as for the Cranberry Pie. I baked it for 25 minutes and then let it cool.

Pineapple Pie

Mix together 8 oz. softened cream cheese, and half a can of sweetened condensed milk.
Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 1/4 cup lemon juice.
Add 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple, and mix well.
Pour into pie shell, and refrigerate.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Now May You Weep by Deborah Crombie

Now May You Weep - ninth in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series
by Deborah Crombie
mystery, 2003
Kindle book - 18
finished, 4/17/11

Right from the start this book felt darker, more ominous than the others I've read. I couldn't put my finger on why that was. And then I began to think that the reader is meant to feel this way because we are identifying in a way with Gemma James. She is disoriented. Part of her world as she knew it, is not as Gemma believed it to be. An old friend is not as she seemed. A life that Gemma viewed as 'perfect' is anything but. And here again, we are made aware of Deborah Crombie's genius as a writer. Don't each of us sometimes look at another's life as so much better, easier, happier than our own? And we do so because we do not know all the details of that life. For the most part we see what a person chooses to show us. And I think, too that when we are upset in our own lives, we don't always look at others with a clear eye. Gemma thought she knew her friend well. They had endless talks in the evenings after their children had gone to bed. But as the events of this book unfold, Gemma realizes that in this relationship she has done most of the talking. Her friend has helped Gemma through her problems, without sharing her own. It is only when they go on a weekend trip to the Scottish Highlands for a cooking class that she finds out the truth.

And while she is gone, Duncan Kincaid has a deep personal trouble of his own. A disagreeable, cruel, perhaps unhinged woman from his past could irrevocably change his present and future happiness.

The book switches back from the present to older days - this time Scotland in the years just before 1900 - connecting people and places. Memories are long here.
To a Highlander, a hundred years is nothing at all.
I very much enjoyed the parts of the book which talked about whisky. It's a funny thing. I don't like the taste of whisky and don't drink it, but I am fascinated by the process.
... the water that went into the whisky came from the spring that bubbled up fromthe gently rolling grounds. In the making of whisky, the quality of the water was all-important, a Highland distillery's greatest asset.

Speyside is famous for its single malt whiskies. Some say it provides the perfect combination of water, peat, and barley.
The weather plays a big part in all of Deborah Crombie's books, and nowhere is it as strong a force as in this area of Scotland. In one of the flashback passages we learn that:
... in this weather, Grantown-on-Spey, only fourteen miles away was an impossible journey. ... The Braes of Glenlivet in a snowstorm were as isolated and godforsaken as the moon. There would be no help until the storm broke - even then it might take days to clear the roads.
A character's father and sister were killed in a climbing accident because of 'an early snowstorm. It was four days before Mountain Rescue found their bodies.' And at a critical point of the book, Gemma must travel through snow.
The snow grew heavier as she crawled along the track that led into the Braes, her sense of urgency mounting. By the time she reached Chapeltown, she could see only a few feet in front of her car, but she kept going along the farm track...
I found this book riveting, from the diary entries in the past to the story in the present, and from the solving of a murder to the more personal situations Gemma and Duncan are going through. Another excellent book in this series.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

An Easter to Remember


This first Easter in their new house, Matthew and Margaret had both families over for brunch: crepes, scrambled eggs, poached eggs, all kinds of fruit, and chocolate mousse. And lots of dogs! Their two, Matt's sister's Pug, Taz, and Michael's Charlie. You may recall that he was featured in the latest Farm and Garden Report, chasing the farm animals. Another day he had an encounter with a porcupine, and he lost. He had to be anesthetized while the quills were removed. But today's misadventure takes the cake, or should I say, the fudge. I had gotten everybody 1/2 pound of fudge which was filled with those little Cadbury eggs. Before going home, Michael came into our house for a few minutes, and in that time Charlie ate Michael's whole box of fudge. Because of course it is a holiday Sunday, I had to call an emergency vet. I'll tell you his advice in case your dog ever does such a thing. We put 8 teaspoons (based on his weight of 40 pounds) of hydrogen peroxide in some leftover bread pudding. He ate it down. Then a brisk walk and a tummy rub were supposed to induce vomiting. It didn't. The next step was to give him another dose, this time 4 teaspoons. Still no vomiting. Called back, and the vet said bring him down. They had to give him a shot to induce vomiting, and then some activated charcoal for something or other. He can eat only chicken and rice for a few days. Michael just sent us a text photo and the dear little fellow is now sound asleep.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Farm and Garden Report - April 23

Just after I wrote the last report, I heard all kinds of commotion out in the pasture. Michael had come up to visit, and was down at Matt and Margaret's when his dog Charlie, a Corgi/Yellow Lab mix scrambled under the electric fence and ran lickity-split up the hill, chasing various sheep and goats as he went along. Actually, it was more of a herding than a chasing, kind of nipping at their heels. I looked up Corgis and they are indeed herding dogs. Tom managed to get the farm animals into the barn and the doors shut, with no harm done. I was reminded of a little over a year ago when Lexi did the same thing. The charge isn't very strong this time of year because the fence needs repair.

The garlic and chives are coming up in the garden, and the chives are ready to eat.

Indoors under the lights, the leeks are thriving, and we just this week planted eight pots of tomatoes.

The woodcock has returned. I think it waited to come back until the snow patches were gone.

Daffodils are up maybe five inches with a hint of yellow buds.

The daylilies are up all over the garden.

One afternoon last week I sat out on the patio reading, and the air was filled with birdsong. There were four wild turkeys eating cracked corn under the feeders on my left, while on my right a little chipmunk had just traveled under our terrace and popped up in last year's leaves in the flower garden. I sat very, very still and watched it run over to the feeders after the turkeys had departed, joining another chipmunk, red squirrels, mourning doves, juncos, and chickadees.

On April 17, the pasture water came back. More about that source here.

Tom saw one bluebird.

For the most part, this has been a pretty usual April. Wind - steady and gusty; snow flurries - a little accumulation that melted the next day; rain - often mixed with sleet; and a little sun. Not much warmth this year but I'll take it. Last April was way too hot for me, and the ticks were out early in the month. Haven't seen one this year, so far.
In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours.
Mark Twain

Friday, April 22, 2011

And Justice There is None by Deborah Crombie

32. And Justice There Is None - eighth in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series
by Deborah Crombie
mystery, 2002
Kindle book - 17
finished, 4/13/11

In this book, Deborah Crombie returns to London and sets her mystery in the Notting Hill area. Many of us have seen the 1999 movie of the same name, and I would guess more than a few of us think it would be a lovely place to live: beautiful, hip, artistic. It wasn't always thus. The author includes chapter heading quotes from two books - one called Portobello and the other, Notting Hill in the Sixties. From the latter:
If you saw Notting Hill at the beginning of the sixties, it would be hard to recognize it as the same place you see today. Nowadays Notting Hill is wealthy and gentrified. Go back thirty years and the area is a massive slum, full of multi-occupied houses, crawling with rats and rubbish.
Unbelievable, isn't it? The book bridges both time periods. People who grew up in the earlier time, are adults today. Events in the past influence the present.

On her website, Deborah Crombie is asked:
How much time do you spend researching each novel before you begin writing it? And how much time do you spend in Britain doing background research for each book?
I usually go to Britain two to three times during the course of a book. I’ve chosen the setting when I make the first trip, so I use that time to survey the area, take photos and notes, acquire research materials (I usually buy so many books I have to ship them home) and generally get the feel for the book. Once home, I spend several months researching, plotting and outlining. Then, when I’ve actually made a good start on writing, I need to make at least one more visit to check details I know I will need in the now-outlined plot and absorbing a bit more atmosphere. And these days I try to block out writing time in the UK as well.
Along with her great writing, and excellent story lines and characters, the author's sense of place is one of the strongest facets in her books. In each one, she takes the reader to a new location, and tells us historical background. I have learned so much about England and Scotland from reading this series, but especially London. I love how she focuses on a different section of the city each time. I think it is a brilliant device and wonder if anyone else has ever done this. I know there are writers who offer a vivid setting, but I don't think I know any who take a particular city, and set a mystery in a different area each time. This brings London alive to those of us who do not live there. We may have visited in person, or have seen it through books and movies, but she really teaches us what an area was, and is now.

And Justice There is None, in addition to giving the reader a view of the Notting Hill area, also talks a lot about the antiques trade in Portobello Road; and the Portobello Market, 'one of the most popular street markets in the world.' One of my favorite songs makes mention of it:
... in your parachute suit that you bought in Portobello
from Spring Collection, The Vapors. Though I couldn't find a video, you may listen to the song here.

When Dawn Arrowood is found murdered, Kincaid is reminded of another unsolved murder which happened in the same manner. Is there a connection between the two? Are they rooted in the past? And then a possible murderer is found dead himself. The police are mystified. This is a very complex story, though not difficult for the reader to follow. We read on almost breathless, wondering what on earth is going on, and what is the link between these people from different time periods.

Again, I'm not talking too much about Gemma and Duncan because it wouldn't be fair to those readers who haven't met them yet and followed their development as characters. They are not like Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin whose lives and whose relationship rarely varies from book to book. Deborah Crombie's characters are like real people. The reader approaches each new book in the series with great interest and anticipation, wondering what's up with the two main characters. I like how each book takes place not too long after the one preceding it. And I like the way she will bring up something in the past to remind a long-time reader, or bring a new reader up to date. You really don't have to read them in order, but it is such a treat to do so.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

31. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
nonfiction, 2004
fourth book for the Dewey Decimal Challenge
finished, 4/9/11

I first heard of this book when Sarah posted a video on her blog. At the end of it, there was a list of all the books. When I saw this title, I was intrigued. I searched it out, and immediately ordered it online.

Would it be hyperbole for me to say that I've never read anything quite so enjoyable? Would I be gushing if I said I love this book beyond words? Well, both are true.

In my nonfiction literary life I have three women friends, each of whom has been mentioned on the blog.
One is the late Laurie Colwin:
Family Happiness
Happy All The Time
Home Cooking
More Home Cooking

The others are Nora Ephron:
I Feel Bad About My Neck
and Sarah Vowell:
The Partly Cloudy Patriot

And now there is a fourth, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Rather than try and describe this wonderful, unique book, I'm going to simply quote a number of passages, and let Amy's words speak for themselves. The book is arranged in alphabetical order, and contains a myriad of interesting ways to tell about a person, in this case, Amy. There are entries nostalgic and sad; commonplace and extraordinary.

One would think that by this point in my life, I would have outgrown the fear of getting my shoe caught in the escalator.

I'm turning left. Look, everyone, my blinker is on, and I'm turning left. I am so happy to be alive, driving along, making a left turn. I'm serious. I am doing exactly what I want to be doing at this moment: existing on a Tuesday, going about my business, on my way somewhere, turning left. There is nothing disconcerting or unpleasant or unfortunate about this moment. It is exceptionally nice, plain, and perfect.

I always want to see what happens after the movie is technically over. I want an update on the couple that fell in love in Dolby Surround Sound, to see how they're doing post-euphoria. Have they begun fighting over small increments of time? (You said you'd be home at seven-fifteen. It's seven-twenty.) Or in Ransom, for example, after they get their son back in the end, I want to see what their family life is like. When they're sitting around the breakfast table, do they reminisce, can you believe you were chained up to a bed for a week?

It's a powerful thing, coming across an old photo of someone close to you. It makes you pause -
You have to closely examine it. Like a portrait of my grandmother from forty years ago - so vibrant, poised, that nice tweed skirt. Without the mask of old age, her features are more pronounced; she's herself, but crisper. I have a snapshot of my parents from their courtship period, swinging at a park, all smiles and good skin. There they exist as a young man and a teenage woman who love each other, nothing more yet; they are not parents, they have no affiliation to an unborn me. I know how the story unfolds from there - quite happily actually - but in that photo, they are ripe, on the verge, unencumbered, and so very beautiful. I know my own children will one day come across an old photo of me and Jason. Look at Mom and Dad. They were so young. Look at Mom's hair. And how handsome Dad was.

Online you can find Amy in a few places (and there may be others):
Who is Amy
The book site
A video site

I have now technically completed the Dewey Decimal Challenge, but I expect I'll be reading more nonfiction this year.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Finer End by Deborah Crombie

30. A Finer End - seventh in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series
by Deborah Crombie
mystery, 2001
Kindle book - 16
finished, 4/7/11

One of the many reasons I like Deborah Crombie's work so much is that I get to visit new-to-me places.This time it is Glastonbury. All I knew about it was the festival. And when I saw this year's lineup, how I wished I could go.

I found a site that tells about the historical and mythological aspects of the town. One may choose to believe what he or she wishes, but there is a mystical feeling about the place. Deborah Crombie shows the reader that not everyone experiences it, but certain people do.

In A Finer End, we get to know Kincaid's cousin Jack. It was his time-share where Duncan stayed in the very first book of this series, A Share in Death. Jack Montfort, an architect grew up in Glastonbury, and has returned to the family home after the death of his wife and infant child.
At forty, he was back in Glastonbury. It was a move he'd have found inconceivable twenty years earlier, but here he was, alone in his parents' old house on Ashwell Lane, besieged by memories.
Jack is a down-to-earth kind of fellow, but recently something has been happening which really shakes him.
He held a pen in his right hand, although he didn't remember picking it up. And the page, which had been blank a moment ago, was covered in an unfamiliar script. Frowning, he checked for another sheet beneath the paper. But there was only the one page, and as he examined it more closely, he saw that the small, precise script seemed to be in Latin. ...
Was this some kind of joke, invisible ink that appeared when exposed to the light? But his secretary didn't strike him as a prankster, and he'd taken the paper from a ream he'd just unwrapped himself. That left only the explanation that he had penned these words - alien in both script and language. But that was absurd. How could he have done so, unaware?
Can you imagine? How would you feel if this happened to you? Frankly, I'd be pretty freaked out, as is he. But, because he knows Glastonbury history, a name comes into his mind. Frederick Bligh Bond.
The architect who, just before the First World War, had undertaken the first excavations at Glastonbury Abbey, then revealed that he had been directed by messages from the Abbey monks.
I was amazed to find out that he was a real person (and the cousin of Sabine Baring-Gould who is featured in a Laurie R. King book called The Moor, and even makes an appearance on the blog), and that this kind of writing which he did, and the character Jack does, has a name - automatic writing. Though there are skeptics, it does seem to have happened. And this is only the beginning of the unusual occurrences in this book. A group of people begin gathering to discuss what is being written, people who trust Jack. One is an older 'new age' sort of person, another is a scholar, another is an Anglican priest with whom Jack has begun a tentative relationship. There is also a young pregnant girl who has run away from parental disapproval, and a young man who arrived in Glastonbury and felt he must stay. This gathering of such seemingly disparate types results in incredible happenings. Literally incredible.

And at the same time, Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James are going through their own personal ups and downs. As always, I don't want to go into the details because their developing relationship is as important to each of the books in the series as is the mystery. This was a particularly excellent installment. I was fascinated by all the Glastonbury history and the inexplicable happenings.

And the map! How I love the maps in her books. Here is the one for A Finer End. (You may click to see closer detail)

In conclusion, I want to say that not only does Deborah Crombie have a fantastic website, but she has also joined a blog called Jungle Red Writers. And for more book reports about this series, you may click on the 'authors' tab under the blog header photo.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie

29. Lord Edgware Dies (also known as Thirteen at Dinner) - thirteenth in the Hercule Poirot series
by Agatha Christie
mystery, 1933
Kindle book - 15
finished, 4/4/11

This book was published in America under the title Thirteen At Dinner, which comes from the superstition that it is unlucky to have thirteen diners at a table. It is also said that in the case of thirteen, the one who gets up first will have bad luck.

The murder victim in this case, Lord Edgware was a more creepily modern character than I usually encounter in Christie's work. We learn of his predilections from the books in his library:
There were the memoirs of Casanova, also a volume on the Comte de Sade, another on mediaeval tortures.
And the man tells Poirot that he enjoys 'the macabre.'

It is understandable that such a man's wife would like to get out of this marriage, and so it happens that Jane Wilkinson, a famous actress approaches Hercule Poirot at a dinner party (not the thirteen setting one):
'I've heard you're just the most marvellous man that ever existed. Somebody's got to get me out of the tangle I'm in and I feel you're just the man to do it. ... Mr. Poirot, somehow or other I've just got to get rid of my husband!'
I've not read of many characters like Jane. She is utterly self-absorbed, thinking only of others as how they relate to her. A man says of her:
'Amoral is the word, I believe. Just sees one thing only in life - what Jane wants. I believe she'd kill somebody quite cheerfully - and feel injured if they caught her and wanted to hang her for it. The trouble is that she would be caught. She hasn't any brains. Her idea of a murder would be to drive up in a taxi, sail in under her own name and shoot.'
What an extraordinary thing to say about someone!

Lord Edgware is 'stabbed in the back of the neck just at the roots of the hair' and is killed instantly. And who is the most likely suspect, his wife, of course! Hastings and Japp make some interesting observations about Poirot in this story. Japp says:
He's always been what I call peculiar. Got his own particular angle of looking at things... He's a kind of genius, I admit that. But they always say that geniuses are very near the border line and liable to slip over any minute.
And Hastings notes:
I am afraid that I have got into the habit of averting my attention whenever Poirot mentions his little grey cells. I have heard it all so often before.
This is one of my favorite Poirot mysteries so far. The twists and turns are amazingly constructed, and I, as usual, had not a clue as to whodunnit. All I know is that Hercule Poirot will solve the mystery.

My Reader's Companion which I've mentioned before notes that Lord Edgware Dies was written in Iraq, while Agatha Christie was accompanying her husband on an archeological expedition.

I haven't seen the PBS production, or the 1985 film of the book. In the latter, David Suchet who the world knows as Hercule Poirot played the part of Inspector Japp!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Key Lime Pie

Here is an easy, quick, and great tasting pie that is just perfect for the weekend or any day of the week. For many other recipes or cookbook reviews, please go visit Beth Fish Reads.

The recipe comes from the Nellie & Joe's Key Lime Juice bottle.

Beat together:
3 egg yolks (our dog Sadie got the whites)
1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup Nellie & Joe's

Pour into a Wholly Wholesome graham cracker crust

and bake in preheated 350º F. oven for 15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before putting in refrigerator. Serve with whipped cream.

I have a few recipes for Key Lime Pie, most of them more complicated. This one is that wonderful combination of quick and delicious. We shared the pie with Margaret and Matthew, and they loved it, too. Tom and I ate our half-pie all in one sitting, before supper. It was so good!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith

28. The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party - twelfth in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series
by Alexander McCall Smith
fiction, 2011
Kindle book - 14
finished, 4/1/11

For such a famous, well-loved, and much-read author, I sure know a lot of people who cannot get into these books of Botswana and Mma Ramotswe. They cannot put their finger on why. They just don't care for them. I have a great quote that I read years ago:
In literature, as in love, we are astonished at what is chosen by others.
Andre Maurois (1885-1967)
And isn't that the truth! Thank goodness there are as many kinds of books as there are people.

For myself, I love these books. Every single one of them. I love the main characters, the locale, and the deep kindness that Alexander McCall Smith expresses in each book. I love the slow and quiet pace.

Mma Ramotswe is a detective, and there is usually a case or two interspersed in these stories of her daily life and the lives of those around her. In one book, a particular character is spotlighted, and in another book we get to know someone else a bit better. This time one of the young mechanics-in-training, Charlie is featured. He has always been a kind of caricature, a not very likeable character, but in this book we find there is some depth to him. And Mma Makutsi and Rra Phuti Radiphuti (one of my favorite names in literature) get married, hence the title. It has been so nice watching their romance develop over time. The case was a hard one for me. A farmer's cattle are being mutilated, and Mma Ramotswe must solve the crime. There isn't an easy solution, as with so many other things in this life. All along the way, she gets good advice and sustenance from her beloved and much referred to book, The Principles of Private Detection by Clovis Andersen.

I love how Mma Ramotswe walks out in her garden each day.
She went out into the garden. The sun had set, but there was still a faint glow in the west, above the Kalahari - enough to provide that half-light that makes everything seem so rounded, so perfect. She stood in her garden and looked about her. Against the darkening sky, the branches of the trees traced a pattern of twigs and leaves - a pattern of such intricacy and delicacy that those standing below might look up and wonder why the world can be so beautiful and yet break the heart.
I love her ruminations on her country and her father.
On either side of the track, the grey-green bush stretched out, a landscape of struggling shrubs, leaves shrivelled and dusty, filling in the space between the endless forests of thorn trees. The more established acacia provided some cover from the sun, casting pools of shade under which, here and there, cattle clustered, their tails twitching listlessly against the flies. The prevailing note was one of somnolence and stasis, a note taken up and orchestrated by hidden choirs of screeching cicadas: this was a Botswana that had existed since the days when cattle-herding peoples first came to this land; this was a Botswana that was a hundred years from the world of Gabarone, from the world of cars, of white buildings, of commerce and diamonds. But it was the real heart of the country, the heart that she hoped, when her time came to leave this earth, she would see, in her mind's eye at least, before the final darkness set in. And for all that she belonged to Gabarone, and to that other world, Mma Ramotswe belonged here too, and felt beside her quite strongly the presence of her father, the late Obed Ramotswe. As she gazed out through the tangle of acacia, she felt he was there, seated beside her in the van, his familiar old hat resting on his lap, looking out at the cattle and rehearsing in his mind the possible bloodlines of these beasts he knew so well.
And last, but definitely not least I adore the titles and the covers of these books. This whole series is a perfect treasure to me.

Addendum: Please do go here to read a fantastic blog posting about Alexander McCall Smith's visit to a library.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Quote(s) du jour/Gladys Taber

I thought I'd share a few words from Gladys Taber on this 112th anniversary of her birth.

From The Book of Stillmeadow (1948), April:
Spring is always a surprise to me. It never seems possible that this is the same yard that was knee-deep in snow and armored in ice. Suddenly it is starred with daffodils, as if someone had cut the sun up in pieces and scattered them everywhere. And when the trees turn from etchings into water colors, that is amazing, too. The misty greens and the warm shiny pink buds and the swelling varnished tips on the lilacs. Everything is like a dream.

From Stillmeadow Daybook (1955), April:
Early morning is like a pink pearl now that April's here. The first lilacs are budding over the white picket fence in the Quiet Garden; crocus, daffodils, white and purple grape hyacinths repeat the magic of spring. Surely never was spring so wonderful, such a miracle!

From Stillmeadow Sampler (1959), Spring:
For me, April is a time of remembering. It may partly be because it is my birthday month. Or perhaps it is that the long winter is over and done with, and spring walks down the hill over the dogtooth violets. Or possibly it is just that when the air blows softly over the melting snows, and the crocus is established, and the skunk cabbage splashes the edge of the pond with emerald, one naturally has a tendency to take stock of other times, other springs.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Far Country by Nevil Shute

27. The Far Country
by Nevil Shute
fiction, 1952
Kindle book - 13
finished, 3/28/11

Since the Kindle edition of this one has a rather bland cover, I thought I'd show you an earlier one.

Isn't it delightfully retro? And really it is rather descriptive of the book, for there is a romance, and we see the Australian countryside in the background. However, the cover perhaps 'promises' more explicit romance than really occurs in the book.

If you like edge of your seat excitement in a book, Nevil Shute will not be your cup of tea. But if you like a slow, well-told story with lifelike characters in beautifully described locales, then he is your man. I was first introduced to this author via a televised production of A Town Like Alice. This was an excellent show, and the book is even better. The author excels in his details, and in kindness. Shute's characters are for the most part truly decent, good people. So utterly refreshing, and sadly, very uncommon. There are so many books full of unsavory, cruel, spiteful characters that give the reader a pretty poor picture of mankind. Of course these sorts of people exist, but so do the really nice, generous folks.

This book takes place in the years after the Second World War in both England and Australia. The contrast between the two is stark. While England is suffering food shortages, and the inevitable rebuilding after the war, Australia is a land of opportunity. Even the weather is completely different. The English winter is cold and dark and dreary while Australia is in the midst of a bright and sunny summertime. Sheep farmer Jack Dorman has just come into a lot of money from the year's sale of wool. After many years of struggle, his place is paid for and he and his wife can afford a few of the extras. Jack and Jane were married over thirty years ago - a marriage strongly disapproved of by Jane's English parents. She ran off with Jack, and has been estranged from her family ever since, except for Jane's Aunt Ethel who 'alone had stood up for her and told her family that she was making a wise choice.' Because of this support, Jane and Ethel have stayed in touch all these years. As the book begins a long rambling letter has arrived from Ethel which troubles Jane. The handwriting isn't good, and she writes of the deprivations - lack of coal and food, and the prohibitive cost of a wool sweater. Jane was:
vaguely unhappy and uneasy; there was a menace in all the news from England now, both in the letters from her old aunt and in the newspapers. The most extraordinary things seemed to be going on there ... In all her life, and it had been a hard life at times, she had never been short of all the meat that she could eat, or practically any other sort of food or fruit that she desired.
Jane can't understand it because she thought her aunt was quite well-off. When the scene goes to England, we see that poor Ethel has no money. Her husband's pension died with him, and the money that was supposed to go to the wives of Englishmen in India is gone. She has begun selling things, and keeps her poverty and illness a secret from her granddaughter, Jennifer. When the girl visits, Ethel offers her the food Jane has sent from Australia, leaving none for herself after the girl has gone. And then the most startling thing happens. Ethel dies of starvation. Some money that Jane had sent to Ethel is inherited by the girl, and after much soul-searching and the blessing of her parents, she departs on a trip to Australia.

Once she arrives, the reader learns a great deal about post-War life there. Many 'new Australians' have arrived in the country. We meet a few of them, and get to know their back stories, and their present way of life in this land of plenty. A friendship begins between Carl, a doctor in his former country who is now a logger, and Jennifer.

The Evening Standard wrote of this book when it first came out:
What lifts this into the Book-of-the-Month class is Nevil Shute's gift for investing an everyday story with a warm appealing humanity. He is a romantic who finds his themes in down-to-earth reality.
These few words describe perfectly this book, and many of the others I've read. Along with A Town Like Alice, I have read Trustee From the Toolroom (probably four times!), Pastoral, Ordeal, and Beyond the Black Stump. One I haven't read, and really have no interest in, is On The Beach.

From a Nevil Shute newsletter from a few years back:
Why do we all continue to read Nevil Shute and most of us over and over again? A driving force is a shared belief in the moral principles that shine through the pages of his books. A shared belief in the decency and goodness of people generally. A dedication to the value of work as shown through his pages. But most of all, the love of his characters.
You may learn more about the author and his work here. If you don't 'know' him, I would recommend you give him a try. As I said, you're not going to find the sorts of themes that are in many more modern books. But you will find characters who are real, with flaws naturally, but also with traits which are to be revered: determination, inner strength, hope, faith. These characters aren't much for whining and complaining. They get on with the lives they have chosen, and are kind and respectful of their fellow human beings. I'm a big fan of this writer.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Farm and Garden Report - April 10

I checked back to see when I last wrote a farm and garden report, and it was seven months ago almost to the day! The reason is that there simply isn't much to say in the winter. Tom comes home at night and does the chores - feeds the animals and chickens, and fills water buckets. They spend all their time inside the barn or within four feet of the back door. Many, many days I don't even catch a glimpse of them.

And now it is spring. Spring with just a few patches of snow. Spring and the air is filled with bird song. The robins returned on March 31. This morning I heard a phoebe. Tom thinks he saw a woodcock up in the woods, though we haven't seen or heard the nightly dance yet. The winter birds have slowed down in their eating from the bird feeders.

Every spring I think to myself that I should have planted some crocus bulbs in the fall for the treat of seeing that color just now. We do have daylily shoots up three inches, but that's about it in the flora department.

The baby chicks have been ordered and sixteen of those dear little soft creatures shall arrive the first week of May. I did a blog entry the last time we got new chicks in May, 2007. Though the girls slowed down in their laying over the winter, we never had to buy eggs, and now they've picked up so much that Tom has begun selling eggs at school again. As I've noted, we don't eat our chickens, and they just gradually die of old age. But Dominiques are a very hardy, trouble-free, long-lived breed. They don't get sick.

The leek seeds were planted under the grow lights weeks ago, and get stronger each day. We'll be planting the tomatoes any day now. I think I've written about our off and on situation with the lights. Well, we've finally found just the spot for them - in the new butt'ry area off the kitchen. They aren't too obtrusive. They are near the woodstove for warmth. And we love seeing the bright green plants underneath them. I occasionally bring some houseplants over to give them a little 'spa' treatment in all that great light.

For the first time in 30 years our spring has been giving us trouble. Tom thinks there is rust buildup inside some pipes but can't check them until the weather warms up. If we aren't careful in our use of water, we lose pressure. Like say for instance, I take a shower and then do a laundry too soon afterwards. The reservoir must fill up after a big usage.

Tom is going out to bury our beloved, and sorely missed Ben today. I can't be part of it. I've never felt such sorrow at the loss of a dog. I wrote about how special he was, and there's just a hole in our hearts now. Sadie was very quiet, very subdued for, I'd say, almost two months after he died. We've been trying to do some different things we couldn't do with Ben, like taking her for rides. Ben hated riding but Sadie loves it, and I got her one of those back seat liners that plugs in to make it warm.

Matthew and Margaret are going to get a couple ducklings in May at the local feed store. They have a little pond, and we have a big old duck house from when we had ducks years ago. Ours wandered to the far ends of the pasture and got eaten by something, and after two attempts we gave up. We loved those ducks, though. They had such personality. I hope the kids have better luck.

We have big plans to put in more raised beds this year and extend the vegetable garden out into the field. We want more boxes, as Tom calls them, for potatoes, corn, and peas. He is also hoping to build a second patio; this one outside the kitchen door between the house and the beginning of the vegetable garden. It's a kind of ragged area with some old walkway stones that have been covered over with grass, and flower gardens which are overgrown and need to be redone. I just saw that I was talking about this area a year ago in a farm and garden report! Time to deal with it!

This morning for the first time I went out outside and sat on the patio to read. I've just begun Wish You Were Here by Stewart O'Nan. I wanted to read it before his newest one Emily, Alone because though it isn't billed as a sequel, it does carry on the story of Emily from the first book. I have read some excellent books lately and have five book reports to write!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Results of the Potato Pancake mini-marathon

When I began the potato pancake testing on Monday, I didn't know how many days it would go on. What I did know was that both Tom and I like the dish well enough that we could happily eat potato pancakes for many suppers in a row. I have two more recipe cards which I was going to use today and tomorrow - one a Martha Stewart recipe and another from an unknown source. As I looked at them both this morning I saw they were almost identical. They each called for a couple potatoes and an onion; the only difference being one asked for one egg, and the other two. Neither of them had any flour. And from four days of potato pancakes, we learned that we prefer flour in our pancakes. It can be 2 Tablespoons as in Potato Pancakes - One or double that as in Potato Pancakes - Three. The flour does two things: it binds the potatoes together, and it makes the recipe more a potato dish than an egg dish. If someone really loves eggs, then the latter wouldn't matter. I tend to not love eggs unless they are cooked in something so I really prefer a potato pancake where the eggs aren't so obvious. So, I decided to throw away those last two recipes, and do my final posting on this subject today.

The other thing we learned is that we definitely prefer onions or chives (in season) in our potato pancakes. If I want a potato cake without onions, I will make Boxty.

As I noted yesterday, I threw away the recipe card for Potato Pancakes - Four. And I am also going to throw away Potato Pancakes - Two, Gladys Taber's recipe because hers called for less flour and no onion. It also didn't make any difference to spend that extra time soaking the potatoes. We will keep numbers One and Three.

Thanks for bearing with me in my Monday through Thursday marathon. It was a great way to learn what we like and what we don't when it comes to Potato Pancakes. Today I'm going to make a nice tomato sauce (recipe here - one that never varies since we both love it) and we'll have spaghetti tonight!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Potato Pancakes - Four

I have no idea where this recipe came from. It was in my recipe box, and simply titled:

German Potato Pancakes

Grate 3 (or more) cups potatoes into a bowl. (I used 4) - a cup is equal to a good-sized russet.
Combine with 2 beaten eggs.
Add 2 Tablespoons grated onion (or chives in season).
Mix together and stir in:
1 1/4 Tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon parsley
1 teaspoon salt

Make into patties and fry in olive oil.
I didn't make them into patties; I simply spooned the mixture onto the griddle, which was greased with cooking spray.

This time we have a recipe with more potatoes, and a new addition of parsley. There is a different potato/flour ratio. No baking powder.

You can see that the pancakes are more scraggly - not as formed as the other versions - due to more potatoes with less to hold them together.

The recipe made more pancakes, 8 instead of 6, and they were larger. I think because of more potato and less flour they cooked differently. The pancakes were a touch darker, but the potatoes didn't cook as well - were a bit raw. We couldn't taste the onion that much. Our verdict: this is the first recipe we are going to throw away and not make again.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Potato Pancakes - Three

Today's recipe comes from our friend Susy, whose gardens I have written about here and here.

Potato Pancakes - Three

Beat one egg.
Grate 2 lbs. peeled potatoes (2 large russets) and stir into egg.
Grate a small onion and add.
Mix together:
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
and add to egg mixture.

Susy just wrote to 'fry like pancakes.' I cooked them on the griddle greased with cooking spray as I did the previous recipes.

This recipe uses more flour than either of the other recipes, and only one egg when they both called for two. There is also more onion, which Tom and I both appreciate.

The pancakes held together much better than last night, with no spreading out of the batter.

This recipe made a thicker pancake.

I think PP-3 is my favorite recipe so far, while Tom prefers PP-1. He says there was a 'crispness' to them which he liked. I like this one because more flour made them a heartier meal.

Each recipe so far has made six pancakes.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Potato Pancakes - Two

Potato Pancakes - Two

This is Gladys Taber's recipe from Stillmeadow Kitchen. Even though the photo is blurry, isn't Gladys just adorable?!

Peel 2 cups (2 good-sized russets) potatoes and soak at least one hour in cold water.
Grate the drained potatoes.
Beat 2 eggs well.
Add a little pepper.
Mix in:
1 Tablespoon flour
1/1/2 teaspoons salt
pinch of baking powder
Add the grated potatoes.

Drop by tablespoonfuls on hot, well-greased griddle.

So, let's see, what are the differences between Gladys' and Potato Pancakes - One:
The biggest change is no onions. It was hard for me to not add them since I think that onion taste is what makes them so wonderful, but then I thought of the Boxty I made on St. Patrick's Day, and remembered it was delicious without onions.

Same amount of potatoes as PP-1 but they are soaked before grating. I didn't notice any difference from soaking, so probably wouldn't bother next time.
Pepper added.
One Tablespoon less flour.
1/2 teaspoon more salt.
and a little baking powder.

I was concerned they would be more egg-y because of half the flour. And they were. The egg ran out while they was cooking.

So another time I would double the flour to 2 T. just like yesterday's pancakes. The taste was very good, but not quite as good as 'One.' Tom agreed.

And I wondered what the baking powder would do to the taste and the way they looked. I didn't notice a bit of difference.

Although I'm sure Gladys used butter to grease her griddle, I again used cooking spray. You can see that the finished pancake is lighter than yesterday's version. That is due to the egg/flour ratio.

I'm really enjoying this little cooking experiment, and am looking forward to tomorrow's pancakes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Potato Pancakes - One

I have several recipes for potato pancakes/latkes. I've been thinking for a while of having a potato pancake marathon, and comparing each recipe. Maybe I'll decide one of them is the best and will throw all the others away. More likely, I will think each one has its merits and so will continue to make them all.

Before I began, I made sure I had plenty of my potato pancake essentials - applesauce and sour cream.

Potato Pancakes - One, from a recipe email list in 2002

2 eggs
2 cups grated raw potato
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons flour
1-2 Tablespoons grated raw onion (in the spring and summer use chives instead of onions)

Beat the eggs. Add potato and salt. Mix well.
Stir in flour and onion.
Turn electric griddle to medium heat, and spray with cooking spray. (You could use a fry pan on the stove or an electric fry pan).
Spoon batter onto griddle.
Brown on both sides.

This recipe made six pancakes, and they were so good I almost decided to not bother with any of the other recipes. They were firm, not egg-y, just the right amount of onion - to taste but not overpowering. The potato was nicely cooked.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kissed a Sad Goodbye by Deborah Crombie

26. Kissed a Sad Goodbye - sixth in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series
by Deborah Crombie
mystery, 1999
finished, 3/27/11

I was hoping to build my whole Deborah Crombie library on the Kindle, but this one wasn't available so I bought a used copy. And of course, as these things always go, it is now available on the Kindle. In fact, I think all of her books are now there.

As I've noted before, she is a great writer. I'm going to go out on the proverbial limb here and say that she rivals P.D. James in the complexity and detail of her novels.

Kissed a Sad Goodbye is a multi-leveled story which takes us to different places and different times. Naturally they all connect, and that connection is the murder of a young woman, Annabelle Hammond who runs an historic tea company on the Isle of Dogs in London. The book features a map of this area

showing the reader where everyone lives and works. Each chapter begins with a passage from one of two books- Dockland: An Illustrated Historical Survey of Life and Work in East London (1986), or Memories of Childhood on the Isle of Dogs, 1870-1970 (1993). These make a fascinating background to what we are reading about. The area was hit rather badly during the Second World War, and hence many children were evacuated from the city. We meet some of these children in italicized sections scattered throughout the book. When they appear in the present day we know something about their earlier lives. I had a feeling that something bad was going to happen in the past, and indeed it did. I mention this in way of a caveat - there is a graphic, most unpleasant incident which is pivotal to the story. It causes an event which echoes fifty years on.

This book begins two months after Dreaming of the Bones ended, and the reader sees that life is proceeding onward in the lives of Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James. As always, I won't go into much detail because their personal situations change with each story. But I will say that they are very interesting and real characters. By this, the sixth book we know them pretty well, or think we do, but as in real life, there are shifts and surprises.

When Duncan and Gemma begin their investigation at the dead woman's home, there's a nice section about books.
What people chose to read never failed to fascinate him, and he crossed the room to take a closer look.
There were a number of hardcover best-sellers, and a handful of titles that he recognized as being novels about successful women overcoming obstacles. None showed a particularly adventurous or introspective turn of mind, and all were tucked neatly between brass or alabaster bookends, with the spines arranged according to height rather than by content or author. It seemed as though Annabelle Hammond had been as tidy in her reading habits as she was in her housekeeping, and had reserved her passions for things other than books.
Because the victim is connected with the tea trade, there is some fascinating information for the reader.
"We don't make the tea, Superintendent. We blend and package it, and our production and shipping staff work five-day weeks." ... One side of the table's length held ranks of worn, tin tea caddies and plain foil bags; the other a neat row of rectangular, white porcelain bowls.
"The tasting table. We don't sell just any tea. First it must be blended, and Hammond's has been famous for its blends for a hundred and twenty-five years. We buy the tea at auction - mainly from India and Sri Lanka, but since the late seventies China has opened up to us again, and some tea is exported from Africa and even South America."
"Sri Lanka - that used to be Ceylon? Some of these say Ceylon."
"Teas from Sri Lanka are known as Ceylon teas in the trade. But in Sri Lanka alone there are over two thousand different tea gardens - those are the estates on which tea is grown - and each estate has a number of different pluckings, or harvests, a year, depending on its altitude. And the tea from each of those pluckings can vary in taste and quality."
Annabelle's various and complicated relationships make for a great deal of unraveling the detectives must do to get to the center of this crime. This is one of the best mysteries I've read, and yet another installment in this great, great series.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A television update, and many thanks!

Many moons ago I wrote a blog post asking lots of questions about the new televisions. I received such wonderful and informative replies which I knew would come in handy when we finally chose our new tv. Well, for Tom's 60th birthday I thought the perfect present would be a new television. I printed out all your replies and he read them very, very carefully. He went down to our local Walmart, checked out all the tvs on display, and then when that store didn't have the exact one, he ordered our tv from Amazon, based on the advice you gave. I cannot thank each of you enough. You helped more than you can imagine. And now we have our wonderful new living room piece of art! We bought an LG, 32 inch, 1080 dpi.

We reactivated our Dish Network account, and got a DVR for free, as well as free HD, and so we are happy, happy. I've been thinking a lot about television lately. Some people love it while others disparage the programming. The way I look at it is much the way I look at my beloved books - the shows I love are all about an interesting story and good characters. I'm not into reality shows or the singing or dancing shows, but the ones I dearly love are, in alphabetical order: Bluebloods, the new Body of Proof, Castle, Grey's (sometimes), Hawaii Five-O, Mad Men, all the Masterpiece programs on PBS, Men of a Certain Age, NCIS, NCIS LA, Off the Map, Royal Pains, The Middle. We adored Detroit 1-8-7 but it looks like it may not be renewed. I love the old movies on TCM. I haven't seen Rizzoli & Isles yet, but am looking forward to it. Also, The Killing on AMC begins tomorrow night, based on a Danish television drama. I taped CHAOS last night and don't know about that one yet. And of course, the Red Sox games! It is so great having a DVR so we can tape any show and watch it at our convenience. Do you have any favorites you'd like to recommend??

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mrs Bale says...

... that Mother Nature plays the best April Fools' joke!