Saturday, March 30, 2019

Cranberry Nut Dessert

I'm thinking it is probably okay to post this to Weekend Cooking even if it has been offered there before because it was 8 years ago!! I have kept the recipe all this time, and I finally made it. I knew I would love it, and now plan to make it at least once a month. Cranberries are my favorite fruit to use in baking. I buy a lot of them in the fall and freeze them.  Here is where I originally read it.

Cranberry Nut Dessert

Preheat oven to 350º f.

Melt 1/2 cup of butter and let cool a bit.

Mix together 1 cup flour (I used whole wheat pastry)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix together and add to dry mixture:
2 beaten eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (recipe called for almond extract, but I don't like the taste)
the melted butter

Add 2 cups of cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 chopped walnuts

Spray a 9-inch cake pan with cooking spray (my pan is 2 inches deep and it worked perfectly) and add mixture.

The original recipe called for 40 minutes of baking, but I baked it almost 50 minutes.

The most delicious cranberry dish I've ever eaten! We had it for breakfast rather than for dessert.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The school song

This is Campbell Walker singing his school song on March 17. He sang it to me, and then I asked if he would sing it again so I could video it, and he said yes. It makes me just melt with love. Those expressive eyebrows and the way he moves his hands. Oh, just so adorable.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Four Seasons with Susan Hill and Gladys Taber - Susan's winter

The Magic Apple Tree is best book about country life I've ever read, and I've read a fair many. Fellow bloggers have sung its praises for years, and well-deserved they are.

There is a mellowness in Susan Hill's writing that doesn't show up as often in the "book" books. Here she is writing simply about her life with her husband and daughter in the English countryside.
There are five hundred souls in Barley, and more than half of them are over sixty, quite a few well over eighty. It is a companionable village. ... It is only six miles from the city, and feels like a hundred and six, it is so peaceful, so thoroughly rural are its surroundings. There is no through traffic, it is well-shaped and has so many superb views, the houses are modest and pleasing, the size of the place is right, large enough to have some community life and yet not too large.
This book is a tribute to English rural life, the sort of life we Anglophiles dream of. I wonder how much it has changed since publication of the book in 1982. My rural area has not changed too terribly much in those years so perhaps it hasn't either. Her village looks pretty wonderful on the website here!

The book begins with the magic apple tree.
Whether you stand at the top of the stone steps or at any of the windows, you cannot look from this cottage across to the fields opposite, or to your left, away and down the whole, flat stretch of the Fen, without also having the apple tree in your sight, it draws your eyes toward it and balances the picture, a point of reference for the whole view. It is only, perhaps, fifteen feet high, and a most beautiful, satisfying shape.  ... the spirit of the place is in that apple tree.
I wonder if it still stands. I felt this way about the big maple in front of our house, and though we had to have it cut down I still long for its presence.

She worries about the tree.
There is always a wind about here, we are so exposed on all sides ... There have been terrible nights when I have lain awake listening to the roar and boom, hearing branches groan and break ... One February night, a single blast of wind, the eye of the storm, took half our heavy wooden fence, the glass roof of a neighbour's greenhouse, a lilac bush beyond it, two chimney pots and an open garage door, it simply gathered them up into itself and flung them down again some yards away. But the apple tree still stood, resilient, indomitable as some small wooden ship on a stormy sea. After that, I did not worry about it.
The name of the house is Moon Cottage. I do love how the British name their homes. Over here we name farms and ranches, but not homes, as far as I know.

Susan Hill writes of the reasons for their move to a country life.
All through my thirties, since marriage and, most particularly, since the birth of my daughter, I experienced a growing discontent and dissatisfaction with town life. I seemed to be only skimming the surface of things, to be cramped and hurried and tense. I noticed the smell and noise of the traffic more, and I worried above all about the influences of the city upon Jessica, of so much that was ugly and tawdry and meretricious, violent, distasteful, of all the getting and spending. I longed for more space around me, for growing things and time and all the sounds and scents of the natural world on my doorstep, for peace and quiet in which to do my own work, and to provide a counterbalance for Jessica to the time she would inevitably have to spend in the city. I wanted to give her a rich treasure-store of country memories, sights and smells, sounds and colours, on which she could draw for the rest of her life. A friend of mine, who has lived in a north of England city for forty years, feeds off a memory of running through fields, up to her waist in buttercups, on a day's outing to the country when she was six years old.
Susan goes on to say that she actually dreamed about the house before she saw it or knew it existed. Magic, indeed!

It is not a "perfect" house.
It is not, even in the softest of summer sunshine, a beautiful house. It was once three poky labourers' cottages, built of that mottled Oxfordshire limestone, and once thatched, but now ordinarily tiled. It lies at right angles to the lane, facing uncompromisingly north.
Yet, it was just what they wanted, with "two staircases, one on either side of the house, and endless nooks and crannies, oddly-shaped cupboards, sloping ceilings."

She does such a wonderful job of describing the house and the garden that this reader could picture them very well.

As with our house, they made changes but nothing very drastic. She is a firm believer in handling "an old house carefully". To
restrain the first urge to knock down and replace and add on, or even to restore; you need to settle to a place, give it time to speak to you, about itself, rub along with things as they are and see how they work. There has been so much lost, so much alteration and modernisation and ruination at the transitory whim of individual taste and fashion, so many excrescences have been added which are entirely wrong in style, so many plain, sensible features, walls, roofs, window frames, ripped out. ... When you buy an old house, you buy a small part of the past, a piece of history, and yet you do not become the owner of that, and never can, you have only taken it on trust for your lifetime, or more likely nowadays, until you move on and pass it to someone else, in a cash transaction.
In the winter chapter she talks about "wildlife, festivals, food, and the garden". I'm so looking forward to reading about the rest of the year in this wonderful place.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Four seasons with Susan Hill and Gladys Taber - Gladys' winter

From my reading journal - October 2003

Country Chronicle  1974
By Gladys Taber
Non-Fiction  A

Wonderful book.  Sometimes I find it difficult to read books that are
divided into seasons or months, but this one has much out-of-season chat
about a multitude of subjects that made it just fine for me.  This is a book
of Gladys alone with one cat.  She has visits from her family but lives
alone in Connecticut and Cape Cod.  She was a lovely writer about subjects I
love;  home life and rural life.

Wow, sixteen years ago. I sound like me, and not like me at the same time. A very big difference is that now I am just a bit younger than Gladys was when she wrote this. I look at the photo on the back, and can't believe I look that old to younger people, but I know I do. 

As I've mentioned, Gladys in this book is just about Susan Hill's age in Jacob's Room is Full of Books, but I found a great difference between them. Gladys seems like an elderly lady whereas Susan doesn't at all. If I were to read these two books without knowing the age of the authors I am quite sure I would think Gladys is considerably older than Susan. Isn't that odd? I can't point to any specific examples, but it was quite striking to me.  

Gladys lives alone in this book. Her friend Eleanor had died in 1960. Her children and Gladys' have all grown. Yet, she remains cheerful and hopeful. She feeds wild animals - skunks and cats! She lives a full life, with helpers. There are people at both her homes, Stillmeadow in Connecticut, and Still Cove on Cape Cod, who work for her. I suspect they helped make it possible for her to remain in the places she loved. 

Her descriptions of winter are incredibly lovely and poetic. And her wisdom always makes me stop and think and wonder.
There is a strangeness about a winter morning when the temperature is zero or below. Day begins with a pale glimmer along the horizon beyond the lacings of dark branches. ...
Quite literally there is no sound. And therefore the motionless air seems to sing - a melody from the beginning of time. I cannot analyze it, but my heart also stands still. Of course this singing silence is rare, for winter has a whole orchestra of her own, and the sounds of winter are chiefly percussion notes - the crack of ice, the plop of snowfall from the roof, the crash as a tree gives up a branch under the weight of snow. The harsh cries of bluejays and the call of an owl at night and occasionally the scream of a bobcat in the upper woods all announce it is January. ...
We live in a world of noise and confusion, and a good many scientists agree that man suffers from it. We are bombarded with noise from jet planes to riveting machines, from subways to sirens. And I think, as I feel the healing of the winter-morning stillness, that we all desperately need some quietude in our lives. I notice how we scream at parties and shout at meetings and what a tendency the young have to toss bombs and smash windows, and I wonder whether part of this isn't a reaction to frayed nerves.
Winter means work; there is no arguing around that. Nature does not make it easy. Snow shoveling, plowing the road, thawing the car out, getting in firewood, cleaning the ashes from the hearth, filling the bird feeders - and always and forever mopping up melted snow, thawing frozen pipes, feeding stray barn cats - all of this would be alien to a tropical inhabitant. But mankind, whatever else one may say, has the ability to adapt and manage, whatever the climate involves.
Successful living, I suspect, depends on how willingly we do adapt to the environment. New Englanders adapt, which is one reason life here is so pleasant. When it is 20 or 30 degrees below zero, Art Olsen, the plumber, may come out at night to get the furnace going again. His boots will have a glaze of ice from the preceding emergency call. His face is ruddy with the cold, making his sea-blue-eyes startling intense.
"How dreadful to have to come out on such a night," I may say.
The typical Yankee answer comes firmly: "We got to expect it this time of year." Or sometimes, "Well, I don't care for the tropics myself. Too hot, too many bugs." Or "This snow is good for the ground. Nature knows what it's all about." Or "We take what we get. Spring's coming in time."
I know that was a lot to quote, but isn't it all just so wonderful?! And if there's one thing I would say is different now is the "typical Yankee answer." So many people around me complain, complain, complain about the winter. If they have the money, they travel south. If they don't, well, you'd think they didn't know what to expect in the winter. I don't remember people thinking so much about the weather. They talked about it, of course, but they didn't get so upset about it. The weather reports on radio, television, and internet make one feel like the winter apocalypse is upon us, when those practical among us, those who remember that winter is most always the same - cold, snow, ice, rain, melt, wind, repeat - just shake our heads thinking these weather people have a really short attention span.

I have said that I love winter, and the only thing that upsets me is if my kids are on the road in bad weather. This year there seems to have been snow and/or rain and/or ice every few days. And I've worried. Not fun. We had tickets to see Jim Gaffigan again, this time much closer and not at a casino like last year, but we opted not to go because the snow was going to start just as the show ended and we'd be in it all the way home. Matthew, Margaret, and Hazel traveled two hours to a Disney on Ice show, and had to spend the night because of a storm, and still had to drive home the next day in iffy conditions. Estée had to pick up her parents from the airport, and the weather was awful. Both my kids and their spouses have had to go to work in bad weather. Other than this worrying mother, most of us are like Gladys' plumber and we just get on with it. We have studded snow tires, and brave whatever the winter brings.

After an incident when the neighbor's Black Angus cows escape from the barn and spend some time on Gladys' lawn, we learn that she has strong feelings about "caged creatures". In that marvelous way she has of thinking deeply, she says:
Most of us, I thought, are caged in some way all our lives. There are walls and bars and fences of all kinds, invisible but tangible. We spend a great deal of time climbing over obstacles - perhaps this is what life is all about. But we must all, I think, long for a brief time of real freedom outside the restrictions of our existence. A time, for instance, when we would toss all the clocks out of the window, take the telephone off the hook, let the doorbell ring all by itself.
Now more than ever, I think.

Gladys tells a story I hadn't heard because I've not read any of her Cape Cod books. One year they went on vacation for the first time in ages.
We stayed in a primitive shabby cottage with all the discomforts a house can have. ... The yard was thick with poison ivy. The beds were so bad that my cousin spent half of each night sitting in a wicker rocker. ...
But the ocean was there and the marshes and sand dunes, and sea gulls flew over all day.
Jill (the fictional name of Eleanor) went off the next morning. ...  "I have bought us a piece of land on Mill Pond around the corner." ... "We'll be coming back and we'll be comfortable."
I've often wondered - if we had rented a good modern cottage, would we have ever had Still Cove? In any case, she was wise, as she invariably was, for after the children married and had their own children, we spent more and more time on the Cape while they took turns at Stillmeadow during vacation times.
I was so very happy to read this. I must read some of her books about Still Cove.

I was there as a small child but have never gone back. I read horror stories of the traffic and it just doesn't appeal to me.

One of my favorite old songs is about Cape Cod. It is so evocative of place, and makes me yearn for something that is long gone.

Gladys writes of what is going on in the world:
Perhaps the one universal solace for anyone, anytime, anywhere is being able to blame something on somebody for the sorry state of the world we find around us. Today's young people want to blame the older generation or the government, and the older folk find some ease in blaming the young. There must always be a scapegoat, and this evidently goes back to Biblical times. I notice men will do anything except ever, ever blame themselves.
As the Talking Heads sang, "same as it ever was."

Addendum: I don't know what is up with the fonts, but they are weird again.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Flowers in the Rain & Other Stories by Rosamunde Pilcher

From June 2005:
Flowers in the Rain by Rosamunde Pilcher 1991
Recorded Books read by Davina Porter
Fiction A+ 
This is a collection of stories, and my very favorite book among all her writing. The characters and situations seem real to me. The scenery and house interiors are described expertly.
And now here I am, 14 (!!!) years later rereading this little gem after Rosamunde Pilcher has died having lived a good, long life.

I love short stories. They feel like perfect little snapshots of a moment or a day or even a longer time. There is no excess. I think an author must be particularly talented to be able to take an idea and express it completely in just a few pages. And I think Rosamunde Pilcher was particularly skilled in doing so. 

This collection was published in 1991, but many of the stories appeared in various publications from 1983-1991. I can barely bring my mind back to the days of stories in "women's magazines". Her stories were in all the popular American ones, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and Redbook. (Were those available in the UK as well, or were her stories published in different magazines there?) These were all magazines my mother read, but by the 1980s, I didn't read any of them. My loss. I know some of you have collected these old magazines, and it must be wonderful to browse through them. There is an interesting article about them here. The old ones are really of their place and time. Though some are still going, they aren't like they were in my mother's day.

One of the aspects of Rosamunde Pilcher's work I adore is the coming together of different age groups. The young admire the old, and the old are accepting and understanding of the young. They are friends. This is something that has always been important to me. I have had older friends, women my mother's age, and now I have younger friends, the friends of my children. I feel very lucky.

The author has a great understanding of all ages. She writes about children as well as she writes about adults. And the children get along with older, caring adults. Readers are happy to spend our time in their company.

In November 2016, I put the following into a draft for a future posting, and it occurs to me that now is the time to use it.
Yvette left me this comment a while back on my In the Garden with the Totterings post talking about the old Victoria Magazine.
 "I've heard of the Totterings (probably from the same Victoria Magazine - gosh how I miss that magazine, the older issues, I mean. I have so many clippings and many of the covers)"
It seems to me that the 1990s were rather a golden time for homey types like me. There was Victoria Magazine, there were Rosamunde Pilcher's books, there was Mary Engelbreit, and there was Susan Branch. Each of them celebrated the simple, quiet joys of home and garden and family life. When I was in my forties and fifties these women sustained me in my own love of home. I was part of yahoo email groups whose members had the same kinds of interests. I now feel more adrift in my own boat. I do miss the camaraderie with women which the magazine and the books and the discussion groups used to make me feel.
Over two years later, I still feel the same way, and the feeling is made more poignant with the announcement of Rosamunde Pilcher's death. She was so important to me, and to fellow readers, that one of the groups we formed was called Rosamunde's Kitchen. It was so named because her books and stories always had the best kitchens! They were big spaces with room enough for a large table (always "scrubbed pine"), a writing desk which was the pulse of the mother's life, and often a couch. Her descriptions are still of my ideal kitchen! In every book, the author brought rooms and houses and gardens alive in the reader's mind.

Some of these short stories end with "happily ever after" and if not, they end with "hopefully ever after". A common theme is going back to the country, to a place where the character vacationed as a child, or lived as a child, or moving to the country as an adult and finding it is just where the person should be. She has fond memories of the places, the buildings, the gardens, the villages, and the people. These are stories of the healing power of nature. Rural life is a well-defined part of each story. And what a rural life it is, with dogs and horses and flowers and weather! Honestly, I read myself into the locale being written about, I become an observer, at close hand, of the beauty and calm of the various places.

Her characters are not people without pain. There are widows, there are children whose parent has died, there is unhappiness. They find a way to bear their grief, with the help of people showing them gentle kindness.

I wrote about one of the short stories, The Watershed here, if you'd like to read it. When I wrote the blog post, I had a few comments saying they didn't know Rosamunde Pilcher had written short stories. If you have read her novels, but haven't picked up the two books of short stories, you have such a treat in store. Each story is a mini-book.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Quote du jour/ The Old Farmer's Almanac Engagement Calendar

125 years ago
March 1894

All the winter work should be finished up this month [March] in order to be ready for outdoor work as soon as the weather will permit. The man who always keeps two weeks behind his work never makes a success in any business.