30 December 2014

An Entertaining Christmas and If Push Comes to Shove...A Book of the Year

The time has come to resurface after blissfully ignoring clock and calendar for nearly one week.  At this time last year a vast area of Ontario was in the midst of power outages and downed trees due to a trecherous ice storm.  Despite many a snowfall this November, not only was it a green Christmas this year but unseasonably warm as well.  Being able to dress like a lady about town rather than a participant in the Iditarod Challenge while venturing forth on a day out was greatly appreciated.  In the days leading up to Christmas my husband and I went to see A Christmas Carol at the Soulpepper Theatre.  The cast put on a wonderful show and the ingenuity of the set designers never fails to amaze.


The theatre is located in the historic Distillery District (1832) of Toronto and the various shops and restaurants retain their original features so...


this wall is part of a shoe store.  I'm sure the owner would prefer that the shoes remain the focus but my eyes were drawn to the past.  The lanes outside are lined with Scandinavian-style huts full of holiday treats and wares, as well as any number of alcoholic beverages to keep you warm.  Doing a bit of shopping while drinking mulled wine is really quite nice!


And while panto may be as routine as brussel sprouts during Christmas in the UK it's not commonly attended by the masses here but we finally went to see one of Ross Petty's productions, Cinderella, at the beautiful  Elgin Theatre.  I grinned throughout the whole performance...when I wasn't shouting 'Booooo' at the wicked stepmother and the 'Jersey Shore' stepsisters were hilarious.


We have a tradition of going to a movie on Christmas Day once the leftovers are packed away and the dishes are washed.  The Imitation Game came out on the 19th so it was no small feat to hold off seeing it until the 25th.  While visiting the WWII tunnels in Dover in 2012 I was thrilled to see an Enigma machine and have been interested in Alan Turing and Bletchley Park ever since.  And not one but two actors from this movie turned up in another show for the holidays...


...the Downton Abbey Christmas Special.  As sumptuous as ever and even my husband, who was supposedly reading in the corner, put his book down.  In complete television land over-indulgence I refreshed the teapot and then we watched (it doesn't get much better)...

  
...Call the Midwife featuring its Christmas Special.  And do you know...I didn't miss Jessica Raine nearly as much as I thought I would.  A basket full of gifts from any shop on Piccadilly wouldn't have been as nice as this night for pure escapism.


And then the tides turn.  Well, when you've invested thirteen years and a handful of visits to the cinema watching this series unfold you have to see the last bit, now don't you.  I must have been completely immersed because the next day I found popcorn in one of my boots.  Not very 'lady about town' is it.

My penultimate book for 2014 was the endearing Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson.  It made for the perfect read during the holiday season and in a roundabout way, tied in perfectly with its Cinderella theme.  I won't bother with a review since just about everyone who stops by here knows the story but do read it if you find it, it's wonderful!

And finally, how do people choose just one book as their favourite of the year?  Going in to a book I am usually quite certain that it will deliver in one way or another so all of the books that I read this past year were enjoyed.  Having said that, when I think of the anticipation of a release date, the stealing away to bed early, and the way my stomach was in knots while reading my stand-out read for 2014 would be...


Happy New Year to my friends in the blogsphere!  All the fun without the drama and no cleaning the house before visits....you're lovely.

23 December 2014

Small Wonders

Ever since it was published a few years ago The Queen's Dolls' House by Lucinda Lambton has been one of my favourite books to pull from the shelves at this time of year.  There is nothing like a cup of tea and a book that displays both childlike charm and exquisite craftsmanship to slow down a busy time of year.


Every detail was considered with precision and more than likely resulted in plenty of bleary eyes and tension headaches for those involved.  Grand furniture reduced in scale is expected upstairs but downstairs gets just as much attention.  In the pantry are food stuffs supplied by the best in their trade such as miniature jars of marmalade, a chest of tea, six packets of Saltines, an appropriate 4 dozen boxes of chocolate, and so much more.


My personal favourite item from the kitchen is a copper kettle made with a George V penny, the King's head forming its base.


This doll house may have been designed by Edwin Lutyens for Queen Mary but I can't help being reminded of another Mary in a big house...Lady Mary, of course.

In 2005, during a visit to Windsor Castle, where this work of art is on display, I wound my way around a glass cabinet that encircles the house.  You're nudged along by the stream of people but with this book on your lap you can enjoy every minute detail for as long as you like.

Jess Burton's The Miniaturist has just won Waterstones Book of the Year, among other awards, so for anyone with a continued interest in this art form I suggest taking a look at The Queen's Dolls' House.

19 December 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

GEORGE ELIOT
1819 - 80

Fine old Christmas, with the snowy hair and ruddy face, had done his duty that year in the noblest fashion, and had set off his rich gifts of warmth and colour with all the heightening contrast of frost and snow...
  And yet this Christmas day, in spite of Tom's fresh delight in home, was not, he thought, somehow or other, quite so happy as it had always been before.  The red berries were just as abundant on the holly, and he and Maggie had dressed all the windows and mantlepieces and picture frames on Christmas eve with as much taste as ever, wedding thick-set scarlet clusters with branches of the black-berried ivy.  There had been singing under the windows after midnight...and then there were the smell of hot toast and ale from the kitchen, and the short sermon gave the appropriate festal character to the church-going; and aunt and uncle Moss, with all their seven children, were looking like so many reflectors of the bright parlour-fire, when the church-goers came back, stamping snow from their feet.  The plum-pudding was of the same handsome roundness as ever, and came in with the symbolic blue flames around it, as if it had been heroically snatched from the nether fires, into which it had been thrown by dyspeptic Puritans; the dessert was as splendid as ever, with its golden oranges, brown nuts, and the crystalline light and dark of apple-jelly and damson cheese; in all these things Christmas was as it had always been since Tom could remember; it was only distinguished , if by anything, by superior sliding and snowballs.

The Mill on the Floss


17 December 2014

Guilty Pleasures for the Christmas Holiday


There are a few 'musts' during the Christmas holiday such as acts of goodwill and the Barefoot Contessa's Cranberry Fruit Conserve.  Another 'must' is buying a couple of magazines and if there's a gorgeous coffee table book going for a reasonable price then I will treat myself to that as well.

My copy of 'A Year in the Life of Downton Abbey: Seasonal Celebrations, Traditions, and Recipes' arrived a couple of weeks ago and has been stashed away ever since.  The delayed gratification is going to kill me...the dresses from the past two series have been absolutely stunning and I want to luxuriate over every detail.

So here's to indulgent reading and eating your weight in clementines and chocolate while you're at it.

15 December 2014

East Lynne by Ellen Wood

Published in 1861, East Lynne was one of the most successful sensation novels of its time consisting of a blend of crime, deceit, mystery, and mistaken identity.  Also, being highly moralistic, East Lynne served as a warning as to what awaits those who stray from a righteous path.  No doubt this novel gave a few young women pause for thought when it came to swooning after a bad boy in breeches.

Lady Isabel Vane lives with her father in the very handsome estate (albeit in need of a repair here and there) of East Lynne. Her father, The Earl of Severn, is in the midst of two battles - one is the ongoing agony of gout and the other is mounting debt.  When his only recourse is to sell the estate, the Earl arranges a deal with an interested buyer, Archibald Carlyle, a successful lawyer.  It would greatly satisfy the aristocrat if, for appearances sake, the sale could be kept quiet until he can square things with his creditors.  Archibald is the perfect gentleman in every way possible and is most affable when it comes to the contract.

When the Earl dies suddenly, Lady Isabel is sent to live with a relative whose wife, Lady Mount Severn, is extremely jealous of such a beautiful and sweet-natured young lady.

'She was the very essence of envy, of selfishness; she had never been known to invite a young and attractive woman to her house; she would as soon have invited a leper...'

Eventually the situation reaches a climax when Lady Isabel is struck across the face by her hostess.  When Carlyle discovers Lady Isabel in an agitated state and discovers the reason he makes a swift decision to ask for her hand in marriage.  Lady Isabel is in love with another man,  Captain Francis Levison, but he shows no sign of loving anyone but himself.  Despite the fact that Lady Isabel does not love Carlyle, she agrees to the wedding as a means of escaping her current situation.

Ellen Wood paints Archibald Carlyle as the perfect man but he is blind when it comes to the attentions of a neighbouring young woman, Barbara Hare.  She is the daughter of Justice Hare, a crotchety old man if ever there was one.  The family is in a state of turmoil and upset since a son, Richard, has been falsely accused of murder and is on the run.  Mrs Hare and and Barbara are keen to find proof of Richard's innocence but being a man of the law, Justice Hare wants to distance himself from the scandal as much as possible.

Richard has secretly contacted his sister to plead his case and she in turn appeals to Carlyle.  Lady Isabel is by now the mother of three young children and increasingly jealous of Barbara's attention to Carlyle.  Of course, the reason for these meetings about the fugitive, Richard, must be secret so Lady Isabel's only conclusion is that her husband has lost interest in their marriage and is having an affair.  When her level of anxiety is at its highest, Levison reappears and convinces Lady Isabel to leave her family and travel with him to France.  Archibald is horrified by his wife's actions as goes so far as to decree that his daughter, named after her mother, will now be called by her middle name, Lucy.  Lady Isabel eventually gives birth to an illegitimate child.

From this point on the author ramps up the reader's emotional ties with the characters through a tragedy.  As with many novels from the Victorian era this tragedy serves to warn those who would stray from a moralistic way of life that there is a heavy price to be paid.  Lady Isabel's penance, partly self-imposed, for committing adultery is stunningly harsh and by the end of it all I could barely see the page for tears.

As I wrote previously, my favourite character is Archibald's sister, Cornelia Carlyle, also known as Miss Corny.  Her frugal ways were always entertaining to read but let's face it...she takes very little joy from life.

  'People like to dress a little out of common at a wedding, Miss Cornelia: it's only respectful, when they are invited guests.'  'I don't say people should go to a wedding in a hop sack.  But there's a medium.  Pray do you know your age?'  'I am turned sixty, Miss Corny.'  'You just are.  And do you consider it decent for an old man, turned sixty, to be decorated off as you are now?  I don't; and so I tell you my mind.  Why, you'll be the laughting-stock of the parish!  Take care the boys don't tie a tin kettle to you!'

It's difficult not to talk about the latter part of the book as it's so compelling but I will say that East Lynne would make an excellent book club choice if your group isn't put off by a chunky novel.  There is much here to discuss such as the angel in the house and visiting the sins of the father, or mother, on to the children.  The book also offers a wide exploration of Victorian social customs and there is certainly no shortage of fainting spells.  Things start off on a bit of a slow burn but hang in there - this is an excellent story, one you won't likely ever forget.

As sensation novels go I preferred this book to Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White and look forward to exploring more novels within this genre.



12 December 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

CHRISTINA HOLE
20th Century

At Christmas the ancestor of our modern Christmas pudding was composed of neats'-tongues, chickens, eggs, candied peel, raisins, sugar, and spices, and with this rather liquid mixture went mince pies, which also contained meat.  Fruit tarts of various kinds were very popular, and became increasingly so as the price of sugar slowly fell from 1s.6d. a pound at the beginning of the century to 5d. or 6. a pound at its end.  Leaches made of seethed cream, almonds, rosewater and ising-glass were favourite sweet dishes, and so were Imbals, which were a kind of shortcake made from fine flour mixed with pulped fruit or almonds, rolled out very thinly, baked, and sometimes iced with sugar and rosewater.  On ceremonial occasions there might be marchpane, gilded and flavoured with pistachio nuts, or sugar-plate moulded into elaborate shapes.  This was a confection of double-refined sugar, starch, gum-dragagant dissolved in rosewater, and white of egg, all made into a stiff paste and put into carved wooden moulds to set.  Such delicacies were often coloured and flavoured with flowers.

The English Housewife in the Seventeenth Century


Servants' Christmas Feast
Seventeenth Century

9 December 2014

Eight Hundred Years of Christmas Dinner

I discovered iTunes U this past summer and have filled many hours while out walking the dog with fascinating lectures on all sorts of topics.  Yesterday, I listened to Annie Gray, a food historian, give a wonderfully entertaining talk on the history of Christmas dinner while I wrote out Christmas cards.

You don't have to download the iTunes U app as I've found a quick link here...

http://historicroyalpalaces.jellycast.com/node/61

Annie Gray also appears on the panel of The Kitchen Cabinet.  This BBC radio program can be downloaded as a podcast and never fails to teach me something about sublime flavour combinations, kitchen science, and what people around the globe enjoy as regional dishes.  The host is particularly witty so humour is definitely a side dish here.  Enjoy!

5 December 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

ELIZABETH DAVID
1913 - 92

The time she spent working and researching local eating habits in France, Italy, Greece and Egypt during World War II profoundly influenced Elizabeth David's views on cooking.  When she published A Book of Mediterranean Food in 1949, David changed British cuisine for ever.

If I had my way - and I shan't - my Christmas Day eating and drinking would consist of an omelette and cold ham and a nice bottle of wine at lunch time, and a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of champagne on a tray in bed in the evening.  This lovely selfish anti-gorging, un-Christmas dream of hospitality, either given or taken, must be shared by thousands of women who know it's all Lombard Street to a China orange that they'll spend both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning peeling, chopping, mixing, boiling, roasting, steaming.  That they will eat and drink too much, that someone will say the turkey isn't quite as good as last year, or discover that the rum for the pudding has been forgotten, that by the time lunch has been washed up and put away it'll be tea-time, not to say drink or dinner time, and tomorrow it's the weekend and it's going to start all over again.

Is There a Nutmeg in the House


Elizabeth David in her kitchen in Halsey St., Chelsea
Photograph: Elizabeth David Estate

2 December 2014

East Lynne: A Progress Report

I've just read Ellen Wood's short biography on Wikipedia and couldn't resist a smirk.  Despite the fact that it was her writing that provided a living for her husband and four children she was better known as Mrs Henry Wood.  Such were the times but wouldn't it be interesting to know how the author felt about that particular situation?  And as a heads up, Ellen Wood is buried in Highgate Cemetery if you're planning a tour in the future.  You're not allowed to run willy-nilly around the cemetery but if you ask about a particular tomb the guides will do their best to point them out.


East Lynne is my Victorian 'swish of silk' book of choice for the change of season.  The list of characters isn't all that expansive so there's no need to create spreadsheets featuring lineage.  The large estate, East Lynne, passes from a deeply in debt Earl of Mount Severn to a hard-working lawyer named Archibald Carlyle.  This would appeal to the masses of readers of the day who would rejoice in seeing someone from the aristocracy being brought to their knees by such everyday troubles as an anemic bank account.  Rather than rub his hands together with Scrooge-like greed, Carlyle is a benevolent man who treats the transaction with every note of respect so as to protect the Earl from shame.  The teen-aged, and stunningly beautiful, Lady Isabel, is left with only a few diamonds to her name and faces an uncertain future without her father's support.  The picture is starting to take shape - can there be any doubt of a wedding in the cards?

One of my favourite characters, nay...the favourite, is Archibald's sister, Cornelia.  It's a fascinating social study, regardless of era, how two people can be raised in the same household and turn out to be polar opposites.  While Archibald is kind and generous, Miss Carlyle is dour and frugal beyond belief.  She constantly usurps her brother's authority in his own home and in my mind's eye would forever be walking around his stately pile blowing out the candles and fires in the grate.  The more miserable she gets the more fun the reading gets for me.

Another family's story intersects with the Carlyles; they are headed by Justice Hare.  A more no-nonsense man you could never find, he is not a man of the law for nothing as everything is black and white.  His son Richard is on the run after being accused of murder and a daughter, Barbara, is runner-up to Lady Isabel when it comes to being the catch of nearby counties.  Barbara wears a cross of seven emeralds and is as saintly as they come.  Her mother is, I think, drawn very much in the likeness of the author as she is 'a martyr to pain'.  Needless to say, Barbara spends a great deal of time at the gate waiting for something, anything...or anyone...to pass by, alleviating the monotony of her days.

I'm at the three-quarter mark with East Lynne and it has become quite the riveting page-turner.  At this point, one of the storylines is absolutely heartbreaking.  If I had any negative comment to make it would be that during the first third of this book the setting is a bit sterile when compared to the writings of George Gissing, for instance, but Ellen Wood has rectified that.  For my thoughts on the book as a whole once I'm finished...watch this space.  

28 November 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

ANNA MCNEILL WHISTLER
1804 -81

Mr Ingersoll and Wm. Winans dined with father and I, we had a Baltimore ham to relish turkey and pea nuts for dessert, but mince pies or plum pudding I have not ventured to propose since the Cholera season...

  I had about sixteen to make tea for...Cook had made some of her most transparent jelly in lieu of fruit which one does not offer in these Cholera times, & if English palates did not fancy Pea-nuts the American lads were not slow to help themselves, & Stuarts sugar plums & candy went around.

Whistler's Mother's Cook Book


25 November 2014

The Great Escape

Winds were gusting at 94 kilometers/hour last night.  Signs were blown away, my neighbour's roof has a bare spot were some shingles should be, and the power was flickering at our house.  'An excellent night to hazard the drive to listen to a speaker at the library' said her foolhardy husband.

Ted Barris is a professor of journalism at Centennial College and what lucky students they are to have such a passionate man head their class.

For almost two hours, Barris had an entire room captivated by his telling of an historically significant event that, thanks to Hollywood, many of us were led to believe was masterminded by Americans.  In fact, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, James Garner, etc...were portraying Canadian officers.

'On the night of March 24, 1944, eighty airmen crawled through a 400-foot-long tunnel, code-named "Harry," and dashed from Stalag Luft III, the infamous WWII German POW camp.  It became known as The Great Escape.  The breakout took a year to plan, involved 2,000 POWs, and prompted a massive manhunt across occupied Europe.  All but three escapers were recaptured; on Hitler's orders fifty were murdered.'

Mr Barris interviewed the widows and relatives of the key players and the book features many photographs and letters previously stored in suitcases and closets.  Pointing out a letter one officer sent to his wife asking for yet another pair of pyjamas made us laugh when Barris asked the men in the group how many pairs of pyjamas they would go through in one year.  The men digging the tunnel were taking off their uniforms so they wouldn't be caught outside full of yellow dust from the sand.  Instead, they dug in the nude or wearing pyjamas which could be hidden easily.  Another letter asked for as many gramophone needles as could be spared.  The Germans prided themselves on allowing cultural activities and a gramophone was allowed so the prisoners could enjoy music; the needles were being used for something completely different.

The ingenious resourcefulness of this group of men is astounding and we have to remember that many of them were in their early to mid-twenties.  An air duct along the tunnel was constructed by soldering together KLIM cans stolen from the garbage heap.  KLIM spelled backwards is milk and the alternative was a powder to which water was added.  Stamps to be used on forged travel documents were carved into the heels of boots.  It seems there was nothing these men couldn't create.

Afterwards, most of us in the room lined up to buy a book and meet the author and I am so glad that we ventured out on such an awful night.  The Great Escape: The Untold Story would make a WWII enthusiast or Canadian history buff quite happy this Christmas.

21 November 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

ISABELLA BIRD
1831 - 1904

We spent the afternoon cooking the Thanksgiving dinner.  I made a wonderful pudding, for which I had saved eggs and cream for days, and dried and stoned cherries supplied the place of currants.  I made a bowl of custard for sauce, which the men said was 'splendid'; also a rolled pudding, with molasses; and we had venison steaks and potatoes, but for tea we were obliged to use the tea-leaves of the morning again.  I should think that few people in America have enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner more.

A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains


17 November 2014

The Rich House by Stella Gibbons

There are plenty of cosy reads out there and then there are those that rise above - The Rich House is delightfully in the latter group.  Set during the 1930s in a coastal town the opening line is enough to make you stop what you're doing and plug in the kettle.

'Mrs Pask was an elderly widow living in the town of Seagate, where the meekness and simplicity of her nature caused her to be somewhat despised by her acquaintances.'

If that doesn't make the corners of your mouth curve with a grin, Mrs Pask lives on the 'Quiet Side' of the High Street.  The mild way in which Stella Gibbons highlights what is desirable to this character clearly displays the issue of class.  Having said that, there is a substantial amount of gazing through the net curtains so what goes on across the street, while perhaps being undesirable, provides a great deal of entertainment.  Through cutting humour the reader is provided with a pretty clear picture of where most characters stand on things.  

'Most people have a They.  Some people, when they say They mean the Germans; others mean their relations or burglars or Communists.  Miss Gaye meant the tradespeople.'

My favourite character is the orphaned Mavis Jevons who lives with Mrs Voles and her daughter, Reenie.  Mavis rents a bedroom with a 'slim view of the sea' for eight and sixpence a week but struggles to make ends meet.  Despite every appearance of a well-organized existence Mavis owes money to the Cosyhome Furniture Company and lives in fear of not making the payments.  Her dinners, taken in her room, consist of a boiled egg, some lettuce and a bit of fruit but there is always the comfort of a pot of tea.  Needless to say, her complexion runs to the anemic.  Meanwhile downstairs, Mrs Voles is frequently frying up something so the house seems to always smell of meat but she is too mean to share. Mrs Voles also has an aversion to any kind of fruit featuring black people on the label so refuses to eat pineapple from Hawaii.  Living in a modern society where it's frowned upon to write amount matters of class and race in such a way, there are moments that made my eyes widen but I'm not about to judge past literature.   Reenie, in her efforts to look for foods which 'Belong to Us' discovers she is quite taken with geography and begins a search in bookshops for 'a natlas'.  Thankfully she is a gentler soul than her mother.  While there is humour in the writing, again, as a modern reader I desperately wanted Reenie to have the option of furthering her education rather than doing her mother's bidding.

Pauline Williams is twenty-two and remembers her teenage years as carefree.  She is still spirited but getting on which surely explains the neuralgia in her head when the cold winds blow.  The love of her life is Brian but his constant fixation on 'going all nudist' is a turn-off which leads to no small amount of strife between the pair.  Other than a handsome face and a bit of money in the family, I failed to see what Pauline saw in Brian - he's quite despicable.  His deplorable side is not lost on Pauline though (thank goodness) and I was thrilled whenever she rebuffed his childish and spoiled rantings to join his club.  Another woman, wealthy and past her prime in looks waits in the wings and even Brian's father thinks it's a match made in heaven.

The Rich House is really a nickname for Parkfield, the large family home of the Early family; theatrical bohemians who live amongst exotic souvenirs, old playbills, and cobwebs.  Their son, Ted, is maturing into a handsome young thespian who is great friends with Pauline.  He enters the servants' corridor and finds Louise...

'She was sitting at the table under the barred window with all the materials for stuffing a chicken around her, but a book was in front of her and she was reading.  As he came in she slowly looked up.
  'Is that for tonight?' he enquired, poking the chicken with a not very clean finger.
  'Yes.  Don't do that.'
  'Don't you put sage in the stuffing, then, you know I can't abide it.'
  'It isn't going to be stuffed with sage, it's going to be stuffed with prunes and chestnuts.'
  'She put her chin into her hands and smiled at him.  Her face always had the ghost of a smile on it, and this annoyed people in Seagate.  Her teeth were not her own and her lips were too full and she was forty-seven and not groomed, but she was beautiful.  Ted was too inexperienced to know what was the force that made her face attractive.  It was not intelligence, nor gentleness nor spirituality.  Most women disliked her at sight.'

There is a wealth of social observation to absorb within this book's 312 pages.  I was even intrigued by mention of one character's engagement ring which is bragged to be worth an eye-watering £70 but purchased for £40.  Thanks to Google you can find out approximately how much that bauble would be worth today and it turns out to be somewhere near £4,312.

There is also an air of mystery when spiteful letters pop up in mailboxes which make it obvious certain people are being watched.  Poor Mavis receives her share and coupled with losing her job at Just's Library she is driven to a breakdown of sorts.  This is the part of the book where, if you have a heart, you'll be driven to the tissue box.  Think along the lines of poor Jane Eyre wandering the moors all alone and starving.

You may wonder why, with so many storylines featuring a negative slant, this works as a cosy novel.  For me it's the way Stella Gibbons puts the reader on a chair in every room and in the head of the main characters.  Being able to soak up what happens in other people's homes and examine social mores from another era through story is as good as any documentary.  Also, just a quick mention, the synopsis of this book begins by stating that it is set on the eve of World War II but there is barely mention of anything relating to that event.  So if you're looking for hankies and tears on the train platform, you won't find it here but you will be thoroughly entertained at every turn.  I promise you.

Thanks to Fleur and Scott for pointing out this title when I posted about another wonderful book by Gibbons, Here Be Dragons.  The Rich House is now a firm favourite and something tells me it will be all the richer after a second reading.  If you're looking for a very nearly perfect and very enchanting cosy read to get you through the approaching wintery months, this is it.


The Seaside by Alice Maud Fanner
c.1920

15 November 2014

Shopping, Seminars, Streatfeild, and Stella...

Sliding from one season into another can be such a time grabber.  The garden has been sorted and put to sleep, the pots brought in and hauled into the basement, warmer clothes and boots bought, snow tires installed, investigation on how mittens and gloves end up solitary rather than in a pair is closed.  My friend, Kara, gave me a box of spider traps for the basement and now I'm afraid to check them.  The good news though is that aside from the mundane, some really nice things have been going on as well.


Jill Downie presented a seminar this past Thursday evening about the German occupation of the island of Guernsey.  It was so well attended at the library that she kindly offered up a second night for a repeat performance.  Jill's talk largely consisted of readings from two wartime diaries; the wording carefully veiled as, in many cases, the Germans were billeted with citizens in their homes.  The fear of saying anything against the enemy in black and white meant a fair bit of reading between the lines later on.  I was surprised most by the level of starvation and just assumed that since there was land there would at least be crops but Guernsey's inhabitants were as restricted as if they were in prison.  Germans were patrolling the coast and even laid mines in the water making it too risky to even attempt fishing.  Although, not only did a few fishermen with boats escape by sailing away there were a few cases when a German soldier would flee with them.  With approximately 7,000 officers occupying the small island it was inevitable there would be love affairs but Jill could not find evidence of women having their heads shaved as did occur in other cases of collaboration or dalliances during the war.  With this new perspective my copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is calling.


Audrey's review of The Ladies of Lyndon during Margaret Kennedy Reading Week made me want to own a copy of the book.  Oh sure, I could have simply placed an order for the reissued edition but the hunt is part of the fun so I was thrilled to finally find the black Virago in a second-hand shop.  While in the rafters of the shop on the sliding library ladder I spied a vintage-looking cover and found another gem.  Beyond the Vicarage is the third book in a trilogy by Streatfeild but if I were to stumble on any single copy, this would be the one for me.  Telling Kara about my finds I admitted to a very unfeminine, although discreet, fist-pump after discovering something special; apparently she performs a full-blown dance.  Anyone else want to share?

The Persephone Biannually arrived recently and resulted in doing, in part, exactly what it's supposed to do.  I went through the list of titles like a child with the Christmas catalogue...have it, want it, need it!  A copy of Tell It to a Stranger by Elizabeth Berridge should be arriving any day now.  I'm planning a trip to London for Spring and will no doubt bring back a few more titles in my luggage.  Which segues nicely....at a service recognition event earlier this month I was recognized for my twenty-five years as a circulation clerk at the library.  I chose a hard shell carry-on piece as my gift and look forward to wheeling it through Heathrow!

And finally, just finished The Rich House by Stella Gibbons last night and will be sharing my thoughts in a day or two.  Just a snippet....I loved it!

14 November 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

DIANE ACKERMAN


When a vanilla bean lies like a Hindu rope on the counter, or sits in a cup of coffee, its aroma gives the room a kind of stature, the smell of an exotic crossroads where outlandish foods aren't the only mysteries.  In Istanbul in the 1970s, my mother and I once ate Turkish pastries redolent with vanilla, glazed in caramel sugar with delicate filaments of syrup on top.  It was only later that day, when we strolled through the bazaar with two handsome university students my mother had bumped into, that we realized what we had eaten with such relish.  On a long brass platter sat the kind of pastries we had eaten, buzzed over by hundreds of sugar-delirious bees, whose feet stuck in the syrup; desperately, one by one, they flew away, leaving their legs behind.  'Bee legs!' my mother had screamed, as her face curdled.  'We ate bee legs!'  Our companions spoke little English and we spoke no Turkish, so they probably thought it odd that American women became so excitable in the presence of pastry.  They offered to buy us some, which upset my mother even more.

A Natural History of Senses


7 November 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

E. NESBIT
1858 - 1924

A member of the Fabian Society, Edith Nesbit published under the gender-neutral names of E. Nesbit and Fabian Bland.  She wanted recognition as a poet, but turned to children's literature to support her large family.

Jimmy was eagerly unpacking the basket.  It was a generous tea.  A long loaf, butter in a cabbage leaf, a bottle of milk, a bottle of water, cake, and large, smooth, yellow gooseberries in a box that had once held an extra-sized bottle of somebody's matchless something for the hair and mustache.  Mabel cautiously advanced her incredible arms from the rhododendron and leaned on one of her spindly elbows, Gerald cut bread and butter, while Kathleen obligingly ran round, at Mabel's request, to see that the green coverings had not dropped from any of the remoter parts of Mabel's person.  Then there was a happy, hungry, silence, broken only by those brief, impassioned suggestions natural to such an occasion:
  'More cake, please.'
  'Milk ahoy, there.'
  'Chuck us the goosegogs.'
  Everyone grew calmer - more contented with their lot.  A pleasant feeling, half tiredness and half restfulness, crept to the extremities of the party.  Even the unfortunate Mabel was conscious of it in her remote feet, that lay crossed under the third rhododendron to the north-northwest of the tea party.  Gerald did but voice the feeling of the others when he said, not without regret:
  'Well, I'm a new man, but I couldn't eat so much as another goosegog if you paid me.'
  'I could,'said Mabel; 'yes, I know they're all gone, and I've had my share.  But I could.  It's me being so long, I suppose.

The Enchanted Castle

Mabel Betsy Hill

4 November 2014

The Duchess of Reads-A-Lot


Dressing up as the Duchess of Reads-A-Lot was a terrific idea prior to Halloween.  But let me tell you, being stuffed into a 'scarcely draw breath' tight dress consisting of mountains of material was hardly a play at the park.  And this was minus the added pain of a whale bone corset.

The heavy mist was a perfect backdrop for a spooky date but it meant gathering my silks mid-thigh to avoid the puddles.  Crumbled silk is not a great look for a Duchess.  Oh, and try getting a seat belt clasped over volumes of pleats but there was nary a horse and carriage to be found when it came time to leave for the library.  Playful pleas to help me navigate the loo were met with laughs so I was on my own.  There was no darting through the stacks either; I was slowed down to a snail's pace.  Forget regal gliding, fine ladies from the past were struggling to pull along their trailing frocks and their noses were in the air as they desperately tried to breathe.

Five hours is a dress like this cured me of any fleeting desire to live in an eighteenth century world and I suspect that many privileged women from that era stayed in their dressing gowns for as much of the day as possible.

My neighbour, Suzanne, is a wonder with a sewing machine and a more than generous friend for sharing such a gorgeous dress with me.  If I don't gain another ounce I just might do it again next year.

31 October 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

It's Halloween and therefore nothing but a recipe for dinner involving offal will do.  So today's quote, or rather recipe, comes from A New System of Domestic Cookery by Mrs Rundell....if you dare.

To Roast Tongue and Udder

  After cleaning the tongue well, salt it with common salt and saltpetre three days; then boil it, and likewise a fine young udder with some fat to it, till tolerably tender; then tie the thick part of one to the thin part of the other, and roast the tongue and udder together.
  Serve them with good gravy and currant-jelly sauce.  A few cloves should be stuck in the udder.  This is an excellent dish.
  Some people like neats' tongue cured with the root, in which case they look much larger; but otherwise the root must be cut off close to the gullet, next to the tongue, but without taking away the fat under the tongue.  The root must be soaked in salt and water, and extremely well cleaned, before it is dressed; and the tongue should be laid in salt for a day and a night before pickled.


26 October 2014

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

This time last year I organized a display of spooky tales for the library.  I chose The Greatcoat as one of the books and in no time at all it was snapped up by a customer.  The image of a handsome RAF officer peering through a frosty window on the cover does make it rather eye-catching.  Not only that, but there's something really appealing about the way a hardcover novella fits in your hands.  When a copy turned up in a $1 sale bin at Indigo I couldn't resist and what better month for a spooky read?

The prologue presents a RAF crew preparing for their twenty-seventh mission with only a few more days to go until leave.  There is bad fog and driving rain but scrubbing a flight means delay and the men just want to get on with the job at hand.

Stepping forward to 1952, Isabel Carey lights a fire to warm the dingy flat she shares with her husband in Kirby Minster.  The furnished flat doesn't come with enough blankets so one night Isabel digs through a cupboard until she finds a thick wool greatcoat shoved at the back.  Finally, Isabel sleeps soundly underneath its weight.  She dreams about being a child and hearing Lancaster bombers fly overhead on their way to Berlin.  During the following days, an out-of-service airfield just outside of town begins to fascinate Isabel.

Philip Carey is the new doctor in town sharing rounds with the elder Dr Ingoldby.  Despite being educated and quite keen to find employment for her own sake, Isabel reluctantly bows to Philip's wish that she keep herself busy at home.  There's a slight problem though, Isabel has very little confidence as a housewife and feels like an outsider when surrounded by other women with a keen eye on the butcher's scales and the state of fish on offer.  She is convinced the women stare at her as she walks through town so in turn she tries to avoid their glances.

At this point, knowing that Isabel's childhood was far from idyllic, I wondered about her state of mind.  Could this be a case of an unreliable narrator?  And so the fun begins.

While making a mess during an attempt at making steak and kidney pies one afternoon there is a tap at the window.

'There he was, an everyday figure, safe as houses, but her heart clenched in fear.  It was the look on his face:  recognition, a familiarity so deep he didn't have to say a word.  But she had never seen him before in her life'.

Running to the window, Isabel quickly closes the curtains over the man's face but she then returns to search the property.  The officer has vanished.  In a day or two there is more tapping but this time the mystery officer, Alec, is let inside the flat.  I am not going to say another word about the relationship that forms between Isabel and Alec.

What becomes apparent is that Alec is always on the verge of his crew's twenty-seventh mission regardless of how many times he appears.  Desperate to know more about certain events and the people involved, Isabel begins to ask questions.  While in town one day, a shopkeeper tells her about a bombing mission during the war and how it went terribly wrong.  Suddenly the gaps fill in, a decision must be made, and then an even spookier plot twist unfolds.

This novella ticked all sorts of boxes for me; I couldn't wait to get home from work to pick it up again.  If you have a free evening between now and Halloween The Greatcoat is an excellent way to pass the time.  And don't worry, you won't be too scared....


To listen to an incredible recording of officers flying a Lancaster during a bombing mission click here.

24 October 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

SYLVIA TOWNSEND WARNER
1893 - 1978

17 September.  I visited every counter of the domestic Woolworth, even to buying boot-polish, and refreshed myself with a sixpenny fish tea - plaice, of course.  Cheap low-class meals are such a pleasure, I wonder I don't take to chewing gum.

23 September.  We went by Guildford and beyond Alton lunched in a nut copse, talking about great aunts.  A delicious lunch: cold chicken, beer, pears and madiera (sic).  And midges.  The ash-trees.  Their green fronds so flatly distinct on a grey sky that they looked like transfer patterns on china.

Diaries


The Picnic by Edward Cucuel

18 October 2014

Together and Apart by Margaret Kennedy

There is so much more to this book than initially meets the eye.  Knowing absolutely nothing about Margaret Kennedy's writing it was bought on the strength of some key words within the synopsis...middle-class, between the wars, Hampstead, domestic life, disastrous consequences...and all set in 1936.  Delightfully, the dedication is to a writer I do know something about, Rose Macaulay.

The story begins with Betsy Canning's lengthy letter to her mother relating the facts of her withering marriage to a man who has changed and no longer suits her.  There is going to be a divorce.  Mrs Hewitt's reply by telegram is short and to the point...'do nothing irrevocable till I see you...'.

Surrounded by old-fashioned values this story must have been shocking when it was first published; just the sort of book hidden behind the sofa cushions.  Alec is just the right age for a mid-life crisis and has an affair with the children's governess, Joy.  At the same time, Betsy feels as though she has never known real happiness and at thirty-seven feels nearly ready for the scrap heap.  If there is any excitement to come from life she had better do something daring and soon.  While feeling it's perfectly all right to contemplate allowing the wealthy Lord St. Mullins to take her away from it all, Betsy is horrified to learn that Alec and Joy have run off together.  Eventually, Joy discovers that she is pregnant.

Left to cope in the wake of their parents' separation, the three children, Kenneth, Eliza, and Daphne, struggle and I felt quite sorry for them.  In one of my favourite scenes, Eliza takes the bull by the horns and decides to defy her mother and find her father's new home.  As she navigates her way through London to end up near Gloucester Road station in the 'middle-class slum' that is Gladstone Square, Eliza realizes that her father's life is forever changed.  And yet, despite the implied penury...there is still, of course, a maid to answer the door.  While waiting for her father, Eliza spies a wicker basket on the floor...

'Oh, Father!  How...I never...What a darling little baby!'
He smiles.
'Didn't you know that you had a little brother?'
'A brother?'
The word was like an electric shock.  Could there be any brother except Ken?'
'Was he...how old is he?'
'Just a fortnight.'
'Was he...born here?'
'No.  In a nursing home.  We brought him here yesterday.'
'Then...he's...Joy's little baby?'

And your heart breaks for this young girl who has to figure everything out for herself and realizes that her father has a new family.  Rather than break her spirits, Eliza becomes quite the house manager and decides that her father and Joy need her help in the daily running of things which in turn gives her a purpose.

In another scene involving Eliza, Margaret Kennedy's humour and powers of observation shine through when Max shows up unexpectedly and there is a mishap with make-up...

'Eliza's powder advertised the fact that the poor girl had no mother to guide her.  It was of the wrong colour, far too light a shade for her warm brown skin.  She liberally dusted her own face and that of her stepmother, and they both went nervously downstairs looking as if they had just emerged from a flour mill.'

In the introduction by Kennedy's daughter, Julia Birley, she writes that the idea for Together and Apart was conceived while she watched a man and woman pass each other on opposite escalators in London's Underground.  A last minute look of recognition and then they're absorbed by the crowds.  This scene is recreated in the book between Betsy and Alec after a long absence and when feelings of regret and loss regarding their divorce have crept in.

This story delivers far more than the light read I initially bargained for and is almost epic in scope; it's a book buyer's dream.  Due to an unexpected redecorating project I missed out on Margaret Kennedy Week but I am so glad to have discovered an excellent author and look forward to following up on posts from that endeavour.

 
The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, Viewed from an Interior by Thomas Cantrell Dugdale 
(1936)

17 October 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
1832 - 88

Any housewife can imagine the emotions of Sister Hope, when she took possession of a large, dilapidated kitchen, containing an old stove and the peculiar stores out of which food was to be evolved for her little family of eleven.  Cakes of maple sugar, dried peas and beans, barley and hominy, meal of all sorts, potatoes, and dried fruit.  No milk, butter, cheese, tea, or meat, appeared.  Even salt was considered a useless luxury and spice entirely forbidden by these lovers of Spartan simplicity.  A ten years' experience of vegetarian vagaries had been good training for this new freak, and her sense of the ludicrous supported her through many trying scenes.
  Unleavened bread, porridge, and water for breakfast; bread, vegetables, and water for dinner; bread, fruit, and water for supper was the bill of fare ordained by the elders.  No teapot profaned that sacred stove, no gory steak cried aloud for vengeance from her chaste gridiron; and only a brave woman's taste, time, and temper were sacrificed on that domestic altar.

Silver Pitchers


14 October 2014

New Books and Balls Falls


Our redecorating project is almost complete.  A few minor details...well, my husband would refute the word 'minor' when describing the job before him of repairing the molding where the French doors were mounted.  We spent a whole afternoon driving all over to find some nice hooks to hold back the drapery panels and came home with nothing.  But I ask you, would it be a proper project without moving the earth in search of one thing that seems inconsequential but remains elusive?  I digress.

A few books have been added to the shelves and so to liven things up while I finish the last bit of Margaret Kennedy's charming story Together and Apart, I will share.

The purple Taschen was the only item on my Christmas list last year, so rather skimpy as lists go.  A whole morning in your pajamas while drinking mimosas and flipping through a book featuring the commercial delights of a vibrant city is my idea of bliss.  I had my eye on the bottom book for this Christmas but my husband bought it on Friday.  I love the book, he thinks it looks great on the new ottoman...Mars...Venus, say no more.  Full of iconic images from the 1800s to present day this page-turner is everything from history lesson to guide book to sociological study.  Many a decadent hour will be spent devouring its pages!


Stella Gibbon's The Rich House is in the running for my next read.  While browsing the synopsis and reviews for some of her other novels, Bassett also had irresistible cosy appeal.  The fear that a book could suddenly vanish from stockpiles at shops or warehouses brings out the hoarder in me and so, it must be owned.  As for Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, it was one of the books being talked about when I first started blogging year ago but could never find on a bookshelf.  Thank goodness for reissues.

My local Chapters bookshop had tables and tables of books for $1 - $2 recently.  Initially that sounds like good news but the bad news is that the chain has closed two stores in Toronto so stock is being redistributed.  Helen Dunmore's The Greatcoat is appropriate for October with its lean towards a haunting story, as for Tremain...well, Trespass sounds like a book my husband, the anti-cosy reader, would like so it will go on a shelf for when the mood strikes.


The titles say it all.

And switching gears, yesterday was Thanksgiving which is my favourite long weekend of the year.  And no Thanksgiving would be complete without a trip to Balls Falls to bask in the crisp air while delicious aromas of food and woodsmoke waft everywhere.   


Although, there is one sight that never fails to horrify me.  The image of youth sitting around a cauldron of boiling oil so that visitors can enjoy hot apple fritters carries a Dickensian overtone, don't you think?  Having said that...yes, we bought the apple fritters.  Pot...kettle...yes, pun intended.


 A more pleasing image is the autumnal wreath on the village's church door.  I take the same photo every year...just because.   

9 October 2014

When You Least Expect It...


My husband and I had this past week off to take drives in the countryside, spend hours and hours reading, and take the train to Toronto for a nice lunch.  I was also looking forward to joining along in Margaret Kennedy Week by posting a review of Together and Apart.

In a ridiculously impulsive move on Monday morning my husband and I wondered what the living room would look if we removed the French doors, pulled down the drapes, and got rid of the dining room table.  And how about adding another bookcase to the living room?  We did just that, right then and there.

The past few days have been busy with going to and fro between paint stores and furniture shops as we mull over ideas and buy this and that.  Today is my birthday so we forced ourselves to make the effort to warm up some leftover meatloaf for lunch and if I want cake I had better hop to it!

I will be sharing my thoughts on Margaret Kennedy's book but later than expected.


3 October 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

MARGUERITE PATTEN

Marguerite Patten worked for the Ministry of Food during the Second World War and until the end of rationing in 1954.  She was also the regular cookery expert in the BBC's first television magazine programme, Design for Women.

Over the years I have been asked repeatedly to describe whale meat.  Nowadays, we would be horrified at the thought of using these magnificent and protected mammals for food, but in 1946 we were anxious to have more generous helpings of meat so the Government were ready to persuade us to avail ourselves of this unrationed 'bonus', which became better known in 1947.  Whale meat looked like a cross between liver and beef, with a firm texture.  Because the raw meat had a strong and very unpleasant smell of fish and stale oil, I loathed handling whale meat to create recipes or to use in my demonstrations to the public.  When cooked, the smell was not apparent.
  The Ministry of Food's Food and Nutrition booklet for September 1947 included advice on preparing and cooking whale meat:  'Tests were made in our Experimental Kitchens using the best cuts of whale meat, which was bought in its frozen state, thawed out slowly and treated as ordinary beef steak.  It was found that although the raw meat looked somewhat unattractive and is not very satisfactorily grilled or cooked as a joint, most people cannot distinguish it from beef steak when it is finely cut before cooking or mixed with strong flavours.'

Marguerite Patten's Post-war Kitchen

Marguerite Patten

27 September 2014

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

The lovely Miranda, of Old Fashioned Girls, is hosting a group read-along of My Cousin Rachel for their book club this month.  Daphne du Maurier is an author I hear, or read, about on almost a weekly basis but up until now I have never experienced her work for myself.  It was high time I did!

*Spoilers*

Set during some point in the 19th century in Cornwall and partly in Italy this is a story about love, betrayal, deceit, and one startling act of revenge.  Narrated by Philip Ashley, in his mid-twenties, raised for most of his life under the guardianship of his cousin Ambrose.  The two men are very much alike in looks and personality.  During a trip to Italy, Ambrose falls in love with a stunningly beautiful woman and ends up staying in the warm and sunny climate for the good of his eroding health.  When after a span of time Ambrose's letters to Philip reveal that something is amiss but details are scant, Philip decides to travel to the villa Sangalletti.  Upon his arrival Philip is told that Ambrose has died.  More devastating news is to come as not only has a burial already taken place but the widow has packed up house and moved on.  I wasn't even at the page fifty mark yet but already had Rachel's card marked; not just her but her sly friend, Signor Rainaldi too.

So let's get it all out there.  What exactly is the state of the relationship between the Signor and Rachel?  They both have the same aquiline features and while this might be down to a regional attribute I did wonder at times if they were related.  Or are they simply partners in crime?  In any case, I feel quite strongly that Rachel knew exactly what she was doing when she slowly seduced Philip during her visit and reeled him in.  The way she coldly brushes him off once he signs over the house and showers her with a basket full of jewels was maddening.  Frankly, I don't buy the story that she had every right to turn against Philip when out of frustration he grabs her around the neck.  I wanted to do worse than that to her myself!  Also, could Rachel say that she was continually being controlled by men when it was her decision to visit Philip in Cornwall and then stay for months when she had a home to go to in Italy?  This argument doesn't sit well with me.  But how does Rainaldi fit in with the scheme...accomplice, puppet master, lover, someone who carefully watches over Rachel in order to reclaim any debt she has cost him?

In my version of the story, Ambrose was clearly being poisoned by Rachel and she was using the same modus operandi with Philip.  The poisonous laburnum seeds tucked away in her drawer made things quite clear and both Ambrose and Philip's symptoms were comparable.  She got away with it once but not twice.  Which leads me to the matter of a weak bridge over a sunken garden.

When Louise and Philip find a sketch of Ambrose tucked away on Rachel's desk with a notation to 'remember only the happy hours' they wonder if they have misjudged her.  I think it is entirely possible that Rachel could have been genuinely in love with Ambrose but her overriding motivation is greed.  She has a taste for the finer things in life and little concern for budget.  Also, Rachel equates ownership with power; something that as a woman she would continually attempt to attain.  There were two sides to Rachel and she was quite capable of acting out of love but in the end, when needs must, she was capable of murder for financial gain and with that, power.

Now, as for Rachel's death...is Philip responsible?  He didn't warn her about the unsafe condition of the bridge but it should have been dealt with by the workers on the estate as soon as it was discovered.  In any case, I think Philip was leaving a horrible accident up to chance.  He allowed Rachel to go for her walk and if she fell to her death, it was more to do with serendipity than him actually placing her directly in harm's way.  If you go back to the beginning of the novel though we see that Philip carries Rachel's fatal fall with him but has put it into a box, so to speak...

'There is no going back in life.  There is no return.  No second chances.  I cannot call back the spoken word or the accomplished deed, sitting here, alive and in my own home, any more than poor Tom Jenkyn could, swinging in his chains.'

My fondness for this story waxed and waned at different points.  I asked a colleague the other day if she had ever read My Cousin Rachel and she replied that she had but it was during her early twenties.  Possibly the best age to read a story centred around a manipulative woman and a naive young man in the throes of first love.  Having said that, the last quarter of the book was a tense page-turning event that had me on the edge of my seat and the lasting impression is a good one!

There is a copy of Rebecca languishing on the shelves upstairs and now I look forward to reading it sooner rather than later.  Thanks to Miranda for her excellent choice of story for a book club read with its many situations to mull over and for introducing me to Daphne du Maurier.



Daphne du Maurier

26 September 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

JANE AUSTEN
1775 - 1817

FROM HANS PLACE TO CASSANDRA AT CHAWTON

17 October 1815

I am glad the new cook begins so well.  Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.

Letters

24 September 2014

The Women of Beaver Hall: Canadian Modernist Painters by Evelyn Walters

Wheeling a cart through the shelves at the library armed with pages of hold requests the font on a spine caught my eye.  Tweezing the book from its spot out of curiosity there was a painting on the cover that wouldn't be out of place on the Persephone Books website.  This beautiful book has come home with me with a plan to read up on these talented Canadian artists.

  Emily Coonan
Girl in Dotted Dress, c. 1923

Prudence Heward
At the Theatre, 1928

Henrietta Mabel May
Summertime, c. 1935

Lilias Torrance Newton
Lady in Black (portrait of Mrs. Albert Henry Steward Gillson), c. 1936

Lilias Torrance Newton
Martha, c. 1938

19 September 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

IRMA ROMBAUER
1877 -1962

In Switzerland we had a vile tempered cook named Marguerite.  Her one idea, after being generally disagreeable, was to earn enough to own a small chalet on some high peak where she could cater to mountain climbers.  While she was certainly not born with a silver spoon in her mouth - although it was large enough to accommodate several - I am convinced she arrived with a cooking spoon in her hand.  If she attained her ideal, many a climber will feel it worth while to scale a perilous peak to reach her kitchen.

The Joy of Cooking

13 September 2014

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

A book written by Sarah Waters is something to look forward to and I have been counting down the days until the release of her latest.  Due to construction I was sent to work at another branch of the library for one week and had to play with the pick-up location of my hold so it would find its way to me.  Once I knew the book was in transit I went through the courier bins like a squirrel looking for a long-buried nut.  You should have seen my face when I spotted the shiny new copy - oh joy, oh bliss!  Since The Paying Guests is hot off the press I won't share much in the way of plot but did want to share just a teensy bit of the atmosphere and to sing its praises.

It's 1922 and all begins innocently enough with Frances Wray and her mother watching the clock in anticipation of the arrival of new lodgers to their home just outside of London.  Mr Wray has died leaving a trail of debt and his two male heirs were killed while serving in World War I.  The lure of employment at the munitions factory has cost the ladies their domestic help further widening the gaping hole in this family.  Rather than sell up, Mrs Wray and Frances decide to let the upstairs of their home but this means upheaval and they are quite anxious about what will happen to their quiet way of life.  

The Barbers are a young married couple, respectable enough, but it's the little things that soon show a relaxed nature which make Mrs Wray stiffen slightly, such as Leonard's bare feet in her kitchen as he makes his way to the yard for the WC or music and visitors well into the evening.  Lilian's rather bohemian decorating style is cause for concern that the rooms now look...'like something from a Piccadilly backstreet'...but what can they do?  Frances and her mother need the income.

Part one of the book depicts the blending of these four people within the confines of the terraced house they now share and class structure is deftly portrayed.  Anyone who has stayed with an acquaintance knows exactly how it feels to be welcome but still feel a bit in the way.  Once again, as in The Little Stranger, not only does the house feature as a character but the staircase carries an overwhelming presence.  The weight of a foot on the tread or the speed of a stride is carefully calculated by the listener to anticipate mood...or warn of approach.

Sarah Waters exhibits great patience in the lead-up to some rather heart-pounding incidents in the second part of this book.  Just when I was thinking 'okay, Sarah, what do you have up your sleeve?' she literally made me feel ill with the tension and detail of one crime, perhaps two, depending on your view of things.  Over the course of two nights, while I read in the dark, the wind was howling, whipping the curtains around my head, exquisitely ramping up the atmosphere.  You know the feeling when you wake up from a bad dream, think it was real, and then sigh with relief when you realize there is nothing to fear?  Well, I felt like that the morning after as the writing is so vivid that I felt right there in the house, in the midst of things, and it was more than a bit unsettling.

You won't be able to put down The Paying Guests once you get started so clear your social calendar.  Don't read this book on the bus or train unless you have someone to remind you that your stop is up next.  Steel yourself, you are in for the ride of your life...well, as far as reading goes...and I hope you have a strong stomach because you are going to need it.  This book WILL leave a mark.

   

12 September 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

BARBARA COMYNS
1909 - 92

During the Second World War, Comyns moved to the country to escape the Blitz.  There she wrote her first book, Sisters by a River, based on her Warwickshire childhood.  Her publisher chose not to correct her spelling and punctuation and even added to her eccentric mistakes.

Our kitchen had a dusty hot cross bun hanging from the ceiling, every good Friday they put up a new one, the old one turned into a kind of mummy, there were hams hanging up too and a side of bacon, Palmer cured the pigs in the saddle room in a large zinc trough, the maids said you mustn't watch him if you had a period or the hams would get bewitched and go all wrong, Mammy said this too.  There were three kitchens altogether, all leading out of each other, they had stone floors with wells in the middle, they used to have their meals in the hot cross bun kitchen because there was a huge Eagle range there which heated the water and did the cooking, once a rat fell down the chimney right into the porrage, I've never eaten any since because it always seems to smell ratty.
  We liked having tea with the maids, they gave us biscuits floating in our cups of tea and they always eat heaps of vinegar, after tea they used to sing, songs about dark eyed lovers, they always sounded like hymns.

Sisters by a River