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

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.


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 

17 October 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

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

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 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