22 December 2015

We Three Books...

Visiting bookshops during the Christmas season is a little bit of heaven.  Over the past couple of weeks I've been in chain shops, independent shops, and clicked on-line.  So what have I treated myself to?

A Notable Woman: The romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt edited by Simon Garfield

  'In April 1925, Jean Lucey Pratt began writing a journal.  She continued to write until just a few days before her death in 1986, producing well over a million words in 45 exercise books during the course of her lifetime.  For sixty years, no one had an inkling of her diaries' existence, and they have remained unpublished until now.'

Jean Lucey Pratt contributed to the Mass Observation project but under the pseudonym 'Maggie Joy Blunt'.  Owning a copy of Our Hidden Lives (also edited by Simon Garfield) I looked for her entries and immediately fell in love with her voice and wanted to know more.

The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell
  'From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book explores the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at more than three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents.  (Sadly, we've yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole).'

...and my favourite bit...'This book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world.'

Jen Campbell wrote Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and as someone who works in a public library...yes, customers say weird things there too.  This book is a sheer delight and has made a great gift for library friends who can relate.

I'm so looking forward to reading this book.  Some of my favourite bookshops in London are covered and Toronto also gets a mention as having the smallest bookshop in the world.  There are photos as well;  I loved the picture of a shop in Portugal, that looks similar to a VW van that has been retro-fitted to serve as a very quaint shop.

Stories From the Kitchen - Everyman's Pocket Classics

    '...is a one-of-a-kind anthology of classic tales showcasing the culinary arts from across the centuries and around the world.
  Here is a mouthwatering smorgasbord of stories with food in the starring role, by a range of masers of fiction - from Dickens to Chekhov to Isaac Bashevis Singer, from Shirley Jackson to Jim Crace and Amy Tan.'

This would make a perfect gift for your favourite foodie.  I've read the excerpt from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and will just have to succumb to reading the whole book.  Does Minta ever find her grandmother's brooch on the beach?  Saki's Tea was as humourous as I thought it would be, and Emile Zola's The Cheese Symphony from The Belly of Paris is so rich in detail.  The writing is sublime and something that very likely could have passed me by if not for this glimpse at authors I've never read before.  I need more Zola!

Special mention goes to a beautiful new calendar for next year A La Belle Jardiniere.  

Merry Christmas to all of you who have stopped by!

18 December 2015

Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater

I rank the delights of baking much higher than time spent cooking at the stove.  I'm also one of those people who borrow cookbooks from the library to admire what others have accomplished with no intention of wading in myself.  And when I want something soothing on in the background while working on a knitting project, listening to Nigel Slater describe his dinner is as good as any classical music channel.

My memories of food and the kitchen when I was growing up wouldn't hold anyone's attention.  My parents were afraid of under-cooked meat so chops were crisp and curled, roast dinners were started at dawn and stayed in the oven until dinnertime.  Sandwiches were made with luncheon meat from packages when I know full well there were deli butchers aplenty.  My father was the one who first entrusted me with a frying pan at the stove.  He taught me to make scrambled eggs....like a pancake.  I suddenly realize why baking became my idea of heaven.

Nigel Slater's Toast is a diary of the first half of his life told through his memories and adventures with food..and lots of sweets.  He's also incredibly frank in his feelings for certain members of his family.  With the passing of time it would have been easy to erase some of his slightly caustic thoughts as a lonely boy trying to figure out adult situations, but he doesn't pull any punches.  These moments, however, are greatly outweighed by the poignant, happy, and downright hilarious events.

One of the themes that made me laugh out loud several times was the subject of food and class...

'...they considered eating the top layer off a Bourbon biscuit and licking the chocolate filling off was common.  Quote how they explained away their predilection for tinned mandarin oranges and Kraft cheese slices is a matter for speculation.'

...other unmentionables were Babycham, sandwich spread, tomato ketchup and Branston Pickle.

Nigel Slater's passion for food seems to have always been there.  Being one of only two boys to take a cooking class in high school shows his dedication.  He's several years older than I am and thinking back to my home economics classes I can't remember any young men concerned with perfecting their assignments.  Actually, quite a lot of it ended up as duck food in the stream that ran by the school.

There is one particular image from a paragraph that will forever stick with me.  It was after his mother died when Nigel was only nine-years-old.

  'Each night for the next two years I found two, sometimes three fluffy, sugary marshmallows on my bedside table.  It was the good night kiss I missed more than anything, more than her hugs, her cuddles, her whispered 'Night-night, sleep tight.'  No Walnut Whip, no Cadbury Flake, no sugared almond could ever replace that kiss.  I'm not sure a marshmallow really came that close.'

Toast is a perfect title for this book.  It was just the book when nothing else seemed to be working, it's a terrific comfort read, and made me want more.  There's a copy of Slater's Eating for England on my shelves but it's been years since I read it.  Having more of an understanding of what life was like for Nigel as a young man, I'm looking forward to reading it again with a clearer eye.

Nigel Slater

13 December 2015

The Distillery District Christmas Market

I didn't mean to let my blog collect a bit of dust these past few weeks but every once in awhile it happens.  It's easily done during this time of year when we like to embrace the sights, sounds, and glorious smells of Christmas.  There's another reason, after the holidays I'll be working at another library branch location as part of a job rotation.  Since I found out that it was my turn to rotate, I've been working some shifts at the new location, as well as my regular shifts, to acclimatize and bond with my colleagues.  And wait for it....my next place of work has a fireplace!  It's one of those charming design features you don't see being added in budget-driven builds these days so I count myself lucky,

Attempts to read lately haven't been all that successful down to being distracted.  There were a few starts and stops until I pulled Nigel Slater's Toast from the shelf.  The episodic nature of the writing allows for busy-ness so I finished the book and will share my thoughts in a few days (I loved it!).

This is the third year my husband and I have visited the Christmas Market in Toronto's Distillery District.  Despite the fact that El Nino has caused us to have an abnormally warm December, the atmosphere is very, very 'Christmas-y'.

Swedish-style stalls line the cobbles with vendors selling everything from ornaments to jewellery, and all sorts of edible treats.  This photo was taken while we were inside a tiny bakery, crammed in a line-up along with others wanting to buy mince tarts and...well, anything featuring cinnamon.  Being a location known for its brewing history, the Christmas Market is also where you're sure to find mulled wine.  Perhaps I'm visiting the wrong establishments but it's not all that popular around here.

I have no idea who these people are, my intention was to get a shot of the lights, but don't they look happy to see each other?

No trip to Toronto in December is complete without a stop by the window displays at the Hudson's Bay store.  Those iconic striped coats say it all.

The faces of children as they stood in awe while the animated characters banged their forks and knives on the table is one of the best things about the holiday season.  I did bend to a bit of consumerism though and bought a copy of...

The cover is irresistible on this edition.  Looking at the contents page, one of the first stories that grabbed my attention is Tea by Saki....sold!  A great suggestion for any cosy readers in your life.

25 November 2015

We Shall Never Surrender: Wartime Diaries 1939 - 1945 Edited by Penelope Middleboe, Donald Fry and Christopher Grace

'We are accustomed to our familiar fears; in the same way even in the midst of a bombardment with planes droning overhead and the noise of the barrage I can sleep quite comfortably, but if through this monstrous uproar I hear the still, small voice of a dripping tap, I get out of bed unable to sleep until the sound is stopped.'

- Charles Ritchie (Autumn 1940)

The accounts of daily life in Britain during World War II are shared in this book by nine diarists. I was already familiar with three contributors: Vera Brittain, Harold Nicolson, and Charles Ritchie.  The others had equally fascinating and frightening ordeals to endure with the characteristic so commonly seen in across many communities during the war...the ability to just get on with things.

Some of the early entries centre around the evacuation of children to the countryside, or in Vera Brittain's case sending her children to the United States.  Encouraged to lecture in America, it seemed a logical step to take but Vera felt deceived by the government.  No sooner were her young son and daughter settled across the pond when the government cancelled Vera's visa.  Her pacifist views were considered to be inflammatory so her ability to travel was curtailed.  Another dismal scene is when the Prime Minister asks Harold Nicolson to join Duff Cooper in the Ministry of Information. Nicolson talks to his wife (Vita Sackville-West) about acquiring some form of poison should suicide be more palatable than being tortured by the enemy.

The bravery and unbelievable calm during bombing raids never ceases to amaze.  Perhaps it's partly down to writing about such events after the fact and knowing you've lived to tell the tale.  In any case, being barely into adulthood and collecting body parts or seeing the block of flats across the road heave as though taking a deep breath before collapsing would certainly fray my nerves.

You would think that reading about the endless recipes for mock this-and-that and rationing would paint a fairly complete picture about the dreary nature of food during wartime.  You would be wrong.  There are more cringeworthy culinary explorations to discover; for instance, did you know the fat surrounding tinned American sausages was lauded for its use in cakes and pastry?  And when an impromptu visit by a Brigadier and five officers was made to Sissinghurst, Harold Nicolson and 'mummy' quickly shovelled over two thousand onions, that were being stored in spare bedrooms, into cloth sacks.  Apparently, onion stealing was a well-known trait in certain circles of the army.

Following each diarists 'path of destiny' as they forecast what may lie ahead made this book hard to put down.  Will a spouse chancing a flight across the Chanel arrive safely?  Will a ship carrying evacuated children be torpedoed?  Will the effects of daily bombing raids affect a pregnancy?  One of the most poignant entries in the book is near the end, when Hermione Ranfurly has just been reunited with her husband after three years apart.  They travel to England on a ship and book a room at Claridge's as a special treat.  In the morning, before the sun rises....

'...we climbed out of bed, drew back the curtains and leaned out on the smutty ledge of our smutty windowsill.  Quite soon it seemed as if the whole vault of heaven was vibrating with the roar of aeroplanes.  As it grew light we began to see them - great formations of bombers heading for Europe.  It was a magnificent and moving sight and we watched - fascinated - with thoughts flashing through our heads: how terrible what they must do; pray god they may return safely; can this be the beginning of the end of the war; so Overlord has started, it's not a secret anymore; when the sun comes up every plane will be a target; in a few minutes they'll be over enemy territory.'

As war diaries go, this is an outstanding collection and highly recommended.  And in one of those delightful coincidences, Dame Shirley Williams was a guest on A Good Read last night.  Her choice of a 'good read' was South Riding by Winifred Holtby.  While listening to Dame Williams discuss a wonderful novel by her mother's very special friend, I pictured her as a little girl on a ship crossing the Atlantic while her mother (Vera Brittain) held her breath.

A Balloon Site, Coventry by Dame Laura Knight

20 November 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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

JULIA CHILD  1912 - 2004
SIMONE BECK  1904 - 1991

"She dreamed of becoming a spy when the Second World War broke out, but instead Julia Child went on to publish what was in 1961 regarded as the definitive work on French cuisine for English speakers:  Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The first of three volumes, it was ten years in the making, written and researched with the help of Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.  Soon afterwards, the American public began a long television love affair with Julia Child, a 6' 2" domestic goddess with a wobbly voice.  This self-confessed 'natural ham' demystified French cuisine for millions of Americans rather in the way that Fanny Cradock brought haute cuisine to the British during the same period.  In an effort to allay public fear of the fat used in French cooking, she noted:  'You don't see all those big fat people over there that you see lumbering around here at Disneyland'.  She herself never became overweight, and ended every show with the words, 'Bon Appetit!'"

The memory of a good French pâté can haunt you for years.  Fortunately they are easy to make, and you can even develop your own special pâté maison.  Do not expect a top-notch mixture to be inexpensive, however, for it will contain ground pork, pork fat, and usually veal, as well as cognac,  port, or Madeira, spices, strips or cubes of other meats, game, or live, and often truffles.  If the mixture is cooked and served cold in its baking dish it is called either a terrine or a pâté.  If it is molded in a pastry crust, it is a pâté en croûte.  A boned chicken, turkey, or duck filled with the same type of mixture in a galantine.  Pâtés and terrines will keep for about 10 days under refrigeration; they are fine to have on hand for cold impromptu meals, since all you need to serve with them are a salad and French bread.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Julia Child, Simone Beck, Curnonsky, Louisette Bertholle 
February 1953
(photo credit - Paul Child)

17 November 2015

A Folio Find 'The Lady in the Van'

Folio editions are lovely books so I was over the moon to find The Lady in the Van and Three Stories in a second-hand shop last month.
'June 1977.  On this the day of the Jubilee, Miss S. has stuck a paper Union Jack in the cracked back window of the van.  It is the only one in the Crescent.  Yesterday she was wearing a headscarf and pinned across the front of it a blue Spontex sponge fastened at each side with a large safety pin, the sponge meant to form some kind of peak against the (very watery) sun.  It looked like a favour worn by a medieval knight, or a fillet to ward off evil spirits.  Still, it was better than last week's effort, an Afrika Korps cap from Lawrence Corner:  Miss Shepherd - Desert Fox.'

It seems an odd thing to say that I was entertained by the story of an elderly woman living in such dire circumstance but Miss Shepherd's feisty nature under Alan Bennett's benevolent watch made it seem very okay.

13 November 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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

1837 - 1907

'Mrs. Halliday had cut the ham.  The slices were placed in boiling water, and boiled until they were thoroughly cooked.  Then they were put in a frying-pan and browned nicely.  After that, Marion fried some eggs to 'look like pictures.'  She didn't 'turn' them, but carefully dripped gravy over them, until they were done.  These eggs she laid upon the slices of ham, the golden centres shining through the pearly setting, and the ham was so pink where it was not brown, and so brown where it was not pink - truly, Marion's platter was like a bit of painting, and the pretty cook of fourteen was as proud of it as she could be.'

The Cooking Club of Tu-Whit Hollow

The Invalid's Breakfast by Emily Aldridge Crawford

9 November 2015

J. M. W. Turner and Turning Pages...Very Carefully

First premiered at the Tate Britain in 2014, this exhibit of J. M. W. Turner's work, completed during the last fifteen years of his life, has arrived at the AGO.  The art gallery was also hosting The Toronto Antiquarian Book Fair this past weekend.  With the wonderful worlds of art and books colliding in one stellar location there was only one thing for it....go!

I'll confess straight away that I knew next to zero about Turner before watching the brilliant film Mr Turner in 2014.  Twentieth-century art warms my heart and Hogarth's vignettes fascinate; Turner: Painting Set Free was a chance to see some of the art depicted in the film, just an arm's length away.  The muted tones and swirling, atmospheric seas and sky are stunning but so repetitive in style that thankfully the collection was broken up a few times by works of other artists as palette (pardon the pun) cleansers.  My favourite piece from the exhibit is The Angel Standing in the Sun (exhibited 1846).  

Reaching the end of the Turner exhibit we took the elevator up to the third floor to the book fair.  With books ranging from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands, I wasn't planning to carry a bagful home - this was strictly to entertain a case of awe.

I've quoted from Hannah Glasse's book for my Friday's Literary Feast post several times...this complete work, a first edition, is on sale for an eye-watering $50,000.

There is quite a glare from the lights but I took a quick photo of this book, published in 1935, for the charming cover art by Vanessa Bell.

A delightful exhibit compiled by the proprietor of Monkey's Paw, a bookshop in Toronto, displays bits of paper in various forms found in second-hand books.

My husband and I enjoyed the memory of Wintario Lottery tickets, handwritten cash receipts, and old-fashioned memo slips. 

Candy wrappers work every bit as well.  Much more pleasing than the very occasional square of toilet roll we find in books returned at the circulation desk at the library....ugh.

There were also several punch cards that mysteriously made computers configure information back when the machines were the size of a medium-sized vault.  Vintage illustrations quickly drew my eye away.

A gentleman from Peter Harrington Books in London occupied a booth and kindly gave me a catalogue full of treasures. Flipping through the pages I wondered about the most expensive book on my shelf - probably a first edition of E, M, Delafield's Love Has No Resurrection that I found for three dollars at an antique sale, and worth much more.  Then I wondered where my books would end up once I'm long gone.  Putting things away once we were back at home I pulled our ticket stubs for the Turner exhibit out of my purse.  I handed one to my husband and we went our separate ways to find a book, any book, on one of the shelves...and we tucked the stubs inside.  

6 November 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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

1787 - 1855

Novelist and dramatist Mary Russell Mitford was the daughter of an extravagant and ultimately impecunious doctor in Alresford, Hampshire, and an early admirer of Jane Austen's novels.  Here she describes her nurse's wedding to a local farmer.

'Such a dinner...Fish from the great pond, Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, Boiled fowls, and a Gammon of bacon, a Green Goose, and a Suckling pig, plumb puddings, apple pies and custards, followed by home brewed beer and home made wines, by syllabub, by wedding cake.  Everybody ate enough for four, and there were four times more than would possibly be eaten.'

Our Village

A Wedding Banquet in Ypot by Albert Fourie

3 November 2015

Mental Health...and Mail

Several years ago the library system I work for implemented Staff Development Day.  It's an opportunity for staff to come together under one roof for seminars and training which will translate into better internal and external customer service.  It's also when the organization recognizes years of service from its employees.  The day starts off with my colleagues, system-wide, trickling in looking like they would rather be in bed and sporting a large cup of some form of caffeine.  By the end of the day the atmosphere is electric...which could have something to do with more caffeine and a fair bit of candy and chocolate left over from Halloween.

This year the focus was on mental health.  Our plenary speaker was Elizabeth Manley who won a silver medal in figure skating at the 1988 Olympics.  What most people didn't realize is that she was in the depths of depression throughout much of her teen years and leading right up to the Olympics.  Her story had many in the room wiping away tears, especially when she played the video of her performance; when we realized everything she had to rise above to perform so well.  She almost dropped out her event before a hockey coach made a passing comment in which he mentioned that he saw her as a champion and wanted his team to be inspired by her.  Elizabeth went from feeling worthless and inadequate to uplifted and empowered by one person's kind words.  Her depression wasn't magically whisked away but in that moment her perception of herself changed.

Yesterday was a sobering, and mentally exhausting, day filled with lectures, training sessions, role-playing, and some really fun moments catching up with staff from other locations.  Last night I was in bed by 8:30.

A new day has dawned and I was so happy to find the latest copy of The Persephone Biannually in the mailbox.  To the staff at Persephone Books...never underestimate how much it means to see that envelope!

It's always interesting see which piece of art will grace the cover...

...and which bookmark will be added to your collection.  Even if I don't own the Persephone title it's always fun to theme bookmarks with a current read.

And the short story by Winifred Holtby gives me an opportunity to share my latest acquisition, a never-been-read copy of The Crowded Street.  I bought it on Saturday during a 'stop the car!' moment when we passed a bookshop fifteen minutes before closing time.

Coincidentally, the book was first published in 1924 but I'm just a tad late for the 1924 Reading Challenge recently hosted by Simon and Karen.  Perhaps next year?

31 October 2015

The Asylum by John Harwood

The R.I.P. Reading Challenge is an event I look forward to every October.  The need to search out spooky tales through books at this time of year is inherent; the joys firmly established by many Halloweens marked by trick or treating and bags of candy.  By early September I already have an eye out for the book to read that, however ridiculous, will conjure up images of desolate buildings, foggy nights, creaking doors, and plenty of unexplained events.  While John Harwood's The Asylum didn't quite live up to my expectations, it was entertaining.

'I woke, as it seemed, from a nightmare of being stretched on the rack, only to sink into another dream in which I was lying in a strange bed, afraid to open my eyes for fear of what I might see.  The smell and the texture of the blanket against my cheek felt wrong, and I was clad, I became aware, in a coarse flannel nightgown that was certainly not my own.'

Georgina Ferrars is now a resident of Tragganon House on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall.  The door to her room is locked and the windows barred, yet she is told that her stay is voluntary.  The superintendent of the asylum, Dr Straker, refers to Georgina as 'Lucy Ashton' - apparently the name she gave when she appeared at the asylum in a state of distress.  Her travelling bag is also marked with the initials L.A.

Georgina tries to remain calm while taking in her surroundings, confident that one telegram to her uncle in Bloomsbury will sort out the mystery.  The reply arrives from Josiah, a bookseller, that states the person housed in the asylum can not possibly be Georgina as she is currently in the house.

Panic sets in but quite admirably, Georgina keeps her wits intact.  Through a very convenient detail, a writing case reveals a packet of letters, sent in error by a solicitor, that tell the story of Georgina's fractured family.  An elopement, a suspicious death, and the loss of family secrets and fortune in a landslide, give the imprisoned young lady plenty to unravel.

Early on I was quite sure this was going to be a case of 'evil twin does the old bait and switch'.  Hmmm...bait and switch (tick), asylum (tick), two young ladies enjoying cuddles under the duvet (tick)....wait a minute - this sounds remarkably like Sarah Waters' Fingersmith.  Well, not down to every detail but the main threads are there.

The Asylum was intriguing enough that I wanted to find out how Georgina would get herself on the other side of a locked door.  The conclusion is full of high drama and the book fulfills its promise of being a Victorian Gothic mystery...but if you're looking for this storyline and want to read something that feels more authentic, reach for Fingersmith.  

I dug out my very yellowed and decrepit copy of The Virago Book of Ghost Stories and read a snippet in the introduction that reeled me in called Juggernaut by D. K. Broster.  Not a name I'm familiar with but I can tell we'll get along....

'Tea now appearing, in a large Britannia-metal teapot enriched with repoussé roses, Miss Halkett removed herself from her chair to the table, with a view to doing fuller justice to the meal.  And indeed the chronicling of deeds of terror had never affected her appetite, not did the 'Things' which in her stories walked behind her heroes on lonely moors, or waited, gorilla-like, to strangle her heroines in underground passages, ever sit beside her bed or deprive her of a single night's rest.'

Although, I find myself hoping that at some point Miss Halkett tried her hand at a story where the heroine strangles the hero...

30 October 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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


'Many folk stories warn of the dangers of accepting a gift of food, especially a luxury food such as fruit or cake, from a woman outside the immediate family.  In 'Snow Drop', the earliest version of the tale which became better-known as 'Snow While', the wicked queen, who plainly has magical powers, prepares one last trap for her victim: a poisoned apple.  'The outside looked very rosy and tempting, but whoever tasted it was sure to die'.  'Hansel and Gretel' is the best known of a group of stories to which two children are victims of their own and their parents' terrible hunger.  These two children, abandoned by their (step)mother, find an alternative and apparently miraculous source of food, a house made of luxury items: 'the cottage was made of bread and cakes, and the windowpanes were of clear sugar'.  The magic house is inhabited by a witch; it embodies and represents her magical power that she can create such an impossible dwelling and symbol of plentitude.  The witch at first seems kind and considerate, but later reveals herself to be the opposite of the nurturer she seems; she is a devourer, not a substitute mother but an antimother:

The old woman, nodding her head, said "Ah, you dear children, what has brought you here?  Come in and stop with me, and no harm shall befall you; and so saying she took them both by the hand and led them into her cottage'  A good meal of milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples and nuts, was spread on the table, and in the back room were two little beds, covered with white where Hansel and Gretel laid themselves down, and thought themselves in heaven...

The witch decides to eat Hansel and to keep Gretel to work, and as a result it is Gretel's feminine linkage with the kitchen and cooking that allows her to take the witch from consumer to meal, baking her in the oven she prepares for Hansel.

The Witch in History

Hansel and Gretel by Arthur Rackham 

26 October 2015

The Women's Institute - My Visit to the Erland Lee Museum

For someone like me who experiences this organization through documentaries, books, and film, the whole concept of these women and all they achieve is as British as you can get.  So when my copy of Jambusters: The Story of the Women's Institute in the Second World War by Julie Summers arrived back in 2013, I was expecting to delve deeper into the world of jam and Jerusalem and other 'Britishness'.  The Women's Institute began in Britain in 1915, after the beginning of The Great War...but my eyes widened when I reached page twelve and read about Adelaide Hoodless...

'A speech she gave at a conference of the Farmers' Institute at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph was heard by Mr Erland Lee, secretary of the Farmers' Institute of Wentworth County.  He immediately invited her to speak at their next Ladies night at his institute in Stoney Creek.  Some thirty-five farmers' wives were present at the talk.  They received enthusiastically her suggestion that as the men had a Farmers' Institute so the women should consider having one of their ow.  The farmers' wives were so keen that they invited her to return the following week, on 19 February 1897.  That night the idea of a women's institute was born and a week later what became known as the 'Stoney Creek Women's Institute' was called into being and its first meeting was held.  Its motto, chosen five years later, became 'For Home and Country'.'

The homestead where that meeting took place is barely half an hour away from my house!  The idea of visiting the Erland Lee Museum was placed on the back burner but yesterday the stunning colours of Autumn and sunny blue skies were perfect for a get-away.

The humble walk to the front door of The Erland Lee Museum.

The stove in what was the original cabin built by discharged British soldier James Lee in 1808.

The 200 year old dining hutch houses plates donated by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

The cranberry glass chandelier is in the drawing room added in 1873.

The hand-woven coverlet on one of the girls' beds is American.  The border to Buffalo, NY is a mere forty minute drive away.

The 'Constitution table' where the bylaws were written that night in February 1897.  The curator told us that members of the W.I. visiting from Britain have even kissed the table!

List of Charter members.  

A photocopy of The Consitution...

...and a peek at the handwriting inside.  

I could have stood in front of one of the bookcases for ages (there was a copy of The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett).

My husband called me over while we were in the nearby barn to take a look at this group photo.  The last line made me laugh out loud.  Is the clue necessary?!

View from the parking area and the side entrance.

A time capsule in the back garden constructed in 1997 to be opened in 2047.

A view of the back of the homestead on a beautiful autumnal afternoon.

The Erland Lee Museum is well worth the five dollar admission charge.  My husband and I were there for nearly three hours and could easily have stayed longer.  This venture has certainly piqued my interest in the history of the Lee family and other founding members.  The next stop on my Women's Institute pilgrimage will be to visit The Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead in St. George.  I'm not exactly sure when that will be but hopefully within the next month.   

23 October 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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



A man accustomed to being cooked for is a helpless thing.  Abandoned by his cook, either temporarily or permanently, his first instinct is to find someone else to make his meals.  This conditioned response may be because women, from his mother onwards, have not only spoiled him, but woven an air of mystery around cooking.  They have whispered of barding and basting and double boilers.  Like cats, they have spat at frying pans to test the heat or, in apparent ungovernable rage, flung strands of spaghetti at the wall to see if they would stick.  The whole performance, from the shopping that seems to require arcane and distressingly female talk - phrases like a pound of skirt or a bag of Desirées - to choosing the one dish of the thirty available , that in some talismanic way his cook will have decreed the only one suitable, could have made a man craven in the kitchen.
  On the other hand, he may just have been arrogant and idle or simply not interested.  But friends will soon tire of providing for him and he must turn to the fridge and stove and think conscientiously about cooking for himself and for others, because nothing is more lowering than too many solitary meals, and a man left to cook for his children will find they grow fractious on uninterrupted junk food.
  Men who cook, particularly those new to the activity, want to make dishes that either have the quality of immediacy, or ones where alchemy in the oven will transform them.  Men, on the whole, are not good at diddling about waiting for one thing to happen before proceeding with the next.  For this reason, a stew which can be left alone to cook for hours and requires no cosseting is a favourite.  Most men, even abandoned ones, believe it improves with keeping and that it can be jazzed up with curry powder and raisins towards the end of its life.  This is not so, although the sauce of a stew does mellow when it is cooked on one day, heated up and eaten the next.

Cooking for Occasions

Man Peeling Potatoes by Harold Persico Paris

19 October 2015

Great British Bake Off: Another Slice

As Canadians we were a bit late to the party but to be fair The Great British Bake Off didn't show up on our cable channels until last year.  The end of another season has put a stop to worries about runny icing, less than impressive rises, and partially-cooked pastry.  Congratulations, Nadiya! Flora and Tamal are tops in my book too.

Our second favourite night was Friday when The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice aired.  It was like being invited to Jo Brand's house for a cuppa.  The fan bakes were impressive and fun in turns but it's cake so it can never really be bad.  There was one moment though...a woman made a cat cake, sitting in a litter tray, with fondant made to look like....well, let's leave it there.

The Great British Bake Off: Another Slice was just published and we thought it would be very much like the show.  There is no Jo Brand but it is packed with contestant profiles, baking history, quizzes, crosswords, fan bakes, behind-the-scenes stories and more, laid out in eye-catching colour.  It rates very high in charm factor.

I can see it now...pajama-clad family members shouting out the answers or...just keeping it to yourself.

Suddenly the small bowl of soup and a few oat crackers that was my lunch doesn't seem all that satisfying.

 If you're lucky enough to be left alone with the book and you have a package of pencil crayons handy (because everyone is buying those adult colouring books) you can brighten up a tea party.

If there's a Great British Bake Off fan in your life then this book is a must-buy!  And for those of you in mourning until the next series, this book will help nicely with the withdrawal.