27 February 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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


They sat on the grass in St James's Park and Nazneen laid the picnic out on four tea towels.  Chicken wings spread in a paste of yoghurt and spices and baked in the oven, onions sliced to the thickness of a fingernail, mixed with chillies, dipped in gram flour and egg and fried in bubbling oil, a dry concoction of chickpeas and tomatoes stewed with cumin and ginger, misshapen chapattis wrapped while still hot in tinfoil and sprinkled now with condensation, golden hard-boiled eggs glazed in a curry seal, Dairylea triangles in their cardboard box, bright orange packets containing shamelessly orange crisps, a cake with a list of ingredients too long to be printed in legible type.  She arranged them all on paper plates and stacked up the plastic tubs inside the carrier bags.
  'It's ready,' she cried, as though calling them to the table.
  Shahana extricated a Dairy Lea and picked the foil apart.  She rolled the cheese inside a chapatti.  Bibi sat on her feet and chewed at a chicken wing.  Chanu took his time loading a plate with each item, including three crisps and a slice of the cake.  He balanced it on his knee.  'It's quite a spread,' he said in English.  'You know, when I married your mother, it was a stroke of luck.'  He gestured at the tea towels as if his luck were plainly on display.  Then he ate with a fervour that ruled out conversation.

Brick Lane

24 February 2015

Distractions From the Cold

Mother Nature is not being very kind at the moment.  We here, in my corner of Canada, are fed up with the likes of winter and bundling up just to get out of bed, never mind to go outdoors.  The mercury is waaay down the thermometer and when you add in the windchill factor we've had to endure the likes of  -36C lately.  It's uncalled for!

Thankfully there are plenty of things to distract me from the icicles hanging down from the eaves and mounds of snow threatening to block our view out the windows.  Yesterday, I finally finished my epic reading adventure of The Moonstone.  There were moments when I wavered but they were fleeting.  Far greater were the moments when the book was barely off the end of my nose as I raced through paragraphs of suspense dying to find out what would happen next.  How Wilkie Collins mapped out such a complex web of characters, multiple narrators, intrigue, laugh-out-loud humour, and romance while under the influence of so much opium he needed to string along four doctors to acquire it - is beyond me.  Reading The Moonstone with a group of colleagues from two branches of the library was my brilliant idea of a way to fend off some of the winter blues.  We're meeting this Friday to see how everyone got on and I'm a tad worried since there hasn't been much said about the whole thing this past month.  At least people don't seem to be avoiding me in the staff room which has to be a positive thing....right?

Another exciting occupation to help me forget the frigid weather is planning my trip to London.  Despite the fact that I keep telling myself I will spend more time sitting on park benches in beautiful leafy squares simply people watching or reading a book - I want to go everywhere!  Persephone Books will be having their Teatime Reading Group, the Imperial War Museum is featuring an exhibit Fashion on the Ration, the Dulwich Picture Gallery will be showcasing Eric Ravilious, Elthan Palace is hosting an Art Deco fair, Emily of EmilyBooks runs a book group with a ramble that I must email her about, and a day in Cambridge is on my itinerary, not to mention my date with Mary in Regent's Park and Bletchley Park is a possibility.  If you see a blur of a woman whipping about London this May - it's me.

Speaking of London, my neighbours have just returned home from a trip there to visit one of their daughters.  Lucky for me, I am their chief cat-sitter; with a fairly new kitten in the house it was such a delight to spend lots of time playing with him.  Lucky for my neighbours, my rates are ridiculously low.  When the house keys and instructions were dropped off I handed over a piece of paper with my fee request - a copy of A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon.  It's one of the mystery titles reprinted by the British Library; set in London during the early days of World War II it ticks a lot of boxes and will hopefully be a fun read.  Anything to take my mind off of this....

...it's so cold that the thunderous Niagara Falls has become a frozen work of art.....sigh.

20 February 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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


People believe that dining alone will mark them as a loser or a desperate soul, one who can't find a friend in all the world to eat with them.  But the reality is that other diners hardly notice you.  And if they do, they probably think you are from another country.
  In the same way that you should get massages and take naps or meditate, you should, everyone should, make a point to eat out by yourself from time to time.  You should be kind enough to yourself to lavish your appetite with good food without the interruptions of company.
  When you are by yourself, you have the chance to read the entire menu, take in the décor, observe the theater of the place and, most important, pay attention to the food.  You can concentrate on the interplay of flavors rather than having to make a mental note to do so in between delivering anecdotes about your vacation.  (If the company is good, I often come home forgetting what wine we drank or what the spice was in the cake.) You may sit by yourself, but you are never lonely.
  Which is why some of the best meals of my life have been solitary.  In Europe, dining alone is much more common than it is here.  When I turned twenty-three, I took myself to lunch at La Côte St. Jacques. then a three-star restaurant in Joigny, France.  During the six-course menu dégustation, none of the army of waiters in tuxedos seemed to pity me.  None of the other diners in the room expressed disapproval.  The only person disturbed by the event was my mother, when she got the bill.

Cooking for Mr Latte

La Côte St. Jacques

13 February 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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

1862 - 1937

When the tea came he watched her in silent fascination while her hands flitted above the tray, looking miraculously fine and slender in contrast to the coarse china and lumpy bread.  It seems wonderful to him that any one should perform with such careless ease the difficult task of making tea in public in a lurching train...(S)ecure in the shelter of her conspicuousness, he sipped the inky draught with a delicious sense of exhilaration.
  Lily, with the flavour of Selden's caravan tea on her lips, had no great fancy to drown it in the railway brew which seemed such nectar to her companion; but, rightly judging that one of the charms of tea is the fact of drinking it together, she proceeded to give the last touch to Mr. Gryce's enjoyment by smiling at him across her lifted cup.

The House of Mirth

Orient Express

9 February 2015

Mysterious Kôr by Elizabeth Bowen

Elizabeth Bowen would have honed her skills of observation during the time she spent working for the Ministry of Information and as an air-raid warden during WWII.  Coupled with her exceptional writing abilities, Bowen is a stand-out when it comes to placing readers in the middle of London during the Blitz.  And as evidence in the case of show versus tell when it comes to writing, there is no need for Bowen to explain why the park in this story is gateless.

Mysterious Kôr is, on the surface, a story about a young soldier, Arthur, spending a night of leave with his head-strong girlfriend, Pepita.  Emerging from the Underground on a cold moon-filled night the couple wander into a park.  Without a quiet place to be alone, Pepita recites a poem about '..a completely forsaken city, as high as the cliffs and as white as bones, with no history...'.  The couple debate whether such a place ever existed; Pepita's view is that if Mysterious Kôr can exist there is hope for what remains of London once the bombing has stopped.

Meanwhile, Pepita's flatmate waits for the couple in a sparse flat which was once a Victorian drawing room, now divided into three rooms.  Callie pays the bulk of the rent therefore giving her the lone bedroom but a prim nature would never allow her to turn it over to the couple...
'She had turned open Arthur's bed, the living-room divan, in the neat and inviting way she had learnt at home - then, with a modest impulse, replaced the cover.  She had, as Pepita foresaw, been wearing her cretonne house-coat, the nearest thing to a hostess gown that she had; she had already brushed her hair for the night, rebraided it, bound the braids in a coronet round her head.'
Callie is overly keen but this is down to the anticipation and anxiety of a male presence.  There is no hope of being alone for the romantic couple, even the moon and waving search lights are constantly present despite the blackout.  What happens next is a fascinating exploration of sociology involving these three young people; to say anymore would just ruin things for you.  Sorry.

Delving into such writings in an abstract manner or with a critical eye can be interesting and eye-opening but reading (this) made me wish like anything Elizabeth Bowen was still around to comment.  For me, I am quite happy to simply bask in her sublime prose.

Published in my latest acquisition from the Everyman's Pocket Classics series London Stories,  Mysterious Kôr can also be found in Wave Me Goodbye:  Stories of the Second World War edited by Anne Boston and online.


...while at work yesterday I put up a new slat wall display featuring short stories and gave it the title 'Shorts in Winter'.  This genre doesn't cross the circulation desk very often so it's my goal this week to draw customers' attention to many wonderful compilations including everything from Disney to erotica.  And when will they see these two collections together on one display ever again?

6 February 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

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


Recently I was thumbing through various collections hunting for obscure words describing food.  I came upon a truly extraordinary lost lexicon of gastronomy.  Of course, there were many names of now unknown dishes like pottage, mortrews, buknade and civet (all porridge-like substances).  The necessity in medieval times to smash, pulp and spice food beyond recognition makes many early dishes appear now quite unappetizing.  Small wonder these disappeared.  But what happened to the flurch of flampoints, I want to know, the licious lozens, the fitchet pies?  The descriptions under these throw flashes of light on past luxurious banquets, gastronomic galas and superb cooks.  Among these forgotten terms are opsophagist 'frequenter of pastry shops'; symposiast 'one of a drinking party, banqueter'; pabulous 'abounding in food'; eubrotic 'good to eat'; orectic 'characterized by appetite or desire'; esculent 'good to eat'; deipnetic 'fond of eating'; pamphagous 'omnivorous'; coenaculous 'fond of suppers'; gulch 'to swallow hungrily', and pinguedinize 'to make fat'.  The entries under pabulous comessations and dapatical ebrieties say it all.  Many such valuable and interesting words have vanished.  I've grown attached to smellfeast 'the uninvited dinner guest' and shotclog 'the companion tolerated because he or she pay for drinks'.  Potvaliant is a wonderful word for someone who's courageous through drink.  However, my current favourite would have to be supernaculum, a word referring to the act of drinking the very last drop from a glass or bottle.  How can we do without it?

Blooming English

Sister Monica Joan - Call the Midwife
(I read this quote and couldn't resist)

2 February 2015

Getting Stuck In...Literally

We've had snow all through the night and it's still falling this morning.  I can only imagine the shining faces and squeals of joy from children with their faces pressed up against their bedroom windows.  There's no doubt about it being a snow day.  My husband was pretty happy about it too!  He's out in the garage, firing up the snowblower to help a few neighbours clear a path...but for why?  No one is going anywhere today.

This means a glorious day of reading for me.  I'm on page 140 of The Moonstone and really enjoying it.  I chose this book for an impromptu read-along with people at work based on the fact that a) I really like Wilkie Collins....and b) lots of excellent reviews on a certain website that sells everything.  The first few pages full of Anglo-Indian history, rambling sentences, and flowery language were just fine with me but two colleagues have already chucked it in.  Their loss because while in the thick of a reading session yesterday I was dying for a cup of tea but couldn't put my book down; it's that good.  I've sent the philistines (with a smile) a link to the Masterpiece Classics version on youtube, secretly hoping it will inspire them to try the book again.  But, I did have a laugh the other day while tidying up a stack of magazines on the coffee table.  Opening up the October edition of Tatler, on page 151, there's a sidebar attached to an article...Ways To Cull Unwanted Friends and right at the top it says...Invite them to join your book club.  Oh dear.

I've been laid low with a cold these past couple of days so taking advantage of some quiet time I started playing around with my blog template.  Trying to figure out how to get the menu bar under the header and link pages took some doing but what a feeling of accomplishment when it all came together.  I want to say 'a fresh look for Spring' but it doesn't look anything like it here quite yet.