Sunday, July 31, 2011

Listening to... JD Souther

Because he's no longer available on a local Boston radio station, I listen to Imus via podcast on my iTouch--not necessarily for his personal brand of humor, but for the guests he invites on who offer up food for thought that can sometimes take me out of my conservative thinking rut.  Then, too, there is the music he nudges my way with a simple "Was that great or what?".  

This time it was JD Souther's Natural History.  As soon as I heard  I'll Be Here at Closing Time, I immediately clicked on iTunes and downloaded the entire album and have been lost in these songs since.

From Amazon:
If you don't know JD Souther, you surely know his songs. In the renaissance of popular songwriting that occurred during the 1960s and '70s, his name looms large as one of the chief architects of the Los Angeles scene. JD is an artist whose spirit and influence has had an enormous impact on a full generation of this country's greatest musical names: The Eagles, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Roy Orbison, just to name a few.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Joy of Reading ~ Clara and Mr. Tiffany

from Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland

It was our books that remained. I was careful to pick out my own, leaving his. Into my carpetbag first went my mother's Shakespeare, the plays and the sonnets. I couldn't help but think of the first line of Sonnet Twenty-nine, which seemed to be aimed at me this last month as it never had before.  "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes."  In went my mother's etiquette book, The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen, which I read with some levity, and my stepfather's Bible and his Minister's Bible Concordance, which bristled when I put Whitman's Leaves of Grass next to it. My leather-bound Keats and Wordsworth came next, reminding me that it wasn't a bad thing to brighten one's days with snips of poetry, like my mother did. Then Ibsen's plays, Vasari's Lives of the Artists, and Henry James's Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady. There stood Emily Dickinson. The 1890 collection, her first, Francis had given me. The 1891 collection I had given him. I took them both, wondering what follows The Sweeping up the Heart / And putting Love away.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Joy of Reading ~ Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

from Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

People share books they love.  They want to spread to friends and family the goodness that they felt when reading the book or the ideas they found in the pages.  In sharing a loved book, a reader is trying to share the same excitement, pleasure, chills, and thrills of reading that they themselves experienced.  Why else share?  Sharing a love of books and of one particular book is a good thing.  But it is also a tricky maneuver....  The giver of the book is not exactly ripping open her soul for a free look, but when she hands over the book with the comment that it is one of her favorites, such an admission is very close to the baring of the soul.  We are what we love to read, and when we admit to loving a book, we admit that the book represents some aspects of ourselves truly, whether it is that we are suckers for romance or pining for adventure or secretly fascinated by crime.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Joy of Reading ~ Folly Beach

from Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank

When I was a little girl I spent hours wandering along the edges of this very shore, my sneakers sinking in the soft sand, my footprints filling quickly with the rising tide.  It was hypnotic, watching tides roll in to wash the shore with their swirl and froth.  The water chased the flocks of tiny sandpipers away, back into the salty air and they landed some twenty feet down the shoreline.  Then the water pulled back only to slide in again, over and over, in its own measured time, covering the beach inch by inch, until it reached its high-water mark.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Blueberry Cake

A couple of weeks ago, the Boston Globe G magazine had several pages of blueberry recipes, each presented as something new to the culinary world. Well, as we all know, there really isn't much of anything new in the recipe world. Oh, yes, there are those who "de-construct" or introduce the world of chemistry to their kitchen efforts, but what I'm thinking about is the more basic recipies. Sure enough, two weeks later, the Boston Globe G magazine reminded us of the "Confidential Chat" column which many of us remember fondly, and darn if one of those "new" blueberry receipes wasn't right out of "Cakes and Cookies" kitchen!

So, here's the Blueberry Cake with Streusel Topping receipe which I made (at family's request) for the third time this morning.

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) cold butter, cut up

In a bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter. Work the mixture with your fingertips until well blended; refrigerate.

Butter (for the pan)
Flour (For the pan)
1 pint (2 cups) fresh blueberries, picked over
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature

1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch-square metal baking pan. Dust the pan with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. In a bowl, toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon of the flour.

3. In another bowl, whisk the remaining flour, baking powder, and salt to blend them.

4. In an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until soft and light. Beat in the egg and vanilla until soft and light. With the mixer set to its lowest speed, blend in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with flour.

5. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand. With a rubber spatula, fold in blueberries. Transfer the batter to the pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the topping over the cake.

6. Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes or until the top is brown.

My modifications: I do not have a stand mixer, so I carefully planned out and used the four sizes of my trusty Pyrex mixing bowls with my hand mixer. For the ingredients, I used 1% milk instead of whole. I used an eight-inch-glass baking dish and reduced the oven temperature to 350 degrees and baked for 42 minutes.

And in the background of some of the pictures, you'll see something that makes me smile every time I cook and use it: My mother's FireKing measuring cup.

Posting recipies is something new for me.  I'm what I would label a "plain" cook--nothing fancy, nothing too challenging.  So with a nod to those who are much better cooks and infinitely better bloggers than I, thank you for the inspiration for this post.

Visit Letters from a Hill Farm and see the recipe for Blueberry/Cranberry Muffins here or visit Lesley's Kiss the Cook blog and check out the Berry Best Bran Muffins recipe here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

June 2011

June was a month chock full of memorable characters and luscious covers. With one exception, I was book elated through the entire month!

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio
(4/5 Fiction Scale)
Leave your need to ask "Really?" at the door and just sit back and enjoy this story of family, friends, and secrets all around.
First line:  "I guess this is it," Joel said, leaning into the doorway of our apartment.

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson
(3.5/5 Fiction Scale)
Again, secrets…possibly the hardest to bear--secrets of survivors of war. This story of a post WWII reunion reveals in heartbreaking detail what it took to come to the house at 22 Britannia Road and the lengths a desperate family will go to to preserve its promise. The revelation begins with the opening line: "The boy was everything to her."

Vision in White by Nora Roberts (1st in Brides Quartet)
(3.5/5 Fiction Scale)
First in a quartet of books featuring four lifelong friends who own Vows, an all-inclusive wedding service. Light romantic read and a good inbetween book.
First line:  By the time she was eight, Mackensie Elliot had been married fourteen times.

Beach Roses by Jean Stone
(3.5/5 Fiction Scale)
My "this is really over the top" initial reaction to this book was soon overcome as the story of each one of the strong (even if she didn't realize it in the midst of overwhelming problems) women unfolded.
First line:  Dexa-scans and mammo-scans and ultra-scans and everything.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming
(4/5 Mystery Scale)
Series came highly recommended by another reader whose opinion I value, and this first installment didn't disappoint! Russ Van Alstyne, police chief of Millers Kill, and Clare Fergusson, new-to-town Episcopal priest, first meet when she reports a baby abandoned at the church. And so the story begins with mysteries of wrong doing and personal conflict. Very much looking forward to the next in the series, A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD.
First line:  It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby.

South of Superior by Ellen Airgood
(4.5/5 Fiction Scale)
McAllaster, described as a beautiful and hardscrabble town on the southern edge of Lake Superior, is the setting for the story of Madeline Stone and how she comes to find the meaning of "tzadik." The characters jump of the pages and invite you into their world, and you go willingly with hope of finding out their secrets. Best last line of a book ever.
First line:  The letter from Gladys Hansen was written in blue ink in an angular hand, on one sheet of plain white paper.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
(5/5 Fiction Scale)
For me, this book had it all--characters and setting that jump off the page and grab you while telling a story that leaves you gasping as it unfolds before your reading eyes.
First line:  The news of Anders Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope.

Summer Rental by Mary Kay Andrews
(3/5 Fiction Scale)
Lifelong friends with secrets + one newcomer on the run + one hunky neighbor (with a secret, of course) + "charming" rental cottage in Nags Head = typical, if sometimes tedious, summer beach read.
First line:  It was not an auspicious beginning for a vacation, let alone for a new life.

Best Staged Plans by Claire Cook
(2/5 Fiction Scale)
That it took me three days to read 238 pages of fluff is a good clue to my feeling about this book. I liked Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook; I really liked Multiple Choice by Claire Cook. Her more recent efforts have been, well, meh. Best Staged Plans struggled to achieve "meh" status for me.
First line:  Okay, so I accidentally wrapped my reading glasses in one of the packages I mailed.

State of Wonder was tops for the month. I'm still pondering some of the conflicts that confronted the characters in this book. Sadly, Best Staged Plans just didn't do it for me--not even sure I would go back and give it a second try just to see if it wasn't the book for me at this time. Too many cutsey asides and too little story to suit my fancy.

So, I'm off to Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank to start July.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Burnt Mountain by Anne Rivers Siddons

In stores July 19

Growing up, the only place tomboy Thayer Wentworth felt at home was at her summer camp - Camp Sherwood Forest in the North Carolina Mountains. It was there that she came alive and where she met Nick Abrams, her first love...and first heartbreak. Years later, Thayer marries Aengus, an Irish professor, and they move into her deceased grandmother's house in Atlanta, only miles from Camp Edgewood on Burnt Mountain where her father died years ago in a car accident. There, Aengus and Thayer lead quiet and happy lives until Aengus is invited up to the camp to tell old Irish tales to the campers. As Aengus spends less time at home and becomes more distant, Thayer must confront dark secrets-about her mother, her first love, and, most devastating of all, her husband.

I was totally gobsmacked by Off Season and am looking forward to Burnt Mountain.  With a main character named Aengus who tells old Irish tales, I'm hoping for allusions either to The Song of Wandering Aegnus (Wm. Butler Yeats--sigh...) or Tir na nog, the mythical Land of the Young. Hoping usually doesn't get me anywhere, but maybe this time....

August 7 Update:  Just finished Burnt Mountain and while the hoped for allusions were all there, the book was a bit of a disappointment for me.