Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

9780670015443I’m Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I’m Irish which makes me want to talk about it.”

So begins Kathleen Flinn’s delectable memoir of her family’s journey and food.

It wasn’t the cover that drew me to this book, it was the title, which recalls Flinn’s grandmother Inez, who refused to use toasters when the oven worked well.  The end result was often burnt toast, which she said “makes you sing good”. Don’t you love it?  My Yia Yia would come up with phrases like that, and so would my dad. “Children are starving in China” comes to mind admonishing a picky eater, though my sister got a tongue lashing once when she replied “then feed this to them“.

I digress.  Actually, I really don’t  digress, for this book brought on memory-upon- memory of my own family, both paternal and maternal, and the role food played in making me who I am. I read this in two bites, er, two days, and found myself wanting for more.

The book starts with Flinn’s mom and dad hastily moving from Michigan to California, via Route 66, with all their belongings, including three toddlers and one more on the way, to help run a pizza parlor owned by her Irish uncle – in the ’50s! This was long before pizza was known in most American homes. The Flinn’s eventually move back to Michigan, where they lived on a farm, ate plenty of chicken and eggs, and make do. It is, in its way, the story of growing up in the midwest in the fifties.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is the love story of Flinn’s parents, and maternal grandparents, finally her own. It is also about the abject poverty she eventually discovers her father grew up in with her grandmother raising a large family, in the Depression, on her own. It is about how her grandfather, once jailed for bootlegging, becomes a cook in the army during WWII and how she goes about doing sunshine work, dressed as cowgirl delivering her mom’s baked goods, in her new, suburban neighborhood.  This is a well-seasoned ragout of colorful grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins,. It is Flinn’s familial immigrant stories, and more, as she weaves chapter upon chapter of memories, replete with a relevant recipe for each chapter.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is not just about food. It is also about how the hardships, trials, and tribulations of life often serve to harden our resolve, build character, and furnish life lessons. That burnt toast can make us sing good is also about the grand midwestern spirit – and more. It’s mostly sweet and funny, just a wee bit sad, and waiting for you to open it’s covers.

Off I go now to bake a Jack-o-Lantern Tea loaf to take to a friend’s house for dinner tonight. My own story of how I came to this long-loved recipe can be found here.

 

Read Full Post »

DSCN6229In between leisurely walks in the Autumn woods, raking leaves, or conjuring up soups, late afternoons will often find me these days curled in a leafy corner somewhere, pages of words in my hands.  It might  be a cookbook, a vintage copy of Victoria magazine,  or Laline Paull’s “The Bees”, which will be our garden club’s January book discussion.

This afternoon found me in the arbor, sycamore leaves the size of dinner plates rearranging themselves here, there, and everywhere. The sun wove through the latticework. A light jacket kept me warm from the chill in the air and William Lange’s “Tales from the Edge of the Woods”  kept me company.

I’ve come to appreciate Willem Lange’s writings since Favor Johnson took up residence on a bookshelf one Christmas. You can read about my copy of “Favor Johnson” here.

“Tales from the Edge of the Woods” is a lovely collection of memories and words in short tales with titles like Sliding on a Shovel, Not Love at First Sight, or The Old Canoe, not to mention Favor Johnson. These are well varnished stories of folks you may know, or wish you did, and simple reflections on life.  I hope Mr. Lange won’t mind too terribly if I quote a few words from the story that found me in the arbor today, The Carpenter and the Honeybee. You will need to find “Tales from the Edge of the Woods”, which is available in all the ordinary bookish places, or from his website to read the whole story.

From The Carpenter and the Honeybee by Willem Lange

“She was a honeybee. Just as I was about to put my hand down upon her accidentally, my unconscious mind hollered, “Look out!” and the reflex jerked my arm back. I staggered, out of balance. If she noticed the close call we had both had, she gave no sign, and continued to try to wedge herself into that crack. Intrigued, I put down my plank and bent down to watch her. I wondered for a moment, as I pulled my specs down my nose, the better to see her up close, how it would feel to have a bee sting right on the end of my nose.”

Favor Johnson is a story from “Tales from the Edge of the Woods” as well as a children’s book.

Do you have some favorite books of short stories, memories, or essays?

Read Full Post »

care-management-lies-uk-200

I have enjoyed Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books, even procuring a copy from a Little Free Library box a few months ago.  They are gentle mysteries set in the post WWI era and provide insight into life in England after the war. I was excited to learn that Winspear had written another book, independent of the Maisie Dobbs series, set in the English countryside.

It was not just Winspear’s reputation that drew me to “The Care and Management of Lies”, however, and it wasn’t the book cover. (The one posted here is the UK edition, which I find to be much more appealing than the rather drab colored one here in the US, which I show below.) It was the name of the main character. Kezia. This is the name, as you might recall, of our granddaughter, though hers has an “h” on the end.

Kezia Marchant is the daughter of an Anglican pastor. Her best friend is Thea Brissenden. As the story begins, we learn that Kezia is engaged to marry Thea’s brother, Tom. Tom runs the family farm, since his father’s death. Thea is a suffragist, who seems to be struggling with Kezia’s new role as farm wife and who comes dangerously close to being jailed for sedition.  Tom feels it is his duty to go off to war, leaving Kezia, new to living a life off of the land, to tend to the farm.  They have precious little time together after their wedding, but, during the time, Kezzie, as Tom calls her, struggles determinedly to learn how to cook, surprising Tom with exotic new herbs, spices, and flavors and making their meals an anticipated ritual for Tom at day’s end.

When Tom goes off to the trenches in France, Kezzie works hard to keep the farm going, as well as the spirits of the few workers left to tend to the fields, the farm animals, and life on the home front. In France, Tom becomes the target of the unit’s sergeant, who taunts Tom and refers to him as Private Gravy. It is Kezia’s letters that keep Tom steady and sure, and eventually those of the other men in his unit.

The lies that are being cared for and managed are not those of  hidden love affairs, mounting debt, murder or thievery.  They are the lies of omission and embroidered truths; lies intended to help loved ones feel safe or taking their minds off of the horror at hand.  Lies, told in letters, are intermingled with the evocative prose that Jacqueline Winspear is known for. She is adept at bringing the mood, the aura, the simple gestures of living that keep her characters real as the reader becomes immersed in the era she writes about.

Kezia’s letters describe tantalizing meals made from unlikely ingredients, evocatively penned. She teasingly invites Tom to imagine eating them as he reads her letters and, even 9780062220509_custom-0e3798b9ed22df31b37811651b9bb807fe3083c3-s2-c85asks him to make suggestions as to how to improve her delectable entrees.  As time goes on, the men in Tom’s unit learn of the “meals” Kezzie sends, and beg him to read the letters aloud, huddled in the stench and mud, cold and fear of trench warfare.  Even his commanding officers know of Kezzie’s culinary talents, which bring about several kinds of jealousy from Tom’s superiors, dangerously so from Sergeant Knowles.

Tom Brissenden, in turn, writes to his Kezzie of those things that soldiers of war write home about;  longing to see the woman he loves, missing home, asking about his sister, Thea, who has become an ambulance driver, and his father-in-law, who has inlisted as a chaplain, and wondering about hearth and home . . .

. . .  then, all converge in a clash of wartime, leaving the reader with as many questions as answers, and this reader with tears in her eyes.

My hope is that Ms. Winspear continues to write about Kezia in the same manner in which we follow Maisie Dobbs. My other hope  is that you read “The Care and Management of Lies”.  It is slow going at the start, but, much worth the determination, like Kezzie’s cooking skills, to see it through to the end.

 

Read Full Post »

DSCN5973Shall I tell you a story of linen and ink, gardens and waterfalls, sunshine and splendor?

It occurs at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois.

Our garden club’s adventure started with a private tour of the Lenhardt Library; a treasure trove of horticultural books, journals, periodicals, reproduction prints and more. There was an amazing display of noteworthy bookplates, including those of Charles Dickens and Eugene Field.  Several of us were particularly interested in Field’s bookplate as we first met long before joining the garden club, when our children attended Field School, named for the poet. (you know him – Wynken, Blynken and Nod).

After our introduction to the wonders Lenhardt has to offer, we were taken into the June Price Reeder Rare Book Room. It was as if a hush fell on my soul, so enthralled was I in the presence of four centuries of bound and conserved horticultural wisdom, some of which became the template of remedies for modern medicine.  To touch the linen pages that predate the anniversary of Columbus’s discoveries, the day before Columbus Day is commemorated here, is rather awesome, indeed. The library is in the painstaking process of digitizing  these books and journals, some truly tomes, for all to access. You can see some of them by clicking the link to the rare book room above.

No garden club event seems complete without food, so, we stopped for lunch at the Cafe. We commiserated over sandwiches, soups, salads and sunshine, then separated, some taking a tram tour of the grounds, others walking the paths.  I suspect most of us also ended up in the bountiful gift shop before heading home.

The groundskeepers were busy, hauling this and that, flowers and soil, pumpkins and gourds, readying the Botanic for this weekend’s fall festivities. It was a pristine day; the best kind for visiting such an expansive garden. The Chicago Botanic Gardens is a destination for grade school field trips as well as an international destination to world travelers.  It pleased me to no end to hear the many languages that were being uttered and the universal joy of horticulture.

Here are a few photos taken in the Rare Book Room.  Our guide was Leora Siegel, the library’s director. It is an understatement to say that she was exemplary as she guided us through the centuries of books. I felt a tinge of regret when the tour concluded as I longed to hear and see more.

DSCN5975DSCN5976DSCN5974

Finally, a few photos of the grounds, which include the Japanese garden, the vast vistas, waterfall, and stunning chrysanthemums dripping from the main arbor leading out to the Botanic’s grounds.

DSCN6036

DSCN6003

DSCN5993DSCN6017DSCN5988DSCN6025DSCN6014DSCN5989

Read Full Post »

They find me in all sorts of places; libraries, bookstores, antique shops, used bookshops, through friends and family, and from you, dear readers, which is how I learned about a Letters from Skye_finaltender novel I just finished.

When a book recommendation comes my way, especially through blogs and emails and comments here on the Cutoff, I pen them to paper; on a TBR list, where they sit in patient abeyance for just the right moment to present themselves. Most eventually see the whites of my eyes.

So it was with a recent review of “Letters From Skye,” by Jessica Brockmole, which I read on Cath’s blog over at Read_Warbler.  An epistolary novel, “Letters from Skye” spans two world wars.. The letters begin in 1912. Elspeth Dunn, a published writer of poetry, lives on the remote Scottish Isle of Skye. She receives her first fan letter from David Graham, a student from Urbana, Illinois. Elspeth writes back, a long correspondence begins, as does a journey of heart and soul and eventually love in the midst of WWI.

It is not just Elspeth’s and David’s letters that tell this story, however. When bombing rocks Edinburg in WWII, Margaret finds her mother clutching letters from a gaping hole in a wall that a bomb exposes. Margaret sees one letter, addressing Sue, and soon begins an adventure, via letters of her own, as another world war tilts the British Isles. Who is Sue? Where did the letters come from? Why were they hidden in the wall?

Cath’s well written review of the book immediately caught my attention. It was the location of Urbana, Illinois, however, that piqued my curiosity.  I mentioned to Cath that I almost went to college there many moons ago – and yes, there really is an Urbana in Illinois. It is, in fact, now a very big  and quite prestigious school, the University of Illinois at Champagne/Urbana, with an equally prominent extension in Chicago. In fact, the U 0f I Chicago extension sits on land where I spent the first four years of my life. I digress. It was a bit of fun reading about Davey, as he is quickly addressed by Elspeth, and his antics while in school in Urbana.

It was equally interesting reading about Elspeth’s secluded life in her crofter’s cottage on Skye, awaiting the return of her husband, first from the sea, then from the war. The fact that she has already published poetry while living on a remote island immediately shadows her independent character, even though she has never been on a ferry to cross over to Scotland.

“Letters from Skye” is a sensitive story that opens slowly and reveals more of the characters as the letters crisscross the Atlantic. Reading it brought to mind “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” as well as “84 Charring Cross Road”. Whether true, as Helene Hannf’s book is, or imagined, as “Letters from Skye” and “The Guernsey Literary . .. ” are, there is something that draws a reader into story telling through letters.  At the same time, “Letters from Skye” evokes Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”, for Davey does eventually cross the ocean and becomes an ambulance driver with the American Field Service in France before the United States entered World War I.

While this novel opens slowly, it does so in the most compelling of ways. I was almost as anxious for the next letter to arrive as the characters of the book seemed to be. In fact, there were times I simply put “Letters from Skye” down and walked away for a spell,  as if to absorb the anticipation of waiting for the next post. Through what is written, and what is not, there is a palpable sense of time and place, actions and consequences, anxiety and resolve.  What surprised me as this epistle came to a close were the tears that welled in my eyes as the last of the letters were read. I had not realized, until almost the very end, how much Brockmole’s characters meant to me.

Read Full Post »

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.
Willa Cather

DSCN4884

I call it “my tree”;  a stately copper beech, it holds court just east of the visitor center It is an anchor of the shade garden at the Morton Arboretum.

It isn’t really mine, of course. It is everyone’s, but, I call it mine as it is truly my favorite tree. I look for it each time I wander the Morton. It’s copper leaves, smooth bark, sturdy limbs and strength of character call to me.  It is a prescient presence, whatever the season. This copper beech is so wide of girth that I could never hug it completely. I know. I’ve tried to. Standing beneath its comfort and shade, however, seems to be all the beech I need.

Sir Author Conan Doyle knighted one of his stories  The Adventure of the Copper Beeches. Maeve Binchy gave Copper Beech  title to a book. Poets and troubadours have caught its essence in verse and in song.

Soon, very soon, “my tree” will turn  toward another season. It will shed its leaves, resigned to the way it must live, but, its strong trunk and encompassing limbs will still hold court in the shade garden.

Do you have a favorite tree?

Read Full Post »

CoverCBAdvertJust after WWII ends in Europe, in the Eugannean Hills near Venice, Graziella waits for her husband to come home.  Ugo has been engaged in the Italian Resistance.  Although now at war’s end, he has not returned home, while most of his compatriots have. He is presumed to be dead, though no word has yet come.

Caring for her ill father-in-law, Giovanni, and dealing with Ugo’s large Italian family, Graziella (aka Grace), is weary of war, misses her life in Venice, and yearns for Ugo’s return – or, to at least know if he is, indeed, alive. The foreign wife of a member of the resistance, Grazielle is sent to the family orchards for safety. Ugo’s many sisters, all with the first name of Maria, their husbands, children, animals and extended family, as well as the other villagers, all of whom are suspicious of the beautiful Grazzielle, are a challenge to live among. All are barely surviving, in  poverty, near starvation, and living amid the devastation and horrors of war.

One day, a handsome American soldier happens by. Graziella, as well as most everyone else in the hills, hears the rumble of his motorcycle before seeing him. In an area often subjected to air raids, there is still a palpable fear of bombings, even though the war has officially ended.

Frank’s appearance is at first frightening, then a curiosity – and a cause for gossip. He befriends the men and boys, first, then the suspicious women, some of whom scheme for marriages of their daughters. Frank also endears himself to Giovanni, who thinks him his son Ugo, returned.  Frank takes refuge in Giovanni’s barn, repairing things on the farm, chopping wood, sharing cigarettes with men and chocolate with the children. It is his attention and feelings toward Grazziella, whom he calls by her given name, Grace, however, that is the heart of “Ciao Bella”.

A little slow in the beginning, Gina Guonaguro and Janice Kirk’s story gains momentum and is full of as much humor as dismay, with several unexpected surprises. It is at once a gentle read and a reminder of the horrors of war, the choices one makes and the consequences of those choices. It is sometimes sad and horrifying, other times  humorous and speaks to the human spirit and the will to go on. It also awakened me to yet another region, plagued by war and how people survive, move on, learn to live again in an intimate portrait of family, fears, and faith in the future.

In the end, I was quite pleased that I rescued this book, with its beautifully evocative cover, from the overflowing shelves at a local charity shop. Someone needed to bring  it home; might as well have been me. As I opened the cover, it appeared to have not been read. How sad, I thought. In excellent shape and hardbound to boot,  I merely had to reach deep into my pockets and pull our six quarters for this quiet portrait of life after war.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Petals. Paper. Simple Thymes

"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." William Wordsworth

My Chicago Botanic Garden

A blog for visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Living Designs

Circles of Life: My professional background in Foods and Nutrition (MS, Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, RDN, LDN) provides the background for my personal interests in nutrition, foods and cooking; health and wellness; environment and sustainability.

Women Making Strides

Be a Leader in Your Own Life

Raising Milk and Honey

The Farm at Middlemay

The Cottonwood Tree

Beautiful Things Inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder

cakes, tea and dreams

savoring the beauty in the everyday

Romancing the Bee

Beautiful Beekeeping, English Cottage Gardening, and Cooking with Honey

Book Snob

FOR DISCERNING READERS

teacups & buttercups

An old fashioned heart

Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Analysis and reflection from someone endlessly fascinated with Louisa May Alcott. Member/supporter of Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House (including the Alcott International Circle) and the Louisa May Alcott Society.

breathelighter

Reducing stress one exhale at a time ...exploring Southern California and beyond

Kate Shrewsday

A thousand thousand stories

Blogging from the Bog

musings from and about our cottage in the West of Ireland

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 290 other followers