Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Southern Gothic

It's spring, everybody is busy and distracted and probably on spring break.  Let's do a short story this week.  I recently read Bride of the Innisfallen by Eudora Welty, a collection of stories published in the 1950's.  The first story, called "No Place for You, My Love" is today's assignment.  Anything by Eudora Welty is excellent, but I chose this story because the writing is so evocative of the deep south.  The plot is secondary--a man and a woman, each involved in relationships with other people, meet in New Orleans and go for a drive, heading south.  One of the characters wonders if there is anything south of New Orleans, something the reader might wonder as well.  This story contains some of the best descriptive writing I've ever read.  You become completely immersed and even now, weeks after I read the story, I can still feel it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fifty Classics

I'm joining the Classics Club, a project in which bloggers list at least fifty classic works of literature they'd like to read and set a deadline, up to five years in the future in which to finish reading them.  Follow the link to read the full instructions and to join if you want.  I hereby set my own deadline as March 28, 2017.

My list:

1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
2. The Virginians by William Makepeace Thackeray
3. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
4. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
5. Absalom Abaslom by William Faulkner
6. The Hamlet by William Faulkner
7. The Town by William Faulkner
8. The Mansion by William Faulkner
9. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
10. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
11. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
12. The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
13. Yeats--the Autobiography
14. The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
15. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
16. The Red and the Black by Stendhal
17. Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
18. Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
19. Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
20. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
21. The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
22. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
23. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
24. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
25. Old Man Goriot by Honore de Balzac
26. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
27. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
28. Ulysses by James Joyce
29. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford
30. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
31. Point Counterpoint by Aldous Huxley
32. Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
33. The Diary of John Evelyn
34. A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne
35. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
36. Framely Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
37. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
38. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
39. Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
40. Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope
41. The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope
42. Phineas Redux by Anthony Trollope
43. The Prime Minister by Anthony Trollope
44. The Duke's Children by Anthony Trollope
45. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
46.  The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
47.  Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
48.  Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
49. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
50. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Some of these are re-reads--the rules say that this is OK.  I got the name Patience Crabstick from Trollope's novel The Eustace Diamonds, and I read a lot of the Dickens and Faulkner novels in college and of course I have read Mansfield Park. The definition of "classic" is left up to the person who is participating.  I don't know who considers Cold Comfort Farm to be a classic, except for anyone who has read it.  What classics would you like to read?

Edited to add that as I finish these, I'll highlight their titles according to a color-coded system I use that ranks the books I read.  Purple=LOVE, definitely read again.  Blue=Good.  Maroon=Soso. Green=Bad.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Politics and Dogs

Can it be possible that I have run out of things to blog about?  I was planning to do a round-up of all the ridiculous proposed bills and idiotic statements from politicians such as the Wisconsin politician who suggested that women with abusive husbands might be willing to stay with them if they remember their abuser's good qualities.  The stupidity of that statement speaks for itself.  Then, there's a proposed bill in Kansas that would allow doctors to lie to women about the results of their prenatal testing in order to prevent abortion.  It would even be OK to withhold from women the fact that they have an ectopic pregnancy--a life-threatening condition in which the fertilized egg is developing outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube.  That's right.  It's perfectly acceptable, in some people's minds, to allow a woman to die, potentially deprive existing children of their mother, or a husband of his wife in order to "save" an unborn baby.  In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the baby would die too, but that, apparently, is a detail of no importance.  What is important is that another woman was prevented from killing her baby.  Because that's what we women do, we sit around and plot the killing of our babies.  We're so corrupt with original sin, we can't be trusted to make moral decisions on our own and must be lied to.

But now I am angry and I don't like being angry on a Monday, so the hell with the rest of the headline roundup.

Instead I will give you this.

This is Sancho.  It may look like he is contemplating a future in which Rick Santorum, or someone like him is leading the United States, but actually he is just really, really freaked out because it is raining.  What he's afraid of is thunder.  He associates thunder with rain, and even though it doesn't thunder every time it rains, there is the possibility that it might thunder and the thing to do when you are afraid that it might thunder is sit on the landing at the top of the stairs and hold yourself in a very, very tense position until it stops raining.

He will not enter the bedrooms to take comfort in our company because of a terrible incident from his puppyhood in which Brigid somehow boosted him--he weighed fifty pounds-- into the top bunk of her bed.  Naturally, she couldn't get him down again.  It bears mentioning that she tried this experiment the day after I bought new Shabby Chic duvet covers for the beds.  

We dragged the mattress off the lower bunk onto the floor and piled it with pillows and quilts to serve as a cushion and coaxed and pleaded and tried to lift him out of the upper bunk, but he seemed to have welded his body to the mattress. We literally could not budge him. Then Jon arrived, and Sancho, realizing that Jon was the strongest person in the house, made an unexpected flying leap out of the bed into Jon's arms, knocking Jon onto his ass on the mattress-cushion pile.  The impact shook the house to its foundation.  That was six years ago. Sancho never entered a bedroom again.

Speaking of shaking the house to its foundation, we had a 3.1 magnitude earthquake last night, around 11:00pm-ish.  Did you feel it C'ville people?  I heard a deep rumble and felt a mild tremor that lasted for about 10 seconds.   That's how many earthquakes since August?  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Up the Sandbox

Up the Sandbox by Anne Roiphe is one of the feminist-themed novels that seemed to be published in abundance in the early 1970’s. Its protagonist, a young housewife in Manhattan with two young children leads a double life: the daily grind of childcare and housework, and a rich fantasy life. It won’t take long to read, but its sensitive and perceptive treatment of the inner life of a stay-at-home mother is a rich reward.

I lived that life myself, when my children were young. I was very, very busy, indeed had less time for myself then than I do now with a full time job, but I was overcome with the monotony, with the perceived meaninglessness of doing the same tasks over and over again. I think the worst for me was lunchtime. Having to say, day after day, “What do you want for lunch?” and then put out plates of sandwiches and tediously cut up fruit, most of which would end up on the floor or in the dogs. And no sooner was lunch accomplished, then they were clamoring for a snack, and then it was time to cook dinner, another ordeal, although somehow easier because there was no asking, “What do you want…”

And so it is for Margaret of Up the Sandbox, who spends her days at the city playground, measuring out her day by inches, avoiding the housework, and trying to shield herself from her mother’s disapproval.

I feel like a traitor to my old self, writing this way about being a stay at home mother. I don’t mean to say that such an existence is meaningless. I felt strongly that I should not work when my children were little. I didn’t want to miss a single second of their babyhoods. I didn’t want the cost and guilt of childcare. It was meaningful when looked at from a larger perspective, but I have to admit that the day-to-day life was far from fulfilling.

In the book, Margaret’s husband wants her to go to grad school, so she will not become dull, but this option seems to her more like another burden rather than a path to opportunity. In the end, circumstances make grad school impracticable.

Nowadays there’s a weird dynamic with being an at-home mother. It has practically become a competitive sport as highly educated women channel their energy to engineering perfect childhoods for their children. And why not make wheatgrass smoothies and birthday cakes shaped like Eiffel Tower if you have the ability? Virtually all of my daughters’ clothes—even play clothes—were hand sewn and smocked by me. I had the time and the ability and I desperately needed an outlet for my creative energy. Which is exactly why motherhood has become so intensely focused on production, on accomplishments: because this is what we’ve been raised to expect out of life. There is not much sense of accomplishment in making a peanut butter sandwich, but a sandwich on home baked whole wheat bread with jam you canned yourself and organic sugar-free nut butter—now that’s an accomplishment. I’m not convinced the new standards are unreservedly good for children, but it’s unlikely that former lax standards of motherhood will become fashionable any time soon.

Anyway, if you’re a mother, if you’ve ever felt ambivalent about how you spend your days, you’d probably like Up the Sandbox.

Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Joseph's Day

Sunday morning at the Bloody Mary Bar at the Shebeen, where our friends were nursing their apres St. Paddy's day hangovers,  I tried, and failed, to recreate the Bloody Mary of my childhood.  It is an elusive thing:  Sunday mornings at Grandpa's, they were rich and peppery, with their jaunty stick of celery.  I don't know where I went wrong: not enough Worcestershire, or too much celery salt.  Jon had to finish it for me.  What's your Bloody Mary secret?

Delores Davoli will not die.  The other day I got this startling email.

I logged in as Delores, just to see what was going on and she had a wall full of posts from her "friends" but luckily, no new friend requests or messages.  

We got a letter from Ian's school saying he is approved to graduate in May.  This, of course, is contingent upon passing this semester's classes.  He is taking eighteen credits and working part time for a painter.  He called me last night to say he'd moved into a new apartment, which is good news, I think.  The old apartment was plagued with bats and his bedroom was on the third floor, so I was perpetually worried about rabies/death by fire.  The advantage of the old apartment was that it was close enough to campus to steal their wifi plus enjoy the benefits of campus public safety.  Now he is in a terrible neighborhood, in the shadow of City Hall,  deep on the lower west side, a forty-five minute commute by bus and subway to school.  He's sharing a large second floor flat in an ancient  house with two friends and is enormously pleased that he gets a bedroom and a study all to himself.  His share of the rent is $380, which includes utilities, a good thing because the heating bills so close to the waterfront must be fearsome, even for Buffalo.

Today is St. Joseph's Day, which is a big deal in Buffalo, although nobody in Virginia seems to have heard of it.  I'm not Italian, but in honor of the day I cooked an Italian chicken, braised in white wine, kalamata olives, and anchovies, for dinner last night.  We had pizelles (store bought) for dessert.  Next year I'd like to attempt a proper St. Joseph's table.  We never did one at home, when I was growing up, but it's difficult to live in Buffalo, NY and not encounter a St. Joseph's table somewhere.  My grammar school always had a big St. Joseph's Day celebration, as did my college.  St. Joseph's day isn't really a part of my ethnic heritage, but it's part of my geographic heritage, the same way Dyngus Day and butter lambs are a part of my heritage even though I am not Polish. If you know what I'm talking about, share your favorite St. Joseph's Day dish in the comments.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment Irish edition

Of course I must feature an Irish writer today, no easy task because the Irish have made a mighty contribution to literature and it's hard to choose among them.  I used to like Edna O'Brien a lot, but it's been so long since I've read anything by her, I can't write intelligently about any of her books.

Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane is another good Irish novel, but again, I read it so long ago, I can only give you the vaguest recommendation.  I read it when I was pregnant with Seamus and it enabled me to accept "Seamus" as a name for one of my children--Jon had been pushing for it every time I was pregnant and I'd resisted, not wanting to inflict an Irish spelling/phonetic mismatch on a child and have him go through life being called SEEmus--which is exactly what has happened, especially in dentist office waiting rooms.  I finally made a point, at the dentist, on how to pronounce Seamus and now the postcards that come to remind him of his next cleaning are addressed to SHAY-mus.

Anyway, even though we've already discussed J.G. Farrell's Troubles, I am assigning another book of his because not only is he Irish, he's one of the best writers of the twentieth century and The Siege of Krishnapur is his best novel, in my opinion. How can you not read the best novel of one of the best writers of the twentieth century?  The Siege of Krishnapur is classic Farrell:  a deadly serious topic treated with humor and insight.  A group of British people are besieged in India during the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857.

It has been a long time since I've read this book, but what I remember about it is that Farrell describes people who are placed in extreme stress--the heat is intolerable, they don't have enough food, they're being shot at, they have a cholera outbreak--and yet despite these large issues some of them can't let go of their possessions or their petty Victorian snobberies.  The possessions and the snobberies seem to hold equal value, if I remember correctly.  An excellent study of human nature, horrifying and funny at the same time.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: An unscheduled childhood

I believe firmly that adults ought to read children's books, because there's something extra magical about children's lit, although it can be embarrassing to be seen in public with it.  We were at Brigid's orthopedic surgeon's office and he squinted at the book I had brought with me and pronounced Peter Duck as if he had never seen an adult with a children's book before, and yes, I felt foolish and stammered something about great children's books.

Peter Duck is one of the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, and today's assignment is Pigeon Post, another book from this series.  I just finished it and enjoyed it immensely.

I know I probably annoy people by recommending mid-series books, but with the Swallows and Amazons, you don't really need to read the series in order.  There might be references to incidents in past books, but they don't interfere with your understanding or enjoyment of the story.  Pigeon Post is the sixth book in this series, set in the 1920's about a group of British children who meet each summer and have adventures, mainly involving sailing although most of Pigeon Post takes place on land.

These books make me feel a little wistful for the free childhood that these children have.  I allow my own children more freedom than most parents do--Seamus spends so much time with his gang of boys he is practically feral--but they don't come close to having the independent adventures that the Swallows and Amazons do.  My own childhood was slightly nearer the mark--we certainly spent lots of time unsupervised in boats and climbing mountains on our own--but never did we camp for weeks on end and fend for ourselves.

Remember being a child, and being entirely engrossed in some sort of make-believe with your friends or siblings?  So engrossed that you could hardly bear to take time out for a meal or to go to bed?  It's really the ideal experience of childhood, and the Swallows and Amazons have it in spades.

In Pigeon Post, the children try their hand at mining, lured by the tale of a man who claimed to have found gold in one of the old mines under a nearby mountain, then went off to fight in WWI and never returned.  The story is a mix of make believe and real.  The children identify a strange man with a squashy hat as being their enemy, although all he really seems to be doing is minding his own business, but they also encounter real danger.  Left to figure things out for themselves, they use books to teach themselves how to build a blast furnace, how to make their own charcoal, how to separate gold from ore, how to douse for water and how to dig their own well.

The book is funny as well.   In Pigeon Post, the children are expecting the delivery of "Timothy," from their uncle, who travels all over the world.  They anticipate that Timothy will be an armadillo.   The reveal of what Timothy actually is made me laugh out loud.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Mansfield Park Movie Showdown

Mansfield Park.  As I've been writing these movie reviews, I've been assuming that everyone is familiar with Austen's plots, but just in case, here's a quick summary. Fanny Price, age 10, goes to live with her rich aunt and uncle, the Bertrams, and is raised with her four cousins, Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia, under the supervision of Mrs. Norris, another aunt and the great comic character of this novel. When they are all young adults, Fanny is in love with Edmund, who is in love with Mary Crawford, a woman of uncertain morals who is introduced to the neighborhood along with her brother Henry, a rake.  Maria is engaged to one Mr. Rushworth, but this doesn't stop her from entering a flirtation with Henry.  It doesn't stop Julia either.

Mansfield Park (1999)

I was so excited when this movie came out.  Up till that point, the only Mansfield Park movie was a highly unsatisfactory BBC version.  Unfortunately, this movie left me so indignant at what I believed to be a betrayal of Jane Austen's novel, I vowed I would never watch it again.

What angered me was the Sir Bertram-as-a-slaver theme.  It's not that I won't stand for social consciousness invading my entertainment.  It's just that, if you want to make a movie about the subjugation of one group of people by another group of people, then make a movie about the subjugation of one group of people by another group of people, but don't stick it into a Jane Austen novel like a turnip in the middle of an ice cream sundae.  Maybe that's the whole point, to let the ugly invade the drawing room, but what purpose is served in this case?  (Don't you dare say "raising awareness.")  In the book, Sir Bertram does own a plantation in Antigua, so it's safe to assume he owns slaves.  Does this mean he raped them and whipped them, as shown in Tom Bertram's horrifying drawings?  Austen has been criticized for ignoring, in her novels, the larger societal issues of her time.  But why should a writer of fiction be obligated to put anything into her novels other than what she wants to put in them?

At the end of the movie, we're told that Sir Bertram has given up his plantation in Antigua, with the implication that he has given up owning slaves.  But then we're told he has a new business interest: tobacco.  I guess someone forgot to tell the writers that the cultivation of tobacco also involved slavery.

The other irritating thing about this movie is that they made Fanny Price into an alter-ego of Jane Austen herself.  This Fanny Price has a hobby of writing.  Maybe this is a clever way to showcase Austen's brilliant The History of England but the Fanny Price character of the novel wouldn't have dreamed of writing racy, romantic stories like the character in the movie does.

Finally, I was disgusted by the implication that Mr. Price molests his daughters.  Yes, he's not a great provider for his family, has a lower social standing than his wife and has dragged her down to his level, but must he be guilty of incest as well?

That said, there is good to this movie, such as the cast.  I particularly like Hugh Bonneville as the stupid,  Mr. Rushworth, Maria Bertram's fiancee.  His foppish, regency-style haircut is a triumph.

Victoria Hamilton and Justine Waddell are excellent as Maria and Julia Bertram.  Johnny Lee Miller is adorable as Edmund.  (He played Mr. Knightly in the Romola Garai version of Emma.) Hottie Alessandro Nivola performs excellently as Henry Crawford.  I found myself rooting for him, despite the lovely Johnny Lee Miller.  The only disappointment is Sheila Gish as Mrs. Norris.  It's not that her acting is bad, it's just that she's relegated to minor character status, while in the book, she's a major comic force.

Mansfield Park (2007)

At first, I couldn't identify why this movie made me feel so dissatisfied.  It has a decent cast.  I heart Blake Ritson, who plays Edmund and Jemma Redgrave is the best Lady Bertram of all the movies. I also love James Darcy as the wild older brother Tom.  Billie Piper, on the other hand, is SO not right as Fanny.  I'm not saying she's a bad actress.  She's good in The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, but she is not convincing as plain, shy Fanny.  Girl, this is not your century.  

I realized that the reason this movie is so disappointing is that it ignores the fact that Mansfield Park is supposed to be a comedy.  All the humor of the novel is missing in this film and it progresses through its plot with all the joy of a prisoner walking to the electric chair.  

Mansfield Park (1983)

Let's start with what's good.  It is true to the book.  The Mrs. Norris character is allowed her full depth and we can see, in glorious comic detail, just how cheap, petty, jealous, foolish, and ridiculous Austen meant her to be.  Bernard Hepton is the best Sir Bertram of all the movies. (He is also Mr. Woodhouse in the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma.)  Jonathan Stephens is very good as Mr. Rushworth, and Samantha Bond is good as Maria Bertram.  (She plays Mrs. Weston in the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma.)

And now for the bad.  Let's start with the animation that plays during the opening credits.  A kindergartener, using an old cell phone he found in his toy box, could throw together something more polished.  The sets are typical of the low-budget BBC films of the period.  Sharp-eyed Amazon customer reviewers claim to have seen brief glimpses of the production crew ducking out of the way.  The costumes are dull, although some people might be amused by the dreadful wigs and, in one scene, the furry "beaver" hats that Edmund and Sir Bertram wear. The Amazon customer reviewers mock Mr. Price's absurdly red nose. 

Some of the acting is terrible, particularly Sylvestra Le Touzel's portrayal of Fanny.  She has two speeds:  deadly dull and full-on hysteria.  Whenever she has to express a strong emotion, brace yourself, because it's downright embarrassing, particularly the sobbing when Sir Bertram yells at her for not wanting to marry Henry Crawford, and her extreme reaction when she's asked to take a part in the play.  She has a curious method of using choppy arm movements to express herself.  Maybe she was instructed to do it, but it looks unnatural.  Equally awful is Angela Pleasence as Lady Bertram, possibly the most annoying portrayal of any character in the entire history of film.  In a few scenes she is positively sucking her thumb.  Robert Burbage as Henry Crawford simpers through the whole film and an Amazon customer reviewer says he looks like a "bipedal mouse" which is deadly accurate.  Jackie Smith-Wood is decent as Mary Crawford, but her performance is overshadowed, literally, by her execrable wig.  Nicholas Farrell, as Edmund, is about as interesting as a pair of brown polyester socks.  Next to him, Henry "Bipedal Mouse" Crawford is an absolute Adonis.  

I am sorry to be shallow, but WHY IS EVERYBODY SO UGLY?  Were there no attractive actors in Britain in the 1980's?  Sylvestra Le Touzel might have been attractive in real life, but in this movie, she is the victim of the worlds most unflattering hairstyle.  After Sir Bertram's return from Antigua, Fanny is declared to be much improved in looks, and this is illustrated in the film by turning her bangs into a curly frizz which makes her look even worse.



Henry Crawford

Mary Crawford

If I were to be handing out awards:

Best Edmund:  Johnny Lee Miller (1999)
Best Fanny:  There is no best Fanny, but the least bad is Frances O'Connor.
Best Henry Crawford: Alessandro Nivola (1999)
Best Mary Crawford:  Hayley Atwell (2007)
Best Aunt Norris:  Anna Massey (1983)
Best movie overall:  The definitive Mansfield Park has not yet been made.

I am trying to decide who I would cast as Fanny Price but can't come up with anyone. Who would you suggest?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Pinterest Recipe Reviews

This was the weekend I decided to try the recipes I've pinned at Pinterest.

Saturday snack:

Not an unqualified success, I must say, although, since I didn't follow the directions, it isn't fair to call this recipe a failure.  You start by making your own caramel sauce, which is where things went wrong, as I mistakenly boiled the cream with the sugar.  The resulting caramel sauce tasted fine, but had the consistency of play-doh.  That done, you put two tablespoons of the sauce into a coffee cup with a pinch of good salt and two tablespoons of hot cocoa mix, which I don't have and refuse to buy. I substituted chocolate chips.  Over that you pour coffee or espresso, top with hot milk and (optional) whipped cream, drizzled with more caramel.  The drink tasted good, but was oddly thick--no doubt because I didn't follow the directions.  It's a lot of work for a cup of coffee.

Saturday dinner:  Cornish Pasties.

I bet you thought pasties were things you stick to your nipples on New Years Eve, but they are also a food.  This is not technically a recipe I found on Pinterest, but I've been meaning to try them for a long time. Fellow blogger Jenontheedge wrote about them, but I first heard of Cornish meat pasties in Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent in which he's surprised to find authentic ones at a restaurant in New Hampshire, or someplace equally unlikely.  I've been reading Good Things in England, by Florence White, a collection of old English recipes, published in 1931 and it has a recipe for these pasties.  It goes like this: Make a pie crust-- any basic pie crust will do.  In a large bowl, combine finely chopped onion, turnip, carrot, potatoes and beef (all raw).  Season with salt and pepper.  (I salted the shit out of this because it seemed awfully bland.) White's recipe called for "steak."  I used London broil because it was the cheapest cut at Whole Foods.  Divide your pie crust into four sections, roll each one out into a square, cover one half with the meat/veg mix fold over and seal the edges with a little beaten egg.  White's recipe says to use a "good" oven at first to raise the pastry, then a "moderate" oven to cook the meat.  I interpreted "good" to mean 400 degrees, and "moderate"  to be 350.  Total baking time is one hour.  The end result is dry --OK, because these aren't meant to be juicy--with an assertive meat-and-potatoes flavor.  You feel virtuous eating these, like you're an honest, simple workman taking his humble dinner that his wife slipped into his pocket before he left the house.  Jon and the kids loved them and the dogs went nearly apoplectic begging for tastes.

For dessert we had lemon and almond cake from The New York Times Cookbook.  The cake requires lemon curd.

Making lemon curd is a highly satisfactory cooking experience.  From a few basic ingredients (lemons, sugar, eggs) comes this beautiful translucent yellow pudding.  The cake batter is sticky, almondy and eggy.  You plop dollops of lemon curd over the top before you bake it and you serve the cake with whipped cream.  It was delicious.

Sunday breakfast was a pumpkin pie smoothie, one of my very first pins.

A sad disappointment.  I was supposed to use vanilla flavored almond milk and plain Greek yogurt, but what I had on hand was plain almond milk and vanilla flavored Icelandic yogurt.  I didn't think it would make much difference to switch these two ingredients, but maybe it does.  I also omitted the ice cubes because I have the only freezer in America that isn't stocked with ice.  The other ingredients are half a frozen banana, pumpkin puree, spices.  The smoothie had the consistency and flavor of wallpaper paste.  I couldn't finish it and was left with a partially-consumed can of pumpkin to deal with.

I had no choice but to make the pumpkin French toast for the kids.

This was delicious.  It's basic French toast batter with 1/4 cup of pumpkin puree, brown sugar, and pumpkin pie spices added. I will definitely make this again, and not only because I still have leftover pumpkin.

Sunday lunch:

This is supposed to be avocado/grape/brie only, confused by the fact that the recipe also calls for cream cheese, I forgot to buy the brie.  I felt the sandwich would be OK without the brie.  After all, cream cheese and avocado are both pretty rich.  For this sandwich, you take two slices of seedy-wholegrainey bread, spread one slice with grainy mustard, the other with cream cheese.  Then put on red grape halves and sliced avocado (and brie, if you're bothering).  Fry.  Eat.  The sandwich isn't bad--I was right that it doesn't need the brie--but it also isn't very exciting.  You get a little zing from the mustard but the grapes are weird.  If I were to make this again, I'd omit the grapes and find a substitute--sliced ham, for example.

Sunday dinner:  Rib roast with mushroom mashed potatoes.

Of course I know how to make mashed potatoes, but since this was a pinterest weekend, I searched there for a new recipe and decided to try the mushroom ones, since I happened to have all the ingredients (except the truffle oil, which I ignored).  These mashed potatoes are KILLER.  It's not the mushrooms that make them fabulous, it's the entire head of roasted garlic.  The secret to perfect mashed potatoes is to NOT use a potato masher, but to run them through a ricer or a Foley food mill--I got mine at a rummage sale somewhere in Michigan in the early 1990's, for making baby food, and it's been churning out perfect mashed potatoes ever since.

Foley Food Mill

It takes about three years to make a pot of mashed potatoes this way but it's worth it.  I usually add a big chunk of cream cheese--the mashed-potato secret of the Tasha Tudor Cookbook.  I ran the roasted garlic through the mill too, so it was evenly distributed.  I pronounce these mashed potatoes:  Good enough for Thanksgiving.

And now for a week of fasting.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Politically Incorrect

The Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser has grown on me over time.  When I read the first book,  Flashman, I was so shocked by the violence, the sexism and racism barely crossed my radar.  Then I read the second book, Royal Flash, and thought, "oh," but by that time (like most ladies) I had succumbed to Flashy's charm.  Flashman gets around.

The Flashman book I'm featuring today is Flashman and the Mountain of Light.  There is no need to read these books in order, because the order in which they were published is does not a chronological account.  Mountain of Light follows the basic Flashman formula:  It's 1842, Flashman is in a foreign land (India, this time) thinking he can finally board a ship for England and have a nice long rest, when he is recruited into the army's service again, this time to infiltrate a potential uprising among the Sikhs.  Flashman has a hero's reputation, acquired by accident, as he's actually a coward.  This is what makes these books so funny, as Flashman contrasts his outward behavior with his cynical thoughts.  Anyway, in this book, Flashman escapes various dangers, sleeps with several women, and spends some time undercover in disguise--all standard Flashy fare.

I've often wondered what Flashman is supposed to look like. The book covers depict a mustache-twirling bounder in tight pantaloons but I can't imagine women being attracted to that.  Flashman's age, depending on which book you're reading, ranges from early twenties to mid-forties.  I've been trying to figure out what celebrity would make a good Flashman.  It would have to be someone muscular, with dark hair, dashing and bluff and not very sensitive.  Any suggestions?

The Flashman books are a lot of fun, but you must keep in mind that Flashman is a white, upper-class, Victorian man, and has the opinions of a white, upper-class Victorian man.  You might wince, you might feel (rightly) he's telling only one side of a complicated story, but Flashman never pretends to be giving any version of history but his own.  (The author, on the other hand, provides footnotes and appendices to give more information about the real people and events in the books.)