Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: An English Year

I know that I added An English Year by Nan Fairbrother to my book list after seeing it mentioned in a biography of Bruce Chatwin, but now I can't remember what connection there was between the two.  Bruce Chatwin was a travel writer and Nan Fairbrother was a landscape architect, who mostly wrote about land use in Great Britain.

An English Year is the story of a year living in a sixteenth century farmhouse in the country with the author's two small sons, while her husband is away fighting in World War II.  It reads like a blog, with random thoughts about everything from picnics to whooping cough to reading Donne in the summertime, to her children's propensity to use dead mice as dolls for their dolls' house. (That last gave me pause, and I'm pretty laid back about germs.)

There are tantalizing hints about her house:  we know that it has a moat and that there is no front step, so the children can ride freely in and out the front door on their tricycles.  It has a thatched roof, and was vacant for so long that tree roots are an integral part of the kitchen floor.  At one point, they're marooned in the house on an island during a severe spring flood.  It is rumored to be haunted and the villagers won't visit.  Fairbrother doesn't mention any ghosts, but the house itself is very much a living presence.

This is a thoughtful book for thoughtful people.  It also seems to be out of print.  I did find a cheap copy on Amazon, but it's basically a sheaf of bound photocopies.  Here's a vintage copy that someone is selling on Etsy.




Monday, March 25, 2013

One Girl, Forty Martinis

I am long overdue for a martini post.  I've been faithfully drinking a Bang martini nearly every Friday night since my last Martini post in November, although apparently not every Friday, as that would be sixteen martinis, and I have only seven to tell you about.  Let's get started.

The Esquire: Makers Mark and sweet tea vodka plus cointreau and white cranberry juice.  This is my natural reaction to sweet tea:



And we've already established that I don't like whiskey, so this one didn't go over too well.

Frosty's Nightcap:  I don't have the precise ingredients for this one, but I remember that it is made with cider and that I loved it.  I drank it the night before we left for Lisbon, and feeling very festive.  I would definitely order this one again.

Girls Revamped: pomegranate liqueur, peach puree, champagne.  This one sounds better than it tastes, unfortunately.

Honey Ginger:  Ketel One with ginger simple syrup and honey.  I definitely liked this one more than the Girls Revamped, but not as much as Frosty's Nightcap.  I don't recall this being overpoweringly sweet, despite the simple syrup and honey, which is drizzled onto the sides of the glass and never really gets incorporated into the drink.

The Joe:  Gin, ginger simple syrup, lime juice, white cranberry juice, and a dash of Chambord, which sinks to the bottom of the glass  so that at end of the drink you get one taste of black raspberry to remember it by.

Just Peachy:  Peach vodka and peach schnapps.  Took me straight back to freshman year in college, when the fuzzy navel was all the rage.  I've moved on, thank goodness.

Key Lime:  Delicious and refreshing with a floating lime slice.  The rim of the glass is lined with graham cracker crumbs.  I loved this drink, but it's better suited to a hot summer night and not a freezing March one like last Friday.


I took photos of most of these drinks, but all martinis look alike, when photographed in a dimly lit bar.  Here's The Joe--you can just make out the Chambord, lurking in the bottom of the glass.


Speaking of last Friday, we had a drink at Bang and then met a friend at the Black Market Moto Saloon on Market St.  This is the place that generated controversy last summer when the city shut them down for playing live music without a permit.  OK, so the city puts out the welcome mat to anyone who wants to cram another restaurant into downtown Belmont, but they shut down this place for live music when it sits next door to a junk yard and across the street from a tombstone dealer? Makes sense! Anyway, they're back open now. I liked the Moto Saloon because it had a lively, but not too lively atmosphere.  You can easily find a space at the bar, and it has a friendly, eclectic feel.    We shared a plate of nachos, creatively topped with radishes and pickled cactus, along with more traditional nacho toppings. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: Life with Father

A few weeks ago, I read Life with Father by Clarence Day, a classic of American humor.  Originally published in the The New Yorker in the 1930s,  it's a series of tales about Day's cranky, exacting, demanding, belligerent, somewhat misogynist father.  For all that he's a lovable cranky misogynist.  Mr. Day reminds me of my grandfather--who was NOT a cranky, belligerent, misogynist--but who did appreciate a well-regulated lifestyle.  Born in 1903, he gracefully wore the mantle of an earlier era until the day he died in 1998.  Maybe it's not so much Mr. Day who reminds me of my grandfather, just the time period that the book describes.

The book was the inspiration for a Broadway play and a movie, which I haven't seen, but added to my netflix queue.  Read it if you want something light and funny that will give you a good taste of upper-middle class domestic American life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.



And so another weekend is upon us.  Rejoice!  Seamus left this morning for an impossibly ambitious art field trip to New York City.  Their itinerary:  Frick Collection, "time in Chinatown & Greenwich Village," a cruise around Manhattan (we've been asked to confirm if our kids get seasick or not, and if so, can they be given dramamine), Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Time on 5th Ave," Museum of Modern Art, Empire State Building, Times Square, Guggenheim Museum, Central Park/Strawberry Fields, The Cloisters, Whitney Museum of Art.  How they will have the time to do all that in a single weekend is beyond me, but I admire impossible, grand plans.   If the teacher and two parent chaperones (for thirty middle schoolers) don't come home in straitjackets, the trip can be considered a success.  Meanwhile, the math teacher chased Seamus onto the school bus before it departed yesterday afternoon, to give him a packet of math homework for the weekend.  That is dedication to the cause of algebra!  It is extremely unlikely that this assignment will be completed, but just for fun, I'll send Seamus a text and ask him if he packed it and his graphing calculator.  Oh well, school may be cancelled Monday, since we're in the path of another snowstorm.

For the weekend, I plan to chip away at my to-do list of doom, and maybe finally learn all the mac keyboard shortcuts, now that the tax returns are filed.  I'm having a gardening conundrum that may result in me putting a sign at the curb saying, "CLEAN FILL WANTED."  Or maybe I could steal some top soil from the environs of the county jail.  (That's a JOKE.)  If anyone has a small truckload of dirt they'd like to dispose of, see me after class.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Lunch in the City

I almost missed the train.  It's not like me to be late for anything, but I was overconfident in estimating how long it would take me to walk to the station.  End result: me sprinting (in a dress) across the endless Amtrak parking lot, while also holding an umbrella and still plugged into my ipod.  The platform was empty, but for one conductor.  He scanned my ticket, I boarded, and the train began to move almost immediately.

I had been expecting an empty car, but this train began its route in New Orleans, so it was full of people who'd been sleeping and farting all night, and I was a sweaty mess.  Once my heart rate returned to normal, I enjoyed the trip.  The countryside is beautiful and the view from the train is so different than that from the road.  The old farmhouses and tiny, secret communities appear to have sprung from the earth like mushrooms.

My sister Margaret met me at Union Station in Washington and we walked to her apartment for a much needed freshen up--the waistband of my tights was perilously low.  We were going to Bethesda to have lunch with our cousins, some of whom we hadn't seen in many years.

Once freshened, we plugged the address of the restaurant into Margaret's iphone and off we went.  The metro arrived one minute after we got to the platform and we congratulated each other on our superb timing.  We got off a few stops past Bethesda and knew we would have to walk nearly a mile to the restaurant but then my sister's iphone told us that we were supposed to take a bus...which was just pulling away, so we ran--again with the running--and managed to flag it down and were born away into suburban Maryland without the least idea of where we were.

My sister has lived in DC for only a few weeks (her car is still in Florida) so we were both unfamiliar with the area and the bus was turning left, and then right and taking us farther and farther away from the safety of the metro station.  Still, a red dot on my sister's phone showed us where we were and a blue dot showed us where we ought to get off so we watched the two dots converge, but we fumbled at the critical moment and the bus made another turn and deposited us on a quiet residential street that certainly did not contain a restaurant.

The iphone was suddenly useless, as it would not tell us our present position, and we had somehow become disoriented and had no idea which way to proceed to get to the restaurant.  I was certain we'd missed our stop and should retrace the bus route.  My sister thought we'd gotten off early and should forge ahead. Here we were, two adults, helpless as babies because our sophisticated technology had failed us.  If we hadn't had an iphone, this wouldn't have happened, because we would have had a map.  But nobody has maps nowadays.  We were also hampered by our inability to pronounce "Schuylkill," which was the street we wanted. Of course we realized how ludicrous our situation was and we were laughing, although in a slightly panicky way, as we tried to decide what to do, when we heard a voice behind us say, "You two are hilarious."

Who knows how much of our conversation this man had overheard, but he was able to point us in the direction of the Black Market Bistro.  We were to head back along the bus route, pick up a trail through the woods, cross the railroad tracks, and there would be the restaurant.  We made it without further incident, although laughing so hard that casual observers might have been justified to assume we were drunk.  I mean seriously, a trail through the woods? 

The lunch itself, with our beautiful cousins, was lovely.  There were eight of us altogether.  We stayed until the dining room shut down and then we still had so much to talk about we hung around in the parking lot for awhile.  It was so much fun. Our cousin drove Margaret and me back to the metro station.

Back in Charlottesville, Jon met me at the station and insisted that we go to Continental Divide for dinner.  I had bought a virtuous salad at Union Station and eaten it on the train and I was starving.  Eating in restaurants at 9:00pm is not conducive to my diet, but one does not simply turn down a chance to eat at Continental Divide.  I had a margarita while we waited for a table.  They make a bangin' margarita at Continental Divide, and we had a delicious dinner and thus a lovely conclusion to the day.



Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Work Day in Gifs

























Thursday, March 07, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: On the nightstand

Actual Nightstand

The nightstand:  ideal place to keep the books you're planning to read soon. (Opposed to the bookcase, where you keep the books you're planning to read someday.)  Here's what's on my nightstand right now.

The Philosopher's Pupil by Iris Murdoch.  This is what I'm reading now. It has the classic Murdoch elements:  well-off people living in beautiful houses, facing existential crises, and dogs with personality.

An English Year by Nan Fairbrother.  Also reading this, although very slowly.  The chronicle of a year, written by a woman who was living in the English countryside with her two small children while her husband was off fighting in WW II.

The Complete Book of Sewing by Constance Talbot.  Written in 1943.  Fabulous illustrations.

Confusion by Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Book three of the Cazalet Chronicles.

Casting Off  by Elizabeth Jane Howard.  Book four (and last) of the Cazalet Chronicles.

Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth.  Written in 1800.  Possibly inspiration for Jane Austen.

Inflating a Dog:  The Story of Ella's Lunch Launch by Eric Kraft.  Eric Kraft's whimsical novels are hit and miss for me, but I can't resist the "lunch launch."

Nikolai Gogol by Vladimir Nabokov

Miss Buncle's Book by D.E.Stevenson

The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian  The 10th book in the superb Aubrey/Maturin series.

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson.  A long-term resident of the nightstand.  I read it when I'm bored with whatever else I'm reading.

Whipped, not Beaten by blogging friend Melissa Westemeier. I'm saving this one for a rainy day when I need cheering up.

 

Friday, March 01, 2013

Friday Reading Assignment: The Hamlet

We've already established that I suck at reading Faulkner, but that was after I added several of his books to my reading list for the Fifty Classics project.  The Hamlet, at least, is a fairly straightforward narrative, except for a murky part in the middle where someone is in love with a cow and everybody is unhappy about that.

This is the first novel in Faulkner's famous trilogy about the Snopes family, who insinuate themselves into a position of power in a small town in Mississippi.  One of the things that interested me about The Hamlet was the portrayal of rural American poverty--eating turnip greens out of a tin pail for lunch, women who wear the same shapeless dress day after day because it is all they have, a family of five who share three pairs of shoes.  Also, I think I am starting to understand Faulkner's sense of humor, which is a dark combination of tragedy and comedy.



As for the Fifty Classics project,  I've committed to reading fifty classics in five years, and eleven months into the project, I've finished seven of the books on my list.