Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Cookbook Time

 Wow, was I shocked to be greeted with sweatshirt weather while dragging my beast out for her first emptying of the day.  Monday, September 13...sweatshirt weather!  Too early.  But, it did get me thinking about my yearly look-though of a hot chocolate recipe book I bought years ago and have yet to try any of the concoctions. Don't know why. Really,  doesn't a hot chocolate a day this winter sounds like a plan?  Perhaps I will start with "Hellfire" hot chocolate, and if I survive that I will move on to an African inspired beverage that was a favorite of Marie Antoinette.  There's lavender-pistachio, bay infused, and a whole chapter called "For Adults Only". You can figure out what the added ingredients are there for sure.

All that looking and lusting made me realize it is time for my sort of annual look at funny cookbooks, and believe me, this Amish selection is a hum-dinger.

First off, we have the battling relatives, Millie and Susan (no last name in case you might know these warring culinary cousins). This is one of those cookbooks where people submit their favorite recipes and when enough have been collected, viola...a book appears.  Well, if on page 27 you find Millie's recipe for Angel Crisp Cookies, you will find Susan's recipe three pages after.  Millie bakes Glorious Cookies and Mock Ham Loaf, and so does Susan.  Only problem is, Susan never tells us how long to bake or at what temperature.  Not one in 52 recipes does Susan give us  cooking information.  There are other members of the same family who make contributions, but Millie and Susan take the cake.

These folks use an awful lot of Crisco and Spam. A cook wishing to remain anonymous gives us her Favorite Meal which includes 1 cup frozen hamburger.  Apparently we are to eat the hamburger on the side since there are no instruction on adding it to the mélange of onions, potatoes, cabbage, milk, Velveeta, and Crisco.  

Page after page you will find gems just like that side by side with some tasty sounding recipes, but oh, all that Crisco!

Every section begins with a rather random poem. The chapter called Main Dishes, Soups & Meats begins with an ode to Maid Marion.

She was ironing her dolly's new gown

Maid Marion fours year's old.

With here eyes puckered down

and a pain-stricken from

Under her tresses of gold.

Eventually, little Marion, who feels she has failed at ironing, gets a message from the Lord telling her that the iron wasn't hot.  

Bits of Amish wisdom fill empty space at page bottoms:  never throw dirt, you only lose ground...nothing in the world is friendlier than a wet dog...

And never forget - if you have your father's nose it must mean that before you were born he had two.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

How times Have Changed

 No one would argue that the events of the past year have changed us - as a society, as a culture, and as individuals.  No need going into detail on all of that since I am sure most of you continue to shake your heads in dismay that we are still caught in a totally unnecessary quagmire.

On to lighter matters.  Recently I ran across a 1950 cartoon collection  published by Harper Brothers.  This little pocket book, filled with images and ideas that would not fly today, sold for a whopping .25 and was "Available wherever fine books are sold"

The majority of the jokes focus on a woman's place in the world.  We see her being ogled on the street, undressed by men across the room in a restaurant, disappointing her husband by not having dinner ready.  This poor woman is also shown offering herself on street corners dressed in an appropriate June Cleaver belted house dress and pearls.  She is shamed for having an out-of-wedlock baby in one comic, and suggestively flaunting her ample bosoms to men in a bar.  

In addition, cartoonist Sam Cobean offers us the opportunity to laugh at native Americans, African tribal people, Chinese fishers, religious leaders, and just about every other minority you could list.  Was this funny in 1950?  It sure isn't funny now.

On the other hand, I flipped though Steve Martin's book of cartoons that he worked on collaboratively with Henry Bliss, award winning single-panel comic creator.  What a difference.  These cartoon are fresh.  Beyond that, they are cerebral - meaning I had to think real hard about some of them, and eventually I laughed.  They wordsmith in every panel, and thematically focus on filling their bits with cultural references.  Big Agra, global warming, elections, depression, parenting, same sex relationships.  These two guys spend time in the world of meta cognition as well, resulting in some of the most entertaining panels.  They let us see them working, mulling over ideas, evaluating, and tossing out those weak, first come ideas.  Much better stuff than the repetitive, predictable jokes from the 1950 book. 

What's your best guess on the illustration accompanying these words - " I see a horse, a puppy, and that one looks like a Rauschenberg installation."

Thanks for stopping by.

Stay healthy. Stay safe (yes, we are once again requiring masks at LaDeDa). Stay happy.

Friday, August 20, 2021

A Good Neighborhood

 Think you live in a good neighborhood? Think you know your neighbors? Well, think again.  The residents of Oak Hills, North Carolina, a simple, old neighborhood, would have answered "yes" to both questions. Those thinly veiled affirmatives hide the hopes that family secrets will never be unveiled.  Frankly, it's no one's business what goes on behind closed doors - unless, of course, there is something illegal or harmful happening.  

A hyper-omniscient narrator takes us into the private lives of families who represent both the best and the worst in today's world.  Most of the "worsts" are attitudinal..  Phoniness oozes.  All smiles and openness for the African American college professor at book club meetings and at social events. Behind her back, conjecture arises about her deceased white husband and her bi-racial son. 

Too rich.  Not rich enough.  Along with the racial inequalities, our gentle narrator explores how class evolves and manifests even in small neighborhoods. When the Whitmans build a mansion with a pool, encroaching on nearby properties and wilfully destroying majestic, historic trees and other landmarks in order to properly attire the home, things change.  First, the significance bar rises.  Big house equals big, important people, right?   People with power who know other people with power can change the landscape quickly and that is exactly happens.  

This is where the heart-breaking story begins and ends : Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who's to blame. They'll challenge attendees to say on-camera whose side they're on. For the record: we never wanted to take sides.


Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

 Not many books can lure me away from my morning ritual of coffee and flipping madly between Good Morning America and The Today Show. The Silent Patient grabbed me early on with the reference to Euripides play, Alcestis.  I haven't read that particular play but it was referenced enough in theatre history classes that I understand the basic plot.  A woman sacrifices her life for her husband, but by some miracle she is allowed to come back to life. She remains mute for the rest of the play.  That little thread kept me reading, following the clues and being lead right down the path the author laid out for me.

The premise is simple - artist Alicia murders her husband, or does she?  It's messy business, that's for sure.  From the time she is arrested, she appears unable to speak and so she is committed to a mental health facility where she remains silent for the following six years.  Alicia is a feisty one, often being in the center of a brawl, or the instigator of a brawl.  She is angry and vicious.

When Theo Faber, criminal psychologist joins the hospital staff, he takes Alicia on as a special project.  Fable breaks protocol numerous times in order to crack Alicia's silence, something that more than one staff member and friend of Alicia fears.

That's all I can tell you without totally spoiling the plot.  I guess that seasoned psycho drama readers may figure out where everything is going early on, but not me.  Agatha Christie would have been proud of me.  I read, I watched, I analyzed...and every single character became a suspect for me.  The Greek tragedy business might have thrown some people off, and I question whether it really added to the plot for most readers.  Anyway, that little thread, and my need to know kept me turning pages.  This  has movie written all over it, and although I know how it ends, I will still be there, in the dark - this time with a coke, popcorn , and no TV remote to pull me away. 

My weekend read: Alcestis.  

Thanks for stopping by.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Beatryce Prophecy


I am so happy to see that Kate DiCamillo has written a new book, but at the same time, some haunting memories came flooding back.  Did I ever tell you about the two equally memorable and horrifying meetings I had with her?  The first one was memorable (not in a good way) and the second, a year later, was horrifying because she remembered me from the first meeting.  Oh, but that is a story for another time!

The following review of her soon to be published book came across a trade news feed, indicating it is a sharable article.  How much better is this than having to wade through my clumsy prose along with a few guaranteed typos.  So...here you go....all about my "friend" Kate's new book....

The Beatryce Prophecy

by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Sophie Blackall

In The Beatryce Prophecy, the talents of two-time Newbery medalist Kate DiCamillo and two-time Caldecott medalist Sophie Blackall combine to create an unforgettable medieval epic that illustrates the magical and myriad ways that love and stories change the world.

The narrative hinges on a prophecy: "There will one day come a girl child who will unseat a king and bring about a great change." 

The mysterious appearance of a girl "not more than ten years old" in the barn of the monks of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing is the spark that ignites The Beatryce Prophecy. The monks are the keepers and authors of the Chronicles, which "tell the story of what has happened and of things that might yet happen, those things which have been prophesied." Brother Edik is both a prophesier and an illuminator of the "glorious golden letters that begin the text of each page of the Chronicles." One morning, late to feed the hard-headed and wily monastery goat, Brother Edik discovers that the beast is curled protectively around a small, dirty, feverish child with bloodied feet. The girl eventually wakes from her illness with the memory of her name--Beatryce--but nothing else. While Brother Edik is inexplicably moved by the child, wishing only to nurse her back to health, his superiors are not so beguiled, especially when they learn the shocking and illegal fact that she, a girl, can read and write. 

An orphan boy named Jack Dory shows up at the monastery on an errand to find a monk who can write a record of a soldier's wartime crimes so that the man may "have some forgiveness" before he dies. The brothers send Beatryce--head shaved, dressed in robes--masquerading as a monk. Their fervent hope is that she will never return. The two children, each bereft of family, embark (along with the fiercely protective goat, Answelica) on an adventure none could have foretold.

With her trademark lyrical language and flair for storytelling, DiCamillo (Flora & UlyssesBecause of Winn-Dixie) writes like a patient knitter untangling a ball of yarn as she knits. Themes of love, grief, justice and identity loop together, interlocking as each character finds their way. Throughout Beatryce's own journey, two mysterious, barely remembered lines keep emerging from the depths of her past:

 "We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home." "And shouldn't home be the place where you are allowed to be yourself, loved as yourself?"  --Emilie Coulter

And aren't those insightful words to be left with?

Thanks for stopping by.

Stay safe, healthy, and happy.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The Food Truck Cookbook

 Nothing says "summer" in the Lakeshore more than live music in the park, art events, and lots and lots of food trucks.  From coast to coast, food truck culture is alive, well, and flourishing.  These tiny cafes serve up everything from cozy home cooking, to surprisingly sophisticated dishes - all out of artsy restaurants on wheels.  In many cases, the owners are as colorful as their rolling eateries, and as diverse as the food they serve.

Edge's book tells the stories of entrepreneurs who took chances, many walking away from lucrative jobs in titled positions to run around selling food and making new friends.  Each story is coupled with a recipe that each of us can easily make at home.  There are brunch ideas, fries and pies, waffles, sandwiches, and a tacopalooza.  Oh, the chapter on hot dogs....thirteen different kinds.

Nothing surprised me more than a feature in the chapter called "Unexpected Pleasures".  Our very own Madison Wisconsin took center stage with the Ethiopian stew at Buraka getting rave reviews.  Checking the index, I discovered that, in addition to the special pages on Madison, recipes from many Wisconsin food truck oferings are scattered throughout the book.

Tons of fun. Uplifting stories. Great photography and do-able recipes.  

Time to get cookin'.

Thanks for stopping by

Stay safe, healthy and happy.

Monday, June 28, 2021

The Book of Longings

 "I am Ana.  I was the wife of Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth."
That's the way it begins and it only get more intriguing from there. I spent a good deal of time trying to decide if people will be offended by this book.  Some people will be.  I cannot predict or control who will be, but I assure you that Sue Monk Kidd has treated this speculative and controversial topic with utmost dignity and respect.  

Unlike Christopher Moore's satiric Lamb, this book flows through the pages of Christian history, weaving in traditional Bible stories familiar to us all.  From the age of 12 through the early 30's, we know little of life of Jesus.  Historian and authors continue to unearth small pieces of evidence leading us to a fuller picture, but still not a complete one.  Sue Monk Kidd stumbled across a National Geographic article by a Harvard professor called "The Gospel of Jesus's Wife." A small fragment references Jesus having said..."my wife...". The document has since been deemed false, yet it became the impetus for Monk Kidd's imagining of those lost years.

Much research went into this book - history, customs, rituals, laws, landscape, daily life - it's all there to add substance to what we already know.  Just like in the Bible, we know how this book will end. The hero dies.  The difference here is that all along the painful stations of the cross we feel the heartbreaking presence of a woman who had been his partner - a woman who loved Jesus, and who he loved in return.  

This is not easy reading, but it is beyond compelling.  Once you begin, you better have lots of coffee and M &Ms (my best reading snack) handy. You will not want to walk away for an instant.

Thanks for stopping by.

Be safe. Be healthy. Be happy.

Have a restful holiday weekend. No blogpost next week.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Elephants Come Home

Friendship comes in all shapes and sizes.  Kim Tomsic and Hadley Hooper's book tells us the true story of an extraordinary and unexpected relationship. 

Lawrence, Francoise, and their dog Max, live in a farmhouse on 11,000 acres of African bush, savanna, and forest called Thula Thula. They protect rhinos, impalas, cape buffalo, zebras and even crocodiles.  When a friend calls and asks the couple to take in seven disobedient elephants, they agree without hesitation.

Lawrence learns quickly how aggressive, dangerous and destructive the herd can be.  There are daily repairs to the property, as well as excursions beyond the savanna to search for and collect the runaway elephants.  Lawrence and Francoise do not give up on their new guests, and through gentle persuasion, the group eventually settles in.  

I can't give too much away except to say that the elephants are happy, and devoted.  In a touching moment at the end we see how kindness given comes back to us greater and more fulfilling than it began.  

A touching book, to be sure.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

 "The hip bone's connected to the back bone...."

Lines from that novelty song, "Dem Bones" kept popping up randomly as I read this book. Although I found this book slow moving, and peopled by one-dimensional characters,  I kept finding connections to other books, movies, and people that I have enjoyed in the past.  The Language of Flowers focuses on wounded Victoria, unsuccessful child of the foster care system.  Consequently, Victoria established harsh boundaries and barriers preventing her from bonding with anyone, or being able to see much potential in herself. 

That is until she meets Elizabeth who slowly heals the girl's broken heart, to a degree.  Elizabeth shares her knowledge of the secret messages those fussy Victorians assigned to flowers.  That knowledge blossoms and grows in Victoria allowing her to, at the very least, survive. If you're getting the idea that I didn't find this a particularly happy book, with characters that charmed me, you are correct.

Connection one: ironically, it was a girl name Victoria.  She had moved to town in her senior year, flawed, and troubled.  She needed community service hours to graduate, and she needed them quickly.  A school official reached out to see if I could help out.  The contact came with a warning about her, but...I had a project and she had a need.  Victoria turned out to be filled with personality.  She was funny, hard working, respectful.  She even brought her mom in to see what she was doing to help turn her life around.  Everyone here enjoyed her.  That's all.  I wish we had stayed in touch.

Connection two: my favorite bock/movie, The French Lieutenant's Woman (Mary S. I know you and Nancy S. are cringing).   Dissertations have been written on the floral symbols in John Fowels' book about the poor, melancholic  Sarah Woodruff.  The first time I saw the movie I remember wondering about all the Eden like settings, and the strange, seemingly over acted reaction to all the gifts of flowers that exchanged hands.  The Languae of Flowers helped me understand.

Connection three: Nadia, the main character in The Mothers by Brit Bennett reminds me of Victoria (from  Language, not my volunteer friend).  Rebellious, grief stricken, and pregnant, Nadia trusts no one until several unlikely people recognize her needs and possibilities and slowly bring her into warm circles that allow her to rise above her challenges.

Gardeners will appreciate this book, packed with insights on the magic meaning of flowers. I am grateful it led me back to memories that made me smile...yes, grateful that reading it had added two book to my "to be re-read pile."  I know I will never get to the bottom of all the piles...but I guess, in a ways, book piles help us understand the meaning of infinity.

To be fair, I have read countless favorable reviews of this book.  Just not the right book at the right time for me.  You know how that goes.  

Thanks for stopping by

Stay safe. Stay happy. Stay healthy. 

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Woman They Could Not silence

Our American history is filled with unknowns...secrets that researchers, who like archeologists, dig and dig, until they have evidence of truth over speculation.  Examples? Rosemary Kennedy's lobotomy (Rosemary by Kate Larson), the Mankato Indian massacre in Night Birds by Tom Maltman, systematic culling of an Indian tribe to gain access to valuable land as written about in David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon.  There are more.  Radium Girls is another revealing study, and now, that author, Kate Moore, is back with another stunning expose.

After 21 years of marriage, Theophilus Packard, a minister, decides his wife has become intellectually uncontrollable, and has her committed to an asylum for the insane.  It's as simple as that.  Husband declares wife unstable - unstable she is.  The reasons for a declaration of insanity run the gamut - she  laughs too much, she talks too much, she is surly or disagreeable... and my favorite, her brain is too small to handle all the material she has been reading.  Men were seldom institutionalized, and the "savage" minorities were considered beyond help, so neither were they.

The conditions inside the 1860 facility in Jacksonville, Illinois were dangerous, unprofessional, and filled with women much like Elizabeth Packard.  They were wholesome, intelligent, and rational.  They were committed not because they needed medical treatment, but to keep them in line - conveniently labeled "crazy" so their voices could be ignored. 

Elizabeth refused to be kept silent and fought for her own freedom. In doing so she freed millions more.
Chilling bit of history and a fascinating page turner.  If you are looking for something beyond the  chipper beach reads, this could be it.  Prepare to do a lot of head shaking...disbelief on every page.

Thanks for stopping by.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy.