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Just finished a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you want that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

Also finished Julian Fellowes’s Belgravia. You know Julian Fellowes, the producer and writer of Downton Abbey? He lends his mind to a story about a family or two from the similar time period as Downton, who live in London. There’s some amount of intrigue, romance, observations from within the halls of wealthy Londoners and moderately well off tradesmen and their families. There’s affairs, shady business dealings, an illegitimate child, the comings and goings of the “downstairs” staff too, etc. The characters were well done – I had no trouble keeping all of the people identified. The story is somewhat predictable, but it was interesting clear up to the end.

The Letter by Kathyrn Hughes. It’s a very intricate tale. At first it’s about Tina, a battered wife [at which point I paused and wondered if I wanted to read any further, but I’m glad I did]. She tries to get the courage to leave her husband. Then enters the letter she finds in a suit pocket in the thrift shop where she volunteers. It’s old – sealed and stamped, but never mailed. Then you learn about Crissie, decades earlier, a young pregnant girl who is sent off to Ireland to a distant relative by her father, then to a rigid (meaning horrible) convent [the book takes place mostly in Manchester, England and in rural Ireland]. The letter is addressed to her. Jump forward decades and William, the adopted child Crissie gave up, tries to find his birth mother. William meets Tina in Ireland [a serendipitous moment] as she’s trying to find the woman to whom the letter is addressed. This book is the #2 best seller on Amazon at the moment. It’s a riveting tale and I really enjoyed it.

The Muralist: A Novel by Shapiro. It tells the story of a young woman, an artist, who was part of the U.S.’s WPA mural project from the 1930s-40s (she is fiction, the WPA is not). As with so many artists, even today, they live in abject poverty through much of their lives. This woman, though, had family in France, desperately trying to escape before Hitler’s henchmen rousted them into concentration camps. The story, a bit of a mystery but not of the mystery-genre, is about Alizée Benoit, this young painter, who slightly captivates Eleanor Roosevelt’s help. It also skips into current time when the painter’s great-niece uncovers paintings she believes were painted by her aunt. The painter had disappeared into thin air in 1940, and her relative tries desperately to find out what happened to her. It’s a really good story including such Abstract Expressionist painters as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Lee Krasner well-woven into the narrative. It keeps you guessing right up to the end. A good read. The author also wrote The Art Forger: A Novel a few years ago.

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one first!

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Essays, on August 13th, 2017.

Image result for apples

 

For the last year or so I’ve subscribed to Reader’s Digest. They have some really interesting articles in each issue, and this little 2-page article was so fascinating I thought I’d share the salient facts. The article brought much of its facts from a book: The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites, by Libby O’Connell but the article was written by someone at NPR and was heard there in 2016.

It’s an article about the lineage of the apple pie (which must be one of the 100 bites):

1. CRUST: As we know it now, it started in Britain where they made airtight pastry shells called “coffyns,” filled with savory ingredients. We refined the pastry by using some German techniques (think strudel) and began using up imperfect fruit to fill the pastry, where those imperfections didn’t show. (Ingenuity, I’d say!)

2. APPLES: The only native apple here in the U.S. is a crabapple. We don’t see those very often (at least I don’t where I live). Apples (generic) came from Kahzakhstan. The fruit migrated west, then the Romans crossed a sour apple with a sweet apple, and many hundreds of years elapsed before Johnny Appleseed Chapman brought those to America and planted them all over. (Thank goodness!)

3. WHEAT: Archeologists have found ancient wheat that dates to at least 9000 years ago – from Iran, Iraq and much of the Middle East. Eventually it wended its way into Europe, and here to the New World, but the crops failed. It wasn’t until later that Russian immigrants brought a more hardy wheat variety (Turkey Red, it was called) to America, which worked (our climate must have been similar to the part of Russia where it grew – who knew?)

4. FAT: Lard was likely the original fat (from pig ancestors in Asia), then Christopher Columbus brought pigs (for their meat and fat) and cattle (think dairy products) to America. (Good thing!)

5. CINNAMON & SUGAR: Did you know that sugar originally comes from Indonesia, China and Papua New Guinea? Yup. And cinnamon originates from an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka.  The other spices we use in apple pie include nutmeg and cloves, which came from Banda Island in Indonesia. Magellan helped spread those ‘round the world when he brought back 50 tons of the precious spices on a trip he made in 1522. (Imagine that – we just take it for granted that we have the spices in our pantries!)

6. THE PIE: According to researchers, the earliest apple pie recipe dates from the 1300s, but it didn’t hit the “big time” here in North America until the 1600s. John T. Edge wrote in his book Apple Pie: An American Story that both Union and Confederate soldiers collected apples on their marches and forays, and commandeered local hearths to make them into (probably, my guess) hand pies (turnovers) they could carry with them.  In 1902 the New York Times said pie had become “the American synonym for prosperity.” During WWII, a catchphrase spread that the soldiers were fighting for “mom and apple pie.”

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Here on my blog, there is one recipe for apple pie, from my friend Debbie. It’s a crumb top one, and it’s super wonderful. Even the pie crust is easy, which is made with vegetable oil.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 13th, 2017:

    Your friend’s pie is what we would simply call Apple Crumble but I don’t think we usually have a pastry base to it.

    You post was interesting though I had to look up NPR!

    Oh, yes, well, NPR (National Public Radio) is an acronym we all use here in the U.S. of A. You likely have something similar but different title perhaps. And yes, Debbie’s pie is an apple crumb pie(with a bottom crust). It’s making my mouth water! . . . carolyn t

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