Saturday, August 18, 2018

Yes, I'd Time Travel Here

Why don’t we lighten things up this week, and read about teenagers in 1907? Specifically, let’s read about Betsy Ray, the heroine of Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy In Spite of Herself.

Actually, my copy was a two-fer. It included Heaven to Betsy, which starts the summer before she enters high school. She returns home from a lonely week at a family friends’ farm to an event that pushes her straight out of childhood.

Betsy may cast a wistful glance backward. But she has plenty to look forward to. Her crowd of friends frequently meet around the piano in her family’s parlor, or outside for some skating on the frozen pond. Bonfires, fudge, her father’s famous Sunday night onion sandwiches—this is what kids did before social media, before color television.

Anybody want to time travel back to those days? Anybody up for a world where nearly every kid had two kind parents, the only crimes were Halloween pranks or an openly-smoked cigarette, and going to the dance meant boys filling out your dance card?

Heck, I’m raising my hand! I’m genuinely sorry I missed that whole dance card business, though there was always the worry that my card might not fill up. But I won’t fret about that. Betsy’s older sister Julia, a boy magnet if there ever was one, offers up a hint about how to handle that empty slot.

Betsy’s one of the smart kids in the school, though the constant round of parties could derail her most challenging projects.

Then again, Betsy nearly derails herself with a makeover project designed to add mystery and excitement to her all-too-ordinary life. This is a major attempt at change, going far beyond the cream she’s been rubbing on to her hated freckles.

Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself are two books from an entire series by Lovelace, all of it drawn from her own youth in Mankato, Minnesota. The only downside for me was a visit to
Betsy’s friend in Milwaukee, which felt like a thrown-in display stuff-I-know.

Otherwise, I coasted along with a smile on my face, just like Betsy riding the Minnesota backroads with her beau “at a thrilling twenty miles an hour.”

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Painless History Lesson

You may know that I post a music blog on Sundays, an attempt to familiarize my church friends with a broad range of hymns imported from other faiths. Mining YouTube for examples of these songs, performed in church services, concerts and tutorials, I frequently run across Britain’s royal family, standing in their Westminster Abbey places, singing hymns from their printed programs.

There’s always Queen Elizabeth, dressed in her matching dress, coat and hat, scanning the crowd before she peeks at the words again.

Who knew that her genealogy stretched back to an orphan girl plucked out of France? Aren’t the royals supposed to descend from the small club of cousins raised in the various capitals of Europe?

Well, maybe you did know about Katherine Swynford. But if you didn’t, Anya Seaton’s historical novel, Katherine, would be a painless way to catch up on your royal genealogy.

Katherine’s mother died after childbirth. Her father, a faithful soldier of the king, took an arrow to the heart. Katherine and her older sister, Philippa, shipped off to the grandparents. Things were fine until the Plague showed up, killing off grandma, grandpa, the servants, etc. 

The Queen of England, Flemish like Katherine’s kin, reached out to rescue these two girls. She took Philippa into her own court as a lady-in-waiting. She sent Katherine to an English convent, “delivered from a cart, along with a side of beef and a half a ton of wine.”

Seton starts the story just after Philippa summons her sister out of the convent. Katherine enters the palace on the night of a royal banquet. The waiting ladies strip off her traveling clothes, burn them, button her into somebody’s 3rd-best dress and usher her off to dinner where, wide-eyed, she takes her first look at the VIPs “in their golds and scarlets, their ermines and coronets, their gauzy veils and jewels.”

Oh Katherine, you have no idea what lies ahead.

The only thing that could have made the read more rewarding was stopping (quite often) to look up unfamiliar words. But I just wanted to keep reading, so I bumbled through, guessing as I flipped the e-pages. “Solar” is a bedroom, I think. “Cochineal paste” is some kind of cosmetic. “Flagons”?  “Coffers”? Oh, let’s just get on with it. I want to know if the monk dies.

Photo credit:  nancepants on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Sunday, June 10, 2018

She Flipped That Omelet And . . . .: Seafood Edition

I don't know why it has taken me so long to attempt crab cakes. I mean, I've eaten them. I've visited Maryland, the state where they're common as pork tenderloins are in Indiana.

I even wrote a book set in Maryland, so presumably my heroine and her best friend know how to eat whatever comes out of the sea.

Why haven't I gotten around to this yet? Wouldn't it be nice to not depend on Red Lobster or pricey coastal vacations to get these subtly sweet little treats?

Well, tonight was the night. I gathered up the panko crumbs and the lemon juice and the Old Bay seasoning (or a fake substitute), the crabmeat (also a fake substitute).

And when I flipped those cakes in the pan . . .

Behold: Crab Cake Hash

The world was never the same after that guy at the St. Louis World's Fair scooped ice cream into a folded-up waffle, nor after that lady in the Toll House tossed chocolate morsels into her butter cookies. I'm sure I've made the same leap in food history tonight.

If you'd like to try your hand at this classic, here's the recipe.

Myself, I think I'm owed a beach vacation, so I'll just head on over to Air B&B now. 'Bye.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Soup and Fudge

Fall asserted itself yesterday. In the morning, I walked into the grocery store wondering, Do I really need this sweater? In the evening, we attended a cookout in a yellowing cornfield and shivered while a drama-queen of a rainstorm blew in on the party.

So yes, I guess I am ready for Beef Noodle Soup.

Here's the bread recipe. You might go a little lighter on the herbs if they're ground instead of leafy. They got a tad bitter, though I could still taste the buttery crispness underneath.

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My daughter returned from her vacation with four slabs of fudge, all for her mother, whom she loves very much. Which made me wonder, Why am I making more fudge?

I may not have eaten up those four flavors, but we know they won't last forever. That last bite could bring on fudge bereavement. Isn't it comforting to know that, with a few always-available ingredients, we can whip up a new batch in no time at all?

The recipe for Sea Salt Chocolate Fudge never mentions buttering that foil-lined fan. Oh, be wise! Butter generously!  I've got a fight on my hands, freeing the rest of the fudge from the pan.

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Tune in next week for a discussion on a book that I'm sure you've heard of.  (And hopefully, a repaired website.)

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Still having website troubles, so here we are on Blogspot again . . .

This is a cookie for the indecisive sugar fiend.

When you visit the recipe site, you will find a more beautiful sample of the finished product. I used a rather large cookie scoop, and cookies that big take 17 minutes to bake!

As for the review of the extra-large book that I know you're all waiting on, I can report that I passed the pictures in the center last night. There's hope.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rosemary Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Alas, Read Fast, Eat Slow is down. I don't want to deal with it tonight.

Here's something tasty for you, while I read a marathon book:

Yes, I know the title says "sandwiches," but I was rich in tortillas this week, so I ate this crunchy chicken salad as a wrap.

The website brags on the wonder of smoked almonds. I did not know such things existed. Will this mean a trip to the "special" grocery store a half hour away?

Nope. I was relieved to find them in my own grocer's nut aisle.

And they are tasty. I must have been pretty loud with my enjoyment because, next time I checked the pantry, there were my cashews, softly weeping.

You can find the recipe here. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Why Won't Anybody Tell Us Anything?

First, two announcements:

1. in is the shop for some repairs. I really hope to be back there blogging by next week.

2. Recipes will no longer be a regular feature on the blog. Expect occasional appearances of great food, but mostly, we're going to talk about books.

Thanks for checking in here. I love my readers.


“How would you like to live in Chicago?” my husband said one day.

“Hmmm,” I said, as visions of adventure and skyscrapers paraded through my head.

We’ve had conversations like this throughout our corporate-gypsy marriage. Prospects of Chicago or Xenia, Ohio, or some small place in Mississippi that I can’t remember have been our mind candy for years.

photo credit 

So I could relate to the women in Tarashea Nesbit’s The Wives of Los Alamos.

“How would you like to live in the Southwest?” their husbands asked them.

“Hmmm,” the wives said. “Where in the Southwest? What would you be doing?”

Their husbands could not tell them.

Butte in New Mexico

You probably know that Los Alamos is where they built the bomb that we dropped on Hiroshima. But back then, it was all top-secret stuff.

It all started with a man ringing their doorbell and asking if the professor was home. Then the husbands asked the wives, “Would you like to . . . “ Then more mysterious men turned up to interrogate them about that Communist club they had joined back in college.

Then: “We watched [our husbands] disappear into train terminals, through the doors of unmarked black sedans, down airport runways, and we were left behind, overwhelmed. We called our friends . . . And they met us . . . At our house with a . . . Chicken casserole and a flask. . . . We wanted to tell them everything we knew . . . But we could not.”

Once the wives got “there,” to the Southwest, wherever it was they were going, not that anybody would tell them where, they faced what amounted to a camp painted a uniform olive green. Maybe their house had been built for them, maybe not. The altitude, the dry climate, the hand-cranked wringer washers—all of it was new and strange.

Mind you, these women were not the sort of girls who stood in a farm yard calling “Soo—eeee, soo-eee, soo-eee!” before throwing grub to the family sow. These were women who wore high heels. They held college degrees half as brainy as their husbands. The Paris they heard about on the news was no remote and exotic idea; it was where they had studied abroad for a summer. And as for laundry, they hired people to do it.

But here they were in New Mexico, hand-cranking those wringers, the machines their mothers washed with, hanging their husbands’ boxer shorts and their babies’ diapers on the line, then bringing them in the next morning, “square little ice boards.”

They leaned on each other. They ditched the heels, taking up blue jeans and boots. They showed the newbies around, “here are the quonset huts, here are the trailers,” and smirked at them for still wearing the high heels.

And they all wondered: what could our husbands be up to in the Tech Area? There were even women scientists up there. The wives cozied up to them, hoping to pry the secret out. But all lips were sealed.

Then one day, they found out.

Norman Ramsey signs Fat Boy

Drawing on memoirs of wartime Los Alamos, Nesbit novelizes the three-year internment of women who just happened to be married to men who “wanted to know if their theoretical predictions could become a physical reality.” 

I read it eagerly, all the while imagining myself stuck in some small place in Mississippi and nobody willing to tell me what the heck we were doing there.