22 November 2012

Bits and Bobs (the Thanksgiving edition)

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious, it is relatively low hassle compared to Christmas, and it falls on a Thursday, so there is always a nice long weekend to follow.

The Food
This year because of our recent travel schedule and a death in the family, our Thanksgiving is going to be pretty low key. I only made one pie this year (pumpkin) using John's grandmother's recipe which would make anyone love pumpkin pie. After watching the entire third season of the Great British Bake Off in the course of just a week I was also determined to make my own pie crust this year. I have made them from scratch in the past, but I always run into trouble rolling it out. This year it rolled out beautifully but I may have overworked it. We will see what it tastes like. I also decided to add a twist to my cranberry sauce this year so I used fresh ginger and clementine juice. I did a bit of sampling already and can confirm that it is delicious.

Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without stuffing--which I don't actually stuff inside the bird--I keep that cavity free for aromatics and herbs.

Aromatic veggies and thyme for cooking the bird.

For the gravy

The bird and the oven
I have been fantasizing for years about my dream kitchen. With any luck it will happen in 2013 when we renovate and add onto our house. For quite some time we have been convinced that we were going to get a Wolf range. But yesterday we went to look at a house that was renovated by one of the builders we are considering for our job. In that kitchen was the most beautiful range I have ever seen. It was a Lacanche and it was gorgeous.

Not only is it pretty, but because it is rather old fashioned in its engineering as well as its look, it has far fewer mechanical bits and computers than most high end ranges. My only concern was that the oven is smaller than most American ovens. Would I be able to make my Thanksgiving bird in it? So I did some measuring this morning to see. I tend to make smallish turkeys (14 pounds) but I use a rack so I was worried I might have trouble in the Lacanche. So I did some measuring this morning.

Measuring the height of my bird (after a night of post-brining air drying in the fridge).

The Lacanche oven is only 12" high which is about 4" less than our current oven. But as you can see from the picture, the bird will fit with plenty room to spare. Plus, and this is the important part, we were already planning on having a separate standard sized wall oven in the new kitchen, so it doesn't matter so much that the Lacanche has a smaller oven.

Just look at it...

Ours will be smaller than this, but it does show off how pretty it is.

This is a warming compartment. Not only can you keep things warm, but you can
use for as a proving oven for things that need to rise in a  warm place. And would you look at those knobs.

This is the one we are getting, but in black. And we will get the burner configuration shown on the left.

Lucy helped me
As always, Lucy was eager to help out in the kitchen.

20 November 2012

Girl with the Pearl Braces

When I was in the tourist information office in Delft last week I spotted this fantastic postcard for Galerie de Kunstkop which is the studio of artist Rene Jacobs.

And doesn't she look like she could be related to the painting in Spain that was recently "restored" by an eighty-year-old woman?

17 November 2012

Showered in books (or Building vomits books)

I have been having a great time running around the Netherlands. I am staying with friends in The Hague where there was this very cool temporary scuplture. Thank goodness the books weren't in English and I don't read Dutch or I would have been tempted to climb the sculpture to find something good to read.

Papier Biënnale 2012 in Rijswijk en Den Haag at  Museum Meerman

Photo credit: Alicia Martín
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Another example in some other city.

13 November 2012

Evelyn Waugh was right

In Evelyn Waugh's novel The Loved One, the British protagonist Dennis, a young has-been poet living in post-war Los Angeles, confides in his boss at the Happy Hunting Ground pet crematorium:
"Through no wish of my own I have become the protagonist of a Jamesian problem. Do you ever read any Henry James, Mr. Schultz?"
"You know I don't have the time for reading."
"You don't have to read much of him. All his stories are about the same thing - American innocence and European experience."
That about sums up my feeling about Henry James--at least the part about not needing to read much of him.  A few years ago I had to kind of force myself to like Portrait of a Lady, but I did end up enjoying it. I did the same with The Spoils of Poynton. I finished, but I didn't enjoy it. Washington Square I've read twice and didn't enjoy it either time. So for my A Century of Books challenge I plugged The Golden Bowl in for 1904. It is also on the ML100 list so I could kill two birds with one stone. But 200 pages in with 400 more to go I just could not have cared less about finishing. So with my new attitude about life being too short. I chucked it.

In its place, I picked up The Loved One which was hilarious. If you like Wodehouse, you will like The Loved One.

House of Stairs by William Sleator
This is the cover I remember
I also recently finished House of Stairs, William Sleator's young adult dystopian novel from 1974. I first read this book when I was about ten years old. Parts of the book have stuck with me for the intervening thirty-some years. Unfortunately the title wasn't one of things that stuck. Thanks to one of you who blogged about this book a year or two ago, I was reminded on the title.

Five sixteen-year-old orphans find themselves in a white horizon-less room full of nothing but stairs and landings. It is quickly apparent to an adult reader that they are being subjected to some sort of Pavlovian conditioning. Three things struck me about my second reading of this book.

1. It is still an enthralling read. Albeit a much quicker one at forty-three than it was at ten.

2. The experiment perpetuated on the orphans is almost like a foreshadowing of reality TV where the "stars" are conditioned to fight each other. The characters in the book do awful things to each other to get enough food to stay alive. The characters on Big Brother or The Real Housewives do it for fame and money.

3. There is a distinctly gay sub-storyline that doesn't take a queer theorist to recognize. In fact, I would suggest that both Peter and Lola are gay. And, it turns out, the heroes of the book. I wonder if the subconsciously gay ten-year-old me subconsciously picked up on that thread? If so, I had no recollection of it.


04 November 2012

Bits and Bobs (the get it all out in one post edition)

Winter Garden by Evelyn Dunbar
copyright: Tate/PCF

Last night when I took Lucy out for her final constitutional of the day, I was struck with what a beautiful night it was. Plenty chilly, but the wonderful crisp, late fall, almost winter kind of chilly. The air was perfectly still and smelled sweet with just a hint of woodsmoke somewhere. The bright, but no longer full moon, illuminated the wispy clouds across an otherwise clear sky. It was just magical. I let Lucy take extra time sniffing all the piles of leaves lined up along the sidewalks. So even though it sill looks more like autumn than winter, I felt that the winter scene above by Evelyn Dunbar was a perfect image for today.

Can't wait to place another Persephone order
I've enjoyed reading all of the blog posts recently about Persephone's 100th book. An enthusiastic Persephone poster in the past, I have found my blogging life a little overwhelmed by a research/writing project I am doing for work. The project is fascinating, but it does sap my strength a bit. (That last line sounded a bit like Elaine whose daily triumphs and trials I find rather Pepysian in their scope, and endlessly enjoyable.) Anyway, I was feeling a bit like I had missed my blogortunity to celebrate Persephone's milestone achievement. But then I finally got the most recent issue of The Persephone Biannually in the mail this week. (From which I purloined the Dunbar image.)

I own about 41 Persephones so far. There are at least another 20 I want to buy not including Nos. 99 and 100: Patience by John Coates, which is getting almost universal accolades across the blogosphere; and The Persephone Book of Short Stories. Not normally a huge fan of short stories, I have loved the collections that Persephone has published in the past and am dying to see what they have collected in this volume.

And speaking of Persephone, did you know that the creative, witty, ebullient, and nerdybookgirl Amanda over at Fig and Thistle is naming her third child Persephone? I wonder if the baby shower will forgo the obligatory pink for dove grey?

A troika / hat-trick / triptych of gifts (pick your metaphor)

Book the First: I mentioned earlier (I think) that I have been the recipient of book blogger generosity lately. First, the wonderful Sarah Faragher of the wonderful Sarah's Books in Bangor, Maine sent me a wonderful copy of The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac by Eugene Field. This summer, while book buying in Maine, I came across Field's book The House. When organizing her collection Sarah found an extra copy of the Bibliomaniac book in the same edition as The House remembered my blog-post about Field and was kind enough to send it to me.

The best secondhand bookstore in Maine.

Book the Second: Somewhere recently I must have complained about trying to find a decent copy of Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm. The version that I bought online turned out to be a truly horrible print to order version that I really hate. Pam, my favorite American ex-pat living in Tasmania, has a great blog called Travellin' Penguin, and had an extra copy of Zuleika laying around which is now making its way across the Pacific (unless it decided to fly the other direction).

Pam's pen of Penguins

Is this the one travellin' to me?

Book(s) the Third: Granite State author and blogger Margaret Evans Porter of Periodic Pearls thought of me while she read Andrew Hollinghurst's latest novel The Stranger's Child on the way home from one of her many (many, many) trips to the UK. She decided to send it on to me knowing that once I finish A Century of Books sometime next year, I would welcome the chance to read it. She also sent along a copy of Mapp and Lucia and, given my recent pilgrimage to Rye, an article about Lamb House. ("Books the Third" sounds like I have had a series of cats each of which I have named "Books." Often called Booksie, I am now on my third cat: Books III. Of course I don't own any cat, just Lucy Honeychurch, the cutest dog in the world. "Books" doesn't seem like a good name for a dog. "Booker," short for Booker T. Dog might work, but not Books.)

When we went to Lamb House in May we didn't get to see the above the ground floor because the rest of the house is let to a family who live up there. I thought it would be a great place to live, but I had no idea the quarters would be this nice.Now I really want to live there. I wonder when their lease is up? Thanks for sending this clipping Margaret.

The rest of the photo. How fantastic is the view of the church through the windown. Looks like a stage set.

Den Haag here we come (with a pile of books)
We are off soon to visit one of my best friends in the world. It just so happens that he and his fantastically witty husband live in The Hague. I know, who in their right mind visits the Netherlands in November? I have chosen five (yes five) books to take along with me. Three of them are mass market paperbacks that I won't mind leaving behind no matter how much I may end up liking them--a re-read of Queen Lucia, House of Stairs by William Sleator, and some Castle book by Elizabeth Goudge. The Sleator is a book I read in 6th grade. A bit science fictiony, I have been wondering for thirty-some years what the book is actually about. Now I will find out. The Goudge looks like it is going to be a DE Stevenson kind of romance. And the Benson should be a joy from cover to cover. I am also taking along The Golden Bowl. I have been a third of the way through this book for months and months now. Time to knock it out. And for some reason, I sometimes hanker for James when I travel. I may also take along the aforementioned awful edition of Zuleika Dobson.

A picture from October 2009, the last time we were in Den Haag. I am guessing this time will be considerably less leafy.

The joy of having an editor
When I met John 10 years ago, one of the first quips I remember him making was "everyone needs an editor." He wasn't thinking necessarily about writing either. He meant we could all use a life editor. Someone to tell us that a particular shirt needed to be sent to the Goodwill. Or someone who could gently suggest that our approach to, well, you name it, might need some tinkering for maximum efficacy.

Even though I count myself a decent writer, I am fully aware that I have more than a few writing ticks (or is it "tics"?) that might be adorable in a blog (or not), but not so adorable in a professional work product. Some of you may even vaguely recall when I published the My Porch Manual of Style (MPMS) back in September 2010. You probably remember it, because after setting rules for my blog, I have spent the last two years being entirely lazy and inconsistent in their usage.

So now I have this year-long research/writing project for work that is coming dangerously close to an end. After completing about four-fifths of the manuscript I realized that pain of death could not induce me to go back and copy edit the thing. Then I thought of Teresa at Shelf Love. I have always admired the way she writes and I know that she makes a living as an editor. Would she perhaps do a little freelance work? Would she take on my typed ramblings? Thankfully, yes and yes. And what a joy it was to get back my marked up draft. Teresa preferred to mark her edits electronically in Word, so incorporating her excellent suggestions was as easy as a click of the mouse. Having an editor is amazing.

(It wasn't until I linked just now to my previous post about the My Porch Manual of Style, that I realized I had actually mentioned Teresa as my inspiration for that post. It certainly seems like it was meant to be.)

Evelyn Dunbar
In searching for a digital image of the Dunbar painting that I posted above, I came across a great blog all about her wonderful paintings. Even more fascinating is Christopher, the writer of that blog. A native of Scotland, Chrisopher lives in Languedoc, France where he writes, composes, conducts a "multi-national chamber choir," and builds drystone walls. How fabulous does that sound. I hope my retirement is that interesting.

Gratuitous garden pictures
John took these garden photos the day before Hurricane Sandy arrived in town. The winds were not as strong as were expected so we came through unscathed.