3 July 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1807 - 87

Her famous cookbook, Christianity in the Kitchen, warned:  'There's death in the pot.'  And one of her cake recipes called for 20 eggs and a batter that had to be beaten for 3 hours.

There is no more prolific, - indeed, there is no such prolific cause of bad morals as abuses of diet, - not merely by excessive drinking of injurious beverages, but excessive eating, and by eating unhealthful food.  Compounds like wedding cake, suet plum puddings, and rich turtle soup, are masses of indigestible material which should never find their way to any Christian table.

Christianity in the Kitchen

28 June 2015

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Where to begin?!  For those who may be unfamiliar, A God in Ruins is a companion piece rather than a sequel to the stunningly good Life After Life.  I plowed through that book two years ago and finished in just a few nights; there was something very moreish about each episode of Ursula's life that kept me turning pages until late into the night.  Initially I thought this next book couldn't possibly be as unique or as brilliant as its predecessor but Kate Atkinson has done it again.

A God in Ruins explores, Ursula's youngest brother, Teddy's journey through many of his life's events; some are extraordinary, such as serving as a bomber pilot with the RAF during WWII and some are rather ordinary, as in being a husband, father, and grandfather.  At least on the surface those moments are easily compartmentalized but when Teddy was in the pilot's seat his actions sprang from rigorous training and the results were ultimately good or bad.  You could say that, for Teddy, navigating through relationships with his immediate family required the same intestinal fortitude as navigating a warplane under attack and both left scars.

Kate Atkinson's research on the WWII era is thorough, detailed, and need I say frightening?  I can't imagine what it must have been like to know that the chances of ever seeing your friends or loved ones again after a few missions were slim to none.

  'They were fifth in line to take off and they swung on to the runway, engines to full boost, waiting, a greyhound in a trap, ready to go where the controller's Aldis light showed green.  Teddy was still expecting the red light from the control tower, cancelling the op.  It never came.  Sometimes they were even recalled once they were in the air.  Not this time.
   The usual flare-path farewell party had gathered at the controllers caravan.  Assorted WAAFs, cookhouse and ground crew.  The CO was there, the air vice-marshal too, saluting every aircraft as it passed.  Those who are about to die to not salute you back, Teddy thought.'

The chapters in this book are composed of periods of time and are not linear, jogging back and forth from the twenties to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  While Teddy doesn't emerge through time the way Ursula did the fascinating aspect of jumping around eras is still there.

Regarding Teddy's personal life, I quite liked his wife, Nancy, for her love of the arts, maths, and lying about being married so she could continue to teach.  The eventual birth of their daughter, Viola, when the couple had nearly given up hope is a thrilling event but new limbs on the family tree are thorny ones.  The conflict between generations when one has fought and sacrificed versus post-austerity entitlement could splinter any weakened relationship but Teddy has the patience of someone who is simply thankful to be alive.  As for Viola, she is frustratingly irresponsible at times and her own worst enemy.  Just when my contempt for her was running at its highest there is a heartbreaking scene from her childhood that goes a long way towards explaining some aspects of Viola's character.

At a point somewhere near the three-quarter mark I stopped for a minute and looked at the bigger picture, and something occurred to me...but it wouldn't be right to share.  And yet, despite that
knowledge I was still left reeling by the poignancy of what the whole thing meant by the end.  There are two podcasts on my iPod featuring Kate talk about this book so I'm happy to finally be able to listen to what she has to say about her journey with this story!

If you haven't read Life After Life and this post has made you desperate to read A God in Ruins I say 'go for it!'.  This book will work as a stand-alone piece and is absolutely brilliant.

The Last Flight
Artist Unknown

26 June 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

Quotes from The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1890 - 1976

The following recipe comes from a cookery book published by the Ministry of Food to help women cope with wartime rationing.  The other contributors included Joyce Grenfell, Stella Gibbons, Marie Stopes and Rebecca West.


(Enough for 5 or 6 people)

½ lb mushrooms                                  6 eggs
A little margarine                                 Pepper and salt
Jar of shrimps                                      Dessertspoonful of olive oil 
¼ lb cooked ham or tongue                          

Method:  Peel mushrooms and cook in a closed casserole with a little margarine, either in moderate oven or on a very low gas.  When tender, add a jar of shrimps and ham, or tongue, cut up in small pieces.  Keep warm and make omelet by breaking eggs into bowl and beating up lightly with fork (not whisk).  Add pepper and salt, put olive oil or butter or margarine in large frying-pan.  When steaming hot pour in eggs, stir round once or twice and let set.  Take off flame, put filling mixture on one-half of omelet and fold other half over.  Slip off on to dish.  Serve at once.
  If liked, small tin of cream of mushroom soup can be thickened with a little cornflour and poured over as sauce.

A Kitchen Goes to War

With warm thoughts of the doyenne of British cookery and former member of the Ministry of Food, Marguerite Patten, who passed away on June 4, just shy of her 100th birthday.

19 June 2015

Friday's Literary Feast

The Virago Book of Food:  The Joy of Eating

1887 - 1964

To Rée Gorer...

                                                                                                            Renshaw Hall

24 December 1942

Darling Rée,

...My beloved parent has succeeded in getting out of Italy, and making his way to Switzerland, accompanied by a nurse.  There, he is teaching an unfortunate pair who scarcely knew him, before the war, what life can be.  The wife is the daughter of that world-scourge, Inez Chandoes-Pole, the husband is a charming, practical, quiet Swiss.  The old gentleman simply descended on them like a blight.  He inhabits their house, he has changed all their modes of existence.  He won't let them go to bed at night, because he wishes them to sit up with him; he insists on having a hot meal of roast chicken at 4 o'clock in the morning, so that the cook has to sit up too; and when he wants anything expensive and they say that they have no money, he makes a clucking sound, puts his head on one side, tossing it irritably, and says, 'I'm afraid I can't help that!'


Portrait of Edith Sitwell by Roger Fry