24 October 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

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

1893 - 1978

17 September.  I visited every counter of the domestic Woolworth, even to buying boot-polish, and refreshed myself with a sixpenny fish tea - plaice, of course.  Cheap low-class meals are such a pleasure, I wonder I don't take to chewing gum.

23 September.  We went by Guildford and beyond Alton lunched in a nut copse, talking about great aunts.  A delicious lunch: cold chicken, beer, pears and madiera (sic).  And midges.  The ash-trees.  Their green fronds so flatly distinct on a grey sky that they looked like transfer patterns on china.


The Picnic by Edward Cucuel

18 October 2014

Together and Apart by Margaret Kennedy

There is so much more to this book than initially meets the eye.  Knowing absolutely nothing about Margaret Kennedy's writing it was bought on the strength of some key words within the synopsis...middle-class, between the wars, Hampstead, domestic life, disastrous consequences...and all set in 1936.  Delightfully, the dedication is to a writer I do know something about, Rose Macaulay.

The story begins with Betsy Canning's lengthy letter to her mother relating the facts of her withering marriage to a man who has changed and no longer suits her.  There is going to be a divorce.  Mrs Hewitt's reply by telegram is short and to the point...'do nothing irrevocable till I see you...'.

Surrounded by old-fashioned values this story must have been shocking when it was first published; just the sort of book hidden behind the sofa cushions.  Alec is just the right age for a mid-life crisis and has an affair with the children's governess, Joy.  At the same time, Betsy feels as though she has never known real happiness and at thirty-seven feels nearly ready for the scrap heap.  If there is any excitement to come from life she had better do something daring and soon.  While feeling it's perfectly all right to contemplate allowing the wealthy Lord St. Mullins to take her away from it all, Betsy is horrified to learn that Alec and Joy have run off together.  Eventually, Joy discovers that she is pregnant.

Left to cope in the wake of their parents' separation, the three children, Kenneth, Eliza, and Daphne, struggle and I felt quite sorry for them.  In one of my favourite scenes, Eliza takes the bull by the horns and decides to defy her mother and find her father's new home.  As she navigates her way through London to end up near Gloucester Road station in the 'middle-class slum' that is Gladstone Square, Eliza realizes that her father's life is forever changed.  And yet, despite the implied penury...there is still, of course, a maid to answer the door.  While waiting for her father, Eliza spies a wicker basket on the floor...

'Oh, Father!  How...I never...What a darling little baby!'
He smiles.
'Didn't you know that you had a little brother?'
'A brother?'
The word was like an electric shock.  Could there be any brother except Ken?'
'Was he...how old is he?'
'Just a fortnight.'
'Was he...born here?'
'No.  In a nursing home.  We brought him here yesterday.'
'Then...he's...Joy's little baby?'

And your heart breaks for this young girl who has to figure everything out for herself and realizes that her father has a new family.  Rather than break her spirits, Eliza becomes quite the house manager and decides that her father and Joy need her help in the daily running of things which in turn gives her a purpose.

In another scene involving Eliza, Margaret Kennedy's humour and powers of observation shine through when Max shows up unexpectedly and there is a mishap with make-up...

'Eliza's powder advertised the fact that the poor girl had no mother to guide her.  It was of the wrong colour, far too light a shade for her warm brown skin.  She liberally dusted her own face and that of her stepmother, and they both went nervously downstairs looking as if they had just emerged from a flour mill.'

In the introduction by Kennedy's daughter, Julia Birley, she writes that the idea for Together and Apart was conceived while she watched a man and woman pass each other on opposite escalators in London's Underground.  A last minute look of recognition and then they're absorbed by the crowds.  This scene is recreated in the book between Betsy and Alec after a long absence and when feelings of regret and loss regarding their divorce have crept in.

This story delivers far more than the light read I initially bargained for and is almost epic in scope; it's a book buyer's dream.  Due to an unexpected redecorating project I missed out on Margaret Kennedy Week but I am so glad to have discovered an excellent author and look forward to following up on posts from that endeavour.

The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, Viewed from an Interior by Thomas Cantrell Dugdale 

17 October 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

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

1832 - 88

Any housewife can imagine the emotions of Sister Hope, when she took possession of a large, dilapidated kitchen, containing an old stove and the peculiar stores out of which food was to be evolved for her little family of eleven.  Cakes of maple sugar, dried peas and beans, barley and hominy, meal of all sorts, potatoes, and dried fruit.  No milk, butter, cheese, tea, or meat, appeared.  Even salt was considered a useless luxury and spice entirely forbidden by these lovers of Spartan simplicity.  A ten years' experience of vegetarian vagaries had been good training for this new freak, and her sense of the ludicrous supported her through many trying scenes.
  Unleavened bread, porridge, and water for breakfast; bread, vegetables, and water for dinner; bread, fruit, and water for supper was the bill of fare ordained by the elders.  No teapot profaned that sacred stove, no gory steak cried aloud for vengeance from her chaste gridiron; and only a brave woman's taste, time, and temper were sacrificed on that domestic altar.

Silver Pitchers

14 October 2014

New Books and Balls Falls

Our redecorating project is almost complete.  A few minor details...well, my husband would refute the word 'minor' when describing the job before him of repairing the molding where the French doors were mounted.  We spent a whole afternoon driving all over to find some nice hooks to hold back the drapery panels and came home with nothing.  But I ask you, would it be a proper project without moving the earth in search of one thing that seems inconsequential but remains elusive?  I digress.

A few books have been added to the shelves and so to liven things up while I finish the last bit of Margaret Kennedy's charming story Together and Apart, I will share.

The purple Taschen was the only item on my Christmas list last year, so rather skimpy as lists go.  A whole morning in your pajamas while drinking mimosas and flipping through a book featuring the commercial delights of a vibrant city is my idea of bliss.  I had my eye on the bottom book for this Christmas but my husband bought it on Friday.  I love the book, he thinks it looks great on the new ottoman...Mars...Venus, say no more.  Full of iconic images from the 1800s to present day this page-turner is everything from history lesson to guide book to sociological study.  Many a decadent hour will be spent devouring its pages!

Stella Gibbon's The Rich House is in the running for my next read.  While browsing the synopsis and reviews for some of her other novels, Bassett also had irresistible cosy appeal.  The fear that a book could suddenly vanish from stockpiles at shops or warehouses brings out the hoarder in me and so, it must be owned.  As for Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, it was one of the books being talked about when I first started blogging year ago but could never find on a bookshelf.  Thank goodness for reissues.

My local Chapters bookshop had tables and tables of books for $1 - $2 recently.  Initially that sounds like good news but the bad news is that the chain has closed two stores in Toronto so stock is being redistributed.  Helen Dunmore's The Greatcoat is appropriate for October with its lean towards a haunting story, as for Tremain...well, Trespass sounds like a book my husband, the anti-cosy reader, would like so it will go on a shelf for when the mood strikes.

The titles say it all.

And switching gears, yesterday was Thanksgiving which is my favourite long weekend of the year.  And no Thanksgiving would be complete without a trip to Balls Falls to bask in the crisp air while delicious aromas of food and woodsmoke waft everywhere.   

Although, there is one sight that never fails to horrify me.  The image of youth sitting around a cauldron of boiling oil so that visitors can enjoy hot apple fritters carries a Dickensian overtone, don't you think?  Having said that...yes, we bought the apple fritters.  Pot...kettle...yes, pun intended.

 A more pleasing image is the autumnal wreath on the village's church door.  I take the same photo every year...just because.   

9 October 2014

When You Least Expect It...

My husband and I had this past week off to take drives in the countryside, spend hours and hours reading, and take the train to Toronto for a nice lunch.  I was also looking forward to joining along in Margaret Kennedy Week by posting a review of Together and Apart.

In a ridiculously impulsive move on Monday morning my husband and I wondered what the living room would look if we removed the French doors, pulled down the drapes, and got rid of the dining room table.  And how about adding another bookcase to the living room?  We did just that, right then and there.

The past few days have been busy with going to and fro between paint stores and furniture shops as we mull over ideas and buy this and that.  Today is my birthday so we forced ourselves to make the effort to warm up some leftover meatloaf for lunch and if I want cake I had better hop to it!

I will be sharing my thoughts on Margaret Kennedy's book but later than expected.

3 October 2014

Friday's Literary Feast

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


Marguerite Patten worked for the Ministry of Food during the Second World War and until the end of rationing in 1954.  She was also the regular cookery expert in the BBC's first television magazine programme, Design for Women.

Over the years I have been asked repeatedly to describe whale meat.  Nowadays, we would be horrified at the thought of using these magnificent and protected mammals for food, but in 1946 we were anxious to have more generous helpings of meat so the Government were ready to persuade us to avail ourselves of this unrationed 'bonus', which became better known in 1947.  Whale meat looked like a cross between liver and beef, with a firm texture.  Because the raw meat had a strong and very unpleasant smell of fish and stale oil, I loathed handling whale meat to create recipes or to use in my demonstrations to the public.  When cooked, the smell was not apparent.
  The Ministry of Food's Food and Nutrition booklet for September 1947 included advice on preparing and cooking whale meat:  'Tests were made in our Experimental Kitchens using the best cuts of whale meat, which was bought in its frozen state, thawed out slowly and treated as ordinary beef steak.  It was found that although the raw meat looked somewhat unattractive and is not very satisfactorily grilled or cooked as a joint, most people cannot distinguish it from beef steak when it is finely cut before cooking or mixed with strong flavours.'

Marguerite Patten's Post-war Kitchen

Marguerite Patten

27 September 2014

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

The lovely Miranda, of Old Fashioned Girls, is hosting a group read-along of My Cousin Rachel for their book club this month.  Daphne du Maurier is an author I hear, or read, about on almost a weekly basis but up until now I have never experienced her work for myself.  It was high time I did!


Set during some point in the 19th century in Cornwall and partly in Italy this is a story about love, betrayal, deceit, and one startling act of revenge.  Narrated by Philip Ashley, in his mid-twenties, raised for most of his life under the guardianship of his cousin Ambrose.  The two men are very much alike in looks and personality.  During a trip to Italy, Ambrose falls in love with a stunningly beautiful woman and ends up staying in the warm and sunny climate for the good of his eroding health.  When after a span of time Ambrose's letters to Philip reveal that something is amiss but details are scant, Philip decides to travel to the villa Sangalletti.  Upon his arrival Philip is told that Ambrose has died.  More devastating news is to come as not only has a burial already taken place but the widow has packed up house and moved on.  I wasn't even at the page fifty mark yet but already had Rachel's card marked; not just her but her sly friend, Signor Rainaldi too.

So let's get it all out there.  What exactly is the state of the relationship between the Signor and Rachel?  They both have the same aquiline features and while this might be down to a regional attribute I did wonder at times if they were related.  Or are they simply partners in crime?  In any case, I feel quite strongly that Rachel knew exactly what she was doing when she slowly seduced Philip during her visit and reeled him in.  The way she coldly brushes him off once he signs over the house and showers her with a basket full of jewels was maddening.  Frankly, I don't buy the story that she had every right to turn against Philip when out of frustration he grabs her around the neck.  I wanted to do worse than that to her myself!  Also, could Rachel say that she was continually being controlled by men when it was her decision to visit Philip in Cornwall and then stay for months when she had a home to go to in Italy?  This argument doesn't sit well with me.  But how does Rainaldi fit in with the scheme...accomplice, puppet master, lover, someone who carefully watches over Rachel in order to reclaim any debt she has cost him?

In my version of the story, Ambrose was clearly being poisoned by Rachel and she was using the same modus operandi with Philip.  The poisonous laburnum seeds tucked away in her drawer made things quite clear and both Ambrose and Philip's symptoms were comparable.  She got away with it once but not twice.  Which leads me to the matter of a weak bridge over a sunken garden.

When Louise and Philip find a sketch of Ambrose tucked away on Rachel's desk with a notation to 'remember only the happy hours' they wonder if they have misjudged her.  I think it is entirely possible that Rachel could have been genuinely in love with Ambrose but her overriding motivation is greed.  She has a taste for the finer things in life and little concern for budget.  Also, Rachel equates ownership with power; something that as a woman she would continually attempt to attain.  There were two sides to Rachel and she was quite capable of acting out of love but in the end, when needs must, she was capable of murder for financial gain and with that, power.

Now, as for Rachel's death...is Philip responsible?  He didn't warn her about the unsafe condition of the bridge but it should have been dealt with by the workers on the estate as soon as it was discovered.  In any case, I think Philip was leaving a horrible accident up to chance.  He allowed Rachel to go for her walk and if she fell to her death, it was more to do with serendipity than him actually placing her directly in harm's way.  If you go back to the beginning of the novel though we see that Philip carries Rachel's fatal fall with him but has put it into a box, so to speak...

'There is no going back in life.  There is no return.  No second chances.  I cannot call back the spoken word or the accomplished deed, sitting here, alive and in my own home, any more than poor Tom Jenkyn could, swinging in his chains.'

My fondness for this story waxed and waned at different points.  I asked a colleague the other day if she had ever read My Cousin Rachel and she replied that she had but it was during her early twenties.  Possibly the best age to read a story centred around a manipulative woman and a naive young man in the throes of first love.  Having said that, the last quarter of the book was a tense page-turning event that had me on the edge of my seat and the lasting impression is a good one!

There is a copy of Rebecca languishing on the shelves upstairs and now I look forward to reading it sooner rather than later.  Thanks to Miranda for her excellent choice of story for a book club read with its many situations to mull over and for introducing me to Daphne du Maurier.

Daphne du Maurier