Monday, April 30, 2007

A good bookshop

I'm lucky in that there are quite a few used book shops in my area, though I have scoured most of them pretty well. One I like to stop into every few months is Magers & Quinn. They sell used and new books and shelve them together. I've found quite a few Viragos there, both the older ones from the 80's as well as newer editions. In fact, they have so many newer Viragos, as well as other books printed in the UK, that I'm thinking they must order them on purpose.

I picked up these books on my last trip there. I was pleased to find:

The Complete Novels and Selected Writings of Amy Levy - Persephone publishes her novel Ruben Sachs and I was thrilled to find this.

Cullum by E. Arnot Robertson
The Unlit Lamp by Radclyffe Hall

Both of these are 80s Viragos, both in unread, pristine condition, and both found on different clearance carts priced at $1. How many more of these lovely books are sitting on clearance carts somewhere? I hope I find them before they are tossed away.

Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann - A 2000 Virago publication and looks like a wonderful story.

The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay - A 2002 Virago publication.

Tree of Angels by Penny Sumner - I don't know a thing about this except it was published in the UK and looks like a family saga beginning in Russia and moving to London.

Bookmooch and paperbackswap have brought me:

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

Fanny Burney by Claire Harman - I've meant to read Burney and have never quite gotten to it. I do love a good biography though, and this looks to be entertaining.

I am currently reading The Observations and enjoying it. It turned out to be just what I was looking to read over this past weekend when I was back and forth to work.

I'm off to THE MALL today, yes, I mean The Mall of America. A bit embarrassing really, that it's the biggest tourist attraction in the state, but it is the closest shopping center to me and I have some things to return.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Embroidered tea towel #1

I've been wanting to post some items I've embroidered; many of them were gifts and are not in my possession anymore so this gives me a chance to see them again. The photo is not so great; neither is the photographer. Actually, I'm not bad with my SLR camera that takes film, but our digital camera leaves something to be desired. It's hard to get what I want into the frame.

This tea towel was a Christmas gift for my Mother. It turned out quite well and remains one of my favorite things that I've done. The patterns are all Sublime Stitching by Jenny Hart from her recent book. I sent this to my mother with a beautiful Japanese Beehouse teapot and some loose teas. (I love the 2 cup size and larger iced tea pot myself.)

That's all for today as I'm back to work for the night.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Friday Roundup

I finished 2 more books this week:

24. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impractical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution by Thomas McNamee - I really enjoyed this. I've never been to Chez Panisse but it and Alice Waters have been in my consciousness for some time. This book was 'approved' by Waters so I was afraid it might be, perhaps, less judgemental than a non-approved book but did not find that to be the case. The book details Waters' history, how the restaurant came to be and continues to be, and the many people that have been involved over the years. The book doesn't shy away from the less positive aspects of Waters and the restaurant. Miss Waters is a huge proponent of the Slow Food movement, local eating, sustainable farming; Michael Pollen, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma is even mentioned as the impetus for Chez Panisse serving only grass fed beef. Alice Waters' believes that through food, what we eat and how it's grown or raised, 'we can change the world'. This mantra really speaks to me, as presently I am really trying to educate myself about these issues. It is somewhat discouraging knowing that Waters, somewhat well known, has been trying to get this message out for over 35 years and it's seems people are just starting to listen. It seems such a small bit that I can do as a consumer. I do hope others in the public eye will also try to instigate change.

25. Alphabet Weekends by Elizabeth Noble - This what kind Predictable, superficial. I'm not sure why I bothered with it but I wanted something light. It provided a bit of entertainment.

The mail has brought me:

Family History by Vita Sackville-West - A VMC from It is in nearly pristine condition. So many of the VMCs I have collected seem to have never been read. Sigh. What a shame.

I was thrilled to receive the Persephone Biannually. It is full of delicious things to read and I'm waiting to savor it. Only sad that there will not be another until October.

I am looking out for a few more packages to arrive. Books, of course.

I work in health care (part-time) and have to work this entire weekend. I needed a book to read on my breaks that is absorbing but not too taxing. I decided to pick up The Observations by Jane Harris last night and read the first few pages. So far, it seems that it will do.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More Titles

I do often wonder if I'll ever read all the books I own. It's nice to think that I will, but since I always seem to be 'saving' some and like to have lots of options on hand, I would say it's unlikely.

Here are a few more titles I've amassed lately; I'm embarrassed to write about all of them at once so this will continue in a few days.

From paperbackswap I have received:

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West - A lovely VMC published by The Dial Press.

From Amazon, my recent Saturday night book buying spree:

Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book - I had not heard of Grigson until recently, when I was reading some other cookbook which referred to Grigson and Elizabeth David as sort of the 'mothers' of English food writing. Being a big fan of Nigella and Nigel I just knew I had to investigate these authors. I almost ordered a copy of this a while ago, which Amazon would have had shipped in from the UK in a convenient 4-6 weeks. As luck should have it, this was republished this month here in the US and I happily add it to my cookbook collection.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser - I tend to avoid books that arrive on the bestseller lists and stay there. And stay there. My thought process is - if this appeals to the masses I can't imagine what I would like about it. Sometimes I end up reading these books, generally years after everyone else has; that seems to be the case with this book. I didn't think I needed to read this book - I don't really eat fast food anyway so I don't need to be convinced not to. Well, I've read a few books on this subject lately; The Omnivore's Dilemma, Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, Heat, The New English Kitchen (Rose Prince) and some essays, and I'm feeling really strongly about eating locally, eating sustainably, not eating mass produced food. I decided reading this book might give me some more information to use to encourage other people, even people very close to me, to consider another way of eating and buying food.

More to come.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Books read lately

Had a lovely weekend here complete with wonderful weather and time to spend with friends. There was not much time for reading, however...

I've finished recently:

22. When She Was White by Judith Stone - I knew this one would be difficult to talk about. This is the true story of a child born to white parents in South Africa during apartheid who is forcibly removed from school and had her official race classification changed because of her appearance - she appears to not be white. The young girl's name was Sandra Laing and she is in her 50s now. The story itself is horrifying - imagine one day your child is not technically allowed to live with you - except as a servant; you cannot take your child to restaurants and stores you normally do; your child is considered a lesser being. The book itself is well written and well researched. The problem I had was this; from the very beginning of the book it is revealed that Sandra really doesn't remember much from her youth - at least she claims she doesn't. The author repeatedly goes into extensive detail as to why this might be - her memory, or lack thereof, is in itself, a character in this book. Often Sandra's memory does not match other people's memory of the same events. She claims that she doesn't pay attention to politics - in fact had never heard of Nelson Mandela upon his release. It was frustrating because I was reading the book to learn her story but wasn't really getting it. I really had to finally accept what I wasn't going to get from this book to appreciate it. I did learn a lot about apartheid, and the lives of people living with it. It's hard to say this is a book I enjoyed, but I am glad I read it.

23. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill - This was alright for me. This book came up on a few different blogs and I thought I'd try it, even though I'm not much of a ghost story reader. I think if I had read on a cold dreary night it would have put me more in the mood. I thought the book was very well written, Ms. Hill writes wonderful descriptions and gives a great sense of place. I will say the ending was quite chilling, and I had been wondering about the character's first wife....

I currently have 3 books going; the one I am really enjoying and that's gotten me out of my rut is Alice Waters and Chez Panisse: The Romantic, Impratical, Often Eccentric, Ultimately Brilliant Making of a Food Revolution by Thomas McNamee. More about that later.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Summer Standards

In a follow up to yesterday's post about book sales I wanted to share this site. It lists many book sales across the US. The sale I went to is listed on there, though that's not how I found about it. I know I read about the site somewhere in blogland, but unfortunately don't remember who to credit.

I'd like to share another site, I read about this site on bookgirl's nightstand. I found a bunch of books I was looking for that have not been published in the US, and probably won't be- a few UK authors that I know about from finding their books at used book shops. I will definitely be going back there often to see what's new. Oh, did I mention the prices? $3.99- $5.99 for most fiction. $14.99 for a new hardcover copy of Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries (list price is $40)

And on to the title of this post, Summer Standards. The weather here is beautiful today, really perfect, and so I've made my summer dishes. The ones I make all summer, for us and guests alike.

My standard grilled chicken recipe. I use boneless, skinless breasts and white wine vinegar instead of wine.

Green beans and tomatoes in vinaigrette. Make your favorite vinaigrette, slice some cherry or grape tomatoes in half, place in vinaigrette. Put green beans in boiling water until just tender, usually 4 minutes for me. Drain beans, shake off water, let cool a minute then dump on top of tomato mixture and combine. The warm beans cause the tomato juices to run into the dressing. My vinaigrette usually has some kind of vinegar, a tiny bit of Dijon mustard, honey, olive oil and salt and pepper.

Grilled bread. Slice a baguette lenthwise. Brush with olive oil, rub a cut clove of garlic over and sprinkle salt and pepper on top. Grill. This is great with a day old baguette.

So this is what we had for dinner. Add some fruit (strawberries tonight) and chilled white white, maybe a Vouvray, and you have a perfect meal for a warm evening.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Book sale!

I don't generally go to many book sales, maybe because I don't hear of them, but I did attend one this morning. I was not one of the first in line as I was taking my daughter to swim class.It sounds like it was a good thing as it was a madhouse. I'm not sure how many books a 'big' sale would consist of, this one advertised 6000 and I wouldn't consider it big. For my $16.25 I bought:

Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim - this is the only VMC I found

Cranford/Cousin Phillis by Elizabeth Gaskell- I own Cranford so bought this for Cousin Phillis

Parallel Lives- Five Victorian Marriages by Phyllis Rose - I know I heard of this somewhere lately.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie - I've never read her. Please don't throw anything at me.

Several Barbara Pym - Crampton Hodnet, No Fond Return of Love, and one volume containing Excellent Women (I already own), Jane and Prudence and An Unsuitable Attachment

Also a handful of children's books, favorites look to be Field Guide to N. American Birds, a program from a Disney on Ice production of Snow White (??), and Safari which is a book about Africa published by National Geographic Society and has great photographs.

Lots of fun and we're happy to give new life to these old books.

For kids

I picked up That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell at the library last night and read it for the first time. The story is very charming and the illustrations are fabulous. It is about a little girl and her stuffed rabbit Stanley who have amazing adventures together. The Queen covets the rabbit and tries to bribe Emily to give it up. At one point Emily is offered 'all the toys she could ever desire'. At the end of the book I asked my daughter what she would do in the same situation. "I would say 'NO' because I already have too many toys!" Hmmmm. Well as least she can admit it. And I have a great comeback for the next time she asks me to buy anything.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

It's not them, it's me.

I have three books going right now, and they are just not satisfying me. It's not that they are not good books, but they are just not grabbing me. Perhaps none of them are the book I am meant to be reading at this moment. It occurs to me that this ties right in to my last post, so is my lack of literary inspiration carrying over to the kitchen? Or vice-versa? Who knows. Maybe it's the season of my life right now. I really feel I need to pick up that book that's just a good story, that grabs and engages me and then I'll be out of this funk.

I would like to wish a warm welcome to the following, all of which have arrived lately from paperbackswap, bookmooch, and abebooks. Paperback swap has over 1.1 million books available - check them out if you're in the US.

Period Piece by Gwen Raverat - This is, I believe, a memoir. She happens to be Charles Darwin's granddaughter.

A Literature of Their Own by Elaine Showalter - I understand this book has influenced Virago quite a bit.

Madensky Square by Eva Ibbotson - Thanks to Elaine at Random Jottings who wrote so eloquently about this author.

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West - This was on my wishlist.

An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork by Etty Hillesum - Persephone publishes this, but this copy is a very nice trade paperback that has photographs.

4 (yeah!) Virago Modern Classics

Crossriggs by Jane & Mary Findlater - My first copy has very bad water damage.

At Mrs Lippincote's by Elizabeth Taylor - One of my very favorite VMC covers.

Open the Door! by Catherine Carswell

Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann - I've had The Weather in the Streets for a while and wanted to read this first. It has been difficult to locate, especially in this 1985 edition.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Back into the kitchen

I've been quite lackadaisical in the kitchen lately. Every time I go to the grocery store I buy similar things, to make the same dishes we like, and that I'm used to making. This is in sharp contrast to last summer and fall, when local produce was abundant and planning meals was a joy. Having had snow here in Minnesota on two different occasions in the past two weeks means that things are not growing here as they are elsewhere in the world.

Well, the bug finally bit and I planned a meal, actually two meals, that I've not eaten in the past six months. Sunday night we had burgers on the grill - not exciting, I know but a taste I haven't had in a while, Yukon Gold Gruyere Galette - so delicious and excellent for work the next day, roasted green beans, and the first strawberries of the year (from California). Monday night we dined on Green Mountain Maple Barbecued Chicken, leftover galette, and roasted asparagus.

I hope this means I am back in the saddle and motivated to try some new dishes. The local farmer's market opens at the end of this month and I am eager to see what the early Spring brings forth. I think I will be needing 101 recipes for asparagus.


So horrified to see this news today. Thoughts and prayers are with the students and families of Virginia Tech.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Oh, the trials and tribulations of embroidery...

I have spent the last two days SO frustrated that I cannot get an embroidery image transferred that is not an iron-on. I purchased this transfer paper and stylus and was very disappointed in the results, or should I say lack of results. Thanks to the wonders of blogland I think I have finally found the answer - the transfer marker made by Sulky. As luck should have it, the quilting store less than 1/2 mile from my home had ONE that I could purchase. I do not quilt or even sew, though I fantasize about learning, and was completely wowed when I walked into this store. It was a madhouse, women everywhere, buying fabrics, asking questions, the lot. And then there was me, "oh, could I just pick up that one transfer marker". Hmmmmmmm. Now if I could only find some tracing paper, I'd be in business.

In other news, I'm having that Saturday evening book buying fever. Last Saturday night I purchased 5 items from abebooks that I'd been pining for, and am currently in the process of filling up my amazon cart. I am trying to just walk away....

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Thursday Lists

I have recently finished reading:

19. Fall On Your Knees by Ann Marie Macdonald - see below for my thoughts

20. The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant - Set in early 1800s Massachusetts, this story is about a small community on Cape Ann coming to an end. This book was okay for me. It was well written, but quite short, and by the time I felt the characters were developed the book was more than half over. Overall, it was not particularly satisfying. I enjoyed her book The Red Tent much more.

21. The Innocent Man by John Grisham - I haven't read Grisham for years, and probably wouldn't have read this if it were not for my bookclub. This is Grisham's first nonfiction book. It is mostly about one particular case in which two men were wrongly convicted, spent many years in jail, on death row and in the case of one man, 5 days away from execution. The beginning of the book was a bit stale, a lot of history about the convicted man and in particular his mental incapacity. It's hard to say I 'enjoyed' this book but the second half was better for me, involving the time after the trial, while he was on death row, the appeals process, and life after prison. The subject matter is quite horrifying, a poor man given a poor man's trial, with a cut-rate lawyer and no available money for investigation for the defense from the state. This is of course meant to save the taxpayer money, when in fact they have now spent literally millions to house the convicted, pay for the appeals process, and the civil suit filed against the state. The book shows a frightening state of affairs of the US justice system.

On a lighter note:

Books that have found their way to my home via Paperback swap and Bookmooch

1. Plan B by Emily Barr - For a light read.
2. Call the Darkness Light by Nancy Zaroulis
3. Union Street by Pat Barker
4. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

The last two are Viragos but not of the lovely green cover variety. Beggars cannot be choosers.

Currently reading:

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes (VMC)

On my nightstand:

When She Was White by Judith Stone

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My daughter found this book , Children Just like Me at the library. I generally love these DK publications and this one is no exception. It is filled with images of children around the world, along with their homes, schools, family, what they eat,what they play with and the list goes on. It's just a great entry point into talking to children, even small children, about how other people around the world live. That we're not all the same, and the things we take for granted, other children consider a privilege, such as homes, school, clothing, toys, and books. I highly recommend it.

This books reminds me of some books I read last year by photographer Peter Menzel, all of which are a more in depth and adult version of the above. They include Material World, Hungry Planet, and Women in the Material World. All of these are informative, eye-opening, stunning in their beauty and their sadness. I highly recommend them all. He has another book published entitled Man Eating Bugs and I'll admit I have not read that one.....

I may start linking more to Barnes and Noble - has anyone else noticed how slow Amazon is lately? And when I search for something, it often comes up with bizarre items and the thing I'm looking for is far down on the list.

My First Challenge

It is with some anxiety that I announce my participation in my first challenge, The Non-Fiction Five Challenge. I'm feeling anxious because I really like to make my reading decisions depending on my mood, what I've just read, and not have a PLAN to keep to. In view of that, the real challenge for me will be to finish what I've set out to read, since I tend to read a fair amount of non-fiction anyway.

The books I've chosen are all ones I've been interested in for a while and just haven't gotten around to. Here is my list:

1. Because I Said So by Camille Peri and Kate Moss
2. There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene
3. Triangle by David Von Drehle
4. Red Azalea by Anchee Min
5. Diana Mosley by Anne de Courcy

Alternates include:

1. Strapless by Deborah Davis
2. Pioneer Women by Joanna L. Stratton
3. Something that may strike my fancy

Monday, April 9, 2007

Is Martha Stewart known or popular in other parts of the world? Here in the US her company puts out a number of publications, one of which is called Everyday Food. It is a purse sized monthly magazine filled with fairly simple and easy ideas for meals. I did try to avoid this magazine for a couple years, I mean I already receive a number of food publications, but I was eventually drawn in by a particularly interesting issue. In any case, she has capitalized on the success of the magazine and recently published the cookbook pictured here, Great Food Fast. I borrowed it from the library and have been perusing it. The magazine is divided into seasons and every recipe has a photograph. I'm not particularly taken in by any of the soup or salad recipes, I mean some of this stuff you don't really need a recipe for. However, there are many great ideas for main dishes, especially pasta dishes. I've yet to decide if this cookbook warrents purchasing. I am a bit of a sucker for having all the 'best' recipes from the magazine in one place and not having to go through all the old issues trying to find the one I want. I think this is a great cookbook for those who perhaps are a bit nervous in the kitchen as most of the recipes are simple, require few ingredients, and provide good results, at least the ones I've tried from the magazine. I have someone in mind who may be getting this from me at Christmas.

Here is a sample recipe, one of my favorites that I've made several times - Linguine with turkey sausage and peppers.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

New Acquisitions

Oh, I've finally figured out how to load an image from the web. I'm a bit slow on these things sometimes, I'm afraid.

I'd like to share the lovely books that have made their way into my home this week.

From the Half Priced Books near my workplace I purchased:

The Observations by Jane Harris - I've had my eye on this for a while and I hope I am not disappointed. I found a hardcover priced at $6.98 which I thought was a good price.

Bettany's Book by Thomas Keneally - This caught my eye since it is a British edition. I enjoyed Schindler's List and thought this looked worth a try, also does not seem to be available in US.

Mr Skeffington by Elizabeth von Arnim - Virago. I've neither heard of or seen this before so was happy to find this.

The Fruit of the Tree by Edith Wharton - Virago. Again, I'd neither heard or or seen this before. It was published in 1907, so one of her earlier works.

From I received:

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym - I've never read her, and the similarities often drawn between her and Jane Austen are just too tempting.

The House in Clewe Street by Mary Lavin - Virago

The Matriarch by G.B. Stern - Virago. When this arrived the cover looked so familiar to me but I didn't think I owned this volume. I looked through all my viragos and found this artwork - "Supper" by Mark Gertler - on the cover of Hunt the Slipper by Violet Trefusis, a VMC - Dial Press Edition. Apparently, Virago recycles their covers. Frankly, I wish they'd recycle them again and use the old cover images on their new editions.

In other fun mail, a package from Sublime Stitching with new embroidery patterns and materials for transferring images. Yeah!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

My Five Star Books

Although I've always been a voracious reader, I've only been keeping a written record of what I read since 2002. From time to time I go back over my book journal and reminisce about what I've read. A few years ago I started rating my books on a scale of 1-5. Most of the books I've read have between a 3-4 point rating. Anything less than that, I've probably stopped reading. The real joy is the books that have greater than 4 points. There are quite a few with 4.5 but very few 5 point, or as I'll call them here, 5 star books.

What makes a 5 star book for me? I like a book that makes me FEEL something - I've noticed more and more that I describe a book to someone else more by how it made me feel reading it and my emotions surrounding it, than the actual storyline.

Some of these books might not be on this list if I read them now, or if I hadn't read them at a particular time in my life. Some of them have made me cry, some have made me laugh. Some have helped me to learn something or question something I thought I knew. All of these books have touched my soul. All of them have moved me. All of them have stayed with me in the front of my memory. All of them are the reason I am a reader; those of us who are readers are always, I believe, on the search for that next perfect book, the one that reminds us why we read in the first place.

Many of these books will be familiar to you. Some will not be. I urge you to seek them out.

This list feels so intimate to me, because books people love seem to offer a view into their soul. What if you hated all these books that I list? Does that mean we're too different to ever get along?

In no particular order:

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffeneger
Tilt - Elizabeth Burns
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
A High and Hidden Place - Michele Claire Lucas
The Bright Forever - Lee Martin
Anya - Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith
Fingersmith - Sarah Waters
Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks
Wives and Daughters - Elizabeth Gaskell
Snow Flower and The Secret Fan - Lisa See
The Mercy of Thin Air - Ronlyn Domingue
Up From Orchard Street - Eleanor Widner

America's Women - Gail Collins
The Sisters; The Saga of The Mitford Family - Mary Lovell
My Life in France - Julia Child
Lilla's Feast - Frances Osborne
Random Family - Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
Inside the Victorian Home - Judith Flanders
The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
There Are No Children Here - Alex Kotlowitz

What are your five star books? I'd love to know.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Well, I've finally finished this book and am having a hard time deciding what to say about it. This was a very unique book, one that is difficult to describe. It takes place on Cape Breton Island off Nova Scotia between the years of 1898 and 1953. It is ostensibly the saga of a family and primarily the four sisters in that family, but it is so much more complex than that.

I enjoyed the beginning of this book, but what I consider the 'middle' section, was frankly, bizarre. The tale meandered at this point, seemingly pointlessly. I don't think one good thing happened to any of the characters in this book, at least nothing that didn't go bad in the end. I did enjoy the surprising ending, it was so beautifully written I found myself reading passages over and over and catching my breath.

I'm not sure that I would recommend this book. There are some very dark themes and it seems from the reviews I've read readers either love it or hate it. I would recommend the author's second book, The Way the Crow Flies, and I would be interested in reading her future books. She does tell a good tale.