Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What we found on the North Shore....food and books

We had a lovely time on our trip to the North Shore. We drove to Duluth, played at the wooden playground, saved a child who had wandered off from his daycare provider and was in a parking lot, walked on the lake walk, and enjoyed the rocky shore.

We then drove north, stopping at Gooseberry falls, and ending up on Lutsen mountain, where we stayed and again rode the alpine slide and gondola up to the top of the mountain. Great scenery, cooler weather, the sound of water, it was pretty relaxing despite a child with a listening problem. Here are some photos from last year.

Somewhat amazing to me, there are some really good restaurants up north. I've mentioned this in the past. We dined again at the Angry Trout - my husband had the fish and chips with the best.tarter.sauce.ever. Seriously. We had a very elegant meal at Chez Jude complete with a hushed dining room and edible flowers. We didn't even get to try all the restaurants I wanted to, which is really saying something for this village of 1400 people. There is even a fantastic natural foods co-op there, which naturally I toured. Yes, I am the sort of person that sees grocery stores as attractions in places I travel. I've toured others in Mexico, Paris, London, and Quebec.

Here are some treats we brought home, blueberry-sour cherry jam from The Pie Place (great breakfast), wild huckleberry jam, and some really nice looking peanut butter.

Here are some books we brought home. Yeah!

I bought these at Northern Lights Books in Duluth. I just love these tiny little shops, with each book there for a reason, each one handpicked by someone who loved it, and not just there because they sell well.

Keeping the House has a beautifully retro-looking cover which seems to fit well with the book description. Here is the description from Ellen Baker's website. Sounds charming, no? I can think of a few of my blogging friends who might like this one.

The other title I picked up will probably appeal to most of us booklovers, Novel Destinations, a travel guide to all places literary. I was a little disappointed that only one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's home made it into this guide, but I suppose they only had so much room.

How cute is this bookshop?

That's Lake Superior just past the shop. I think I wanted to go up to Grand Marais just to return to this bookshop. Don't tell my husband. But this place is perfectly adorable and charming. My daughter found a couple of books to read and a pretty window seat to read them in.

This is where I purchased Give Me the World by Leila Hadley. I feel as though I've seen this book before, but the description didn't seem familiar: a young woman bored with her life,leaves New York with her 6 year old son on a cargo ship headed for Hong Kong. She winds up traveling around the world. Oh, and this takes place in 1951. Wow! I'm really looking forward to this.

I picked up Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey at another bookshop in town. This speaks to my love of the pioneer story.

All in all, a nice time. I'd love to see what it's like up there in the winter...but that would really require some bravery. Perhaps someday. I'm not really the sort of person that goes on the same vacation every year, however this was our third time to travel to the North Shore. It won't be the last. There's something about it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What we found on the North Shore.....beauty

..in the pristine landscape, rushing water, beautiful waterfalls...

..in the architecture, and the usefulness of the aerial lift bridge in Duluth...

..in the sunset at Grand Marais, on the the pebble beach...

Next up: books, bookstores, and food.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Farmer's Market - Week 6

Thanks for all the good wishes about our trip. I'll be posting a few pictures (and new books!) in the days to come.

Beautiful! Leeks, tomatoes, yellow squash, and cucumbers made their first appearance in my bag today. Would you believe the potatoes and all 3 yellow squash are gone already? I'll show you where soon. We also ate corn, lettuce, and carrots yesterday.

I was trying to restrain myself from buying more from the onion/garlic family....I wasn't planning on buying garlic at all but I couldn't resist this bunch of 5 heads for 5 dollars (expensive, I know) - but aren't they lovely? The garlic is not even cured yet...still moist and fresh.

Now if only the tomatoes in my garden would ripen, and the zucchini would grow more than 2 inches long....than we'd be set.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'm Leaving, On a Jet Plane....Oh wait, strike that...

Well, I meant to leave on a jet plane.

For my summer vacation that didn't include my in-laws.

But fuel prices and airplane ticket prices have dictated otherwise.

So the plans have changed not once, not twice, but three times.

But I'm off on a mini-trip today.

See you!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

American Wife

I'll never forget how I felt when reading Curtis Sittenfeld's first novel, Prep. Prep is the story of a teenager that goes away to a boarding school, by choice, and finds herself among people of a different economic background than herself. I felt her pain, her awkwardness, at times I cringed at the situations she found herself in. Sittenfeld has the gift of understanding human emotion, what people's innermost thoughts are, and she brilliantly transforms this understanding into words.

American Wife is Sittenfeld's third novel, and the third that I have read. It is the tale of Alice Blackwell, from her youth, to young adulthood, to life as a wife and mother, and finally to the White House where she is First Lady of the United States. Alice is written as a real woman, one that is flawed and yet likable, that suffers tragedy but is able to move on. I found myself immediately drawn into this novel, into the life of Alice, an incredibly well-realized character whose mind I felt privy to. At 550 pages, this is not a short book, but I found myself losing track of time and turning pages well past my usual bedtime.

What you need to know, and what you can read about on the web if you care to look, is that American Wife has stirred up a bit of controversy. Because the life of Alice, and the characteristics of her husband, bear a resemblance to the current First Lady and her husband. The portrayal of Alice is not unfavorable; that of her husband is another story. Some have cited, and published the 'steamy' scenes between the main characters. I decided to forget about all this and read it for what it was, which is a novel. Which was all well and good until I came to the last section of the book when Alice and her husband move into the White House and the similarities between fiction and real life become awfully hard to ignore. I won't discuss my personal politics besides saying that I am looking forward to a new administration. I will say that I didn't find the novel offensive, though the behavior of the President behind-the-scenes made me roll my eyes in dismay and embarrassment. What I most wondered, was why Sittenfeld chose to base her novel on these very real people. This article by Sittenfeld, entitled Why I Love Laura Bush, helps explain it to some degree. Obviously the idea of this book goes back at least to 2004.

I really liked this book, though the last section didn't hold my interest as much as the previous ones. There is never really a great turning point in this book, and maybe that is because we already know what is going to happen, how things end up for Alice. For the most part, this was a compelling read, and an interesting insight into what private life might be like for these most public people.

American Wife will be published by Random House in September. Many thanks to them for this advance copy.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Farmer's Market Monday - Week 5 (On Sunday)

Oh, yeah.

It seems as though every week, my bag gets heavier and heavier. This week was no exception. I was beside myself to see corn at the market. Only one vendor was selling it, the counter was 3 people deep, and the wads of money being exchanged were impressive. I brought home 8 ears and they're already gone. They seem a bit smaller than usual - I'm thinking that's due to the weather. Carrots and shallots are making their first appearance of 2008. I'm not sure why I thought I needed four products from the onion/garlic family but there you go. And those patty pan squash? I'm thinking of stuffing them with spinach and cottage or ricotta cheese, per a recipe from the St Paul Farmer's Market Cookbook. Has anyone done this? Or grown these? They're so pretty.

I love vegetables. It's almost frightening how happy they make me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

News, reviews, menus

First off, some good news. A representative from Hachette Book Group has agreed to do a giveaway of The Heretic's Daughter here on my blog - and there will be more than one copy! I will be posting the giveaway in early September, so be sure to come back then. (See below for my review.)

Next, a review, only one, though writing 'reviews' in the title sounded better, I think.

Asha Miro was born in India and adopted by a Spanish couple when she was around seven years old. This made Asha fortunate in many fairly obvious ways - her health improved, she was educated and given every opportunity to discover what it was she wanted out of life. The only thing that was missing for Asha was finding out where she had come from and how she came to be in an Indian orphanage.

Her book, Daughter of the Ganges, is really made up of two books she wrote about her experiences traveling to India in 1995 and again in 2003. In the first part of the book Asha travels with a volunteer agency, which gave her a reason to be in India, the opportunity to get to know India better, and some time to research her past. Asha finds herself at the orphanage she lived in while in Bombay and is able to visit with nuns that cared for her at that time. In the second part of the book, Asha returns to India to film a documentary. She has found that some of the people who cared for her as a child do not agree with her interpretation of events as set forth in her book. Asha wants to know the truth, so she visits both orphanages she lived in again. Through a series of events, Asha discovers a gift - that she has an older sister who is alive.

Daughter of the Ganges is written very simply, but is still very powerful. Asha writes that she wants people to be able to be more open about adoption, part of her reason for writing this book . Asha's prose is beautifully complimented in the first section of the book by pages out of her mother's diary, written during the adoption process, and after Asha joined the family. The second part of the book is quite joyful, with Asha meeting people related to her by blood for the first time. She is moved by how difficult their lives are, and is remarkably honest about her feelings, remarking that she cannot imagine living this way, knowing what she does about the world and its opportunities. While Asha is Indian by birth, she knows she is truly European in her behavior and attitudes toward life.

I came across this title when I was in my India phase earlier this year. It is certainly an interesting perspective of India, but also meaningful in its portrayal of adoption, from an adoptee's and her parent's point of view.

And finally, for the menu. My husband has invited some people over for dinner tomorrow and as is his way, is not very clear about how many people there are or when they are coming. Hmmmmm. Here is what I am planning on serving:

Veggies with homemade hummus
Assorted grilled sausages
The potato/green bean/tomato dish I made last week (see below)
A salad (hopefully someone brings this)
Strawberry shortcake

What do you think?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Make Yourselves at Home on My Shelves

Here are most of my new to me books! (Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.)

The Heretic's Daughter and American Wife are ARCs. I'm reading American Wife right now - have you heard the controversy surrounding this book? Karen reviewed Resistance some time ago which sounded wonderful and I've had it on my list ever since. The final three on this stack are some of my new Vegetarian arsenal - a couple were bought with birthday money, the other I found at Half Price Books.

How I love those green Virago covers. The book at the top is not a Virago Modern Classic, but was published by Virago. The title is Her People - The moving story of a working-class Birmingham childhood by Kathleen Dayus. I'd never heard of this and came across it on one of the swapping sites. Dayus was born in 1903, grew up in the slums and was widowed at the age of 28 with four young children. Has anyone read this or the sequels to it?

Most of these are from used bookstores. I won the Persephone book from Nan - thank you Nan! A local bookstore had loads of these Hesperus books for really inexpensive prices - 4-6 dollars each. Most of these other titles have been blog recommendations. I've read all of Sarah Waters novels except for this, Tipping the Velvet. I wasn't sure about the subject matter, but decided to take the plunge since I enjoy her work so much.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Heretic's Daughter

This past April I reviewed Bound, and wrote that what I appreciated most about historical fiction was learning what life was like for everyday people. There is something else that makes good historical fiction that didn't apply to Bound necessarily, but does apply to The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent. The Heretic's Daughter takes place during the time of the Salem Witch Trials, but instead of being just a book about this horrific period in American history, with the characters a secondary thought, this is a book about a family. A family with a home and a farm, problems and idiosyncrasies ,that happens to live during the time of the Salem Witch Trials and happens to become caught up in this horror.

The Heretic's Daughter is told from the point of view of Sarah Carrier, a young girl who, like many young girls, does not always understand or feel close to her mother, Martha. Through Sarah, we learn about New England in the 1690's, what everyday life was for her, what the social situation was at that time, and how it might feel to not be quite like everyone else. Not until more than halfway through the novel does the situation in Salem affect the Carrier family, when Martha is accused of being a witch. All eyes are on the rest of the Carrier family and Sarah comes to understand and respect her mother anew. The reader knows at the outset how this story will end, yet I still found myself wishing for a different outcome. It is hard to imagine a time when these events could have taken place, when innocent people were murdered, all because some young girls made up stories. I had the added benefit when reading this book of having actually visited Salem, which I did about 8-10 years ago. I have seen the town, taken the tour, and viewed the unimaginably small recreated jail cells there. As I read this book, I could imagine in my mind where Sarah and Martha were and what they suffered.

This book is made even more poignant because its author, Kathleen Kent, is a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier. I read an advance copy of this novel, thanks to Hachette Book Group, and while my copy did not contain an afterword or author's note, I would love to know more about Kent's experience writing this book and researching her family line.

The Heretic's Daughter will be published in September. If you are interested in learning more about the Salem Witch Trials or you just enjoy historical fiction, this is a book to watch for.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What's for dinner?

I've had a special request for catfish around here, from the girl, no less. We still have not figured out where the idea for catfish came from but I was happy to oblige. I showed her a picture from my Everyday Food cookbook of Pecan-Crusted Catfish. I had forgotten what a great resource this is for simple and tasty meals. She said "Mom, I don't care what it looks like; I just want it to BE catfish." Okay then. Here it is, from last night's dinner. I thought it turned out quite well. I cannot think of the last time I've even had catfish.

Alongside the catfish, we had this dish I adapted, that is to say, didn't follow the recipe exactly, from Annie Sommerville's Fields of Greens cookbook. The potatoes are roasted and combined with blanched green beans, cherry tomatoes, basil, and vinaigrette. I think the fresh basil from the garden really made this dish shine- there is nothing like it. I threw a few kalamata olives on top of mine after I took this photo.

This turned out to be an especially delicious meal that everyone was pretty happy with.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I seem to have gotten my grove back and have gotten some reading in. I've finished two books, and am two thirds of the way through another. I also have some nice new additions to the library I hope to share later this week.

Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear is the fourth novel featuring detective Maisie Dobbs. I came to this series late, and have been hanging on to the fourth and fifth installments. I don't read many mysteries so when I'm in the mood these fit the bill. I keep saying and I'll say it again - the first book in the series is still my favorite. I loved getting to know Maisie and her history and it did not feel like a traditional mystery book. This book, however, is very much about the case at hand and I missed reading about Maisie's life outside of work. Not that there is ever much of that, but even less here. Maisie seemed a bit lonely to me in this book. Billy was not around as much due to family, and it just seemed as though Maisie was alone quite a bit and there was a slight air of melancholy. I was feeling as though I wished Maisie had a girlfriend nearby to relax with. I found this to be an entertaining read, and made me wonder what Winspear would do with Maisie next.

The second book I finished was A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I was not a big fan of The Kite Runner, but the subject of this book - women - intrigued me, and I would have read it even if I were not discussing it with my book club later this month. I found this to be a completely engrossing book. I think it was Karen who wrote recently about books that you read without looking at page numbers or clocks - this was one of those for me. I almost couldn't sleep one night I was so wrapped up in it.

I really did not read any detailed reviews or descriptions of this novel before I read it. I am glad that I went into it without any expectations. I will say only that the novel takes place in Afghanistan from 1959 to 2003 and is about two women whose lives intersect. There is great sorrow and a bit a joy. It is shocking to read about life in Afghanistan - public life, life during the war, and life within the home. Shocking to read this account of repression and life's hardships. I felt Hosseini did a wonderful job of writing from a woman's point of view. If you want to read a happy book, this isn't it. But it is an important and eye-opening book and happens to be a page-turner as well. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Farmer's Market Monday -Week 4 (On Sunday)

This is not actually the fourth week of the farmer's market, only the fourth time I've been able to go.

Not a lot has changed - though a few new things were available this week. I was thrilled to see garlic, strawberries and green beans. I missed out on the tri-color beans, but these do look amazing. Only two farmers (out of many) had them and they were pretty pricey. The strawberries look better than they taste, unfortunately. They are not very sweet. I also purchased fresh onions, green onions, lettuce, spinach, baby red potatoes, sugar snap and snow peas, eggs, and some meat. I was hoping to see carrots and broccoli, but no luck. I looked back at a photo of my farmer's market haul from July 8, 2007 and see that I bought corn, carrots, leeks, and shallots. Hmm.

My garden is doing alright. There are a few inch long zucchini, a few green tomatoes on my very small plants, and some herbs. All are looking better this week since it has been hot.

Now that green beans are in, we'll probably be eating them at least twice a week. My favorite preparations are to roast them, especially in the winter when grocery store beans are tough, or to make them into a salad with tomatoes in a vinaigrette. There are a few new recipes I want to try this year from this book. Any suggestions on your favorite ways to prepare fresh green beans?

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Joshua Henkin was gracious enough to offer me a copy of his novel Matrimony, and I'm so glad he did as I really enjoyed reading it. Matrimony centers around Julian Wainwright, a young man of privilege from New York City, who goes away to college and becomes friends with the people that will become the most integral in his life. We continue to follow Julian after college as he makes his way into the working world, as he struggles with what he wants to be doing and what he is doing, and the challenges he faces in his marriage. Matrimony is a quiet novel, and while it is about marriage I found it to really be about life, something we can all relate to.

Julian is a writer, and one of the things I most enjoyed about this book was reading about what it would really be like to be a writer. It seems to me a somewhat lonely profession, and challenging in that you have to keep putting yourself on the line and potentially face rejection repeatedly. It made me wonder if some of what Julian experienced was autobiographical for Henkin. I also enjoyed the setting of the book, which takes place in New York but also on several college campuses. It made me think back to my own college experiences which differ greatly from Julian's, who married his college girlfriend just as he was graduating. I did not have a serious boyfriend in college and did not marry until 6 years later, which for me was just the right amount of time to be on my own and figure myself and my life out. In the story, when Joshua and his wife Mia have trouble they seemed to deal with it in what I felt was a very immature way. It made me wonder how might marriages be different, depending on the age at which the parties married.

All in all, I found this to be a good read, a comfortable read, that made me think about things in my own life, but especially gave me insight into the life of a writer.

You can read Joshua Henkin's guest post about book groups here at Books on the Brain. I recommend it.

Matrimony will be released in paperback at the end of August and Joshua Henkin has kindly offered a signed copy to be given away here at that time. Do come back and sign up for the drawing in August!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Aftermath of the Flood

You've probably heard about the flooding that has been going on in the Midwest United States, along the Mississippi river. One of the earlier states to experience flooding was Wisconsin and in particular, the Wisconsin Dells tourist area where I visited last week. Lake Delton, a man-made lake, basically broke through a dam and drained right into the Wisconsin River, taking with it the livelihood of a lot of people for the time being.

We took a ride on the Wisconsin Ducks.

These are pretty amazing vehicles used in WW2 that can travel on land or by sea.

The ride we took used to go into Lake Delton. But now all you can see is what remains. There is part of a house on the left. If you saw the footage on television, you might remember that some houses were dragged right into the lake.

Here is a view of the lake from where the Tommy Bartlett Air and Water Show usually takes place. All their water skiing equipment is sitting in mud and most of the seats were empty. They are putting on a variety show to get through this season without the lake. We were only there because our hotel was giving away tickets.

We had a good time on our trip, despite the Dells being a very touristy area. The scenery there is really beautiful. Thank you for all the good wishes!