Monday, March 31, 2014

Don't Like the Weather? Wait a Bit...

We awoke Sunday morning to a fluffy layer of snow . . .

It weighed down the forsythia. . .

 Frosted the trees . . .

As far as we could see . . . winter.

But even as I took those snowy pictures, there was a steady drip-drip-drip 
and by midday spring had returned.

 By four, there was no snow to be seen 
except far away on the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge . . .
 The weeping willow and the star magnolia were unharmed. . .
 And the daffodils lifted their heads once again.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

It Was a Pleasure to Burn. . .

On one of our cold days this past week, I settled down to a job I'd managed to put off for years -- destroying all the old tax information we've saved, as one is told to do in case of an audit. Seven years, they say, and every year, after the taxa are done, I've carefully stowed all the cancelled checks, bills, receipts, bank statements, insurance inforation and anything else that seemed even tangentially important ib boxes and stuck them down in the basement. Out of sight, out of mind. 

But not long ago we did a great clean up of the basement and I chucked all the pre- 2006 papers into empty dog food bags to await burning.  

Nine years worth of paperwork  kept us warm most of the day.  It was a tedious job, feeding the flames  a bit at a time, but strangely pleasant  -- cleansing and hypnotic.

And the piles of papers made such pretty patterns -- like fiery roses.

There's a job done, as they say around here. Perhaps I'll manage to do it yearly from now on.

Perhaps I'll become a more organized person.  

And perhaps pigs will fly. . .

Saturday, March 29, 2014

When I Asked...

The kittehs said there was a small earthquake . . .

. they took cover.

Sounds plausible enough. What do you think?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Barbara Kingsolver, John Green, and James Michener Walk into a Bar. . .

Here's another eclectic trio of books -- kinda like the jokes involving a priest, a rabbi, and a fundamentalist pastor. What these three books have in common is that they were all New York Times bestsellers and I enjoyed all three. 

Barbara Kingsolver is a long time favorite of mine and Flight Behavior didn't disappoint. Kingsolver writes movingly about the southern Appalachians and their people facing the effects of climate change. Her prose is gorgeous and there are some terrific insights here-- along with some surprises. And there's a great review HERE if you want a really in depth look. Highly recommended.

When I first heard about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, I wasn't tempted. A book about teenagers with terminal cancer? No, not for me. But when NCmountainwoman (I think it was she) recommended it as a good read, I gave it a try and was very pleasantly surprised. The book is delightful. The two main characters --  yes, teens with terminal cancer -- are witty, snarky, wise beyond their years, and, to me, at least, quite believable. One of the negative reviews I read complained that all the characters in the book sounded like John Green. Maybe so -- this is the first thing of his that I've read so I can't judge. But I'll be looking for more..  

Hawaii was published in 1959 and I read it in September of 1960 -- in the back seat of the car as my mother and grandmother were driving me from Tampa, Florida to Atlanta, Georgia to begin my freshman year at Emory. I can remember being totally enthralled with the epic story and have probably reread it a few times since. But not recently. I was curious to see if it was still so captivating, fifty some years later.

Well, yes -- but for different reasons.  The opening part which deals with the natural forces that formed the islands, the grand sweeping geological eras as the islands emerged and life took hold, seemed a tad bombastic -- in the same way ham actors are said to 'chew the scenery.' I wondered if the whole book would seem corny to me this time around but was happy to find that either it settled down or my tolerance for purple prose grew as I read on. 

As Michener worked his way through the coming of the native Hawaiians, the missionaries, the Chinese, and the Japanese, I found myself lost in the personal stories -- the man is a terrific storyteller -- and thoroughly enjoying enjoying it all over again. 

But what really surprised me was the relevance of the political side of the book -- the pre-statehood (and later) Hawaii that was controlled by several wealthy families working behind the political scenes to protect their business interests. When I read the book all those years ago, I'm pretty sure I skimmed over that bit, preferring to concentrate on the various love stories, colorful characters, and beautiful scenery. 

Today, alas, it all rings too depressingly true -- and not just for Hawaii.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Persistence of Memory and a Dream Deferred

Browsing through Facebook a few days ago, I came across a picture of baked custard and was at once transported back to 1960 and Winchester, Tennessee.

I had gone home for the weekend with a college friend whose parents lived in Sewanee where her father was a professor at The University of the South. Suffice it to say that I have many warm memories of the weekend -- but one that has recurred over the years is the visit we paid to her grandmother -- a little lady who lived in an old-fashioned frame house with what I would call cabbage roses twining over the front door. 

In my memory, the grandmother seemed a little surprised to see us but invited us in.  I remember nothing of the interior except for a snapshot memory of standing in the big farmhouse type kitchen and there -- on a counter or sideboard over to my left -- were a number of little baked custards cooling on a rack, their scent of nutmeg filling the air.

I remember wondering if we were going to be offered one and my disappointment when we weren't. I mean, they smelled heavenly!

And that memory has persisted, surfacing now and again for the past fifty four years. You'd think I would have done something about it before now. But better late, etc. On SundayI finally got around to making some baked custards. And, if I say it myself, they were every bit as good as I'd dreamed of -- warm and silky, redolent of vanilla and nutmeg. 

Perhaps it's time to try two other desserts I've read of but never tasted -- Blancmange (as eaten in Little Women) and Floating Island...    

My Fannie Farmer Cookbook calls Baked Custard "a kindly old dessert that still nourishes and comforts."  Amen.

2 egg yolks
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups very hot milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Butter a one quart baking dish or 8 small ramekins (my ramekins were large and I only used 5.)  Set a shallow pan, large enough to hold the ramekins or baking dish, in the oven and fill with one inch of hot water.

Beat yolks and eggs together just enough to blend. Stir in sugar and salt then slowly add the hot milk, stirring constantly. Add vanilla and strain into the baking dish (es) and sprinkle with nutmeg. Put in water-filled pan and bake about 45 minutes till a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Good warm or cold.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Have You Talked to Your Kittehs About Catnip?

Tammy, the kind shepherdess and crazy cat lady at Fairlight Farm sent Cory and Angeline a package of kitteh toys made with, among other things) her own home grown wool, felt, and catnip. It was a big hit.