Monday, April 7, 2014

An April Day

                                          
                                           
We took the first walk in our woods yesterday!
                                                       When the warm sun that brings
                                                seed time and harvest, has returned again, 
                                                   ' tis sweet to visit the still wood,
                                             where springs the first flower of the plain.

                                                          I love the season well,
                                     when forest glades are teeming with bright forms, 
                                         nor dark and many-folded clouds foretell
                                                    the coming-on of storms.

                                               From the earth's loosened mould
                                     the sapling draws its sustenance, and thrives; 
                                    though stricken to the heart with winter's cold, 
                                                    the drooping tree revives.
                                               
                                                         The softly-warbled song
                                    comes from the pleasant woods, and colored wings
                                                 glance quick in the bright sun, 
                                             that moves along the forest openings.

                                                    When the bright sunset fills
                                   the silver woods with light, the green slope throws
                                          its shadows in the hollows of the hills, 
                                                and wide the upland glows.
                                           
     
                                                  And, when the eve is born, 
                                       in the blue lake the sky, o'er-reaching far, 
                                    is hollowed out, and the moon dips her horn, 
                                                  and twinkles many a star.

                                               Inverted in the tide, 
                          stand the gray rocks, and trembling shadows throw, 
                                 and the fair trees look over, side by side, 
                                          and see themselves below.
                               
A beautiful green fern growing in a bank.
Spring is here, folks!
                                      Sweet April! -many a thought
                              is wedded unto thee, as hearts are wed; 
                           nor shall they fail, till, to its autumn brought, 
                                        life's golden fruit is shed."
-An April Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from my poetry reading this morning.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Chocolate Eclairs and Mad Hungry

All the ingredients laid out.  This recipe was perfect because it used
14 eggs!  Our hens have gone into laying overdrive.
Today I have a cookbook recommendation and some food pictures for you.
Just a bit of the mess that ensued.
Our church was having a bake sale.  I volunteered to make chocolate eclairs and, boy, were they tedious to make...I mean, good.  First, you make a cream puff dough, made of melted butter, water, flour, and salt.  Then you squeeze the dough through a pastry bag and end up covering every surface and large sections of your hair in dough.  Then you pause, disgusted, and start just spooning the dough onto the cookie sheets.  After the puffs are baked, they are sliced and left to cool while you go make a custard that for some aggravating reason gets filled with little cooked egg lumps.  After straining the custard, you cool it for an hour, while you pull out your double boiler and cook a chocolate ganache.  After the chocolate ganache comes within seconds of burning and sticking because you are too busy reading a hilarious autobiography, you take that off and let it cool.  Now it's time to fill those eclairs.  First you fill one half heaping full with that lovely custard that turned out gorgeously, then put the top cap on and drizzle chocolate ganache over all.
The gorgeous eclairs...all 22 of them.

After I took a bite of that perfectly airy, elegant eclair, it was all worth it and I found myself forgetting all the work and the fact that every single dish in the kitchen was dirty as I smiled and licked my fingers.
Yes, the subtitle is Feeding Men and Boys.
I have no idea why.  However, the recipes are for anybody.
These delicious eclairs came from the fabulous book Mad Hungry.  It's written by Lucinda Scala Quinn and it's a book on cooking hearty family food instead of eating out, but really anybody.  Her recipes are well-written, look delicious, and taste delicious (at least the ones I've had).  The photographs are pretty and aid in making me even hungrier for the delicious recipes.  If you're a voracious cookbook reader, you most definitely need to buy this book.  If you're not, then please just go to the library and check the book out.  You might surprise yourself and end up purchasing a copy...
Yum.

And every. single. chocolate. eclair. sold.  I'm actually a little sad about that.  I was hoping for a little treat this afternoon...

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

This week, I discovered a wonderful book!  I wasn't expecting it to be wonderful, but I checked it out of the library anyway.  It was Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte.  I originally checked the book out because I felt sorry for it.  Now, this may sound strange, but sometimes when I come across a book that looks neglected and like it hasn't been checked out for awhile, I'll check it out.  I had read books by both of the other Bronte sisters: Jane Eyre (too brooding and dramatic for my taste) and Wuthering Heights (brooding and dramatic with the added edge of hysteria).  But I'd never read anything by Anne Bronte. So, I checked out Agnes Grey.

Agnes Grey is the largely autobiographical story of a young woman who, upon the sudden poverty of her father, agrees to go as a governess to make money for her family.  She first works for a dreadful family with unruly and hateful children.  After a year of futilely trying to teach such awful children, she is fired by the cold, domineering mother.  Next Agnes goes to a family of four children who, while shallow and cosseted, are much easier to work with.  After the two boys go to school, she becomes friends with the two girls: the pretty and flighty Rosalie and her tomboy-ish sister, Matilda.  While working in this position, she falls in love with the kind and worthy curate.  But, she must be separated from him when she returns home after a family tragedy.  The book is quite short; only 198 pages.

I loved this book so much because it was like a breath of fresh air after the other two Bronte sisters' novels.  Agnes is a basically happy character with a functional family.  The book has a nice happy ending and the heroes/heroines basically triumph at the end of the book.  I enjoy books like this where the problem is solving something, instead of the trouble being the hero living a troubled and tortured life.  I think I sense another post about happy endings...

Before I started the book, I read reviews on Good Reads and most of the reviews rated the book as average to strongly disliked.  The reviews complained that the Agnes was too goody-goody and a 2 dimensional character.  I disagreed after reading the book.  Agnes is a very Victorian character with strong morals and a definite sense of right and wrong.  She occasionally gives lectures about morality to her charges, but it is nothing spectacular for the time period.  Agnes has inner turmoil and debates with herself about what she should do in certain scenarios.  So I would say she is not at all 2-dimensional, but rather very typical of her time period.  I highly recommend this book to anybody who likes classics and hasn't bothered to read anything by Anne Bronte.

Friday, April 4, 2014

National Poetry Month

So I'm not really into the themed month thing (Oh look!  National Broccoli Month!  Notepaper Month!  Light Socket Month!)  So, I exaggerate, and, in its defense, the themed month phenomenon has given awareness to many good causes.  However, I saw that April is National Poetry Month on a blog and though, "Hey!  I need to read some poetry!"  I read voraciously, but for some reason, poetry just never makes it onto my list.  Poetry requires reading in completely different way from books.  It requires full attention and the willingness to not always "get" what the point is the first time.  However, poetry is beautiful and I can't remember the last time I picked up a book of poems.  So, here's the list of books that I'm going to read.  I own all of the books, so this goes into my goal of reading more books that I own.  At the end of the month I'll write about how my poetry reading experiment went.    

1.  Collection of Poems by Maya Angelou
This isn't the edition I have, but this is the only picture I could find online.
2.  Poems by Longfellow
Just a boring modern edition.  I have a gorgeous old edition
that smells delightfully musty.
3.  Selected Poems by William Butler Yeats


4.  Collected Poems by Emily Dickinson


5. Poetry by Robert Frost


6. The Apple that Astonished Paris by Billy Collins
And that concludes my poetry list for April.  I've decided to do my poetry reading first thing in the morning over breakfast, starting with Longfellow.  I'm looking forward to my month with the poets!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Farm

I've been gathering my thoughts for about a week now to write about this book called The Farm.  The first page had me hooked.

"Johnny's earliest memory of the Farm was filled with snow and the sound of sleigh bells.  Riding through the soft-falling drift of white, he could see the fat rumps of the horses which drew the sleigh and the steam which rose from their wet coats as they plunged forward to drag it up the steep rise in the lane beyond the bridge over the brook...Then the sleigh came to a halt beside a white picket gate beneath the drooping black branches of the Norway spruce...Out of the house came a tiny old lady and three or four enormous people, and Johnny was swept in through a hubbub of greetings and noisy kissing into a room which was warm and had a delicious smell compounded of coffee and sausages, roast turkey, and mince pie." 

This lovely description had me all ready for a pleasant, cozy read about a boy growing up on a farm.  Instead, it was the history of an old farm and the author's family history as it tied into this midwestern America farm.  In the second chapter, I yawned and thought about stopping reading, but I kept going because that first page had been so good.  I'm glad that I kept reading.  It is a good author that can make their personal family history interesting to the general public.  Stories of all the family from the stern Colonel, the family patriarch, the vivacious grandmother, Maria, and the author's mother kept me interested until the very end.  

So, overall, this is a good book with well-developed characters and interesting, everyday adventures.  Although the writing style is pretty slow and I kept it for reading when I was fully awake, I am really glad that I stuck with this book.  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Secret of Platform 13

After a particularly busy and stressful week, I was coming down with a nasty chest cold, so I brewed myself a pot of peppermint tea and went to the crate that holds our library books.  Nothing quite suited me, until my eye fell on a little title that I had picked up on a whim the week before.  The book was called The Secret of Platform 13.  I had first heard of the author from the lovely Penderwicks.  Jane, the middle sister, loved books by Eva Ibbotson, so I decided that I needed to read at least one of her books.  Sure enough, Jane's book recommendation was true and I like to think that The Secret of Platform 13 was what put me on the road to recovery.


The Secret of Platform 13 is the story of four very different magical creatures who come from a magical island that can be reached every 9 years for 9 days going through on the abandoned Platform 13.  On this island, harpies, ogres, feys, and witches live together in harmony, but there is one little twinge of sadness.  The human king and queen lost their son 9 years ago when the prince's three nannies lost him to an evil kidnapper named Mrs. Trottle.  So, an ogre, a little hag (our heroine), a very old wizard, and a fey travel through Platform 9 thirteen years after the boy was kidnapped to save him.  They discover, much to their horror that the boy who is the prince is quite awful and the boy that they wish is the prince is only a kitchen boy.

This story reminds me of Roald Dahl, E. Nesbit,  J.K. Rowling, and other British magic-writers.  I highly recommend this gripping, yet gentle little story for any age.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lambs!

The lambies have started to arrive!  And, boy, are we excited!  I think that it's probably my favorite sign of spring.  The reason I'm bringing this exciting announcement into the blogging world, is because of the lambs' names.

You see, every year, we have a theme for all of the names (makes figuring out who's in what generation easier).  Last year, it was Greek gods and goddesses, this year it is...
authors!

So far, we have triplets named J.R.R.Tolkien (author of The Hobbit, etc.), William Shakespeare, and Jane Austen.  Except that they are so sweet and small at this age that we're calling them Tolkie (we hope Tolkien wouldn't be offended), Willie, and Jane.  Little does their proud mama know what famous people they have been named for!

Here are pictures from the day we let them out of the horse stall they were born in into the big world.
Sorry, this is the only picture I have of all three of them.

Meet Shakespeare...
Tolkien...he's the runt of the litter.  The little guy is so small and he
also has a problem with spacing out and then, whoops! Where
did Mama go?
And here is Jane.  I think she might be my favorite