Saturday, June 7, 2014

Pick-Up Triggers

This post is thanks to the blog, The Story Girl.  That post was my inspiration.  Pick-Up Triggers are categories of books that you just have to read.  I thought I would put together my own little list of pick-up triggers.

Our gorgeous chive plant.  I do love me
some pretty greenery pictures.

1. Cozy vintage family life

2. History of clothing

3. Books about language and reading- if they're funny, that's all the better.

4. A good, cozy mystery

5. Books that I know will greatly inspire me and spur me onward-I guess that's a little vague...

6. Anything music-based

7. Interesting histories-pretty much any era, as long as it's written by a person who obviously cares about the subject

8. Interesting science-same criteria as with interesting histories

9.  1930s/40s/50s cozy fiction

What are your "pick-up triggers"?

Friday, June 6, 2014

What the World Eats

I took a little break from my usual reads, cozy pre-1980 novels, to pick up a very inspiring and fascinating book called What the World Eats.  This was a much-talked-about book (I think it was originally meant for children, but you can't tell in the least) when it came out in 2008 and I just never bothered to pick it up.  Then several weeks ago, I was reading a blog post that mentioned this book and warmly recommended it.  So I headed off to the library and picked this up and read it right away.  I was writing a post in my head while picking strawberries and now I've come in to write it.  Be prepared for a (minor) rant, everybody.

What the World Eats covers families in different countries, describing their daily work and what they eat in a week.  The family poses next to their table (or the ground) covered with all of the food they eat in one week.  All different people are mentioned in this book, from the French family with two college-aged daughters to the large, multi-generational Bhutanese family.  
That's probably the worst picture I've ever taken.  But you get the gist- those
people don't have enough food.

As would be expected, there is a heartbreaking difference in the amounts of food.  The poor family in Chad with 16 people in their family have about 1/4 of the food of the American family of 4.  The disparity in quantity was so strikingly unfair.  
...Aaaand the American family.  Sigh.

The other thing that struck me was the *ahem* crap (for lack of a nicer word) that so many people in the western world are eating.  Now I'm not just talking about the occasional box of Oreos as a little treat or the gorgeous green bottles of seltzer water (which I do adore) or perhaps some boxed cereal.  Oh my, no.  We're talking the whole table covered with boxes and plastic bags of stuff and then one sad, measly head of broccoli (I kid you not).  And please remember that this was the food in a week, not a month.  Oh dear, and the McDonalds.  It was everywhere, from the Chinese family to the Mexican family.  In this book, the Mexican family has 6 gallons of Coca-Cola a week.  I'm sure they're thanking America for handing them a nice helping of diabetes.  
Beautiful, beautiful green kale growing in a flower bed.

So now that I've gotten my rant out, I'll give some practical thoughts.  First, let's look at some of the families in the book who had enough (that's key) and were eating fairly responsibly.  The Mongolian family had eggs grown by a neighbor, fresh meat from the market, some oil, rice, salt, and soy sauce from a store.  Added to this was lots of produce, most of it grown locally or preserved (fermented, I think).  The large Turkish family had great food on their table.  The only prepared thing that was bought was some sesame seed paste cookies from the market.  There were eggs, fish, beef, potatoes, yogurt, pasta, feta, and milk.  And there was a nice long list of vegetables, some of them grown locally. Well, there was the pack of cigarettes, but aside from that, they had good choices.  I think it's important to look at the people that are making better decisions for inspiration.
The strawberries are starting to come on fast.  6 quarts
in one morning!  Yippee! 

Second, I think it takes baby steps (and the authors of this book back me up in the introduction).  For instance, in my part of the world right now, everything is flooded with beautiful, local produce.  We happen to have a large garden, but there are markets in pretty much every city nowadays.  It would be ridiculous to be buying Central American strawberries right now.  If we just got rid of, say, 3/4s of the packaged stuff just from March to October, we would make such a difference.  And as if cutting out all that nasty stuff wasn't enough of a reward, we'll be stealing less from people like the family from Chad because we won't be shipping unneeded resources from halfway around the world to ourselves.  

This book is fantastic and if you are the least bit skeptical after reading this post, go read this book and you won't be. Oh, and I'd love to hear what you think about this.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Library Loot 6/5- Or, The Week of Memoirs

I'm here with this week's library loot.  For those of you who don't know, Library Loot is a blogger's collections of reads for the week that she/he has gotten from the library.  Library Loot is hosted by the wonderful blog, The Captive Reader.

Most of the books in my library loot pile are not yet in my library loot pile.  This appears to be the week of the memoirs.  I have a total of three!  As a rather memoir-averse person, this is strange.  But they all look so good.  Anyway, here are the books that are on my to-read-in-the-very-near-future list.  So, here goes:

1.  Her Royal Spyness- I just started this book and I'm really liking it!  It's the story of a young minor royal in the 30s who becomes a spy.  It's the first in a series.

2.  Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk- Looks funny.

3. A Girl Named Zippy- A memoir about a girl in Mooreland, Indiana

4.  A Nurse in Time- A memoir about a nurse in 1930s England.

5. Yes Sister, No Sister: My Life as a Trainee Nurse in 1950s Yorkshire- Yet another nursing memoir

So that's the rundown of what's on my library loot pile!  What are you reading?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bread Baking

I'm on a new kick…braiding bread!  A couple months ago, I did some extensive research (thank you, Pinterest), and I have come up with a pretty fail-proof method of bread braiding and shaping.  I thought I would share it and my lovely bread loaves.  The recipe listed here makes 4 loaves, but you can halve or quarter (or double, you crazy person).  The amounts are thanks to the cookbook The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book (I've got the link below).  The actual method of making the bread is an odd mix of my mother's recipe and my own trial-and-error.
The bread dough, before it rose.

1.  Put 4 teaspoons of active dry yeast into 1 cup of lukewarm water into your Kitchen Aid mixer (or a large bowl).  Add enough flour to make a dough that is similar to pancake batter.  Let sit until bubbles form and go about your business (I decided what baking music I wanted to listen to ).  It was such a warm, humid day today that this only took about 5 minutes.  On a windy winter day in January, it's going to take a lot longer.
The loaves, about to be covered before they rise.

2.  Once batter is bubbly, mix in 5 teaspoons of salt, 4 tablespoons of oil (I used coconut), and 4 tablespoons of honey dissolved in 4 1/2 cups of water.  Add flour (I used spelt) until you have a very wet dough (sorry, I can't really be any more specific than that).  Now for the enjoyably messy part.

3.  Sprinkle flour all over fairly large surface (I use the kitchen table) and dump all that sticky dough onto the flour.  Then, keep adding more flour as you vigorously knead until the dough is springy and elastic.  Oil a clean bowl and dump all the dough in and cover with a wet towel to rise until it's doubled in size and when you poke it, the hole doesn't fill in.
…So you can see the braids.

4.  Once this happens, you can do one of two things.  The "real" thing to do next is to punch the dough down and let it rise once more.  However, I was in a slap-dash mood, so I just punched the dough down and shaped it right away.  Divide that dough into four equal sections.  Then, roll each of the sections into an oblong shape and divide into four snake-like pieces (the strips should be about 1" thick).  Pinch the ends of all of the strips together and gently cross the strips over each other (doesn't need to be any particular pattern).  It helps to grease the heck out of your hands.  If your braided dough ended up a lot longer than will fit in your bread pan, just fold the edges under.  Let sit again until the dough has risen up to the edges of the bread pan.  Just chuck the pans in the oven at 350 for about an hour and you're done.  And voila!  You have gorgeous braided bread.   Oh, and then cut yourself a gorgeous, warm slice and spread with butter and honey.  I'm eating a slice right now as I type.
All finished!

Now about this cookbook-it's really great.  It's a really handy book to have on hand and the pretty woodcuts just add to the general loveliness of the book.  The instructions are very extensive and you will have no doubt as to what you are doing when you use a recipe out of this cookbook.  There is everything in here from the classic whole-wheat bread dough recipe that I loosely used to rice-sesame crackers, to spicy currant bread.  I've been inspired by this book to do some more interesting bread baking and braiding!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mary Stewart Series: Nine Coaches Waiting

Nine Coaches Waiting is probably Mary Stewart's most well-known (and well-loved) book.  And I can see why.  This was the second time I've read this book and it was just as enjoyable as the first time I read it.

In this book, young Linda Martin goes to Chateau Valmy in the French Alps as a governess.  There is a sad past involving brutal orphanages that is mentioned briefly, but other than that, we know absolutely nothing about her.  When Linda arrives at the chateau, she is struck by its beauty and grace and is determined to do well.  But after several days, she begins to realize that the chateau is full of dark secrets.  There is the pale, shy little boy named Philipe and host of characters that surround him: the creepy, yet brilliant uncle and the aunt who is nervous and takes pills, the friendly American who is working as a forester, and the wild young cousin who comes for visits.  After one harrowing night where Philipe narrowly misses being shot in the woods, Linda begins to suspect the uncle and his son.

This book is quite gripping.  In some of Mary Stewart's books, she overdoes the atmospheric suspense a bit, but in this book, that hefty does of suspense works wonders.  As Linda and Philipe creep through the foggy forest and hide in a little wooden cabin to escape the evil uncle (whoops, spoiler...but you knew that was coming), you can just feel the tension build.  The characters who were evil were just evil enough to be convincing and the good characters were nice, but not nicity-nice.

The one thing that mildly annoyed me was the French.  The French characters would speak English to Linda and then just say one or two random words in French.  As Linda is speaking only English (even though she knows French quite fluently-it's her one power over her employers, they don't know she can tell what they're saying), I have no idea why they're assuming that she just knows the occasional French word.  But that's such a nit-picky thing and it wasn't a huge part of the plot, so I really shouldn't complain.  At least it wasn't as bad as the 50s movies where all of the characters speak English throughout the whole movie with a stilted, awkward French accent.  Gah.

Of course, I read this book in the new edition I got with the pretty vintage illustrated cover.  I am having so much fun reading these books all over again in a nice edition.  This book is a must-read.  If you never read another Mary Stewart book again, this is the one to read.  But I say that with every Mary Stewart book I review, so just read any of the Mary Stewarts and you'll be glad you did.

I can't do the Amazon link for these Mary Stewart books because they're only sold through Amazon UK.  So for my American readers, if you want to get this specific edition, google Amazon UK and then type in any of the Mary Stewart titles and you'll find them.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Words I Love (And Wish Were Used More)

I was taking the laundry off the top of the line and over and over in my head I was happily repeating the word, "befuddle".  This might sound ridiculously strange, but sometimes I'll come across a word (doesn't have to be a new word) in a book and the word just strikes me.  I savor it as I go about my business and, usually, the word sticks with me for a long time.  Anyway, I thought I would share some of my favorite words.  Most of them aren't particularly extraordinary, they're just words that strike me as  fun to say (or think).

So here are my words that I think are really fun to say (and just fun words in general).  Thanks to for the definitions.  The examples are my own.

1. Flack-  Eg. "He didn't get a lot of flack about his latest business decisions." It means "to publicize or promote something or somebody".  However, when I've heard it it always has negative connotations.

2. Defunct- Eg. "The computer that once worked quite well is now completely defunct."  It means, "no longer living; dead or extinct; no longer operative or valid".  I don't know why, but saying this word just amuses me.

3. Jabberwocky- Eg. "When Joe talks, it is merely jabberwocky." It means, "Invented or meaningless language; nonsense".  I have loved the Jabberwocky poem by Lewis Carroll for a long time, so this word is one of my favorites.

4. Mellifluous- Eg. "Everything she said was mellifluous in tone."  It means, "sweet or musical; pleasant to hear".  This word is just so fun to say!  I also love that it sounds like what it means.  It's not quite onomatopoeia, but it's awfully close.

5. Perspicacious- Eg. "Lucy is quite perspicacious when it comes to people's characters".  It means, "having a ready insight into and understanding of things."  I still remember the first time I ever heard this word in about 5th grade.  I was completely struck by how fascinating the word sounded and scurried off to ask somebody what it meant.

6. Tintinnabulation (yes, I spelled that without looking it up!)- Eg. "The tintinnabulation of bells filled the air."  It means, "a ringing or tinkling sound."  This word just sounds joyful, doesn't it?  I don't think I've ever used the word in sentence in real life, but it's a nice word to know.

7. Vicissitudes- Eg. "Ah, the vicissitudes of life."  It means, "a change of circumstance or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome of unpleasant."  It's just a handy word to have on hand when you're gripping and it's fun to say as an added bonus.

8. Avuncular-Eg. "Mr. Smith had an avuncular manner."  It means, "of or relating to an uncle."  Again, don't think I've ever actually used this.

9. Placebo- Eg. "Aunt Beatrice begged for her placebo pills every morning and night, little knowing that they did nothing".  It means, "a harmless pill, medicine, or procedure prescribed more for the psychological benefit to the patient than for any physiological effect."  Just a funny word.  I first read it in a science magazine in middle school.

10. Gormless- Eg. "Freddie is a gormless lackard."  It means, "lacking sense or initiative; foolish."  This word makes me grin every time I read it or say it (yes, I have used this word several times).  It's normally used with another archaic insult word because it's an adjective.  So you couldn't say, "Freddie is a gormless."  I think this might be my favorite word on the list.  It's quite handy as an insult when you're just enraged. I first heard this word in a children's book, The Penderwicks.  I am eternally grateful to Jane Penderwick for this great word.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Tasha Tudor

Just this week, I check an old favorite out of the library.  It was one of the beautiful books that are about Tasha Tudor.  For those of you who don't know, Tasha Tudor was an eccentric old New Englander who wrote and illustrated beautiful children's books.  She was sort of the American Beatrix Potter.  But books were just the tip of her skills.  She was known for her gorgeous gardens, delicious food, old-fashioned dress, and generally picturesque lifestyle.  She lived all alone in a farmhouse with her many animals (she was best known for her collection of corgis).

Throughout the years, people came to interview her and photograph her life.  This book, The Private World of Tasha Tudor, is organized by season.  There are gorgeous pictures of Tudor's fascinating life and the words in the book are her own.  The author took multiple recordings of her talking about things in her life and then he organized them into this book.

The pictures are really the main point.  Sure, having Tudor's charming voice on paper is nice, but the beautiful pictures are what I love so much about the Tasha Tudor books.  The sweeping dresses in Civil War prints, the bank of lilies, the charmingly clutter-y kitchen are captured so beautifully.

This book is wonderful and not just in a coffee-table book way.  I find Tasha Tudor's books to be kind of like looking at Pinterest-interesting and inspiring for me.  There are quite a few books about Tudor from a garden book to crafting book.  But I think that The Private World is probably the best of them because it's written in Tudor's own words and the photography is by far the best.   I really enjoyed this book.