Monday, June 1, 2020

Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

Reviewed by Christy
            While dusting our shelves during our closure, I came across a cookbook of vintage cakes. Author Julie Richardson combed through a treasure trove of old cookbooks to find the tastiest, most interesting, and most popular recipes. She would bake the original recipe as written then tinker with it until she felt it was updated for modern cake lovers. One surprising note she made was that older cake recipes were much sweeter than they are today. (I would’ve assumed it to be the opposite.)
            We should probably start with my favorite part of any cookbook: the pictures. These pictures are absolutely gorgeous and make me want to bake everything! I’ve never been a fan of malted milk balls but I’d give Malted Milk Chocolate Cupcakes a chance. Cherries aren’t my first fruit of choice but the Cherry Chip Cake with Cherry Buttercream could definitely bump them up the list.
            The book is divided into sections like Hasty Cakes for when you’re in a hurry or Everyday Cakes for when you just feel like baking something. And of course Party Cakes for when it’s safe to congregate again! Each recipe has a little introduction on its history, which I found interesting. I went through and read every one of these even though I only made one cake.
            I chose to make the Honey Bee Cake. Created in 1954 by the Proctor & Gamble Bakery Research Department, this cake is drenched in honey. It was delicious (if I do say so myself) and surprisingly not cloyingly sweet. The texture reminded me a little bit of cornbread but less crumbly and much more moist. It even had a golden crust, which was my favorite part. Though I just used ordinary honey-from-a-plastic-bear, the great part about this cake is you can use any kind of honey you want: blackberry, wildflower, orange blossom, etc. And if it’s locally sourced, well, then that makes it even more unique. I was also tempted to make the Goober Cake, which has chocolate ganache and crunchy peanut butter frosting.
I can see this being a book I check out many times. I’m particularly looking forward to trying my hand at the Not-for-Children Gingerbread Bundt Cake this holiday season. With a spicy gingerbread and brandy glaze, it should be interesting.
The Honey Bee Cake!

Friday, May 29, 2020

Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady

Reviewed by Jeanne

With the recent PBS airing of ”Sanditon” and a Book Bingo square I needed to fill, I decided to give Sanditon a try.  I had some trepidation about starting it because I knew that Miss Austen had written only 11 chapters before her death. In these chapters, she sets up the story.  A gentleman and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, have an unfortunate carriage accident near the village of Willingden, leaving him with an injured leg and a disabled carriage.  They are taken in by the hospitable Mr. Heywood whose wife and daughters show them every courtesy and care.  Charmed, the Parkers insist on taking one of the Heywood daughters, Charlotte, to stay with them at their new beach side resort, Sanditon.  Mr. Parker has high hopes that Sanditon will become a fashionable holiday spot and he will recoup his investment.

Once at Sanditon, Charlotte is introduced to some of the other inhabitants, including Lady Denham and her companion, Clara Brereton; Sir Edward Denham and his sister; and of course, other members of the Parker family, which includes two other brothers, Sidney and Arthur, and two sisters, Diana and Susan. The latter three are held to have very delicate constitutions, while Sidney seems to spend most of his time away on business and—presumably—drumming up interest in Sanditon.  The town is about to receive visitors, including an heiress from the West Indies, Miss Lambe, who is "half mulatto."

Readers of Austen will recognize the excellent mix of eligible young men and ladies available; but alas, we will never know what matches would have been made.  For me, there is also a different feel to Austen's fragment, as the Parkers could be said to be entrepreneurs. While money is important all throughout Austen's work, mostly it is inherited or earned through landowning or else the military. To be "in trade" is not considered quite respectable.  I would very much like to have known how Austen viewed this trend; most agree that the book was influenced by an 1805 visit to Worthing, which was a seaside town being turned into a vacation destination much as is Sanditon in the book. 

 The “Another Lady” co-author was Marie Dobbs, who was born in Australia in 1925 before moving to England. She worked as a journalist and wrote novels under several pseudonyms.  Her continuation of Sanditon earned a great deal of praise when it appeared in 1975.

I did enjoy the book, though I admit more than once I wondered if this or that is what Miss Austen would have intended. I do think that Sidney would have been the love interest for Charlotte, though he had barely appeared at the end of the original manuscript.  Dobbs did seem to capture some of the feeling of an Austen story, more so than have many more modern authors who have taken it upon themselves to continue Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility

More perplexing in some ways was watching the TV adaptation while reading the book. The series has some elements of Dobbs’ continuation (I am not suggesting plagiarism!)  but diverges in other significant areas.  It also omits one character all together, changes some relationships, and creates new characters. The ending caused some controversy but I also enjoyed it, though I admit there were some elements I found a bit modern.  (No spoilers!)

I think it is indeed a testament to Jane Austen that her work, even incomplete, can still command such attention.  My advice is to read (or watch or both!) it for yourself and decide how you think the story would play out.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Nevermore: Man & Horse, Cry of the Kalahari, Lee Smith, Nicholas Sparks, Evanovich, Kristin Hannah, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Take It Away, Tommy!

Reported by Kristin

Nevermore has evolved temporarily to meet the demands of social distancing, meeting online via Zoom. Our first member smiled widely onscreen as she discussed Man & Horse: The Long Ride Across America by John Egenes. In 1974, the author mounted his horse Gizmo and set out to cross the nation from Ventura, California to Virginia Beach, Virginia. Writing the book decades later, Egenes reflects upon the United States of that era, and how he discovered his own self-worth on his horseback journey.

Another reader picked up Cry of the Kalahari by Mark and Delia Owens, another story of exploration, this time in the wilds of an African desert. Mark and Delia were American PhD students in wildlife zoology who lived in the wilderness for seven years while researching and writing their dissertations. An international bestseller, their tales of lions, jackals, giraffes and more comes highly recommended from our Nevermore member who picked the book up after reading Delia’s fiction debut, the wildly popular Where the Crawdads Sing.

Turning to a regional novel, another reader absolutely loved Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith. This first person narrative is filled with the letters of Ivy Rowe, born in the Virginia mountains a century ago. Following Ivy’s life from childhood through her next seven decades, the story is wonderfully rich. Our reader enthusiastically recommended this story and Smith’s beautiful writing.

At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks also has connections to our region, being set in Boone Creek, North Carolina. A sequel to True Believer, this is the story of  Lexie and Jeremy, a young couple with a secret to keep, at least until the wedding, that is. Our reader enjoyed the continuing saga, and noted that Sparks is a very prolific author selling millions of books worldwide.

Our next reader had a very strong recommendation, but it was to NOT read the two books she had just finished. She found Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg’s Fox and O’Hare series quite boring, although she valiantly worked her way through the first two books—The Heist and The Chase. Featuring FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare and con man Nicolas Fox (who Kate is naturally forced to pair up with, even as she finds him infuriating,) this slapstick series just couldn’t hold our reader’s interest.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert was much more enjoyable. Henry Whittaker was a poverty stricken Englishman who took to the high seas in the early 1800s, eventually making his fortune and settling in Philadelphia with his accumulated wealth. Our reader was especially impressed with Henry’s daughter, Alma, as she studies moss and explores evolutionary botany before “evolution” has become a household word. This novel comes highly recommended, as do many of Gilbert’s other works.

Kristin Hannah knows how to write about female friendships, and does so very well in Firefly Lane. Forming a connection in middle school, Kate Mularkey and Tully Hart seem to be opposites, but begin a decades long friendship despite their differences. Tully wants to be a television reporter, and pulls Kate along in her wake. Kate really just wants to fall in love and have a family. Hannah writes with humor, and explores how the bonds between women can transcend families and careers.

Finally, Take it Away, Tommy! by Georgia Dunn, was brought to the virtual table by one of our cat and comic loving readers. This collection of comic strips tells the tail, (oops, I mean tale!) of Lupin, Elvis, and Puck, three cats who take on the personas of news reporters to describe the goings-on in their home. Vacuum cleaners, fuzzy blankets, and the case of the missing breakfast are all spotlighted as Dunn imaginatively goes inside the brains of her feline companions. Our reader found it sweet and delightful, and noted that it is especially funny if you know cats.