WHICH ONE DO YOU ADMIRE? WHICH MIGHT YOU TAKE FROM THE SHELF?
BEFORE WE WERE YOURS
Author: Lisa Wingate
Publisher: Ballantine Books 2017
Genre: Novel/historical fiction
Hardcover Edition: 354 pages
Source: Personal copy
This story wraps itself around the reader and as the events unfold the wrap is tighter, warmer and more suspenseful.
It is told in two voices: Rill Foss and Avery Stafford. Many reviewers spoke highly of the character Rill Foss and the scenes of Rill and her siblings stolen from their parents and kept in the Tennessee Children’s Home waiting for adoption. It was not a nice place and Rill’s voice is strong in telling the tale of her family. But it was the character of Avery Stafford who captured my heart. A young lawyer from an old South Carolina family she pours her heart and soul into learning more about her grandmother’s mysterious past.
The tale is based on the real-life scandal of the Memphis adoption organization that kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families. Wingate gives us a window into the treatment of some children in the thirties. It would seem that greed and injustice have been present in our world in places we sometimes least expect. Our heroine Avery Stafford has no inkling of such a situation, but she senses that something is not as it seems in the history of her beloved grandmother, who is now receiving care in a nursing home with a memory unit. The reader, who is told the story by Rill Foss as a young girl, knows what is going on. But it is how this author Lisa Wingate is able to fit together the pieces of this story and the feeling each represents that creates a riveting and mysterious tale.
With each passing chapter the story and the characters are more vivid and pull at the heart more strongly. For this reader, Avery is the heart of the story. As book clubs choose and discuss this story, no doubt readers will feel most strongly for different characters. Though some critics do not agree with me, I take this to be a sign that Wingate knows how to create characters as well as plots. It is far from easy to write multiple young children with clarity and interest as Wingate has done. Many readers agree. This book has been weeks on best-seller lists.
Maple Breakfast Sausage
I seldom eat sausage. No store-bought breakfast sausage or restaurant sausage ever tastes right to me, too fatty or off flavors. I’m always dreaming of breakfast sausage I had in a Wisconsin restaurant near LaCrosse one early morning on my way to Minnesota many years ago with my son, who was maybe 15 at the time. When our breakfast arrived and I began eating my sausage, I remember I said to him. “This is real country sausage, so good.” The Detroit kid was unimpressed. He liked Bob Evans or Jimmy Dean or whatever, and mostly he liked the Italian sausage we purchased at a good meat market.
This is part of the explanation for why I was taken with an article in the New York Times Magazine last week titled “The Pleasures of a Pork Patty” by Samin Nosrat. The use of the term pork patty also reminded me of a Fourth of July Pork Burger in Reinbeck, Iowa at the Methodist Church that was to die for, as we like to say. I stared at the picture, I dreamed of that Wisconsin sausage and the Iowa pork burgers.
Okay, enough. On to the recipe.
Maple Breakfast Sausage
(the ingredients I used – roughly half of the recipe printed in the magazine. More variations at nytimes.com/magazine)
this amount makes four patties
½ dried sage
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 small pinch nutmeg
1 small pinch ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ pound ground pork
½ tablespoon maple syrup and a little more
Extra virgin olive oil
Combine the spices in a bowl, add pork and syrup.
Use your hands to mix thoroughly for 1 full minute until the pork is tacky, sticky in the palm of your hands.
The recipe suggested a cast iron pan. I have a small one. It was too small. Just use a heavy pan of the size for your needs and heat the olive oil until it shimmers. I used a ¼ cup to make my patties, flat and one the small side. Choose a pan that will not crowd the elements of the breakfast you are cooking.
The author suggested you make one small patty first to check for seasoning. I ate my one patty. Then I added more seasoning (the extra in a small bowl from the measuring) and formed and froze the remaining patties. In other words, my patty was delicious but I thought a bit more seasoning would make it even better.
I followed the suggestion that I cook my sausage, egg and bread in one pan. The author talked of how the bread soaked up the pork juices and so good. Well my pork was quite lean and little fat or juices to soak in the bread.
I went back to the article and read the suggestion you talk to your butcher and ask how much fat they add to ground pork. She suggested 20 to 25 percent. I bought my ground pork at a good market, but I did not ask about the fat content. I didn’t want it too fatty but a smidge more would have been perfection for cooking. For eating I was most happy with the sausage patty I had for my breakfast.
Your sausages may need draining on a paper towel. When I put mine on a paper towel, no fat. Good for me but as I said nothing to flavor the bread.
I cooked the sausage patty, an egg and a half slice of bread in the skillet at the same time.
I loved this sausage. My tummy feels fine. It was a satisfying breakfast. Just as good as my memories of Wisconsin, so I guess with this recipe there is good Michigan sausage. (To clarify MI is home to all sorts of delicious flavored sausages or sausages made with multiple ingredients such as spinach and feta. Here I’m yearning for country pork sausage.)
That touch of maple syrup may well be the secret. Maybe it was the sausage and slightly runny egg eaten together with a small piece of the hot bread in one bite. Oh my! Give this a try!
Author: Louise Penny
Publisher: Minotaur Books 2017
Genre: Fiction – Mystery
Hardcover Edition: 388 pages
Source: personal copy
Many of you have read some of Louise Penny’s best-selling Inspector Gamache novels. She lives in a small village outside of Montreal, similar perhaps to the Three Pines village of these novels. Her awards are numerous. This is because she is not only a writer of brilliant mysteries, but an outstanding writer in any category. Her prose is epic, poetic and readable.
This time the Chief Inspector, his family and his village are at the very center of the intrigue. The village is besieged by a hooded figure who stands on the village green. It is thought this figure is a “debt collector” arrived to provoke someone’s conscience. Soon a murder victim is discovered in the village church and as you might expect an engrossing mystery ensues.
This is without a doubt the best of her books that I have had the pleasure of reading. This is the book that makes me a true fan! The characters are so clear, the plot is also clear and riveting. And my concern for Gamache escalates with every chapter. Her plot involves history and present-day important issues at once. It also incorporates something of the supernatural. She has always been a master of plot. But this time caring and clarity are central to the novel. For that reason it is unforgettable!
Reading Lousie Penny is a delightful endeavor. I truly thank her! BookMarks magazine awards this one 4 stars and so do I. Don’t miss it!
It’s time for something new. I saw this recipe in the City Kitchen by David Tanis column in the New York Times food section a few weeks ago. With all the roasting and grilling, I haven’t cooked chicken this way for many moons, or so it seems anyway. The recipe also provided the opportunity to try some different flavors and spices.
The verdict is beautiful color and terrific taste. What I really loved was the soft texture of the chicken, while still so full of flavor.
I made half a recipe. Here’s the prep and the ingredients I used. The recipe and more ideas are printed below.
I generously seasoned the chicken on both sides with kosher salt and pepper and let it sit an hour at room temperature before cooking. (I get such a kick that this is now called dry rub by some, even though cooks have done this since the beginning of time.)
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs went into a frying pan with a turn-in-the-pan of olive oil. I cooked these, skin-side down, for about 15 minutes over medium heat until well browned with crispy skin that lifted easily from the pan. Turn the thighs and cook two or three minutes more.
In a small cup I combined saffron with lemon juice and ¼ cup of water and set this aside.
The browned chicken went into a baking dish.
I poured off most of the fat and cooked the onions in about 2 tablespoons of fat, stirring some until softened and just beginning to brown. I used less onions than called for even for half a recipe, but enough for added flavor.
To the onions in the pan add the saffron water along with the threads, easy on the tomato puree, cayenne, coriander, fennel, cardamon pods and then added the wine. This mixture needs to simmer for a minute or two. Since these spices are mostly new to me, I used slightly less than half of what the recipe called for.
I poured this mixture, which is the most lovely and enticing color over the chicken. Then I tucked in apricots and lemon slices among or atop the chicken pieces. (When I opened the package of dried apricots I had on hand, they were black, so I used canned apricots, not as good I’m sure but pretty and flavorful.)
Cover the pan tightly and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.
Uncover and bake 10 minutes more.
The aromas were unfamiliar to me, but not at all unpleasant. The color unbelievably gorgeous! Oh, I said that before, didn’t I?
I planned to serve this chicken with a chiffonade of argula and did not trouble with the pine nuts, although I think they would be wonderful.
The chicken was equally delicious the second day served with packaged herb chicken rice and other grains.
In the printed recipe below you can see other garnishes that are suggested.
Chicken with Apricots, Lemon and Saffron
6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
salt and pepper
¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 large onion, diced
½ cup tomato puree
pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon green cardamom pods
1 cup white wine
6 ouches dried apricots
2 small lemons, thinly sliced
cilantro leaves and mint leaves for garnish
2 Tablespoons toasted pine nuts to finish.
There are so many ways to make this recipe your own: more tomato, thyme, mushrooms. Anyway you prepare it, this is a dish with complex flavors. And the prep is fast and easy!
You may wish to serve it with rice, orzo, or couscous.
This is a recipe I expect to save and prepare again. I know I wouldn’t need to mention it, but….even one bite of the skin on this chicken was heavenly. It’s possible that this recipe has turned this non-fan of chicken into a person that likes chicken again.
Grant by Ron Chernow
The renowned author of Hamilton which sparked the popular musical has just published this comprehensive biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Word has it there’s never been a better portrait of this famous if flawed American. The following sentence ends a review by Bill Clinton in the New York Times Book Review, “ If we still believe in forming a more perfect union, his steady and courageous example is more valuable than ever.”
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
This novel brings the theme of conflict between outdated and the latest technology. Many think the story is delicious fun. A robotics programmer leaves Michigan for a job in California. She discovers the San Francisco Bay’s food mecca where she comes to be gifted with sourdough starter and from there the story rises (pun intended).
The Glass Houses by Louise Penny
This is the four star thriller I am reading right now. I think it is her best yet. The Christian Science Monitor calls it an “explosive read”; another reviewer pronounces it a “poignant meditation on power, privilege and responsibility.” Many reviewers continue to praise this one.
Ants Among Elephants by Sujatha Gidla
Here is a memoir by an author who was born as an untouchable in the south of India. Bookmarks gives this one four stars and so do many other reviewers. The book purports to inform the reader on politics, misogyny, caste oppression, poverty and more.
Its All Relative by A. J. Jacobs
What is family? Where are our cousins? Who are our cousins? Follow this author’s journal to learn more about geneology in a wild and wacky sense. Actually I’m not sure what this book is about. The descriptions and info about this book both escape and entice me. I want to take a closer look.
ONLY Seville, Spain tops Detroit as a city to visit in 2018. Lonely Planet is the largest travel publisher in the world. They point to the River Front Walk and goovy hotels as places of interest in the city.
When you visit our comeback city, here’s what I recommend:
Yes, River Front views. Try Belle Isle, The Detroit Yacht club or walk along the Detroit River (River Walk). How about lunch at the Rattlesnake Club? Great Riverfront views!
Henry Ford Village and Museum. This is the premier historical museum and outdoor experience in the U.S. And a huge IMAX theater and tours of the Ford Rouge Plant. Don’t miss these when you visit.
Eastern Market. A huge and historic market with vendors of all kinds from crafts to local produce. Restaurants, bars and more. This venue was last featured on this blog July 14, 2014. Put Eastern Market in the search box and the story will appear.
Detroit Institute of Arts. Again, a beautiful, historic and outstanding place to view with a huge variety of wonderful art. The current exhibit is Monet: Framing Life and includes some of Monet’s earliest works. “Woman With A Parasol “ is on loan from the National Gallery.
And for Sports Fans – Detroit is the ultimate Sports Town.
Comerica Park. This place is marvelous. A ball park you will love whether or not you like baseball.
Ford Field is home to the Lions.
Little Caesars Arena is set to open this week and will host Red Wings Hockey. I believe a Kid Rock concert is the first event. These three arenas have been built in the same area of the city.
And the Detroit Pistons have just announced they will move back downtown from Pontiac.
In other big Detroit News, Mark Wahlberg, movie star and producer, who has made many movies in Detoroit and has a restaurant in Greektown (another area to visit), is opening Wahlburgers in Royal Oak as part of the new shopping development near Beaumont Hospitals. Another don’t miss stop on your Detroit visit.
Detroit has its share of great burgers. The Chew’s Michael Symon has two B Spot Burgers in the metro area as well as a nifty restaurant downtown. His restaurants were first in his hometown Cleveland, but he is a Detroit fan, too. Read about B Spot Burgers, Brews and BBQ on this blog, posted May, 2014 and later when he opened another in Royal Oak. Use the search box to find these posts. As this picture of him with his big smile indicates, he was totally gracious and allowed me to interview him when he was in town for the opening.
Yes, there are other truly beautiful sights: Cranbrook Gardens, Pewabic Pottery, Sommerset Mall, The Fisher Theater and many more. Do tell your favorite.
Come visit and give me a call!
Surprising how at times, at least to this reader, reading seems less understandable, less enjoyable than it is at its best. The day comes when books that had seemed to call so strongly, become a reading chore. And so my reading life goes this week. It wanders, capriciously, not in a good way. I try to figure it out.
Sing, Unburied, Sing
For the past several months, I hummed with excitement at the thought of reading Jessmyn Ward’s new novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing. How I had been captured by her nonfiction memoir Men We Reaped. I couldn’t wait to try her new novel. But this week I find myself bogged down in the book. It’s short in length; I should have finished.
The story seems repetitive, as is the life of its characters. Some of the characters are not real. Combining other-worldly characters and realistic fiction is popular these days with literary writers and critics. Though many may enjoy this kind of a read, I find the ghostly characters distracting. For me the story loses its urgency, its reality, its power.
As pictured in this story everyone in this real/unreal world takes drugs. The author means, I think, for us to understand just what these characters are up against. The scenes between the children are especially tender and even hopeful. But pain seems overwhelming. If I’m tired after 170 pages, think of the people who are living that life. For characters in Sing, Parchman Farm, the Mississippi State Prison, is an expected chapter in their lives.
Prisons – Blood In the Water
It may be my reading tiredness comes of reading two books at the same time about prisons in the United States. After hearing the author speak I couldn’t wait to begin turning the pages of Blood in the Water, about the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971 and its aftermath. It is a weighty matter that in this country we have incarcerated so many people, often those who have committed minor crimes due to drug addiction and poverty. According to a report I heard on the radio today some law enforcement subscribes to the theory if you round up those accused of small crimes, the other criminals will go somewhere else.
We insist on treating drug addiction as a crime and not as an illness. We insist on putting these people in prison, an expensive endeavor leaving us less able to deal successfully with serious criminals, or the addictions. The reader of this book soon understands the militarization of police and prisons leading to war such as occurred at Attica.
If I can stick with this book perhaps my vision on the subject will clear.
Finding Hope – Reality, Grief, and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks
The third book I’m reading, Reality Grief and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks, has me thinking of the message that God has given us in the words of the ancient biblical prophets. I hear the message that neighborliness is more important than nations, more important than race, religion or ethnic origin. If this is true I believe we may want to refocus some of our energies as we strive to live in a world where the parts are less independent and isolated than may have been true in the past. The last pages of this book may help me see the hope in neighborliness.
As I read what I have written, I at least understand why my reading week has become too weighty. Clearly I need to lighten up. My shelf contains some lighter reads. It’s time for me to choose one. Wish me luck.
But, as I have the last word in this conversation with myself – burying my head in the sand may not be an answer that holds any lasting power.