Monthly Archives: September 2013

IN STORY CITY AT BROAD STREET MARKET

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How did I get there?

Early last summer while reading Facebook, I saw a picture of a large antique wardrobe from the mid-nineteenth century. I could not get it out of my mind. It brought me an idea for a short story. I’m always grateful for those.

The picture of the wardrobe was posted by an antique business: Broad Street Market by Carter Station located in Story City, Iowa. They kindly gave me permission to use the photo of the wardrobe on my blog. It was my first post (available in the June archives).
Later, I posted the short story. The antique wardrobe and the story idea led me to research the Underground Railroad in Tama County Iowa in 1863.

I wanted to thank the people at Broad Street Market in person. Yes, I wanted to show my appreciation for permission to use the photo and for the story inspiration, but I also wanted to see their antiques. This past week I had that opportunity. Jerry (the real man who cooks scalloped corn and pulled pork – see the food page) and I were in Ames, the home of Iowa State University where we went to college, and where he wanted to attend an event. Story City is nearby. Two good friends, who like to visit antique shops, joined me. I don’t see them often so that was a real treat.

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Broad Street Market is full of exciting antiques as you can see in these pictures. Large primitive pieces are a specialty. We all loved the friendly service, time to browse to your heart’s content, and the interesting and beautiful arrangements of all kinds of vintage home goods.

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My friends could be professional decorators. Both have lovely homes. I think their rooms look like pages in a magazine. Color and style are second nature to both women. They loved Broad Street Market, and carefully considered the endless possibilities items presented. What spot did they have for this or that piece? I kept busy taking photos for this blog and staying open to inspiration.

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Enjoy your trip through the Broad Street Market via these pictures. Whether you like your antiques chipped, showing a bit of rust, one-of-a-kind, or just plain fun, this is the place for you. You are likely to see the pieces differently or to spy something new every time you walk through to another section, or retrace your steps for another look as you make your way around. Have fun.

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And the fact that this place is located in a town with a name like Story City makes it perfect for this reading/writing blog. Across the street, at Dawn’s Diner, my friends and I had a very good lunch. Central Iowa has its gems, and its surprises. Hey, film star Hugh Jackman premiered his new movie “Prisoners” last Saturday in Iowa Falls.

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Broad Street Market by Carter Station at 515 Broad St. Story City, IA
Like Broad Street Market on Facebook. For more information contact them at carter station@live.com
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PRAIRIE LIGHTS BOOKSTORE

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PRAIRIE LIGHTS

For many years my favorite independent bookstore has been Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Iowa. I have enjoyed many visits and bought many books there. Iowa is my native state but not where I live these days, so visits to Iowa City are infrequent. But this week I was lucky enough to be there.

The bookstore is located downtown near the campus of the University of Iowa. It is a cozy, well-used space. There are three floors with a coffee shop on the top floor. Staff is always ready to help.

One of the things I have always appreciated about Prairie Lights is how well books are organized, how easy different types of books are to find. Sections are well marked. There are books about Iowa and writing in Iowa as well as large sections on history, literature and poetry. There are cookbooks, books on the environment, a nice selection of literary journals and much more. You get the idea: variety. Books for readers with different interests.

I enjoyed a large display of Staff Picks with informative notes on each one. One of their picks is a book I am currently reading, The Cradle by Patrick Somerville. It is a spare, well-written novel about a family search. This is an example of how this bookstore and I never fail to connect.

There was also a display entitled Indie Bound. Here I took a second look at a newly published best seller Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt. This title was included in a recent post on the Reading page of this blog in a list of ten books by authors I have not yet read. This time I reluctantly put it off for later. IndieBound has an informative website. www.indiebound.org.

I purchased two books. A Thousand Mornings is a recent volume of poetry by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. She takes us to the marshlands and coastline of her home in Massachusetts. I know I will enjoy the trip. The second book is by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, titled A House In the Sky. This is a memoir by a young woman held hostage in Somalia. Recently published, this book is receiving quite a bit of attention.

It seemed to me that the store was not as tightly filled with books as in the past. But books were still easy to view. There were plenty of bargains to be had. You can order books and find other useful information about books at www.prairielights.com and at www.prairielightsbooks.com. The difference is that the latter is an online bookstore while the first site tells about events, staff picks and more. In store readings can be listened to from your home through the internet at writinguniversity.uiowa.edu. Discover Prairie Lights and its resources for yourself. You will be glad you did.

Even if this favorite did not wrap its arms around me quite as tightly as it has on other visits, it is still the favorite I’ve known the longest when it comes to independent book stores. I very much look forward to my next time there, whether I can be in Iowa City or travel via the internet.


THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY

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THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY: A TERRIFIC LUNCH

The Cheesecake Factory recently opened a restaurant at 12 Oaks Mall in Novi, MI.

I was less than enthused when friends chose it as the place for lunch. I thought maybe great cheesecake, but what about the food? I was not optimistic. Based on lunch there a few days ago, I was very wrong.

Thanks to a good friend who got in line at 10:30 a.m. our group was seated by 11:00. At that time the line was very long. But, in spite of this large lunch crowd, the service was spot-on. The food was beyond great!

There is a huge menu. At this point I feel like the menu has more inviting dishes than I can dream of eating. And I love to daydream about food. The menu makes for great reading. The names are so much fun: SkinnyLicious, Glamburgers, Ice Cream Delight. You get the idea. But it’s also a descriptive and informative menu. I felt that I knew what I would be eating with any order. The menu made the food sound good; what I ordered was GOOD.

My lunch, at a very reasonable price, consisted of soup, salad, and half-a-sandwich. The salad was crisp, fresh and generous. The ranch dressing house-made, I would guess. My sandwich was chicken salad on toasted bread: chunks of chicken with veggies in a light, easy-to-eat dressing. The mushroom soup had a depth of flavor not often experienced in chain restaurant soup. Earlier in the week I had a rather well-known soup at another chain I won’t name, and it was unappetizing both in how it looked, and how it tasted. The mushroom soup at the Cheesecake Factory had flavors that complimented each other and blended into deliciousness. It was the best wild mushroom soup ever. Fresh ingredients were obvious.

And the cheesecake. I believe there are as many as thirty-seven different cheesecakes, as well as other desserts. Our table shared White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake. OH MY! Creamy, smooth, no hint of aftertaste. It tasted as good as it looked.

There is a full bar, wine, and beer, an extensive menu with variety in size of servings and types of food. Our server was knowledgeable, accommodating and cheerful. Food was brought from the kitchen hot and in a timely manner.

The menu makes for terrific reading; the food for terrific eating. I can’t wait to go back. Wherever I travel, I’ll be watching for a Cheesecake Factory Restaurant. And, oh, yes, many thanks to the friends who decided we should eat there. WOW!

www.thecheesecakefactory.com for more information.


CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT

Claire of the Sea Light

CLAIRE OF THE SEALIGHT
By Edwidge Danticat
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf 2013
238 pages
Source: personal copy

This new book of fiction by Edwidge Danticat tells connected stories of some of the people who live in the small seaside town of Ville Rose in Haiti. But a little girl named Claire Lemye Lanme holds center stage, and the reader waits to learn Claire’s fate.

Ms. Danticat skillfully creates varied characters. Some are misguided or confused. But some, like Claire’s father, show respect for others. The letter he writes his daughter conveys in a simple, yet elegant manner his caring love for her. He is inspiring in his struggle to do the very best for her. The book is filled with compassion for the characters, no matter their struggles. The author makes life’s opposing forces more understandable. It is as if she has woven a colorful large wall-hanging to tell the stories of the people who live in Ville Rose.

When she writes about Haiti, the reader sees the different colors and hears the different sounds more plainly than if standing where the water rippled over one’s feet. It’s as if the reader could actually taste the salt and wet air of that place. And sometimes the poverty felt like a coat too heavy for that warm place.

Claire’s father is expecting to give Claire to someone else, so that she can have a better life. What is ahead for the shiny little girl who has already lost her mother and whose father, a poor fisherman, is planning to give her to another? Readers see Claire playing a children’s game with her friends at the beach as the complicated lives of some of the villagers swirl around her.

In spite of all the activity and different kinds of danger present in the village, loneliness is a major presence. The reader comes to understand how pervasive loneliness can be, no matter the place, time, or culture. We see characters run from it and confront it. Danger and loneliness are common to most human experience. Sometimes safety and companionship are illusions. Though at first glance it may not seem so, this is a universal story.

The beautiful writing, each paragraph was carefully constructed, held me captive. Words were clear and pleasing to the ear. But I most enjoyed the thoughtfulness with which it was written, and I admired the respect this author showed for her characters.


TRIBUTE TO PATTI

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PATTI’S BUTTERNUT SQUASH BISQUE

Fall rolls into Michigan and my mind turns to soup. I think first of the silky Butternut Squash Bisque my friend Patti made. She introduced me to squash soup, or that’s how I remember it. After that, I began to regularly make squash soup, tried out recipes and developed my own. But Patti started things, as she often did for me. She introduced me to so many things that made my life richer.

In her lovely and most convenient Arizona kitchen, she served perfectly cooked steak on a bed of arugula. Seven years ago that was a new combination to me. I loved the lightly dressed greens with the rare tender beef. These days, most steaks pictured in the food magazines are piled with greens, and Michael Symon fixed steak and arugula in a five-minute meal on the television show The Chew.

Patti introduced me to books about women pioneering in Arizona, and I enjoyed several. She recommended Sandra Day O’Conner’s terrific autobiography of growing up on a working (and I do mean working) ranch in the southern part of Arizona near the Texas border. The book is titled Lazy B: Growing Up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest. It is a great read, and I think tells much about the woman Sandra Day O’Conner became. It is an example of an excellent autobiography.

Patti and I loved to cook together and shop together, especially bookstores and stationery stores. We both had a weakness for good notepaper. I tried to use the best I had on hand when I sent her a note. Anytime we talked: in person, on paper, or via internet, she was always ready with encouragement and good cheer. We smiled together in so many ways. Mostly, she was only an e-mail away.

And now, she’s not.

I lost her this summer to a difficult and ultimately, fatal illness. As much as I miss her, I know there are many who miss her more. I keep them in my prayers.

Early this summer she encouraged me as I started this blog. I write my sorrow as a tribute to a gracious and memorable woman. “So connected” is how I always think of my friendship with Patti. I offer Patti’s Butternut Squash Bisque so that many of you can celebrate her life by cooking and eating this soup. It tastes of love, spicy and rich.

Patti’s Butternut Squash Bisque

3 tablespoons butter
1 med. onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
½ tsp dried thyme
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
coarse salt
1 butternut squash (about 4 lbs) peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 can reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 ½ oz)
1 cup half and half
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
sour cream for serving

1. Melt butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add onion, garlic, thyme, cinnamon and cayenne. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally until onion is softened. 5-7 min.
2. Add squash, broth, half and half and 3 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook until squash is tender, about 20 min.
3. Working in batches, puree in a blender until smooth or use an immersion blender. Stir in lemon juice, season with salt. Serve bisque with sour cream, garnished with cayenne, if desired.

To Freeze: Ladle cooled bisque (without sour cream) into air-tight containers, leaving 1 inch of space. Freeze up to 3 months.

Serves 12.


THE PERFECT PEACH OF A COOKBOOK

The perfect peach

The Perfect Peach: Recipes and Stories from the Masumoto Family Farm
By Marcy, Nikiko and David Mas Masumoto
Ten Speed Press 2013
168 pages
Source: Personal Copy

The information and stories in this book are fascinating. And there are delightful recipes. Since I grew up on a farm, too, albeit an Iowa dairy farm, I connect with the Masumoto family, even though their place and history are vastly different from mine. Nikiko gives us “Peach Education”, and Marcy writes about lessons she’s learned cooking peaches. Mas relates varied information from mistakes he’s made as a farmer to information about peach varieties. His piece entitled “Ghosts of Farmworkers” brought to mind scenes set in the orchards in the novel The Orchardist (see previous post on the Home Page). Mas Masumoto is a respectful and thoughtful man. I’m glad such a person is growing food. I consider it a noble calling.

This is a food book that first appeared in one of my earlier blogs: Cookbook Choices. I subsequently choose it for purchase at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs. The authors are members of the Masumoto family. Their farm is located near Fresno in California’s Central Valley.

Thanks to the book’s jacket, I can tell you that Mas is an organic peach and grape farmer, and writer who has a previously published book and is currently a columnist for the Fresno Bee. His wife Marcy is a co-owner of the farm. She selects peach varieties and develops recipes and products. Daughter Nikiko grew up on the farm and works there full-time as an apprentice and artist.

An interesting feature of the book’s recipes is the flavors that are paired: pesto and peaches, blue cheese and peaches, ginger and onions as ingredients in Marcy’s Peach Chutney. Other pairings are naturals: pork and peaches, peaches and blackberries, peaches and oranges.

Nostalgia grabs me again in this book when I read about pickled peaches. Pickled peaches were a staple on the table of my maternal grandparents and at my mother’s table. I didn’t know I missed them until I met them again in this book. According to Nikiko , the recipe in The Perfect Peach comes from a Japanese Cucumber Salad. I’m not sure of the origin of my grandparents’ pickled peaches, but I know it was not Japanese Cucumber Salad. Still, I want to try this recipe and see if it echos the pickled peaches of my youth.

Mas is a gifted writer who can convey his understandings of the food world, his vision, and his vocation. He emphasizes his many partners in creating a perfect peach. He gives credit to all the workers involved. His essay “Letting Go: The Death of an Old Farmer” is a beautiful loving piece of writing about life and death and his Dad. Nearly every page in this book offers surprise and insight.

Much pleasure yet awaits as I spend time with the stories, the recipes and the information presented in this beautiful book. Staci Valentine delivers photos that enhance every kind of food. I found the graphic design of the book added to the ease of reading the different types of text and significantly increased the reading experience.

More information can be found at their website.

www.masumoto.com


THE ORCHARDIST

The Orchardist

The Orchardist.
A novel by Amanda Coplin
Harper Perennial 2012
Available in Paperback and Kindle editions
426 pages
Best Book of the Year, Indie Next Pick, Barnes and Noble Discover Award Winner

From the first line “His face was as pitted as the moon.”, Amanda Coplin the author of The Orchardist strongly engages the reader with her characters and with the place and time she writes about, the rural Pacific Northwest at the turn of the twentieth century. Reading her book I was immersed in that time and place. I felt I had lived there, even though I have never been there. Her descriptive powers are astonishing. In the interview printed in my edition of the book, she names Toni Morrison and Marilynne Robinson as two writers whose work she admires. Her writing is as powerful as each of those well-known and admired writers. Her themes and the passion that drives her writing are equal to theirs. If you are about to be exiled to a deserted island, you would do well to take a book written by each of the three of them along.

What is a family? Who has family? Who finds family? She poses these questions when she tells us the story of two young teen girls who have fled the place they lived and the horrific abuse they endured. They enter the orchard of the man with the pitted face. It is an idyllic place. But given what these two have endured, their stories are lived through challenge and surprise, and are far from idyllic.

This young writer’s fiction brings us characters we can admire, particularly in the adults that help these girls. It is not an easy task. The remarkable characters Coplin creates almost always surprise the reader in some way, at least they surprised me. The happenings in this tale wound tightly around me, left me gasping for understanding, and taught me how hard humans can struggle for empathy. The human heart can be strange, its resiliency limited, and yet, mercy and grace abound in this story.

Don’t miss this unforgettable read.