Monthly Archives: July 2014

THE HEARTBREAK OF TAKING SIDES.

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Patriots and Rebels
Author: John C. Bush
Publisher: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform (April 2014)
Genre: Novel
Paperback Edition 286 pages

Historical novels addressing complicated, divided loyalties during the Civil War in Missouri and other border states along with the accompanying violence are common in Civil War literature. Many of us are less familiar with the phenomenon of men of the Deep South fighting for the Union. And, as we might expect, families left at home had a tough time. This is the little known story of such a man and his family.

John Bush does a fine job of taking us into the daily life of a family from North Alabama during the mid-nineteenth century and telling the heart breaking tale of a man who upholds his Patriot heritage by becoming a Union soldier and the hardships that follow. Taking sides so often produces heartbreak.

One of the joys of this book is the well-written voice of the young girl who tells the story. It is a welcome viewpoint, and one that never lets the reader down in its consistency. This author is able to create a memorable character in a few sentences as he does with the old woman brandishing a gun in her doorway as she faces a traveling John Files, our soldier, trying to reach home during the waning months of the war. “She stood there in the doorway, her steel gray eyes staring a hole through me. She wasn’t being hostile exactly, but she sure wasn’t being friendly. With a nod of her head she indicated an old rocker and told me to sit.” Action scenes and dialogue are equally compelling.

This story brings together a family’s American history born during the Revolutionary War and continuing through the War Between the States. It doesn’t reach for superlatives but brings us the every day existence of one family to stand for the many. And it reminds us of the cost of taking sides in any conflict. This is a lesson that history shows we are reluctant to learn.

It is a relaxing and uplifting read, one with some surprises in store. Local history lovers, Civil War buffs, those who hunger to know what daily life was like in another time and place, and those looking for a good summer read will find this one enjoyable.

DISCOVER YOUR WAY BACK INTO HISTORY WITH NATHANIEL PHILBRICK

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This man’s writing leads a reader to discover the past in a way that makes it real, exciting and new, even though it’s an old story, one the reader supposedly knew. This week I read an interview with Philbrick by Jacqulene Brzozowski in the Spring, 2014 issue of the online journal Mount Hope Magazine. That led to another interview I accessed online by Ben Shattuck for Paris Review, July 24, 2013. Philbrick discusses his writing, both subject matter and process.

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You are perhaps familiar with some of his best known books.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (2001). National Book Award Winner
The Mayflower: The Story of Courage, Community, and War (2007) Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution. (2013)

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These are the ones I’ve read and so are most familiar to me. There are others. I highly recommend any and all. His latest book is Why Read Moby-Dick. It is a departure from his usual fare, a slender volume giving many reasons to read or reread Moby Dick. I understand movies are in the works based on In the Heart of the Sea (Ron Howard) and Bunker Hill (Ben Affleck).

When Philbrick talks about writing history, he emphasizes the importance of character to move a story forward. He goes on to say that historical detail brings the past to life. He researches archives and goes to the places he writes about to see and discover. He researches to discover the character and the character’s world.

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He writes narrative non-fiction. He recreates circumstances and places in vivid detail enabling the characters to live and breathe, rather than creating dialogue. When talking of his writing process he says “the note-taking is everything for me.” He describes his notebooks and his extensive note-taking, and tells how he moves from note-taking to creating a book. The amount of learning, what he gets into his head, seems amazing.

In the interview for the Paris Review he says, “For me, it’s the act of discovery gives the prose life.” Reading his interviews one feels he deeply enjoys the connection and evolutions of a society. So history is made.

So we discover it, thanks to Mr. Philbrick. I never expected to read a book about whaling. I did and it was and is unforgettable. Please share your comments about Mr. Philbrick, any of his books or tell us which one is on your reading list. And, we are always looking for movie news. Keep us posted!

REMEMBERING GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE

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Close your eyes and see your grandmother’s table. Do you remember the shape of it, the people who sat around it? What of the dishes used to plate and serve the food? Were those times jolly or serious?

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My mind fills with a large oval table, lace curtains pulled back from a triple pane dining room window looking out on the garden and the berry bushes, the bird feeder. I remember the many dishes on the table. The wide sturdy table and its chairs filled the whole room, except for one corner where a standing cabinet with a Victrolla occupied the space. We were seated and ready to eat when Grandpa tucked a huge napkin into his shirt collar beneath his double chin and bestowed a smile on all of us, while he ask my father to say a word of prayer. Everyone was dressed in Sunday-best.

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Each place setting included a dinner plate, a bread plate, a sauce dish. There were goblets, juice glasses and silverware, two forks, a knife and two spoons, in addition to a butter knife laid across the bread plate. I no longer have the glass salt cellars that set at each place. When the relish dish was passed and guests took radishes and celery, we could dip in our very own salt dish to season each bite, if we wished. I remember, too, how many serving dishes were passed, the gravy boat, and a huge meat platter holding what my grandmother almost always served at Sunday dinner, roast chicken.

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You may be thinking: What was the use of all those dishes? In addition to the platter of chicken, there were mashed potatoes, heaped high in a large round serving bowl and cream gravy in the gravy boat. Learning to handle the gravy boat, pouring the gravy on one’s potatoes and setting it back on its own oval platter to pass to the next person was part of eating at Grandma’s on a Sunday.

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Numerous vegetables arrived at the table: green beans, creamed peas, creamed corn, and the relish tray with fresh and pickled vegetables. Pickled peaches were considered a treat. Bread and butter were always served along with some kind of jam. My mother’s fluffy dinner rolls, perhaps the most popular item with all ages. There was sauce for your sauce-dish, different at different meals: applesauce, canned peaches, heated canned tomatoes, cooked rhubarb sauce, perhaps with strawberries in summertime. Such an array of different foods. I loved all the choices, and finding my favorites.

Fancy spoons, engraved for serving jam or sauce.

Fancy spoons, engraved for serving jam or sauce.

Serving knives with blade and handle at right antes for cutting and serving cheese, pate, or any small item to be sliced.

Serving knives with blade and handle at right angles for cutting and serving cheese, pate, or any small item to be sliced.

Was there dessert? Oh, yes. My mother baked and brought pies. Grandmother stirred up and baked a cake with cooked frosting. White was her favorite, or angel food with ice cream and sauce. The sauce was made from fruit, fresh or canned. Chocolate was rare at her table. Two desserts were usual.

The sugar bowl of this sugar and creamer is very large.

The sugar bowl of this sugar and creamer is very large.

My grandparents kept a large garden, and they canned and canned and canned. I was often sent to the cellar to find a jar of something. Shelf upon shelf was filled with colorful glass jars. They lived in a small central Iowa town. They had little money. I now understand that nothing was as important to them as having family at Sunday dinner, and especially in the summer or at a holiday meal, they filled the table as generously as anyone can imagine.

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Silver detail with engraving

Yes, there were many dirty dishes, and many hands to wash those dishes. Dishpans and hot water from the stove were part of the process. All woman and children helped. I do remember Grandma sitting at the kitchen table during part of the task. Now I realize how she must have longed for a bit of rest. The men dozed on the porch.

When the dishes were clean, dried and stacked on the table, we children played a piano selection or spoke a piece we had memorized. Sometimes we read a Bible passage if we had nothing memorized. As you may imagine, our audience was enthusiastic, especially Grandma and Mother. But my father always insisted we do our part by providing the entertainment of the afternoon. Because the house was stucco and had a large porch and mature trees in front, the living room was often cool, something of a respite after the dishes in the warm kitchen, which I remember as having a wood stove.

Today, I wish I could be there again to more carefully observe everything. When I was a child, like most children, I wanted to go home as soon as possible, or to sneak off upstairs with my book.

I know, you, too have memories of eating at Grandmother’s table. Readers would love to hear your comments.

Note: Special thanks to cousin Marilee Massari for sending some of Grandma’s dishes my way. The crystal goblet and the butter knife are the only pictured items not from Grandmother’s table, most purchased at the time she married in 1909. The goblet belonged to my parents, but is tall as were those on Grandma’s table. My brother and sister and cousins may have different memories. I hope they will send them along.

Meta in her younger years, before she presided over a table filled with food and surrounded by guests.

Meta in her younger years, before she presided over a table filled with food and surrounded by guests.

THE GOLDFINCH: A COMPLICATED READ

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The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2014
Genre: Novel
Hardcover Edition: 771 pages
Source: Library Copy

This book is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and also the Carnegie Prize. It has spent 36 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. There are naysayers who have called it a book for youth and a fairy tale. It is not a book for young readers. If the definition of a fairy tale is an unbelievable or untrue story, a lie, or a story of magic deeds, well, maybe. There were times in the reading when the character Boris seemed to do magic, and the story drifted toward the unbelievable.

As the story begins, Theo Decker is a 13-year-old boy who survives an explosion in a museum. His mother does not. He comes away from that experience with a small, but well-known Dutch painting. Theo endures more loss in his life than any person can without serious consequences. The damage to children adrift without support is a painful theme of this story.

One Twitter reader posted that she was half-way through the book, intrigued, and thought the “prose pure pleasure.” This reader felt the same. But, it is a very long book and as it progresses the weather and Theo’s mood both become mostly dark, dank and drug-filled. And Theo’s friend Boris, well, there is, perhaps, too much Boris.

It is a suspenseful novel, and Boris is at the center of much of the intrigue, convoluted as it is at times. Immersion in a long and complicated novel can be very enjoyable, but something about the second half of this one feels less than enjoyable. The suspense continues to build, but it brings more and more sadness.

Ms. Tartt shows us the complexity of life, and as Theo says, its “catastrophic” nature. She enables readers to consider a variety of themes from viewpoints perhaps not previously considered. Obsession, loneliness, dislocation of mind and body, children without functioning parents and the role of beauty are some of the wide-ranging ideas driving the story. Those who describe it as Dickensian do so with good reason. The author conjures each of the varied settings in Theo’s travels with believable certainty, but little warmth. Las Vegas, New York City and Amsterdam seem equally awful, and increasingly, so is the state of Theo’s life. But tension and uncertainty drive the reader to the very last page.

There is no debating the fact it is a powerful book, haunting and unforgettable. One of many questions that arises: Is this book important to understanding twenty-first century life in America? A very scary thought indeed.

UNFORGETTABLE READS

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Not too long ago many of you responded concerning the first book you truly loved. This time: Tell us about a book that you consider unforgettable, maybe not your most enjoyable read, but a powerful read that has stayed with you. Perhaps it inspired you or even changed how you look at life. You shake your head, read other books and still, it stays in your mind.

Just to get you started thinking here are five titles that you may consider unforgettable:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Night by Elie Wiesel

And among more recent books perhaps one of these strikes you as unforgettable:
Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Kept by James Scott
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Please reply here or on Facebook with your unforgettable selection and I will post the list in a few days. If you are so inclined, let us know why you thought a particular read was “unforgettable”.

If you want to know more about the books above there is information about many on this website.
“The Book Thief Comes Again” November, 2013 archives
“Shotgun Lovesongs” Reviewed in the May, 2014 archives
The Round House A brief summary in “Five Good Books You May Have Missed This Year” in the December, 2013 archives
The Invention of Wings A brief summary in “Seven New Books You May Not Want to Miss” February, 2014 archives
“Reading The Kept” on the Reading page June 30, 2014
Orphan Train. Sorry, the review of this book is not posted at this time.
“Five Things to Love about The Storied life of A.J. Fikry” June, 2014 archives
The Goldfinch review is not yet posted.

If a book is summarized or commented on in the home page section of the blog, you can access by typing the title in the search box at the top right of the home page.

Please send in the title of a book that was unforgettable for you. Thanks for joining the conversation.

DETROIT’S HISTORIC EASTERN MARKET

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If we could walk back in time, we might visit the Detroit’s Farmer’s Market when it moved to its present location between Gratiot and Mack near St. Aubin in 1891 and was renamed Eastern Market. It’s been in that place ever since, and it has grown. Some of the movie Presumed Innocent starring Harrison Ford and Brian Dennehy was filmed there. The market that began in 1841 in Cadillac Square has become a premier Detroit attraction, one visited by thousands every week.

The market is sprawling, large, filled with all kind of things. One visit does not give the scope of the experience. The huge sheds shelter many vendors and crowds of people stroll and buy, some in a hurry, some not-so-much. There is a walking tour I’d love to take some time. Detroit history right under my feet and not so far from home.

Here’s the link for more information about Detroit’s Eastern Market
www.detroiteasternmarket.com

Last Saturday’s visit was getting my feet wet, since I had not visited the place in quite a few years. I’m glad I went and I want to go back and see more. But here’s a start.

Many vendors are set up in huge sheds that make me think of a state fair.

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Racks of herb plants

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Veggies

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More Veggies

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Tomatoes and more

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Onions, shallots, garlic

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Greens and flower blossoms

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Melo Farms had Berkshire pork products and chicken

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Avalon Breads

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Sweet Potato Pies

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Pictured here, pecan

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I love Spice Miser where I can buy a small amount of something exotic.

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Breakfast at Farmer’s Restaurant where the chef added spinach and mushrooms to my egg sandwich. Yumm! Service was first rate. Special thanks to the chef and staff!

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I could have had a beignet. Next time!

VISITING ZINGERMAN’S DELICATESSEN

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Zingerman’s Deli is an Ann Arbor institution––all kinds of great food. People flock to this food mecca for an eating experience unmatched anywhere else, or so it seems to many Michiganders. Food from all over the world is offered here, but the US and local sources are not neglected. The where and the when of the food is clearly identified and celebrated.

Here’s the tour with pictures from my latest visit. Come in in!

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The bread
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The cheese

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More cheese

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These are a great introduction to the store. Taste, sample, savor.

Vinegar and oil is a favorite spot. I love to sample and buy.

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On this visit Will Hassett was wonderfully patient helping me choose an olive oil and a vinegar to purchase. Lots of tastes and good advice. Thanks so much, Will!

I like my oil fruity and lemony.

Will had prepared Peppery Peach Vinaigrette. This is what sold me.

Peppery Peach Vinaigrette

Makes 1 cup
½ cup Extra Virgin Olice Oil
½ cup Katz Sauvignon Blanc Vinegar
2-3 Tablespoons American Spoon Peach Preserves
2-3 tablespoons Red Pepper Flakes
Salt to taste

Mix all ingredients in a jar with a tight lid. Shake-shake-shake.

What I bought:
Katz Sauvignon Blanc Vinegar,
Colonna Granverde Extra virgin Olive Oil,
American Spoon Red Haven Peach Preserves
And a small amount of two cheeses: Dunbarton Blue, a (cheddar-blue) to put on lettuce salad with fruit. I wanted to try at least one cheese from Wisconsin.
Parmigiano Reggiano

What I wished I had bought:
Argrumato Lemon Oil––on sale until the end of the month.

What I ate:
Peter’s Pepper Pick: turkey, lettuce, tomato, ranch dressing, Arkansas Peppered Bacon on grilled farm bread.

The menu of big sandwiches (they come in two sizes) is an adventure promising creamy crunch and crispy savory accompaniments. Choose your sandwich off the big board.

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My sandwich looked something like this. Again, I was so into eating, I forgot the picture. My sandwich was truly scrumptious!

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The deli has expanded. It’s a deli campus. Eat outside.

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Eat inside. I love this corner table.

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Out on the porch with a view of Kerry town and the Farmer’s Market across the street.

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Back inside there are specialty items galore, more meats, picnic baskets, so much fun to be had searching here and there around the deli.

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Here’s the link to more information. www.zingermansdeli.com

There’s also Zingerman’s Creamery, Zingerman’s Bakehouse, Zingerman’s Coffee Company, Zingerman’s Roadhouse and Zingerman’s Cornman Farms. Where will I visit next in this community of businesses.

I can’t wait to find out.

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PLACES TO READ

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WHERE ARE YOU READING?
Some photos by Claire Stanley

Are you reading? Probably you have a favorite place to read. Indoors? Out-of-doors? Where are you on this holiday week-end?

Here’s some spots that look like good places for reading.

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In the garden at Bloomfield Public Library.

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Inside are some cozy spots too, comfortable and air-conditioned.

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At a corner table at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor.

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Or on the front porch with a dessert and a view of Kerrytown and the Farmer’s Market.

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At Evans Lake in the Irish Hills area of Michigan.

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A corner by a cabin.

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In the shade

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At the beach

Where are you reading? Let us know!

FIVE FABULOUS MICHIGAN DESSERTS: TAKE A BITE

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Too hot to bake at your house? Try one of these or two or three or more. Summer is here. It’s treat time. Here are some of the best desserts in Michigan. Most of these are available where you live or by mail order.

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Cheesecake Factory Cheesecake
This cheesecake is exquisite. From Original to Oreo Dream Extreme, White Chocolate Raspberry and Mango Key Lime, how could you go wrong? I’ve never heard a naysayer. The restaurant near us serves very good food with attention to quality ingredients. They are located all over the country. Mail order is available from the website.
www.thecheesecakefactory.com

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Costco Carrot Cake
It may be hard to believe, but this is very good carrot cake. Carrot Cake is Jerry’s favorite so I’ve sampled many kinds. Costco is right up there with the best of them.
Next time you have a crowd at your home, this is the dessert for you.

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Guernsey Farms Dairy Ice Cream
Seventy delicious flavors. My favorite is Black Sweet Cherry. Michiganders sing the praises of this creamy real ice cream, locally made from hormone-free milk. Its available all over southeast Michigan. www.guernseyfarmsdairy.com What’s the best ice cream where you live?

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Ellen’s Bakery and Cafe Muffins
Yes, I agree with a reader who pronounced these positively addictive. Here’s some flavors to choose from: apricot almond, cranberry walnut, carrot, walnut raisin, lemon poppy, mocha white chocolate chip, to name some. I’ll bet you have a favorite muffin or bakery in your neck of the woods. Give them a shout-out here. www.ellensbakeryandcafe.com Follow Ellen’s on Facebook.

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Achatz Homemade Pies
These pies are available at many points in southeast Michigan and by mail order. Michigan Berry is a favorite. Think berry pie and the Fourth of July. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter. The website is www.achatzpies.com. Try one. I don’t think you will be sorry.