Monthly Archives: May 2016

HOME AND HEART IN MILLER’S VALLEY: BOOK COMMENT

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Miller’s Valley
Author: Anna Quindlen
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Random House (2016)
Hardcover Edition: 25 pages

This is Anna Quindlen’s best book so far. The reader keeps turning the pages, floating through this emotional story, utterly transported to Miller’s Valley, a place where great change is constantly threatening. The central character Mimi Miller guides the reader with a sure and loving hand.

Mimi’s family has lived on a farm in Miller’s Valley for 200 years. It’s a wet place and the sump pumps in the basement create an urgent rhythm for the events that often threaten to overwhelm her family. Each member of the family is so alive, so believable, a reader can’t decide who is the most beloved, the most likely to keep the family afloat.

Even as Mimi holds out hope through thick waters, and thin times, the threat of just what the government plans for Miller’s Valley rises like the water: flood waters, water table, creek waters. But, in spite of what is about to disappear, heart and home, as created by Quindlen, are so sturdy, so full of grace, so quick with life and truth, readers know family will survive. A ramshackle house, or the deep woods of the valley, or the cattle and their barn may be forever changed; but the true structure of family and place will live on.

Yes, lives change, family structures give up secrets as they realign. There are devastating loses. Mimi keeps breathing and loving. Both for Mimi and for the reader, Miller’s Valley and its people are unforgettable.

For this reader, Miller’s Valley is the best fiction so far this year! I’ve no doubt said this before about other books. But for pure reading joy, this novel attains 2016’s top fiction prize. What will the rest of the year bring? More good reads is always the hope. Paulette’s Best List may change, some titles will even vanish, but I predict Miller’s Valley will be remembered as one of the most satisfying and lovely reads of the year.

REMEMBERING ON MEMORIAL DAY

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Wishing you all Peace and Thanksgiving on this Memorial Day.

Thank you to those who serve our country in so many ways. Our lives depend on yours. We are especially grateful to those who have served and are serving in our armed forces.

And heartfelt thank-yous to loved ones who have been so important in our lives, have given us so much, and have now passed on from this life. We pause to remember and to pray.

Especially remembering Jerry!

THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR: ANOTHER HAUNTING STORY SET IN THE BRITISH PAST

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The Summer Before the War
Author: Helen Simonson
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 473 pages
Source: Library Copy

Author Helen Simonson is back in a big way. Her second novel is even more witty and charming than her first, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. But it is much more than witty and charming. It takes readers to a serious place to enjoy and contemplate the laughter, loss, hardships and love that life hurls at mortals as we pick out way through its minefields.

It’s Edwardian summer and England stands on the precipice of societal change. Beatrice Nash, young woman of promise in every way, arrives to be a Latin teacher at the local school in a small town in Suffolk. It’s a lovely summer in this idyllic coastal town and Aunt Agatha takes the young woman under her wing. Agatha is a feisty leader in the community, an eccentric woman with two handsome nephews and a husband who works in the foreign office.

Seldom do such stories from history focus on the weeks prior to the full onslaught of war. Even less often do we read the stories of refugees and minorities caught up in local situations. Here again, (as in several recent novels) we view not only colorful characters, but the stringent class demarcations of British social life. Of further interest are the strong women in this story, finding their way through the rules and customs expected of women at the time of the First World War.

The writing is a delight to read. Detail, dialogue, description provide a wonderful scaffolding for a suspenseful story. The decided contrast between the pastoral village and the horrors of war add strength to this portrait of place, time, and people. Why are humans surprised at the carnage war brings? They seem to expect exciting adventure and then….. It is a lesson not learned and the World War I era provides one of the clearest of the lessons.

Book Clubs take note. This is a page-turner and a glorious read. Certainly it is well worthy of your consideration. As novels go, it has it all: plot, characters, setting, romance, poetic prose, happy and sad fighting for space on the Folkestone docks. Enjoy.

PEWABIC POTTERY: ART ENRICHES THE HUMAN SPIRIT

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Founded in 1903 Pewabic Pottery found success because of an iridescent glaze developed by Mary Chase Perry Stratton that brought this pottery national interest. In the Detroit area you find these beautiful handcrafted architectural tiles in the Guardian Building , at the Cranbrook Community, at the new Comerica Park, at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Zoo, in schools and homes as well as many other places. Visit Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, the Nebraska State Capital in Lincoln, the Freer Gallery in Washington D. C. and the Louve in Paris. You will find these tiles in those places and many others.

Tile detail from Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers

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A vase at the Detroit Public Library
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Recently, I was privileged to tour the historic building, first occupied in 1907, where many of these tiles are made. What a treat! Now, I want to go all over town and see more of this art. Many locals have their favorite spot. Let us know if you have a special place where you enjoy these tiles.

Tile examples and fireplace display in the showroom.
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Eastern Market – a favorite commemorative tile

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Gift shop
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Close-up of vessels and tiles in the gift shop

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Our tour group in the Kiln Room where there are three kilns for firing the clay.
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Clay-making Area
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Sorting Area
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Design in progress
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Tour members designing and making tiles
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Learning more about Pewabic Pottery

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Fired Magic: Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery Treasures by March Heller Fisher.
This book is appropriate for children and adults as an introduction to this marvelous art form and as a tour of many installations.

100 Things to Do in Detroit Before You Die by Amy S. Eckert
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While the title is less than I might hope, this book contains succinct information about Detroit area not-to-be-missed places including the home of Pewabic Pottery.

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So many beautiful tiles and vessels of different types. How about a Christmas Ornament?

For more information visit pewabic.org

AUNT JOSEPHINE’S BUTTERHORN ROLLS: AN OLD FAMILY RECIPE REDISCOVERED

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These rolls are very special for a number of reasons. The dough is exceptionally tender and very tasty. I made these when I was a girl and in my early married years. Making them this week and eating them, I remembered just how delicious they are. The texture is above and beyond even the best store-bought rolls. I promise you these are so good! A recipe appears at the end of this post.

Heartfelt thanks to cousins Ruth Ann O’Connell, Elaine O’Connell Watkins, Tim O’Connell and Carol O’Connell Meeker for sending their mother’s recipe for Butterhorn Rolls. Their mother Rosemary was my father’s oldest niece. Soon after my parents were married my mother worked with the local 4-H Girls and Rosemary Strohbehn was one of the teenage girls in the group. Rosemary and my mother Josephine had a special bond.

Ruth Ann wrote about the rolls in an e-mail. “Did you know that one of your Mom’s recipes was an almost weekly taste treat in our home? Aunt Josephine was a 4-H leader when our Mom was a teenager and Butterhorn Rolls was one of the recipes they made together.”

Ruth Ann continued, “Almost every Saturday our Mom would make a batch of these rolls. Some of the dough would be made into buns. Hamburgers and fresh buns were a Saturday night tradition. Some of the dough would be turned into a breakfast ring or sweet rolls for Sunday morning. Or sometimes made into twists and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for Sunday dinner.”

Rosemary Baking Kolaches c1938

In this picture Ruth Ann’s mother Rosemary is taking a batch of sweet rolls, “kolaches” from the oven, almost certainly made using this same sweet roll dough.

Ruth Ann attached a picture of her mother’s handwritten recipe. She had written Aunt Josephine in the upper-right corner.

Butterhorn Rolls Side 1

She also sent a version of the recipe she had typed.

Butterhorn Rolls Typed

Some adjustments were made through the years. For example, the amount of salt was deemed on the high side. Food trends come and go. For a time margarine was used and eggs were in disfavor.

My brother Rod Mitchell, who is expert in these matters, reminded me that this is a basic sweet roll dough recipe, rich and tender. Butter and eggs are a must if you want to replicate the original.

But listen to comments from Ruth Ann’s brothers and sisters on their mother’s rolls and you will know the exact ingredients are less important and family love more important when it comes to rolls and food memories.

From Ruth Ann’s sister Carol: “The fragrance of homemade dough filling the house was as sweet as the taste of the finished rolls. “

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This is the raised dough when the aroma starts to fill the warm kitchen

And from Tim: “I recall that Mom would set out the card on the kitchen counter on Saturday morning, but knew the recipe so well that she didn’t actually read the card while she prepared the dough.”

I think it was Elaine who wrote: “Yes, the Saturday night hamburger buns and Sunday morning sweet rolls are one of the treasured memories of my childhood.”

All of them graciously thanked Aunt Josephine, my mother.

The pictured recipes from Rosemary and her children make a large amount as readers can tell from the e-mail correspondence comments.

When I consulted my brother Rod, searching for our mother Josephine’s original recipe, he said this recipe was very similar to one that appeared in the old Betty Crocker Cookbook. This makes fewer rolls. That was what I wanted for my baking trial. He and I put the recipe together that appears at the end of this post. (To make it easier for you to print it out.) Anyone can easily double it.

It begins with scalded milk, first little bubbles and then the skin forms. Watch closely.

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The dough is easy to stir up, taking only a few minutes.
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Here are the wedges cut after the dough is punched down and rolled out into a circle. (I’m not so good at even wedges)

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Then roll each wedge starting at the wide end.

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Here’s the finished product. So light, tender, and buttery tasting.

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AUNT JOSEPHINE’S BUTTERHORN ROLLS
Via Rosemary Strohbehn O’Connell
In consultation with Rod Mitchell

1 package dry yeast
¼ cup warm water with 1 teaspoon sugar

¾ cup milk, scalded and cooled
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 egg
¼ cup butter softened
3-31/2 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water with sugar. Stir with toothpick and set aside.

Combine scalded, cooled milk with butter, sugar, salt, slightly beaten egg, yeast mixture and about two cups flour. Stir together to make a batter.

Add remaining flour – kneading in the last of the flour.

Knead dough until smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary.

Put into a greased bowl, cover with a towel, set in a warm place and let raise until doubled in bulk, about 1 and ½ hour.

Punch dough down. Form into rolls.

For Butterhorns, roll out dough into circle. Spread dough with softened butter. Cut into 16 wedges. Roll each section from the wide end.

Place in pan and let raise about ½ hour. Brush melted butter atop the rolls.

Bake 15-20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Note: Ruth Ann thoughtfully sent this information at the time of my mother’s birthday and near Mother’s Day in honor of our mothers. It has taken me a few weeks to gather information, consult with my brother, the most accomplished cook in the family, and find time to bake the rolls. I thank my cousins very much for the recipe, pictures and their comments. It was a very nice Mother’s Day present!!!

Oh, and one more thing. No wonder I never think the hamburger buns I buy, no matter how expensive, or what bakery are ever any good. My standard is clearly, this dough made into buns which my mother often did just as Rosemary’s children describe. Only Ellen’s Bakery here in my area comes close.

Hope you try these rolls. I’m glad I did. If you don’t wish to cut wedges and roll into butterhorn shape, simple roll into small balls in your hands and place three in a greased muffin tin. You have cloverleaf rolls. Enjoy.

Next Easter we’ll make kolaches, or maybe at Christmas.

VISIT FORDSON HIGH SCHOOL LIBRARY IN DEARBORN MICHIGAN

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Books on shelves and the inviting calm of a library present a fascinating subject for this book lover. I’m always both excited and comforted to visit a library. I have my favorites. This library is one of them. Until recently, I hadn’t visited this one for a number of years. As you can see from the pictures, it is a beautiful place.

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Fordson High School was completed in 1928 and was constructed in Collegiate Gothic Style. It is reported to have cost 2.2 million and I have read that it was the first million-dollar high school in Michigan.

Come on in and enjoy the views.

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The library shows off handcarved oak paneling, wall murals and tapestries.

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Furnishings are of Jacobean fumed-oak. I don’t know exactly what that is but wood and books make great companions.
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THE READERS OF BROKEN WHEEL RECOMMEND: BOOK COMMENT

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The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend
Author: Katarina Bivald
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2013
Genre: Novel
Paperback Edition: 385 pages
Source: Library copy

Surprising, quirky, charming. If you are a reader, this book is for you. What fun!

This touching story of love, friendship and community is hard to beat. Sara travels from her home in Sweden to visit a penpal friend in the very small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. Alas, her friend dies before Sara arrives. But, never fear, the town will take care of her.

Though the characters appear less than interesting at first glance, they grow on the reader as more is revealed and they work together through various community events and personal challenges. And Tom, what a guy! Romance is in the air.

The author is a book lover. She reminds us just how important books are. She calls them “dignified magic portals.” She reminds readers why they love to read and just what books can mean to many of us. There’s no shame in spending an afternoon with a book.

Book Clubs take note. The funny, the unexpected, the suspenseful awaits a turn of the page.

Chicken Shawarma and Fattoush Salad at the James Beard Award Winning Restaurant Al Ameer

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Most delicious chicken shawarma ever for me and an all-round great lunch experience at Al Ameer on Warren Ave. in Dearborn, MI.

Manager Hassan Hashem and all the staff were welcoming and very cordial, answering questions willingly and still basking in the glow of the huge honor they recently received as the first Michigan restaurant to receive the James Beard America’s Classics Award. This award is given to a restaurant for timeless appeal and food that reflects the character of the community.

When asked why he thinks the restaurant won this prestigious award, Hashem told us “if you wouldn’t serve it to your family don’t serve it to the customers.” That is the creed they follow. If you know Lebanese families, you know they prepare wonderful food for family and friends.

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Smooth, creamy, delectable hommous . I like mine with extra oil and lemon. Eaten with their freshly-baked warm pillows of pita bread, it was a highlight of the meal.
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This is the chicken shawarma plate ordered by the good friend who accompanied me to Al Ameer. Hashem told us the secret to their shawarma is the marinade and the long period the meat spends with the flavorful mix. Then the meat is roasted. When served, it is flavorful and moist.

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Here you see the meat on the spit, roasted and ready to be shaved for serving. My chicken shawarma sandwich was the best ever. I was so quick to eat it, I forgot to take a picture. It was fat and filled with pickle, tomato, and flavorful, juicy chicken. The toum (Middle Eastern garlic sauce) served with it was out-of-this-world, no hint of bitterness. Food blogger Joe Hakim called this kind of eating experience “supreme shawarma satisfaction”. I can’t help but steal the phrase.

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For me, no shawarma is complete without fattoush. This is Lebanese salad with crisp fried pita bread chunks. I love the spices, the mint, and the lemon flavors, everything about it.

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Both the restaurant and the staff are welcoming and pleasant. We were there for late lunch on a weekday and the large tables and comfortable booths were not as crowded as at other times.

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Yes, they serve complimentary pickled cabbage. And they have a long menu of Lebanese favorites served in any combination you might wish. Whether you want tabbouli, falafel, vegetarian plates, fish or lamb. They serve it all. Try carry-out or eat in. You are very likely to find much to savor.

There’s no doubt this is my new favorite shawarma destination. And they now have two other locations: on Ford Road in Dearborn Heights, and on Haggerty in Canton. Check out their website www.alameerrestaurant.com

Better yet, if you live in the area, eat some of their delicious food, always a great value. Yes, shawarma is found in many restaurants around the Detroit area, but it seems to me that nowhere is it better than in East Dearborn at Al-Ameer.

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READER INTERVIEW JAN SANSOM, MICHIGAN READER

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Today’s post is the next installment in the readeatlive/blog continuing series, “Reader Interviews”. Today meet Jan Sansom who lives in the greater Detroit area and has a wide variety of interests.

Tell us about what you are reading.

Currently reading the last of the “Odd” series by Dean Koontz. The lead character, Odd Thomas, has a mystical psychic power that leads him into some wonderful and terrifying situations.

Do you have a favorite author or genre?

Love Philippa Gregory. I am enchanted by any book that begins “the summer of 1582”. Means I can travel back in time and refresh some English history. I also enjoy anything by Patricia Cornwell: Kay Scarpetta’s forensic autopsies and Italian recipes with a little romance thrown in for balance.

What genres do you avoid?

Science fiction and apocalyptic tales.

Is there a recent book you have been urging others to read?

“The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls because it took me inside the lives and hearts of kids dealing with utter poverty and surviving in spite of it.

Where and when do you find time to read?

Read every night in bed and on vacations.

What have you not read that you would like to read?

I don’t often read non-fiction but am looking forward to Senator Corey Booker’s story. He seems a very wise, loving man who has been able to rise above smarmy politics.
“United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good” – published recently by Ballantine Books

What can you tell us about what reading means to you?

Reading takes me out of myself into the lives of others.

Note from Paulette: She sums it up well in a very few words. Thank you so much Jan for sharing something of your reading self!

READING THE OPENING PAGES OF A BOOK SO PERFECT FOR ME: A PERSONAL ESSAY

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I climb into my reading chair, the one where I push back and my feet stretch out in front of me, and I feel the smooth cover of a rather thick paperbound edition. The cover of the book is filled with its strange title: “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend.” I haven’t given much thought to what it will be about. It was highly recommended by a blog reader I admire. It was on hold for me at the library so I won’t be able to renew. I’d better get started. I open the first page and began to read. Late afternoon natural sunlight streams through the glass of the French doors and I can comfortably read the print.

One thing I love about reading is the mystery of it. With each book comes the question: Will I fall into it and be surrounded by people and place? Will I feel intensely interested? Will I be transported to another world, that is a world I want to stay in and learn more about. Sometimes that doesn’t happen with a new book, even a good one. Sometimes I struggle to make sense of things. I persevere, even enjoy, but it is not the same as being lost in a fresh world, noting so many lovely details. And every time I pick up a good book I go to that other place. That’s the joy of reading.

This book begins with a short letter from a reader in Sweden to a reader in Broken Wheel, Iowa. I dive into the first chapter and I am in small-town Eastern Iowa on Main Street alongside the Swedish reader who arrives for a long visit. The woman from Sweden is Sara Lindqvist, she carries her belongings and of course, a book. For me, this Eastern Iowa small town is a familiar place. Will the details ring true?

The dialogue is right. The characters offer help to Sara in an off-hand way as Midwesterners often do, even volunteering others to do the helping. Pretty much the only business left in Broken Wheel is a diner. That doesn’t surprise me. Amy, the expected host has died. But never fear, Sara will be taken care of by her neighbors.

Some details from these opening pages completely captured my mind and imagination. “Amy Harris wrote proper letters on real, old-fashioned writing paper, thick and creamy.” As Sara is driven along from the small town where she arrived to the smaller town of Broken Wheel “an enormous wall of corn looming up on either side of the road, which stretched straight out ahead for miles. Every now and then it was intersected by other roads, also perfectly straight, as though someone had, at some point, looked out over the enormous fields and drawn the roads in with a ruler.” My favorite is this one: “how even the treetops seemed neat and well-organized.” In many a Midwestern small town if you are standing on one of the higher elevations in the town you look down on trees that from a distance make you think of well-trimmed hedges. These treetops are often punctuated by church belfries and steeples.

Yes, after only 12 pages I am completely captured by the story’s beginnings. I expect to enjoy my stay in Broken Wheel for as long as it lasts. I look forward to finding out what readers there are reading. And what will Sara from Sweden make of Iowa? I hope neither of us will be disappointed.

As I said earlier, each new book a reader picks up and begans to read is a mystery, full of wonder and promise. There are book lovers everywhere. The jacket of this book reminds me that if I’m a fan of “The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry” (and I am), I’ll like this one too. I truly hope so. The first pages shine with promise. This might be the perfect book for me to read now. Back to my reading chair!!!