Monthly Archives: June 2017

ANOTHER CHANCE TO VISIT MAINE

Maine: A Novel
Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
Publisher: Vintage Books, 2011
Genre: Fiction
Paperback Edition: 509 pages
Source: Personal Copy

In this book published prior to Sullivan’s bestselling Saints for All Occasions, the author writes of the Kelleher family and their summer homes in Maine. The reader watches the Kelleher woman as they mostly struggle to put their relationships on firmer footing. There’s the 83-year-old matriarch Alice, granddaughter Maggie, daughter Kathleen – something of an outcast, and daughter-in-law Ann Marie, always striving and wound as tightly as coiled spring. Compassion and humor find a way to send up shoots between the rocks of fear, competition, and secrets.

Maine seems like it would be a comforting place and sometimes it is. But the beach house and the new house next door are bones of contention, too. The beach may call but not as loudly as one might expect. The reader learns about Alice through her memories, Maggie is a smart New York writer, yet she finds herself in a predicament not made of smart decisions, Kathleen wonders about like a lost soul, and yet she has experienced many life blessings.

What will become of the homes in Maine? Do family members love the place, or maybe not so much? The reader has a great time turning the pages and finding some answers to those kinds of questions.

This reader read this book because Saints for All Occasions was such a wonderful read. I enjoyed this one just as much. Highly recommended!

TEACHERS, PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS: HEADS UP

The War That Saved My Life
Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Publisher: Dial Books For Young Readers, Penguin, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Hardcover Edition: 316 pages
Source: Personal Copy
Honors: Newbery Honor Winner

10-year-old Ada has suffered much at the hands of an abusive mother living in poverty in London. When she is evacuated along with other children to live in the countryside with a grieving, stern, but kind woman, it seems a heaven-sent blessing. No longer completely ostracized for her club foot and able to befriend a pony, her life vastly improves. But the stain of her abuse prevents her from understanding or enjoying her new home.

Ada is the narrator of her tale, Susan is her caretaker, younger brother Jamie is often her comfort. There is plenty of heartfelt emotion and suspense in her story. Pages are easy to turn, and the English coast in wartime is a scary place. This reader compliments the author on her excellent writing. Determination and courage are realistically portrayed everywhere in this story.

My verdict is easily four stars. It may be published with middle-school readers in mind, but many older and adult readers will enjoy it. Consider this as a gift for the younger readers in your life, and if you are teaching or working with teachers, I urge you to pick up this book. It can be used in many ways and is great for school writing assignments too.

Ada and her story will stay in my mind over the coming months. It catches the reader’s heart and holds on tightly. I see her riding the pony Butter across his pasture and into her future.

CLOSING OUT RHUBARB SEASON: JOSEPHINE’S RHUBARB CREAM PIE

I knew this was an old favorite and also a baking challenge for me. But, I still had some rhubarb to use, so……

I had an antique recipe passed down by my Mom. She had written “good” on the card. I had not made it before, or at least not for many years.

Pie is not my long suit. I had a refrigerated crust still to be used. I dived into the prep. Would I make meringue? Questions lurked. I mostly hoped for a good outcome. Cooking involves much hoping as far as I’m concerned.

Josephine’s Rhubarb Cream Pie

2 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1 and ½ cups of cut rhubarb
Meringue
Orange zest – optional

Beat the egg yolks and add sugar, mix with flour and melted butter. Stir until smooth. (For me this mixture was very thick.)

Line a pie plate with pastry and arrange the cut rhubarb in it. I sprinkled the rhubarb with the orange zest since I have become convinced that it enhances the rhubarb.

Pour the sugar mixture over the rhubarb. (Mine did not pour. I tried to spread the blobs, wondering: Would this really all cook together in the oven?)

Place in a hot oven at 400 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 25 more minutes.

Cover with a meringue made from 2 egg whites.

Return to oven and bake slowly at 325.

With two egg whites staring me in the face, I decided to try the meringue. I got some help from the internet adding the suggested cream of tarter, vanilla, sugar, and following suggested whipping instructions.

I sprinkled orange zest over the meringue.

Here’s the verdict!

The pie is not as beautiful as I wish. My fluting of the crust did not go too well, part fell over, part not high enough, forgot to brush with cream, although I can’t complain about the browning.

But the taste of this pie is superb! Super delicious. The best!!!. The texture of the filling lovely. The meringue, passable. I might have more carefully pushed the meringue against the edges of the crust. I might have whipped it a few seconds longer, but all in all I was pretty lucky.

Still with all its faults, my favorite dessert of rhubarb season. One of the most delicious pies I have ever eaten. And I love pie. My mother made the best pie ever. I have eaten my way across Iowa and Western Illinois with Jerry stopping at Mom and Pop Diners to sample pieces of pie. My siblings make lovely pies. I’ve eaten more pie than I care to admit.

This was the best ever!!!

If you like Rhubarb Cream Pie, you are crazy if you do not copy or print this recipe. I posted on the home page to make that easier for you blog readers. This is a gift, I promise you.

Flight of the Sparrow – Book Comment

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America
Author: Amy Belding Brown
Publisher: Penguin 2014
Genre: Historical fiction
Paperback Edition: 326 pages plus Author’s Note, Conversation with the Author, Reader’s Guide
Source: Personal copy

This novel offers a contrast between life for a woman in the Puritan Colony in 1676 and life as a captive among the Indians of Massachusetts. It is based on the autobiographical narrative of captive Mary Rowlandson and much other research. The reader is truly transported into these two environments. Survival in each seems hard from a 21st century perspective.

One of the major themes in this story is slavery. Captured colonists are slaves of the Native Americans; Native Americans and Blacks are slaves of the Puritans. In this story no one really likes these arrangements nor takes responsibility for such. Our heroine knows what it is like on both sides of the issue. She questions everything and is changed by her experiences.

Even when the story seems a bit predictable, it is still a very enjoyable read. It is not always predictable. New to this reader was the powerful role played by the native woman who enslaves Mary. She rules not only over her own wetu, but over the entire tribe. She does this in a somewhat subdued way, but her power is never threatened.

Life in that time is ably presented by the author. If you like well-researched historical fiction, if you are drawn to captivity narratives, this is the novel for you. Goodreads gives it almost four stars. This reader give it four stars, remembering it is a favored genre.

Celebrate Four Years

readeatlive.com is celebrating four years. Check out your favorite blogs. Try the search box. Subscribe and you’ll get an e-mail notice when I post of the home page. Use the menu to check out the other pages: food, reading, writing.

Most of all. Thanks to all the blog readers. Without you there would not be any blog. Who knows what mischief I might get into with out this distraction? It’s been a lifesaver this spring while I figure out how to deal with some health issues.

Those of you who like the blog on Facebook. Click on the picture and visit the blog. Thanks a million!!!

VISIT PARIS

West Coast Blog Reader Susan Maxheim Carter with the author at Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach. Doesn’t the cake look delicious? Susan is a big fan who knows the author and turned me on to her books. Thanks Susan, and Thanks for the pictures!

VISIT PARIS

Murder in Saint-Germain
Author: Cara Black
Publisher: Soho Press 2017
Genre: Mystery
Hardcover Edition: 326 Pages
Source: personal copy

Can you think of anything more enjoyable than visiting Paris with this heroine Aimee Leduc. For those who have visited Paris it must be a heavenly revisitation. Our Aimee leads us on a merry time, even if it is a murder mystery.

A Brigade Criminelle Agent and friend prevails upon Aimee to help with acomplicated case. Along with her business and an 8 month old baby our woman of the hour has her hands full. She is undaunted.

This is a complex episode for Aimee and as such the reader is sometimes taxed mentally to keep tabs on the action. That’s not a bad thing. Readers will especially enjoy all the beauty tip touches Aimee employs to keep her feminine self afloat and looking good, sometimes amazingly so, all while a baby and a business occupy her mind. She has much support from friends and co-workers. The reader cheers for her support system almost as much as one cheers for Aimee.

I encourage you to pick this one up especially if you love Paris and or mysteries. You will be turning the pages as fast as you can.

Cara Black’s books may be fairly new to me, but she has authored seventeen books in this bestselling Aimee Leduc series. She has been nominated for various awards and her books have been translated into many languages. She writes of Paris with an insider’s knowledge and that is part of the fun. Join her for some time in historic portions of the city.

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK

Netflix
Creator: Jenji Kohan
Cast: (among others) Taylor Schilling, Danielle Brooks, Taryn Manning, Kate Mulgre, Uzo Aduba, Dascha Polanco, Laura Prepon
Setting: Litchfield Women’s Prison, New York State

The new season five of this show, now available on Netflix, is as unforgettable as any TV show I can name. The action takes place over only a few days as the unrest began last season among the prisoners turns into a full-scale riot. The outstanding character development, skillful writing, Emmy-level acting all carry the viewer along through moments of terror and moments of love.

Orange Is the New Black refuses to let us look away from the horror of our prison system, as many of us do every day, our heads in the sand only occasionally coming up to view what is happening to so many Americans. Orange shows us plainly what some humans have become and what others fight against becoming. It shows us honor, pain, leadership and inhumanity on many levels, for many reasons, some more understandable than others. It’s difficult to understand why one prisoner in bed with a badly damaged face in the infirmary would gleefully introduce air-bubbles into the injured guard’s IV, the guard that has been shot, the guard who has committed various atrocities and numerous indignities against prisoners. She seems unable to comprehend she is committing murder. It’s easier to identify with the energy so many in the prison feel at even a few moments of freedom.

For those of you who may watch this series or may want to give an episode or two a try, I’ll alert you to some of the acting performances considered stand-outs. Many of the characters explore their humanity and are changed by this experience. The actors are able to convey the struggle and the change. Selenis Leyva as Gloria Mendoza, always something of a leader, the woman who cooks for the entire prison population, tries valiantly to affect the situations with more strategies than one would think any one person could muster.

Perhaps you didn’t think Dascha Polanco as Dayanara who finds herself holding a gun in the opening episode had the acting chops to pull off an emotional scene later in the season that punctuates all of the drama. She delivers in one of the most unforgettable scenes of the series. Among the prisoners, it is Danielle Brooks as Taystee Jefferson who rises to the occasion, in order to uphold her beloved, but murdered Poussey. She is central to all the action and she becomes the person many viewers thought she could be. As always, Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman delivers a nuanced performance. And, Kate Mulgrew is heartbreaking in so many scenes. This viewer had counted on her to steer the rudder, but not so much.

There are many others I could name. You will see how each episode surprises as many characters grow and change. Others do not. This is a prison. Some characters harbor a good supply of brutality, as of course do most of the guards.

What struck this viewer about this season is the balance of horrific with the solace of love, love of many different kinds. But I would not use the term rollercoaster in speaking of the development of these different feelings and actions, rather a variety of self-discovery on the part of so many and at a multitude of levels.

There is no sugar-coating the situation or the outcomes or the inhumanity of some characters. There is no romantizing, only pain. But thank goodness, for many the discovery of love and what that requires in the place they find themselves is a central theme. Most heartwarming for this viewer, especially after so many flashbacks of family dysfunction over previous seasons, was the many mothers and other family members who stood outside the prison, hoping for a glimpse or at least news from their loved ones.

I would not have missed a single episode of such fine television. Time moves forward at an unknowable speed even when the action slows down. Many of the characters are embraceable even in their weak moments. Hats off to creator Jenji Kohan and her staff of writers. WOW!

RASPBERRY RHUBARB CROSTATA

Because I’m so in love with raspberries, I decided my first rhubarb recipe to take into the kitchen would be Ina Garten’s Raspberry Rhubarb Crostata. I couldn’t resist the red color. And I knew that more practice with finalizing an even crust is definitely what I need. This recipe appears in her cookbook, Cooking For Jeffrey.

I am listening to the suggestions you blog readers gave me on Facebook and on the blog. But first, this brilliant red pastry, like a rustic pie. ( I used refrigerated store-bought pastry – a worthy shortcut for those of us not fond of making pie crust.) This goes together more quickly than pie and can be more forgiving.

The aroma that filled my kitchen was truly amazing. The tart and tang with every bite of this is just what the cook was hoping for. My tongue loved it. Ina Garten says her guests go berserk. High praise. I know my neighbors loved it. You will too.

Filling for Raspberry Rhubarb Crostata

¼ cup cornstarch
4 cups sliced fresh rhubarb
6 ounces fresh raspberries
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 large egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon water, for egg wash
Turbinado sugar for the crust.

( I did not have freshly squeezed orange juice and used the dairy counter variety.)

Place 3 Tablespoons of water in a small bowl and whisk in the cornstarch. Set aside.

In a heavy saucepan combine the sliced rhubarb and berries along with sugar, orange zest and orange juice. Cook over medium heat for five or six minutes until some of the juices are released.

Stir in the cornstarch and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for two minutes, at least.

Refrigerate for 30 minutes until cool.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Roll pastry to 11-12 inch circle on lightly floured surface and transfer to the prepared pan.

Pile the raspberry rhubarb mixture onto the pastry. Leave a 1 and 11/2 inch border

.

Fold border over the filling, pleating and pressing lightly. Try to keep even for better appearance. (You can see I need more practice in this department.)

Brush pastry with egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar, just the pastry.

Bake for 35 minutes until pastry is browned and filling bubbly and thickened.

Cool for 30 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature. Top with ice cream or whipped cream or not as you wish. I sometimes use plain yogurt. Or nothing at all.


Now back to the kitchen. There is more rhubarb! What next?!

RHUBARB SEASON

The color of rhubarb calls to mind all sorts of images. The patch of stalks growing in a garden patch behind the house you grew up in, or a red color nothing else duplicates, or a tart and tangy flavor you can’t ever get enough of? Rhubarb is different things to different people. Maybe you only discovered how much you like it in the last year or two, or just last month. For many it is a harbinger of spring and early summer. From New England to Minnesota, people are dreaming of Rhubarb. Many like it best when it is paired with berries of one kind or another.

Lucky me. My neighbor just gave me almost three beautiful pounds of this stuff, crisp stalks ready to be cut into bite-size pieces. She visited her cousins a few days ago and came home with a nice supply of fresh rhubarb.

Now – what shall I bake or stew? What would you create if someone left 3 pounds of rhubarb on your doorstep, or you got carried away at the Farmer’s Market and bought a sackful?

The choices seem endless. I’ve consulted Ina Garten, family recipes, Amy Thielen, and the New England Open House cookbook to name some, along with a couple of blogs. What will I choose?

Strawberry Rhubarb Crunch
Strawberry Rhubarb Compote with Greek Yogurt
Rhubarb Baked in Raspberry Syrup
Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
Rhubarb Pudding Cake
Raspberry Rhubarb Crostata
Rhubarb Pie
Rhubarb Cream Pie
Rhubarb Sauce
Rhubarb Upside-down Cake

How will I ever decide?

I posted this on the home page so you can easily comment and tell us what you vote for. What do you think I should do with all this lovely rhubarb?