Canterbury Bells

Canterbury Bells
Canterbury Bells represent Gratitude in the Language of Flowers

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew

The Dry Grass of August  by Anna Jean Mayhew is a wonderful book that can be appreciated on so many levels. It is a slice of life in the 50’s of our country's social history as well as the story of a family experiencing the personal crisis of infidelity that knows no timeline.

I loved Jubie Watts’ voice, a thirteen-year old who has the innocence of a child as well as the wisdom of an observant adult. A one-line comment from Jubie's perspective tells so much. Jubie's love for the family’s domestic helper, Mary Luther, is evident in every gesture and this novel becomes a page-turner with the foreboding of Mary’s destiny that begins on page one.

Author Mayhew is also a master of describing simple and seemingly insignificant behaviors of her characters that reveal in one gesture or look what other often take paragraphs to tell.

If you grew up in the 50's you'll love reliving the cultural detailed references to every-day life. If you did not, you will soon have a valid picture of the 50's culture, from music to soda pop to hairstyles, clothing, after-shave and perfume. It is a sensory novel seen through Jubie’s eyes and ears—you can almost taste the food, smell the flowers blooming in the south and feel the oppressive heat and humidity of a sweltering August day in Georgia.

From Isaiah five comes the quote, “...and as dry grass sinks down in flame...”,speaking of those who do evil. Many evil things took place in the South in the 50’s, yet from that time comes a beautiful story of a young Jubie’s love for Mary that caused her to do what was right in spite of great risk.

I highly recommend this book. If you liked The Help you'll love this. Mayhew's bio says it was some 18 years in the making...thank you Anna for persisting to bring this story to us.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Aunt Stella

I think we all have a favorite Aunt or Uncle. If we’re lucky.  I was.  My mother had three siblings. Half brothers and sisters much younger than she was so when I was growing up they were not that much older than me. Just old enough to make great impressions.  When I visited them in Pennsylvania summers from my home in Indiana, my Uncle Paul was in late teens working at Kennywood Park,  ( now one of the nation’s oldest parks at 110 years). Wow—an uncle who could get passes into the park. How cool was that?  I had a big crush on Uncle Paul (still in his late 70’s he still seems so handsome to me). 

But it was Aunt Stella who perhaps left a lasting impression.  She had a stylish page- boy hair-do, wore spectator pumps and lovely sheer shirtwaist dresses. She went to a girls’ college in the East, became a teacher and worked as a camp counselor in the summers where she taught me to make my first lanyard.  She was a career woman  for many years before she fell in love with an American Airlines pilot and did not marry until she was 50.  Both she and her finance were taking care of aging parents. 

She and Alex (photo 1990)  lived in sunny California  and shortly after I moved to Phoenix they drove over to see me and the bookstore I recently opened. Within an hour she was donning a worker’s apron and ringing up sales like she’d been there forever.  Not long after when I heard that she was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s,  I took the short flight over from Phoenix to spend a few days with her for fear if I waited too long she might not know me. We had a wonderful visit. She took me to the then new Ronald Reagan Museum, driving a boat of a car on the 101 where she could barely see over the steering wheel. (Okay, I’ll admit, that was about as scary as the roller coaster at Kennywood Park), but we made it fine.  My guest room had the twin bed I remember sleeping on as a nine-year old in Pennsylvania and still on a matching pine bookshelf were the Nancy Drew books I devoured one summer --which instilled a lifelong love of reading. The porch glider and books...what wonderful memories.

Aunt Stella is now in late stages of Alzheimer’s and spending her days with Uncle Paul in Ohio and a niece in Pennsylvania. I know she is in good hands. 

Perhaps she no longer remembers me, but I will never forget her.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Who Can Resist These Cute Little Cabbage Heads?

In keeping with previous post-- the nutrition theme from the Dr. Oz show-- today’s recipe for Brussel Sprouts (recommended 3X a week for optimum health) is soooo easy. I found that people who don’t even think they like the petite cabbage heads  like this. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
1 bag of raw brussel sprouts ( I like to buy the bag at Trader Joe’s in produce—they are a very pretty fresh looking green and large size.)
Put entire bag in a pot of boiling water for about 4 minutes (as per package says)
Drain and place on a cookie sheet.
Dab with olive oil and roll around until they are all covered with some.
Add salt and any other favorite seasoning. I use Lemon Pepper.
You can leave whole or slice in half.  I think the interior design is pretty.
Roast in oven about 10-12 minutes.
These can be eaten hot or cold. A great healthy snack or  a colorful addition to any buffet.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Dr. Oz Connection to My Bulgarian Grandparents

Now here’s a bit of serendipity where I least expected.  I watched Dr. Oz for the first time in a long time last week.  His guest was a leading nutritionist who talked about foods that should be in our diet EACH WEEK to attack free radicals --which in turn could lead to a longer life span by avoiding common and deadly cancers.

A few days later I opened an old Bulgarian cookbook which has been on my shelf for years (I’m a first generation American with one parent and grandparents from Bulgaria).  I was amazed at how MANY of the recipes contained the VERY foods recommended by the nutritionist.  Cabbage, brussel sprouts, beans and pumpkin!
He suggests we eat the above foods at least three times a week as preventative nutrition.

We have by now all heard of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and the cookbook also included many of those foods—olive oil, garlic, onions, fish, veggies of all kinds, and a staple at each meal....homemade yogurt. Bulgarian yogurt so thick you could cut it with a knife. (What we now buy in the grocery store as Greek Yogurt.)

Can these foods in our diet really expand our lifespan? At the turn of the century when population statistics were accurate enough to be compared on a large scale, Bulgaria had the largest number of centenarians per capita of all the recorded countries. The Russian born Nobel prize winner, Mechnikov, developed the theory that it was because of the consumption of the local yogurt, which in the high mountain valley of Samokov, was the richest of all yogurts. Researchers established that its rare yeast cleansed the digestive tract in a miraculous way. This rare bacillus was introduced to France and later sold to the multimillion- dollar Dannon yogurt industry.

Which is, by the way, why I always buy Dannon.  I mean it’s like sitting down to dinner with my extended family..... great-aunts, great-uncles  and cousins I’ve never met... but wish I had so I could thank them for such healthy DNA.   (I’ll be posting some traditional Bulgarian recipes in posts to follow).

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lemon Chicken with Artichokes, Garlic and Olives Recipe

This recipe is from Sunset Magazine Jan 2012 issue, (p.43).  I tweaked it a bit (as I always seem to do) by adding slices of a huge Meyer lemon from a friend's lemon tree. I thought the lemon flavor was complimentary to the other ingredients.
This recipe falls between classic roast chicken and a braise.

2 tsp olive oil
1 large (4 lb) chicken, halved,backbone removed
1.5 tsp Kosher salt
6 whole garlic cloves
5 large artichoke hearts (I used canned which I drained of oil)
lemon slices (optional)
1 cup large green olives
5 flat leaf parsley sprigs

Preheat oven to 375. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and lay in hot oil, skin side down. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn chicken over and add one cup water, (I used chicken broth) the garlic and artichokes.

Roast chicken in oven, uncovered until cooked through, about one hour. Add olives and parsley.

The broth creates a nice sauce to add over rice or mashed potatoes.

Christmas Serendipity

December 19.  I made an early morning trip to the post office to mail a forgotten gift for delivery by Christmas.  I smugly thought “quick and easy self serve”...  a machine that weighs and affixes postage before the lines form.  Windows open at 9—it was 8:35 am.

Three people were also in the lobby but not near the machine.  I stepped up to self-serve assuming they were waiting for a real person at a window station.  I thought, “Great, even better than I  thought. I’m first!”

As I approached the screen I heard someone say, “It’s not working.”  As I turned to acknowledge the comment I continued to hit the screen as if I could will it work...surely THEY just didn’t have the right touch.  But no...nothing.

One young lady was standing there with three large finger paintings she was going to mail to grandparents.  Actually quite good. Little blue handprints with lots of red and purple swishes.

She said, “Well, I’ll just have to wait. I’m not going home cause I will never get out again.  I left my husband with a 3 yr- old and 1 yr- old twin girls. “Oh my gosh”, I said, “Stay out as long as you can.  Go to McDonalds, get a cappuccino, something.”

As one of life’s coincidences, the other lady said,  My twin girls are 40 this year. “Wow...what were the odds....two mothers of twin girls 40 years apart. I asked her to show me photos of her twins, (she whipped out her phone) and what were their names? One was Violet. I told her it was a lovely name because it was mine also.  More serendipity.

Then a lady who was also there said frantically, “ If someone comes in who works here would you please ask them to see if I threw my credit card in with my package in the big steel door? I’m going to the parking lot to see if I dropped it.”  She returns with the news that she has not found it.

Then a new customer comes in and walks up to the self serve. As we try to help her  avoid the frustration of it not working, she hits the buttons and it works as she buys stamps.  What??? So now we know it disperses stamps but cannot give a receipt for packages..

Then we hear the big steel cage opening...our hearts are beating is not yet 9:00 am and they are going to wait on us! There is a Post office Santa somewhere.
By now the line behind us is almost out the door. We have a little glitch when the lady with the finger paint posters has to buy mailing tubes which are locked behind yet another steel grated the attendant has to open that. The young mom apologizes to the line profusely. From the lengthening line, not a discouraging word was heard.

Then the lady with the lost credit card tells her sad story to the attendant who says she cannot look for the card with the line backing up.  A man in line says he wishes he could lose his credit card 4 days before Christmas . It might save him a lot of money. The lady goes back to the parking lot and runs in to tell us she found her credit card under her wheel. The man says “I should throw mine under a wheel.”  I say, “I think maybe you should also run it over so you’re not tempted to pull it back out.”

The young mom now has her paints in tubes, the lady has found her card and in less than 30 minutes I have found  something serendipity friends and the true joy of one was angry, everyone sympathized with their fellow shoppers’ plights.

And best of all, I mailed a last minute stocking stuffer to my daughter-in-law in Chicago with hopes it would arrive in time...otherwise my son would have one more gift than her--not that she would notice or mind, but you know mother-in-laws have to be extra careful not to play favorites. 

But I think she already knows she’s my favorite daughter-in-law—at least she does now.