Sunday, January 24, 2021

A Kitchen in The Grub-and-Stakers Move A Mountain


Many decades ago I was driving to the grocery store and listening to NPR when Canadian-American mystery writer Charlotte Macleod was being interviewed. I was so charmed by her that I jotted down her name, set on finding her books. Before going to the grocery store in Green Hills, I stopped at a favorite antique mall and was not there ten minutes before I noticed a pile of paperbacks on a swoon-worthy table.

They couldn't be...but they were! They were Charlotte Macleod mysteries and I bought all four or five of them. Quickest grocery store trip ever and I was back home falling in love with Prof. Peter Shandy. That felt preordained as my other main mystery heartthrob was the sleuth in Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books.

That day led to me buying all the Peter Shandy books over the years and all the Sarah Kelling mysteries and finally, when I discovered that Macleod also wrote mysteries set in Canada under the pen name of Alisa Craig, to buying all of those I could find. (Remember, there was no Amazon in those days, no Abe Books, only books sold in bookstores so it was a slow process. Libraries were out because I wanted to keep the Macleod books.)

Maine resident Charlotte Macleod wrote a lot of books and I wanted all of them. And she didn't even begin writing books until she retired as vice president of a large advertising agency at age 60, a major inspiration for me. I also loved that she wrote all morning in her bathrobe.

 At the beginning of this year I pulled out five of the old Macleod writing as Alisa Craig paperbacks to have handy for breaks between novels I read at bedtime, sort of palate-cleansing books, The Grub-and-Stakers mysteries featuring Dittany Henbit, a petite heroine from a small town in Ontario called Lobelia Falls.

In the first of the five Grub-and-Stakers mysteries, The Grub-and-Stakers Move A Mountain, that I finished last week, I remembered how much I loved this particular series, even identifying with Dittany. Her mother is a gadabout and now that she has remarried and moved to Vancouver from Ontario, Dittany lives in the old family home, with no desire to leave the small town she grew up in.

Whereas the former Mrs. Henbit had always been a goer, Dittany herself was a natural-born stayer. Lobelia Falls was where she belonged.

Those who know me best know that is me to a T, reluctant since my forties to leave my hometown of Nashville. It's true that Nashville has only been my hometown since I was four but I love it as much as I love the mountain town I came from. It's the part of this country that has kept part of me every time I've visited those mountains. Some loves last forever, as Emma Thompson's character says in Love Actually, or at least I think she said it.

Kitchens are another love that lasts forever forever for me. I always want a pretty kitchen in a novel or movie, preferably a quaint one. Dittany's kitchen is such a one, and she knows she is falling in love when a new man in town loves it too, doesn't want one thing in it changed, unlike another man interested in changing Dittany's single status as well as her outdated kitchen.

But the quote below is about Zilla's kitchen. Zilla is one of Dittany's fellow Grub-and-Stakers, and she has a kitchen I love to picture. 

While the things that came out of Zilla's kitchen were sometimes peculiar, the kitchen itself was a dream. Old grocers' bins stood full of rice, oats, barley, and other grains. Bunches of dried herbs and festoons of onions and garlic hung from hooks in the oaken beams. On the high-backed iron stove the same old curly-nosed graniteware teakettle Zilla's mother had bought new when she got married was sending up gentle puffs of steam.

I feel comforted to know I have a stack of the Grub-and-Stakers mysteries waiting by my bed for winter reading. They are weirdly funny and relaxing mysteries. And like Dittany, I am a stayer, something that has made staying at home during a pandemic easier on me than it has for some. And while I'm staying home, the kitchen calls, whether in a book or movie or on YouTube--Nigella has claimed much of my time there lately.

Books, YouTube, Kitchens, Dachshunds, my time is yours. And RH too, naturally. It wouldn't be much fun to cook without him to share my meals. The first picture on this post is an artsy picture of the pink roses he bought me this week, saying they were BOGO. They were priceless to me.

 [I apologize for the quality of these pictures. I must have been extra shaky the day I took them. Maybe it's time to drag out that tripod that's stored in a closet.]



Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Kitchen in Genitian Hill


Genitian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge takes place when England is expecting an invasion by Napoleon, and I think is Goudge's second novel. It is beautifully written but did not have the star power for me of her later books. 

Young Stella, the foster child of Torquay farmers Father and Mother Spriggs, was a foundling, snatched from the arms of her dead mother after they were shipwrecked on the coast of Devon near Torquay [pronounced TAW-KEE]. It is obvious to all that Stella is different from her good foster parents, an exceptional child. The novel tells of the love that she grows up to know but also solves the mystery of who her real parents could have been.

But Goudge's description of Mother Sprigg's kitchen places it near the top of my favorite literary kitchens:

The kitchen was the living room of the farm, for they scarcely used the small paneled parlor upon the other side of the flagged hall. It was a large room, roughly square, but with many nooks and bulges, like a cave, and with two wide mullioned windows with deep window seats in the long west wall, and one smaller one to the south. The walls were whitewashed and the whitewashed ceiling was crossed by strong oak beams with iron hooks for hanging the hams and bunches of herbs. The furniture--the large kitchen table, the tall dresser, the settle, and the straight-backed chairs--was of oak, shiny and black with age. The stone-flagged floor was snowy white from years of scrubbing and under the kitchen table were the pails of water that were kept filled from the big well in the yard.

But the greatest glory of the kitchen was the fireplace that filled nearly the whole of the north wall and was almost a room in itself. It was so deep that there was room for seats on each side, while across the opening in front was a sturdy oak beam with a little red curtain hanging beneath it. The wood fire never went out, winter or summer. On each side of it were the firedogs to hold the spits for the roasting, and swinging cranes for the pots and kettles. Delicious smells were creeping out now from the fireplace, onion broth cooking in the pot that hung from one of the cranes, and apples roasting in a dish placed under the outer ashes of the fire.

All the crannies and bulges of this enchanting, cavelike room had unexpected things in them--the bread oven in the thickness of the wall underneath its fascinating little arch, the grandfather clock, Mother Sprigg's spinning wheel, the warming pans, secret cupboards filled with homemade wines...shelves piled with pickles and preserves, brass candlesticks, and Toby jugs...

But though the irregular shape of the great kitchen made one think of a cave, there was no suggestion of damp or darkness, the sun streaming in all day saw to that...And there was plenty of color in the kitchen with the blue willow pattern china on the dresser, the scarlet rag rugs on the floor, the scarlet window curtains, and always baskets of apples and plums in their season, golden marrows, and pumpkins in their striped jackets of yellow and green.

 I know that I quoted a long portion of Genitian Hill to give a picture of the kitchen. This is my first post here in several weeks and it's been difficult to come up with blog posts when my mind has been so much on the news in our country ever since I watched in horror as our Capitol Building was invaded. Blog posts seem trivial in the light of everything that is happening in our country so this is my attempt to begin again, my heart not really in it.

But during this time, the kitchen has called to me, meals to be cooked. And so Mother Sprigg's kitchen was something I happily read about as I read Gentian Hill at night, in bed. Books and cooking are something that calm me, comfort me, and dachshunds snuggling with me while I read and keeping me company in the kitchen as I cook. 

For now, that is a start. 



Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Resolutions? "Folly, folly, all folly!"

 Tell us how you really feel about New Year's Resolutions, Phyllis McGinley!

Phyllis McGinley: "I'm not sure anyone over forty should make a resolution."

Being over 40, or even 60 since 60 is evidently the new forty, I have no problem ignoring any desire to make New Year's Resolutions. (Let's not even discuss what over 70 might be.)

Any further arguments against resolutions from the 1961 Pulitzer prize winning poet?

Phyllis McGinley:  We promise to deprive ourselves of the trivial comforts that may be all that stand between us and frenzy. Coffee, for instance, or that martini before dinner...

Folly, folly, all folly! Those promises might stand a chance of being kept in June, say, with the spirits burgeoning along with roses and summer barbecues. In spring, when the year really begins. But in winter, no.

 Applause, applause!!

No, I intend to spoil myself with every small comfort January 2021 will offer, although my comforts tend to run to fresh flowers and perfume and a good book rather than martinis. (Let's not talk about desserts here, either.)

I'm not about to turn down anyone else offering to spoil me, either.

No, siree, bring it on!

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Unfashionable Or Not

 I get it, Chex Mix is passé. But if we wave the sophistication of Bon Appetit magazine over it, someone out there must still be making it. When I saw my other favorite food magazine, The Local Palate, had a recipe for it last Christmas I decided to give it another try. 

So I combined the two recipes, leaving out ingredients I didn't care for--wasabi flavor green peas--or couldn't find in my local Publix--Terra Stix--and came up with a Chex mix that disappeared when set out in an old Mary Engelbreit tin for Christmas.

I searched in vain for a picture of it in that pretty tin to use here but did find this one I took as it came out of the oven.


And yes, that's Bugles (original flavor) in it, from the Bon Appetit recipe and the otherwise bland snack is a nice addition to the cereals. 

 Here's the link to Bon Appetit's recipe. 

And the link to The Local Palate's recipe.

In combining ingredients for my mix, I used:

Bugels, a mix of the Chex cereals, cashews, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, pretzel sticks, butter, garlic cloves, Dijon, worcestershire sauce, Paul Prudhumme's Blackened Redfish Magic Seasoning, dry mustard, paprika, and Crystal Hot Sauce.

We had never bought Crystal Hot Sauce before but became a quick convert to it over our regular. And definitely using the Bon Appetit direction to gently cook the garlic cloves in butter was a big flavor boost. And we followed their direction to cook at 250 degrees F, instead of 300. 

Since there probably won't be hordes of people in our homes snacking this Christmas, you may not need the recipes this year. And if you do, I imagine it will go in individual serving bags. Actually, that sounds so much nicer to me than hands dipping into a common bowl--even when you put a scoop in it.

With just the two of us here to eat it, I'll be skipping it unless RH begs for it.

But we can always dream of next year, even if Chex Mix is still passé then.






Saturday, December 5, 2020

A Frozen Fog Morning



I was up at first light this morning and was delighted to see that we had been visited by a rare frozen fog morning.

I didn't go outside and take pictures. I could barely get my dachshunds to go outside this cold morning. And they didn't stay out long.

These pictures were taken by our son on a late December visit with us in 2018 and I decided to use them now. I didn't even ask permission but I don't think he'll take me to court! 

They remind me so much of the ethereal gardens in the December issues of my beloved British shelter magazines. But then, Daniel's profession is centered in film and photography.


 Those UK gardens become a special wet frosty picture fest due to the maritime polar air mass that travels across the country from north to west, or so I found out one time when I tried to research exactly what it was that brought about the conditions perfect for such a sight.


 This picture Daniel took of our ornamental grass plumes on that frosty morning reminds me of the plumes on hats that women wore in the 1800s. 

RH took the picture below last January on a morning like this one. We don't have them often. We have bitter cold in winter but without the moist air it takes for pictures like this. We were visited with fat flakes of snow that fell all day long this week. It was a beautiful sight but the ground was too warm for much to accumulate.


 The older I get the more I love the beauty that weather conditions bring us. And I am so very thankful to live in a four season part of our country. 

It's good to have things to be thankful for, even in 2020. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Cranberry Sauce


A quick post for Cranberry Sauce to go with the turkey recipe I just put up at Dewena's Window...

I always hunt for cranberries from Wisconsin. These are from Tomah, Wisconsin, Habelman Brothers brand, bought at our local Publix. They were beautifully perfect!

I have tried many recipes but always go back to this old one. Yes, it takes a lot of sugar to jell properly but then you only eat dabs of cranberry sauce, not gobs. 

Cranberry Sauce

2 bags fresh cranberries, washed and any stems removed

Mix in pot: 3 cups sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, pinch of ginger.


Stir in 2 cups cold water. Bring to boil.

Add cranberries and cook 5 minutes only.

Reduce heat and simmer one hour, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Cool. Chill until serving time.

Do Not pour into Grandmother's crystal bowl while hot!


 Yum! Made mine yesterday. RH and his brother had to sample it warm from the pot with ham sandwiches for their lunch. We also like a dollop of it on pancakes or even on an omelette. 

A blessed and safe Thanksgiving Day to those of you celebrating it.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Golden Snow



The morning sky was blue from rim to rim, and maple leaves fell like golden snow in dreamlike slowness. The brightness was a quiet, slow bell, tolling out autumn.

 Nelia Gardner White in

"The Bewitched Spinster" from

The Merry Month of May



 In early October I often envy those who live in New England for their early show of fall colors, but come November I am always grateful for Tennessee's lingering loveliness.

The hills around our house are filled with reds and oranges this week, but it is the golden leaves of the large maple tree by RH's bedroom that won my heart when I saw the listing photo of the house.

And the beauty of this small wild maple tree outside my kitchen door has been a bittersweet joy this week.


 It is growing far too close to the house for future problems and can't be dug and moved because it's growing through the chain-link fence.

RH says it must be cut down. 

I say cut a hole in the fence, dig the tree out and replant it, and then repair the fence. 

Our vote is split 50/50 and one of us is going to lose.

This time it's going to be me.