Friday, January 29, 2021

Fanny Savage's Dream Kitchen



Like Fanny Savage, Elizabeth Buchan's protagonist in her 2003 novel The Good Wife Strikes Back, when I have seen an unloved neglected kitchen, whether on an HGTV show, online, or in person, I automatically start thinking of changes I would make if it were mine, and I bet you do, too. You probably even do that when you see pictures of my kitchen!

I began reading Buchan's novels years ago after reading her Consider the Lily that won the 1994 Romantic Novel of the Year Award. I didn't consider it a romance novel as it seemed too literary for that. I loved it, still have it on a bookshelf. I also kept this paperback, liking the ending very much. 

And I loved Fanny's ideas for the kitchen in her father's ancestral villa in Italy, where she goes after his death, questioning whether she can remain married. The kitchen needs some loving care and Fanny thinks....

If this were my kitchen, I would love it so tenderly...I would make it glow in creams and yellows and whites. I would scrub and bleach the table, place blue and white china plates on a dresser and hang fresh bouquets of herbs. In return, on cold evenings, it would invite me to make Benedetta's mushroom risotto, lashed into perfection with Parmesan and butter. On hot ones, when the sun slithered down the sky and the air was pungent with the aroma of herbs and citrus, it would hint, perhaps, at grilled chicken with lemon...If the Casa Rosa were my house, I would make up the beds with old linen sheets and polish the floors with beeswax, as the women in the family must have done when its fortune had been high. I would plant spinach and chard and beans in the plot behind the house and arrange books on the shelf beside the fire. 

 I probably should see what Elizabeth Buchan is writing now. After a while I felt that she was writing to a much younger audience than I was in but now that she is older herself--I just searched her online and she's just a few years younger than I am--maybe her books would once again stay on my bookshelves.

That is, if I like the kitchens in her books.



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.