Strange and Beautiful Sorrow

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     One of the most delightful surprises of my summer has been finding and reading The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton’s lovely modern day fairy tale of a girl born with wings.  Ava Lavender was to others “myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. . . . a monster, a mutation . . . an angel.”  But to herself, “I was just a girl.”

     Through three generations of matriarchy, Walton weaves a tale of mystery, magic and beauty.  Beauregard Roux and Maman leave their home in Normandy to come to America where Beauregard is certain his legendary skills as a phrenologist will soon have the family luxuriating in the gold that covers all of the streets of “Manhatine.”  Unfortunately, Beauregard has missed the big phrenology craze and falls into the river late one night, leaving Maman to care for her two daughters alone.

     Walton’s prose burbles with amusing, drily witty, stories of the characters.

[Maman] hardly made any noise at all.  She rarely did.  In fact, the doctor in the small village of Trouville-sur-Mer who delivered their first child, my grandmother, spent the length of the delivery looking up from his duties just to be sure the mother had not perished during the act.  The silence in the room was so disturbing that when it came time for the birth of their next child — my grant-uncle Rene — the doctor refused at the last minute, leaving Beauregard to run the seventeen kilometers in his stocking feet to the town of Honfelur in a rush to find the nearest midwife.

Image   Honfleur

     Manhatine proves to be a bad decision all the way around as misfortune befalls three of Maman’s four children.  But in time, Maman’s daughter Emilienne Adou Solange Roux grows up and, after falling in love three times before the eve of her nineteenth birthday, marries Connor Lavender (who she does not love) and moves across the country to Seattle.  In Seattle, Emilienne becomes the proprietor of a very successful bakery, Viviane is born, falls in love and does not marry and soon gives birth to Ava, the girl with wings, and her twin brother Henry.

    It’s notable and not surprising that Leslye Walton teaches middle school, because Ava is sort of the ultimate outsider.  Trapped in her house with her mother, her best friend and her 12-foot wing span, Ava does not attend school and can only watch as her peers pass by underneath her window on their way to revelry.  The book jacket profile says that Walton teaches her students “how to read and write and, most important, how to be kind to one another, even on days when they don’t really feel like it.”

    Laura Esquivel, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez and Isabel Allende are clear influences.  When Viviane is unhappy, no one will buy the bread she makes because it tastes like sorrow.  The ghost of a small girl and a sad man watch over the Lavenders and try to warn them of disaster.  And yet, amid the magic, much like in Love in the Time of Cholera, there is wisdom.

I found it ironic that I should be blessed with wings and yet feel so constrained, so trapped.  It was because of my condition, I believe, that I noticed life’s ironies a bit more often than the average person.  I collected them:  how love arrived when you least expected it, how someone who said he didn’t want to hurt you eventually would.

     I enjoyed this book so very much and there are so many avenues for discussion, chief among them the Roux-Lavender women’s propensity to be rendered fools by love and whether the same is true of us all.

MENU

    There are so many possibilities in this book.  FRENCH BAKERY!  And after reading, you may find yourself drawn to something else.  Chocolate mousse, feuilletage, pore belle-Helene, Cheese rolls, brioche, sourdough, scones, whole grain breads, chocolate cake, creme brûlée, napoleons, apple tartes tatins, madeleines, glazed palmiers, cheesecake:  all of these are noted in one two-page span.  I would definitely do a dessert menu with coffee (for Seattle), tea and perhaps a liqueur like Grand Marnier or Cointreau or Champagne with Creme de Cassis.

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    I consulted another of my favorite books, Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, which combines French recipes with a love story, and found my favorite recipe for a French-inspired dessert.

Quick and Dirty Chocolate Souffle Cake

Butter and sugar (for the mold)

7 1/4 oz bittersweet chocolate (65 percent cocoa is ideal)

5 eggs, separated

1/2 cup sugar

a pinch of salt

1 tablespoon flour

Preheat the over to 350.  Lightly butter and sugar a 10 inch ceramic tart mold.  In the top of a double boiler or in the microwave, melt the chocolate with the coffee.  Let cool.

 Separate the eggs — whites into a large mixing bowl, yolks into a medium mixing bowl.  Whisk the egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar until the mixture is a light lemon yellow.

  Pour the melted chocolate into the egg yolks and quickly which to combine, it will be quite thick.  Add flows.

  In the large bowl, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until they hold a stiff peak.  Gently fold a third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Then add the chocolate mixture back into the remaining egg whites, folding gently to combine.

   Pour the batter into the mold and bake for 20 minutes.  Touch the center, if it feels reasonably firm, remove from the oven.  If not, give it an extra minute or two but no more.  The cake will wrinkle and fall after you remove it from the oven.  Don’t despair, it’s supposed to.

  Author Leslye Walton Leslye was kind enough to respond to my request for a menu suggestion.  “I’m no cook but I do say macarons are always a must-have snack when reading Ava Lavender!”

  Ahhhhh, macarons.  The very word brings the saliva rushing to my mouth in anticipation of the crunchy, chewy, sweet divine deliciousness that is a French macaron.  I will never forget standing outside Laduree in Paris, drooling over the displays of whipped sugar and tasting my first bite of caramelized salted heaven.  Even the Laduree website looks gorgeous enough to eat.  https://fabricantdedouceurs.laduree.com/en_fr/.  I would never presume to try to bake a macaron myself, but fab fellow blogger The BraveTart doesn’t have any problem with it.  Here’s a link to her step by step instructions.  http://bravetart.com/recipes/Macarons

macarons

  If you do make some, let me know how they turn out.  And thank you again to Leslye for her thoughts.

MUSIC

   You can either do a French blend with a Seattle (Starbucks) coffee house blend or create your own playlist.

Edith Piaf, the “little sparrow” — appropriate for so many reasons

Josephine Baker

Songs about angels:

  1. Angel -Sarah Mclachlan
  2. Calling all Angels by Train
  3. She Talks To Angels by Black Crowes
  4. Earth Angel

You get the general idea.

Au revoir!  Bon Chance!

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Summer Reading

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Need some suggestions for your summer reads?  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/vacation-reads-summer-2014/

avalove fallsbeautifulswamplandiaman alivenext time bookBreakfast-Anytime-Retro-Tin-Sign2

Home Away from Home: The Next Time You See Me, by Holly Goddard Jones

I’m on vacation in Florida, but brought Kentucky with me in book form, no where more startling than in Holly Goddard Jones’ first novel, The Next Time You See Me.  One thousand miles from home, and yet the divisions and contradictions of home so clearly delineated in this haunting tale.  Black and white, privileged and poor, educated and handicapped, youth and age, North and South.

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The novel begins in an eighth grade classroom in rural Western Kentucky, somewhere near enough to the Tennessee border, that the residents of Roma can cruise across the state line on Friday and Saturday nights when they are in the mood for trouble.  As in most eighth grade classrooms, the plain-but-kindly-and-intelligent-local (poor) child, Emily Houchens, has a crush on the wealthy, athletic, good looking newcomer, Christopher Shelton, who alternately loathes and feels compassion for her.  Their teacher, Susanna is haunted by memories of her own high school years when she fell in love with the African-American baseball star (turned small town detective) but turned him down to marry the prissy, boring high school band director with whom she has a child.

Before too long, the teacher’s wild child sister goes missing.  Implicated in the search are Tony Joyce, the detective, Wyatt Powell a co-worker of Emily’s father at a local factory, and Emily herself.  Emily finds herself in the middle of several spokes of this interlocking wheel, due to her rather unfortunate attachment to two things:  science experiments and Christopher Shelton.

Throughout the novel, the opposing poles of prejudice battle, at times literally and more often metaphorically.

. . . there had been a moment in Nancy’s not too long ago, when she’d caught the reflection of a good-looking, blond-haired younger guy in the mirror behind the bar and smiled flirtatiously, and it wasn’t that he’d rejected her or insulted her; she’d been insulted plenty of times in her life, and the guy who broke her nose five years ago had called her a troll, a dyke troll.  It was that this young guy had not seen her.  Or rather, he’d seen her, he’d registered the fact of her, but he’d dismissed her.  it was instant and impersonal, and Ronnie had realized, with the kind of eerily accurate insight that occasionally dawns upon the drunken, that she seemed old to him.

next time book

     I’ve read comparisons of this novel to Gone Girl, but other than a murder investigation, the plots are not similar.  Jones’ writing is much deeper and more character-driven.  The scenery is lush, tactile, evocative.  She gets inside the minds of multiple characters, not just one or two, and tells their parts of the story from their own point of view.  I was left wanting only to hear a little more from one point of view, but perhaps that would have ruined the book.

BOOK CLUB MENU  spaghetti-clipart1

  There’s a food fight in the book and for my book club, it would be mandatory to serve an upscale version of the food used.  (with fingers crossed that it didn’t get thrown).

Salad with ranch dressing

Garlic bread

Spaghetti with tomato sauce

The food fight involved pudding also, but I think I would avoid that and serve biscotti with some nice gelato.

And white wine, for Susanna.

MUSIC referred to in the book

Wichita Lineman, Glen Campbell

Pearl Jam

Nirvana

Mary Chapin Carpenter

Bonnie Raitt

Loretta Lynn

And there’s always this good old Southern hymn:  http://youtu.be/XTZOQcM9MgA

 

ENJOY!

 

With a Side of Warm, Southern Wit Please: Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs

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     In Sarah Combs’ charming debut young adult novel, Breakfast Served Anytime, a quartet of talented Kentucky high schoolers meet for the first time at summer “Geek Camp,” also known as the Governor’s Scholars program.  These superbly intelligent teen-agers find common ground and opposing sides in issues as close to home as mountain-top removal and summer crushes and as far away as the difference in metropolitan and farm living.

    Since this review was first published, author Sarah Combs has graciously supplied me with her own menu, a recipe for the Swiss Chard Lasagna featured in the book, which I’m going to try right away, and her playlist for the book.  Sarah is a frequent teacher, collaborator and contributor to the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington and a swell girl in general!  Thank you Sarah.

    While looking for signs in all things, the protagonist admittedly misses some of the most obvious.  She generally “hates” first the things she will become most fond of, including her summer classmate Mason, who she ignores because he is a) smart; b) sassy; c) attractive; d) dressed like the Mad Hatter; e) not the brother of her friend who she has a crush on; or f) all of the above.  (ding ding ding for those of you who guessed “f”.)  Gloria’s prophetic signs include a Magic 8 ball, written words, random references to To Kill a Mockingbird, a drawing on a crypt and most prominently, a proliferation of blue butterflies.

Image  The butterflies appear as harbingers of change, forecasters of pleasure and soothsayers.

     In between the rather bizarre English class conducted at the Governor’s School by a rather mysterious teacher known as X and his adorable boxer Holyfield, Image the gang eats breakfast at a local restaurant.

    It’s a charming book.  I read it quickly and then gave it to my niece for her to enjoy as well.  If your book club chooses to read Breakfast Served Anytime, may I suggest:

MY MENU

Christmas Eggs

This is our family tradition.  Prepare 6-12 eggs as if you were going to scramble them.  Heat butter in a large skillet.  Crack and whisk the eggs with salt and pepper.  Add 1/2 to 1 block of cream cheese and whisk again.  Scramble in the buttered skillet until fully cooked.  You’ll never eat regular old scrambled eggs again.

Old Ham

According to the book, country ham is what city slickers call old ham.  Whichever you call it, serve it with the eggs.

Whole wheat toast with real butter and homemade jam

Fresh asparagus and fresh corn on the cob from your local farmers’ market

SARAH’S MENU

country (“old”) ham biscuits
Krispy Kreme doughnuts
just-picked corn on the cob
just-picked summer blackberries
Ale-8 (Bourbon optional 😉
 
And for Calvin’s mom’s Swiss chard lasagna, how about this recipe…I’m not positive, but I think it came originally from Three Springs Farm. It’s a little bit complicated), but MAN, it’s worth it and so good:
 
SWISS CHARD LASAGNA WITH RICOTTA AND MUSHROOMS
 
Bechamel Sauce:
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 Turkish bay leaf
6 tbs unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
 
Swiss chard & mushroom layers:
1 lb chard, center rib and stem cut from each leaf
4 tbs olive oil
1 1/3 cups chopped onion
4 large garlic cloves, chopped, divided
1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper
Kosher salt
1 lb crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
9 7×3 inch lasagna noodles
olive oil
1 15-oz package ricotta
6 oz Italian fontina
8 tbs parmesan
 
for sauce:
  • Bring milk and bay leaf to simmer in medium saucepan; remove from heat. Melt butter in heavy, large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add flour and whisk to blend. Cook 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually mix milk and bay leaf into roux. Add 1/2 tsp salt, nutmeg, and cloves and bring to a simmer. Cook until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon, whisking often, about 3 minutes. Remove bay leaf.
  • Blanch chard in boiling salted water 1 minute. Drain, pressing out all water, then chop coarsely. Heat 2 tbs oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, 1/2 of garlic, and crushed red pepper. Saute until onion is tender, 3-4 minutes. Mix in chard and season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat remaining 2 tbs oil in heavy. large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and remaining garlic. Saute until mushrooms are brown and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Mix in nutmeg and season with coarse salt and pepper.
for lasagna:
  • Cook noodles in medium pot of boiling salted water until just tender but al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain; arrange noodles in single later on sheet of plastic wrap.
  • Brush 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with oil to coat. Spread 3 tbs sauce over bottom of dish. Arrange 3 noodles in dish to cover bottom. Spread 1/2 of chard mix, then 1/2 of mushrooms. Drop 1/2 of ricotta over in dollops and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle with 1/2 of fontina, then 4 tbs parmesan; spread 3/4 cup of Bechamel sauce over. Repeat layering with 3 noodles, chard, mushrooms, ricotta, fontina, parmesan, & 3/4 cup Bechamel. Cover with 3 noodles and remaining Bechamel.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake lasagna covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until heated through and top is golden, 20-30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.

MY MUSIC LIST

Black Coffee in Bed, Squeeze

Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williams

Punky’s Dilemma, Simon & Garfunkel (the cornflakes song)

Up for Breakfast, Van Halen

Orange Juice Blues, Bob Dylan

Easy Like Sunday Morning, Bob Dylan

Lots of good morning songs too.  Good Morning from Singin’ in the Rain, jazz standard Good Morning Heartache, etc.

SARAH’S MUSIC

Author Sarah Combs has created a story soundtrack for Stay Bookish that she shared with me.  It’s a lovely addition or alternative and Sarah explains her choices here:  http://staybookish.net/ah-may-zing-reads-2014-breakfast-served-anytime-story-soundtrack/.  Her soundtrack includes some John Prine, The Everly Brothers and one of my perennial favorites, The Decemberists.

CASTING

Again with the young adult!  I’m clueless.  Do you have suggestions?

Cheers!

OKAY. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

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The Fault in Our Stars was the number one movie at the box office the weekend of June 6-8, http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/chart/.  In honor of that, I’m reposting this.

There’s a little movie coming out next weekend.  You may have caught one of the (ahem) few promos for it.  It’s a small, (cough cough), low-budget (more throat-clearing) adaptation of John Green’s modest young adult love story, The Fault in Our Stars.  So before the Hollywood has a chance to ruin this lovely story of two doomed teen-agers sharing one night of love on a final romantic trip to — ah, you thought I was going to say Verona, didn’t you? — Amsterdam, read the durn book people.

If you insist on cheating, here is a link to the movie trailer:  http://youtu.be/_Li8uojsfGc.

The novel is beautiful, in the way only a book about teen-agers in first love (with a touch of osteosarcoma or thyroid cancer with lung mets) can be.  And I’m not giving anything away here.  Hazel Grace, the narrator, tells us on page one that “Cancer is a side effect of dying.  Almost everything is, really.”  Hazel Grace is a courageous, funny, warm, imminently empathetic narrator.  She provides startlingly humorous insights into the world of “cancer perks” for “cancer kids,” the support group happening “literally inside the heart of Jesus,” and the philosophy of living metaphorically.  She addresses her life with black humor that particularly appears when a friend, nurse and/or family member makes a reference such as “I could have died.”

Hazel Grace has a quest involving a book and an author and how can you not love a girl like that?  Augustus Waters meets Hazel during support group and after reading her book, decides to become involved and help make her wish come true.

I’ve written before about the urgency of young love, first love.  Without their youth, Romeo and Juliet would just seem foolish.  But at sixteen, everything, especially love, is literally a matter of life and death.  Pardon me for the use of literally there, Hazel Grace.  But I meant it literally, unlike the number of instances in which the word is incorrectly used as Hazel and Gus enjoy pointing out to one another.

The only way to increase the urgency would be if one of those lovers were about to be married off to a loathsome spouse . . . or dying of a fatal and incurable disease.  And for Hazel and Gus, they are young and in love.  And John Green has just one-upped William Shakespeare.

Image Doesn’t sound like it leaves a whole lot for them to celebrate.  And yet . . .

      And then we were kissing.  My hand let go of the oxygen cart and I reached up for his neck, and he pulled me up by my was it onto my tiptoes.  As his parted lips met mine, I started to feel breathless in a new and fascinating way.  The space around us evaporated, and for a weird moment I really liked my body; this cancer-ruined thing I’d spent years dragging around suddenly seemed worth the struggle, worth the chest tubes and the PICC lines and the ceaseless bodily betrayal of the tumors.

I realized that my eyes were closed and opened them.  Augustus was staring at me, his blue eyes closer to me than they’d ever been, and behind him, a crowd of people three deep had sort of circled around us.  They were angry, I thought Horrified.

. . . And then they started clapping.  All the people, all these adults, just started clapping, and one shouted “Bravo!” in a European accent.  Augustus, smiling, bowed.  Laughing, I curtsied ever so slightly, which was met with another round of applause.

MENU

Augustus and Hazel have a lovely vegetarian meal in Amsterdam.  I am relaying it here.  I don’t have any recipes as yet, but if I can locate any, I will share them.

Champagne

White asparagus with lavender infusion

Dragon Carrot Risotto

Sweet Pea sorbet

Green Garlic Gnocchi with red mustard leaves

Crémeux with passion fruit

MUSIC

Gus and Hazel live in Indianapolis and travel together to Amsterdam.  Given my love of John Mellencamp, I would definitely include his music, most definitely Jack and Diane.  Starry, Starry Night by Don McLean.  I Only Have Eyes for You, by Nat King Cole.  Stardust (by Hobie Carmichael — also a Hoosier).  The Avett Brothers’ music matches perfectly the mood of this book.

So read, enjoy and make sure you finish it sitting in a big, comfy chair with a box of tissues.