Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout’s first book of thirteen interconnected short stories revolving around the crusty resident of Crosby, Maine, was such a barn-burner it’s no Olive branch illustration vintage clip art isolate on white backwonder Ms. Strout has returned to Olive and Crosby in Olive, Again. Ten years ago, Strout won a Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge and that book was turned into a mini-series starring Frances McDermond which is definitely worth the watch.

In Olive, Again, Strout uses the same format, thirteen interconnected short stories, that bring the fruition of several characters in previous books. Olive’s, Jack’s, the Brothers Burgess (from The Burgess Boys), Isabelle Daignault (Amy and Isabelle). It’s nice to revisit these characters even if my recollection needed refreshing.

Olive, Again picks up shortly after Olive Kitteridge ended with a chapter about Jack Kennison, the retired Harvard professor a recently-widowed Olive met at the end of the first book.

Now Jack allowed his mind to go to Olive Kitteridge. Tall, big: God, she was a strange woman. He had liked her quite a bit, she had an honesty — was it an honesty? — she had something about her. A widow, she had — it felt to him — practically saved his life. They’d gone to dinner a few times, a concert; he had kissed her on the mouth. He could laugh out loud to think about this now. Her mouth. Olive Kitteridge. Like kissing a barnacle-covered whale. She had a grandson born a couple of years ago, Jack hadn’t especially cared, but she had cared because the kid was called Henry after his grandfather, Olive’s dead husband. Jack had suggested she go see the little fellow Henry in New York City and she had said, Well, she didn’t think so. Who knows why? Things were not good with her son, he knew that much. But things weren’t good with his daughter either. They had that in common. He remembered how Olive had told him right away that her father had killed himself when she was thirty. Shot himself in his kitchen. Maybe this had something to do with how she was; it must have. And then she had come over one morning and unexpectedly lain down next to him on the bed in the guest room. Boy, had he been relieved. Relief had just flowed through him when she’d put her head on his chest. “Stay,” he said finally, but she rose and said she had to get home. “I’d like it if you stayed,” he said, but she did not. And she never returned. When he tried calling her, she did not answer the telephone.

Olive, we know from this passage in the first chapter, has retained her inimitable “Oliveness.” As prone to selfish, hard-headed, amusing behavior as ever. She is also something of a guardian angel for her fellow residents of Crosby, Maine. She attends a “stupid” baby shower, “she could not believe what a stupid baby shower that had been,” but while there delivers a baby in the back seat of her own car because the ambulance couldn’t make it there in time. It is this event that prompts Olive to reconnect with Jack. She wants to tell someone about it so she calls him.

Maine-Map-ItineraryOver the course of the book, Olive’s somewhat-estranged son Christoper visits; she sympathetically watches over a friend in a nursing home; Olive and Jack marry. Olive’s trademark exclamations — “Oh Godfrey,” “phooey to you,” “she’s gone all dopey-dope,” — as well as her defensiveness and vulnerability remain intact.

In one particularly poignant chapter, Jack and Olive drive to a nearby town for dinner at a new restaurant. As they are enjoying their meal, a woman and her date walk in and Jack becomes uncomfortable and Olive’s no-holds-barred frankness is on full display.

“She’s that woman who got you fired from Harvard.”

“I didn’t get fired,” Jack said; this made him really angry.

“She was the reason.” Olive said this, still quietly.  And then, turning her face toward him, she said, and it seemed her voice almost trembled, “I have to tell you, Jack. The only thing that upsets me about her is your taste in women, I think she is a dreadful, dreadful woman.” . . . “that snot-wot is a creep. That dreadful woman you bedded down all those years.”

In reviewing Olive, Again for the Washington Post, Joan Frank says, “Without room for the swaths of material I long to quote, I can only cite the marrow of “Olive’s” glory: wave upon wave of unflinching insight, delivered in language so clean it shines. Sentences flow in simplest words and clearest order — yet line after line hammers home some of the most complex human rawness you’ll ever read.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/the-cranky-bossy-sad-brave-beloved-olive-kitteridge-is-back-in-olive-again–and-better-than-ever/2019/10/03/ba1df290-e47f-11e9-a331-2df12d56a80b_story.html

Olive, Again is a wonderful book, full of character, humor, pathos, loss, joy, and sadness, as all truly great literature is. I highly recommend Olive, Again for your book club.

ElizabethStrout-OliveAgain-hpMENU

Olive’s favorite delicacy appears to be a lobster roll, which from what I (a Kentuckian) can tell is lobster mixed with mayonnaise on a hot dog bun. Since I don’t like mayonnaise and lobster is not nearly as plentiful in Kentucky as in Maine, I’m not going to try to provide a recipe.

At the “stupid” baby shower, the menu included “little sandwiches, deviled eggs, tiny pieces of chocolate cake.” Here I can help.

You’d probably want to provide one sandwich with an olive theme. Olive nut maybe?

Kentucky caterer Jennie Carter Benedict created a famous tea sandwich in her catering days that is still a must-serve for spring and Derby in Kentucky. Benedictine can be used as a vegetable dip but for Olive, Again, I’d use is as a sandwich filling. My favorite benedictine sandwiches use one tiny slice of bread (cut in circles), topped by the spread and on top of that a very thin slice of cucumber.

JENNIE BENEDICT’S FAMOUS BENEDICTINE SPREAD2387498-cucumber-tea-sandwiches

INGREDIENTS
1 cucumber
1 onion
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon salt
A few grains of cayenne pepper
2 drops green food coloring (optional, but a local favorite)
Directions
Peel and grate the cucumber, then wrap it in a clean dish towel and squeeze the juice into a dish. Discard the pulp. Peel and grate the onion, then wrap it in a clean dish towel and squeeze the juice into a dish. Discard the pulp. (Use a juicer if you prefer)

Combine three tablespoons of the cucumber juice, one tablespoon of the onion juice, cream cheese, salt, pepper and food coloring in a bowl. Mix with a fork until well blended. Serve as a dip or as a sandwich filling.

PLAYLIST

I don’t recall music playing much of a role in Olive, Again. But it does seem to be underscored by quirky, somber-then-snappy melodies. There are a couple of pieces from the miniseries on amazon to purchase. But I feel like George Winston’s albums Autumn and Forest would be just the ticket.

ATR COVER*** My novel, After the Race, is now available! Alexandra was raised to be the next Jackie Kennedy. Just as her mother intended, Alexandra’s summer internship on Capitol Hill results in the perfect fiancé, a future job, and D.C. political savvy. But when Alex returns to college for her final year and falls in love with a handsome, blue-jeaned bike champion, she must choose between the two men and the lives they represent, and decide whether she can defy her mother’s designs to fulfill her own dreams. Ultimately, Alexandra must find within herself the power to confront the one unplanned event that could derail everything.

Order from rabbithousepress.com, amazon.com, or buy at Joseph-Beth booksellers or your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, ask them to order!

 

Happy Reading!

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

TescoFriday night is Eleanor Oliphant’s favorite night of the week. She  takes the bus home from her low-paying office job in a Glasgow ad agency, buys a Tesco pizza and two bottles of Vodka and then settles in at her apartment for a long weekend of public television, nature documentaries, and mental fuzziness.

And Eleanor is fine with that. Really fine. Really, she is.

“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that there’s something very liberating about it; once you realize that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself. That’s the thing: it’s best just to take care of yourself.”

Since she moved into her solo apartment nearly a decade ago, Eleanor has had few guests. A total of two in fact. The meter reader and a social worker who checks on her about once a month. That is fine with Eleanor as well . . . until the night she encounters rock star-wannabe Johnnie Lomond who immediately impresses her as the type of man her mother would find acceptable because he buttons the lower button of his vest while performing in a local music venue.2016-05-24-1464091272-8813709-bookbinderrockstar

I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor – I’m Eleanor Oliphant. I don’t need anyone else – there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I am a self-contained entity. That’s what l’ve always told myself, at any rate. But last night I’d found the love of my life. When I saw him walk on stage, I just knew…here, at long last, was a man who could be described with some degree of certainty as “husband material”.

I listened to the audible.com version of this book and enjoyed it immensely. Cathleen McCarron’s narration spooned the words and voice of author Gail Honeyman’s character. Hearing Honeyman’s words in McCarron’s voice I felt I knew Eleanor, even as she said once again exactly what she thought, leaving her colleagues speechless or collapsing in laughter,

Once Eleanor spies Johnnie Lomond she embarks on a no-holds barred makeover attempt. New haircut, new wardrobe, adding some make-up, and making a new friend: Raymond, from the ad company’s IT department. She found — to her surprise — these small changes reaped some rewards that she actually enjoyed.

“It turned out that if you saw the same person with some degree of regularity, then the conversation was immediately pleasant and comfortable—you could pick up where you left off, as it were, rather than having to start afresh each time. . . . Was this how it worked, then, successful social integration? Was it really that simple? Wear some lipstick, go to the hairdressers and alternate the clothes you wear?”

When Raymond and Eleanor encounter an older gentlemen in medical distress after one of their lunches, Raymond begins introducing Eleanor to lunches outside the office. Parties. Tea with his own mother. The internet becomes Eleanor’s tool to spy on Johnnie Lomond, read his tweets (hilariously narcissistic), see his Instagram posts all while plotting the first meeting that will lead inevitably to the couple’s long-term wedded bliss. It doesn’t, of course, work out that way which leads to Eleanor’s finding out she’s in fact not fine, not fine at all. Which is exactly when things become really interesting.

Gail HoneymanEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a debut novel by a post-40 year old author. Gail Honeyman worked in the British Civil Service and as a university administrator writing her debut novel during lunch and after work. She entered Eleanor in a fiction competition, didn’t win, but an agent signed her and the novel became the subject of a bidding war,  was named 2017 Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, and the film rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon.  Talk about a Cinderella story.Oliphant

 

So deserving.

Your book club will adore it.

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Eleanor’s preferred weekend meals are Tesco frozen pizzas and vodka. She prepares pesto pasta for dinner each night because it tastes good, it’s easy and it fulfills her nutritional requirements. At the pub she frequents with Raymond she becomes enamored of frothy coffee and cheese scones. She orders “Magner’s” frequently when she becomes more a part of social events, at the suggestion of a bartender. I’d never heard of Magner’s but it is an Irish hard cider. It looks to be available in the US so I would serve Magner’s with cheese scones.

Here’s a recipe for classic British cheese scones: https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-classic-british-cheese-scone-recipe-434867

I would also serve pizza. One of my favorite things to do with pizza is to buy pre-made pizza crusts, then place an array of toppings out for people to make their own favorite. Pepperoni, turkey pepperoni, mozzarella, fresh basil, shrimp, parmesan, artichokes, spinach, baked chicken, a jar of roasted red peppers. Your guests get to have exactly what they like and have fun making them together.

MUSIC

Definitely some Scottish bands. The Proclaimers, Simple Minds, Big Country.

The standard which our Johnnie Lomond will never meet. Alas.

MOVIE CASTING

Dear Reese: I really hope you don’t transfer this story to Rupert Grintthe U.S. The Glaswegian character of the novel should be preserved.

That being said, please cast British actors! My suggestions:

Eleanor: Sophie McShera, a Scottish

Sophie_McShera_May_2014_(cropped)actress, and fan favorite Daisy from Downton Abbey

Raymond: Rupert Grint, our man Ron Weasley of Harry Potter fame

Happy Reading!

 

 

Camino Island, by John Grisham

GatsbyMS One of the greatest literary treasures in the United States, F.Scott Fitzgerald’s hand-written manuscripts are stolen from the Firestone Library on Princeton University’s campus by a gang of five: Denny, a former Army ranger kicked out of the military; Mark, a professional thief with a history of “smash-and-grab” jobs involving art and artifacts ransomed back to the original owners; Jerry and Trey, petty thieves who met in prison; and Ahmed, a computer hacker.

The heist happens quickly in John Grisham’s latest novel, Camino Island, and serves as a backdrop for the real intrigue: where have the manuscripts gone after some of the thieves are caught; and how can Princeton get them back.

Enter Elaine Shelby, an insurance investigator. Mercer Mann, young, broke, aspiring writer with a past that includes time in Camino Island, Florida. Bruce Cable, owner of Bay Books, acquirer of valuable books, Southern dandy, and book (and author) lover. In his own mind he is “a well-read playboy” and an ambitious businessman.

seersucker“He owned a dozen different seersucker suits, each with a different shader color, and he wore one every day, along with a starched white shirt with a spread collar, and a loud bow tie, usually either red or yellow. His ensemble was completed with a pair of dirty buckskins, no socks. He never wore socks, not even in January when the temperatures dipped into the forties. His hair was thick and wavy, and he wore it long, almost to his shoulders. He shaved once a week on Sunday morning. By the time he was thirty, some gray was working itself into the picture, a few whiskers and a few strands of the long hair, and it was quite becoming.”

Elaine, the insurance investigator, believes Bruce Cable has the manuscripts. She wants Mercer to return to Camino Island, the home of Mercer’s grandmother, and infiltrate the community’s cabal of eccentric authors as a means of getting close to Cable, who has quite the reputation for his way with the lady authors.

The New York Times said Camino Island reads like it was written while John Grisham took a vacation from writing John Grisham novels. Grisham has a lot of fun with books, authors, and characterizations. The romance writer who “you won’t believe has ever had sex with anybody,” the literary writer who pens “really impenetrable stuff the stores can’t give away,” the alcoholic novelist whose been in and out of rehab so often everyone’s lost count, the “vampire girl” young adult novelist, the poet “snob,” etc.

Camino IslandMy favorite depiction is that of Bay Books, Cable’s island store.

. . . the smells of new books, and coffee, and, from somewhere, the hint of pipe smoke. She adored the saggy shelves, the piles of books on the floors, the ancient rugs, the racks of paperbacks, the colorful section for bestsellers at 25 percent off! From across the store she took in the First Editions Room, a handsome paneled area with open windows and hundreds of the more expensive books.

Camino Island is a fun place to visit and talk about books. Learn a little, live a little. Pass it on.

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Food from the book

Shrimp Risotto with bread and wine

This recipe from epicurious.com for Shrimp Risotto looks good: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/shrimp-risotto-4970

Champagne and pizza

Margaritas with grouper tacos

I would serve the Margaritas and grouper tacos. Yum.

© Sarah Elliott for Jenni KayneFrom http://ripandtan.jennikayne.com/cocktail-of-the-day-the-hemingway-margarita/

By Greg Murnion
Servings:1
Units:
US Imperial
Metric
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combined all and enjoy!

 

MUSIC

Of course, you could go all Jimmy Buffett. Or add a little variety with some of these:

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding

Island Girl, Elton John

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot

Don’t Bring Me Down (Bruce!), ELO

Sharp Dressed Man, ZZ Top

The Spy Who Loved Me, Carly Simon

Undercover Lover, .38 Special

MOVIE CASTING  simon baker

This is a fun one to think about casting, especially Bruce Cable. But the troupe of writers would be a great casting assignment too.

Elaine Shelby — Cate Blanchett is the obvious choice but Elizabeth Banks would be fun for this part

Mercer Mann — Emma Roberts

Noel — Margot Robbie

Bruce Cable — Simon Baker

Happy Reading!

 

 

Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich

Visit-Idaho-Logo-Blue

Books recommended by people who love books always seem to be among my favorite reads. Especially when the person who recommends is also a writer whose work I enjoy and appreciate. That happened with Idaho, Iowa Writers Workshop grad Emily Ruskovich’s debut novel.

Sarah Combs, author of Breakfast Served Anytime [https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/with-a-side-of-warm-southern-wit-please-breakfast-served-anytime-by-sarah-combs/]  and The Light Fantastic, raved about Idaho during a writing workshop. So I picked it up on audible.

Audible is great. It allows me to “read” novels while traveling between home and work and on those long distance rides to various cases across the state. But sometimes, and I suspect this is one of them, I don’t experience the fullness of the language as I would have in the written version.

Idaho begins in 2004. Ann and Wade live on a mountain in Idaho. They are alone and self-sufficient. Ann, a former music teacher, has her piano and Wade his work, crafting hand-hewn handles for knives. Ann worries about Wade’s hereditary and increasingly-apparent early-Alzheimers (he is only mid-50s). And she worries about the tragedy.

truckNine years ago, when Wade was still married to Jenny and both of his daughters were still alive, a mouse had crawled along the top of the truck’s exhaust pipe into the engine compartment and built its nest on the manifold. She thinks of how strange it is that Wade probably remembers that mouse, remembers the sound of it skittering under the hood, and yet he’s forgotten his first wife’s name. Or so it seems sometimes. But the mouse — the mouse is very much alive in his memory.

A few years after Ann and Wade married, Ann found a pair of deerskin gloves in a toolbox high on a shelf in a closet. They were much nicer than the work gloves Wade usually wore, and seemed to be brand new except for the odor of something burned. That was how she learned about the mouse in the first place. She asked why he kept the gloves in the closet instead of using them. Wade told her that he wanted to preserve the smell.

What smell is that?

The smell of a rodent’s nest that caught fire.

The last smell in his daughter’s hair.

According to her website, Ruskovich grew up on Hoodoo Mountain in the Idaho Panhandle. I think anyone who grows up on a mountain named Hoodoo would have to have a great imagination. She knows the territory of which she writes. The isolating, bitter winters of unremitting snow, the miraculous spring of flowers, flies, and sunshine.

With Idahoshe writes a story of one day and many decades. Her perspective moves from Ann to Jenny to Wade, to May and June — Jenny and Wade’s daughters, to Elliott — one of Ann’s students. We learn early on that Jenny, during a family outing to cut and clear timber, has killed her six-year old daughter May, striking her with an axe. June, then 11, runs away terrified and cannot be found. From this crucible, the novel moves forward with Jenny into prison, with Wade into dementia, with Ann who serves as surrogate for what the reader wants to know — why would Jenny do such a thing to her own child.

But, as multiple reviews have noted, that’s not what Idaho is about. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Idaho novelOstensibly it’s a novel about a tragedy — young mother Jenny inexplicably kills her daughter May with a hatchet, while older daughter June vanishes into the woods. Refusing to explain her actions, Jenny is charged with murder and sent to prison. Wade, her grief-stricken husband, is punishingly alone, struggling until he eventually marries Ann, the local piano teacher.

You might think that the primary focus of the book is going to be a business-as-usual exploration of why Jenny killed May, or where June is and how they find her. But this novel is much more interested in a deeper, more haunting meditation on love, loss, forgiveness, time and memory.

Ruskovich’s website includes some thoughtful questions should your book club choose to read Idaho. I’ll add this one, from Sarah and me: what do you think Ruskovich intended with the two short passages, opposing but parallel, where Wade and Jenny encounter help from a childless older couple and where Ann seeks help from a family but doesn’t receive it?

Here’s the link to Ruskovich’s questions: http://www.emilyruskovich.com/book-club-questions/.

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Another disadvantage of audible, I don’t have the opportunity to book mark passages with food. I do recall Wade, Jenny, May and June were drinking lemonade on the day of May’s death. Ann visited a farm specializing in ostrich products. Limited menu available from my memories, but I would serve:

Pink Lemonade Limoncello

Equal parts Vodka and Limoncello, splash of cranberry juice, sour mix and lemonade. Shake over ice.

Potatoes

Definitely something potato. I checked out the Idaho Potato Commission website and these Herb-Roasted Oven Fries look good: https://idahopotato.com/recipes/herb-roasted-idaho-potato-fries

Ostrich Steaks

I love ostrich meat. It’s lean, healthy and delicious.

Sautéed Ostrich Fillets with Green Peppercorn
Pre-heat pan to HOT. Add 2 TBS. of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of green peppercorns. Sear one side of the fillet for 2 minutes, turn fillet and cover the pan and turn off the heat and let rest for 4 minutes.

For dessert the best I can come up with is either black and white cookies from the store or these black and white cookie bars. For Jenny. In prison. http://www.bakeorbreak.com/2015/06/black-and-white-cookie-bars/

MUSIC

Ann is a piano teacher, in fact, she meets Wade when he comes to her for lessons. Music is at the crux of this novel, but it is not music that I can find reference to. As a substitute, I would find some folk songs on piano.

MOVIE CASTING

Ann           Rachel Weisz

Jenny        Jennifer Aniston

Wade        Dennis Quaid

Elizabeth Kristen Stewart

Happy Reading!

 

Moonglow, by Michael Chabon ✎✎✎

girl-moon-retro-vintage-favim-com-786574

Michael Chabon’s words came to me first in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, the Pulitzer-Prize winner of 2001. In large part due to my father’s own interest in 1940s and 1950s-era “Classic Comic ” books (he swears he passed college literature by reading the comic book versions only of Les Misérables and Moby Dick, among others), I fell in love with Michael Chabon’s writing. His words in Moonglow, a novel that reads like a memoir with a narrator named “Mike Chabon” enhanced my admiration.

paper-moonMoonglow is Chabon’s ode to perhaps his idealized family history: a grandfather who was a rocket man, part John Wayne-part John Glenn; a grandmother who was a French Jew, a traitor to her country and her faith, a witch and a wise woman; a scandalous rabbi uncle, cheating father, confused mother. The man can definitely turn a phrase. Consider:

At the possibility of truly being seen, something in his chest seemed to snap open like a parachute.

Or

He felt the shock of contact. The weight of her against his chest felt like something she had decided to entrust to him.

And finally, the image that has stayed with me for days:

In his fitful eastward progress through Belgium and Germany that winter, my grandfather had shared all manner of billets: with dogfaces and officers, in misery and in comfort, in attack and in retreat, and pinned down by snow or German ordnance. He had bedded down under a bearskin in a schloss and in foxholes flecked pink with the tissue of previous occupants. If an hour’s sleep were to be had, he seized it, in the bedrooms or basements of elegant townhouses, in ravaged hotels, on clean straw and straw that crawled with vermin, on featherbeds and canvas webbing slung across the bed of a half-truck, on mud, sandbags, and raw pine planks. However wretched, accommodations were always better or no worse than those on the enemy side.

He can definitely turn a phrase. Moonglow is Chabon’s love letter to perhaps his idealized family history: a grandfather who was a rocket man, part John Wayne-part John Glenn; a grandmother who was a French Jew, a traitor to her country and her faith, a witch and a wise woman; a scandalous rabbi uncle, cheating father, confused mother.

On his deathbed, Mike Chabon’s grandfather makes a confession: he was the one who time-von-braunfound Wernher von Braun’s stock of V-2 plans, undercutting the Nazi SS officer’s (and father of the NASA Moon Shot) ability to negotiate his escape from Germany. From this confession, Mike uncovers more family secrets that he is not sure he really wants to know.

Chabon’s novel gleams with aurulent moonlight. From the character’s star-watching hobby, to grandfather’s rocket building, and the moon glow songs of the war era, Chabon the author rarely misses a chance to include a lunar reference.

I listened to Moonglow on the audible app and truly enjoyed the narrator’s voice, pacing, and flair for French, German, Southern, etc, accents. It was something I looked forward to turning on when I got into the car for a drive.

With the family secrets angle, the World War II history, a romance, and several mysteries, Chabon’s Moonglow has something for everyone and is a good choice for a book club. I do recommend it. And I am especially excited to recommend a menu and music. Each fall, I enjoy throwing a Harvest Moon Party featuring “moon music” and food. I hope you enjoy.

MENU

Full Moon Cocktails contain 1 1/2 ounce orange curaçao and 1 1/2 ounce amaretto served over ice.

Or make Full Moon Punchman-in-the-moon

  • 2 (750-milliliter) bottles white rum
  • 2 cups applejack
  • 3 cups Velvet Falernum
  • 1 cup Campari
  • 3 cups cranberry juice
  • 3 cups orange juice
  • Juice of 6 large lemons (about 1 cup)
  • 2 liters ginger ale
  • Ice
  • 2 large lemons, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium limes, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium Gala or Fuji apples, thinly sliced

INSTRUCTIONS: Combine rum, applejack, Velvet Falernum, Campari, cranberry juice, orange juice, lemon juice, and ginger ale in a large punch bowl. Add ice and stir until well blended and chilled, about 40 times. Top with lemon, lime, and apple slices, and serve over ice in a punch glass.

Mezzelune Pasta. This half-moon shaped pasta (mezzelune) is similar to ravioli and you can find it filled with many of the same ravioli-typical fillings: cheese, meats, nuts, etc. I generally use a simply butter and parmesan sauce for the pasta.

Moon Pies. Make (or buy) very thin chocolate chip cookies. Tate’s Bake Shop cookies work well. On the flat side of a cookie, spread marshmallow cream then top it with another cookie. Make as many sets as you will serve. Then dip half of the cookie/marshmallow cream combo in melted chocolate and allow to cool. This will earn raves!

(Or you could find some of that astronaut ice cream they sell at the Air & Space Museum)

MUSIC

This is a fun one! So many great songs.

Moondance/My Funny Valentine Van Morrison

Moon River Andy Williams

Moonlight Sonata Chopin

Moonlight Serenade Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

Blue Moon of Kentucky Béla Fleck

East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon) Diana Krall

Clair De Lune Debussy

Moonlight Serenade Frank Sinatra

Sister Moon Sting

Moonlight In Vermont

Fly Me To The Moon Diana Krall, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra — any version you love

It’s Only a Paper Moon Ella Fitzgerald

Blue Moon The Marcels

MOVIE CASTING

Mike Chabon  — Jason Schwartzman

Grandmother — Juliette Binoche

Mother — Alison Brie

Grandfather — Eric Bana

Uncle Ray — David Krumholtz

Happy Eating and Reading!

 

The Sport of Kings, C.E. Morgan ✎✎✎

horse-racing-neck-and-neck.jpg

Horse Racing Neck and Neck, public domain

My mom asked me what book she should recommend for her book club to read. I suggested The Sport of Kings, by Kentucky author C.E. Morgan. I hadn’t read The Sport of Kings, but I like to support local authors, I liked Morgan’s first novel All the Living and I had heard good things about The Sport of Kings. Two weeks later, the founder of my mother’s book club called and asked me to present the book for them.

I soon found myself studying this 500+ novel for themes, plot, structure, style, literary allusions . . . in short, I felt like I was back in my undergrad literary seminar and my grade was just as important! I didn’t want to let down my mom or the women in her group with a presentation on The Sport of Kings.

In the end, the women were lovely, appreciative, and I ended up actually quite enjoying the application of my college student skills.

In this age of twitter, Facebook, goodreads, tumbler, ad nauseum, C.E. Morgan is a c-e-morganthrowback: she’s an author who allows her writing to speak for itself, preferring to keep an exceedingly low profile. If she has a website, I can’t find it. In one of her rare interviews, she does admit to graduating from Berea College in Kentucky and Harvard Divinity School. Her novels are filled with the tones, colors, sights, and sounds of rural Kentucky as well as theological meditations.

I’ve read many of the reviews of The Sport of Kings. The word “sweeping” is used quite a bit. “Generational.” “Epic.” It is all those things and more: long, complex, contrary, palaverous, disturbing, beautiful. My personal theory is that The Sport of Kings is Morgan’s attempt to define Kentucky first, its people second, and the thoroughbred industry third in all of their beautiful cruelty. To do this, she uses individual allegorical characters. Back-to-nature Pen. Salt-of-the-earth-farmer-Jamie. Narcissistic-land-owner-Henry.
equestrienneAt the heart of The Sport of Kings is horse farm owner Henry Forge and his daughter Henrietta. Henry is obsessed with breeding: the perfect horse and the perfect progeny and will go to any length to achieve his goals. Henry believes he’s achieved at least one of his goals with Hellsmouth, a fiery filly. But when a recently released ex-con, Allmon, arrives to work as a groom on Henry’s farm, complications (as they say) ensue.

Morgan’s style ranges from the scientific exploration of equine breeding, to bloated descriptions of natural phenomenon. At various points it takes her two pages to effectively cover one year in Henry Forge’s life and two pages to describe a sunset.

The corn spat him out. His face scraped by the gauntlet, he clutched handfuls of husk and stood hauling air with his hair startled away from his forehead. Here the old land is the old language: The remnants of the county fall away in declining slopes and swales from their property line. The neighbor’s tobacco plants extend as far as the boy can see, so that impossibly varying shades of green seem to comprise the known world, the undulating earth an expanse of green sea dotted only by black-ship tobacco barns, a green so penetrating, it promises a cool, fertile core a mile beneath his feet. In the distance, the fields incline again, slowly rippling upward, a grassed blanket shaken to an uncultivated sky. A line of trees traces the swells on that distant side, forming a dark fence between two farms. The farmhouse roofs are black as ink with their fronts obscured by evergreens, so the world is black and green and black and green without interruption, just filibustering earth. The boy knows the far side of that distant horizon is more of the bright billowing same, just as he knows they had once owned all of this land and more when they came through the Gap and staked a claim, and if they were not the first family, they were close. They were Kentuckians first and Virginians second and Christians third and the whole thing was sterling, his father said. The whole goddamn enterprise.

Truthfully, I found myself often bogged down in the vocabulary at times. But if you slog through these places, the plot holds.

Having now read the book, I do recommend The Sport of Kings but it is with reservation. Make sure your book club has set aside plenty of time to read. This is for book clubs that enjoy more challenging reads.

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There may be food described in the novel, but I wasn’t scouring the pages of The Sport of
Kings
for food references. This is a Kentucky novel, I am a Kentuckian, and I would fix traditional Kentucky food. So my menu would include:

Mint Juleps

Country Ham on Beaten Biscuits

Beer cheese with crackers and celery

Corn Pudding. This is my favorite recipe but there are many. It’s from ShakerTown at Pleasant Hill:

INGREDIENTS

    • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
    • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 3 whole eggs, slightly beaten
    • 2 cups frozen corn
    • 1 3/4 cups milk

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, blend the butter, sugar, flour and salt.
  2. Add the eggs, and beat well with a rotary beater or mixer on low –.
  3. Stir in the corn and milk (if using frozen corn, chop it up a little first to release the milky juices).
  4. Pour the ingredients into a buttered flat 10×6″ casserole and bake at 325* for 45 minutes, stirring once halfway through the baking period.
  5. When done, the pudding will be golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the middle will come out clean.
  6. THIS MIXTURE CAN BE PREPARED AHEAD OF TIME AND KEPT IN THE REFRIGERATOR. STIR WELL, THEN POUR INTO A BAKING DISH AND BAKE AS INSTRUCTED.

Steamed asparagus

“Kentucky pie” aka the pie named after the Run for the Roses which name has now been copyrighted.

Recipes for Mint Juleps and Kentucky pie here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/the-first-saturday-in-may/

MUSIC

Town & Country offered a Kentucky Derby playlist in 2014 that would work quite well for The Sport of Kings. You can find it here: http://www.townandcountrymag.com/the-scene/parties/a1923/kentucky-derby-party-music/

To their suggestions, I would add:

Run for the Roses, Dan Fogelberg

Blue Moon of Kentucky, Bill Monroe

Kentucky Rain, Elvis Presley

Kentucky Woman, Neil Diamond (I hate it but . . .)

Paradise, John Prine

MOVIE CASTING

Henrietta — Kentucky Girl Jennifer Lawrence, as if the book was written with her in mind

Henry Forge — Matthew McConaughey

Allmon — Jessie Williams

John Henry Forge – Sam Shepard

Happy Reading!

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A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles ✎✎✎✎✎

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Hotel Metropol

When an author takes the reader in hand, immediately plunging her into a world of scent, sound, touch, sight and taste — a world perhaps familiar but just different enough to intrigue — when a writer can do that and hold your attention through each page, so that you can’t wait to pick the book up again, to reconnect with the author’s time and characters . . . that is as soul-satisfying to me as anything could be.

Thanks to author Amor Towles. He’s accomplished this feat twice, first with The Rules of Civility and now with the recently-released A Gentleman in Moscow. I loved The Rules of Civility so much, I couldn’t wait to read A Gentleman in Moscow, even I couldn’t fathom how a novel set in Moscow during World War II and the Cold War, times and a place that didn’t seem to hold much of fascination, could be riveting. How wrong I was.

It is 1922. The Bolshevik Revolution is holding daily inquisitions into aristocrats and summarily standing them up against a wall and administering a lethal dose of justice via bullet. Count Alexander Rostov finds himself before a tribunal explaining a poem he published years before, which the Bolsheviks consider a call-to-aristocratic-arms. Rostov admits everything and nothing in a genial, good humored, fatalistic manner — a manner the reader will come to know and love over the course of A Gentleman in Moscow.

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Vintage Travel Poster

Somehow, Count Rostov escapes execution. He is, however, sentenced to life imprisonment within the confines of his current residence, the Hotel Metropol located on Theatre Square in central Moscow. According to A Gentleman in Moscow, and Amor Towles’ website, www.amortowles.com, the Metropol was of the same vintage and standards as New York’s Plaza, London’s Claridge’s, and The Ritz in Paris. But Count Rostov is not escorted to his multi-room, luxury suite. Instead, the Bolsheviks lead him to a 100-square-foot room in the attic where he must make do.

He unpacked some trousers and shirts into the back rights corner of his bureau (to ensure that the three-legged beast wouldn’t topple). Down the hall he dragged his trunk, half of his furniture, and all of his father’s books but one. Thus, within an hour he had reduced his room to its essentials: a desk and chair, a bed and bedside table, a high-back chair for guests, and a ten-foot passage just wide enough for a gentleman to circumambulate in reflection.

But there are worlds within the Count’s world, and he finds them with the help of a precocious young lady named Nina who has somehow procured a pass key to all the rooms of the Metropol and uses it to great effect. But the Count finds not only the Metropol’s wine vault, silver room, and lost and found, he also finds love, friendship, and a life far fuller than one would imagine could be found within the confines of one hotel, however luxurious, for more than thirty years.

I cannot recommend this novel highly enough. You and your book club will love it. And the food and music options excellent.

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amor-towles

The author, Amor Towles

My guess is that Amor Towles is a gastronome (though his on-line bio says only “that Mr. Towles is an ardent fan of early 20th century painting, 1950’s jazz, 1970’s cop shows, rock & roll on vinyl, manifestoes, breakfast pastries, pasta, liquor, snow-days, Tuscany, Provence, Disneyland, Hollywood, the cast of Casablanca, 007, Captain Kirk, Bob Dylan (early, mid, and late phases), the wee hours, card games, cafés, and the cookies made by both of his grandmothers”).

HIs descriptions of food, cooking, dining are among the finest in the book. But perhaps there is no way to even compare passages of such beauty ranging from food to literature to philosophy to love. (An aside: this novel is so divine I am ready to re-read it right now.)

Back to a menu — the Hotel Metropol is awash in champagne, brandy, vodka. Towles’ comments are priceless:

“Now, vodka was not the Count’s preferred spirit. In point of fact, despite his love for his country, he rarely drank it.”

“Anyone who has spent an hour drinking vodka by the glass knows that size has surprisingly little to do with a man’s capacity. There are tiny men for whom the limit is seven and giants for whom it is two.”

Some prominent menus:

Vodka and caviar

Whole bass roasted with black olives, fennel and lemon

Osso bucco (“a dish best preceded by a light and lively appetizer”)

A ten scoop ice cream sundae, each scoop a different flavor

Cucumber soup and rack of lamb with red wine reduction

But the piece de resistance for Chef Emile, the Count and maitre d Andrey, is the night when the three conspire to make bouillabaisse; it  has taken them weeks, months even, to acquire all of the ingredients. The author notes 15 ingredients, I can find reference to eight: fennel, two to three fresh oranges, one and a half ounces of saffron, absinthe, haddock, mussels, celery, tomatoes.  I would speculate that onion, garlic, olive oil are involved and potentially herbs of bay and thyme. That still leaves two for discovery, unless Chef Emile (and Author Towles) include salt and pepper.

bouillabaisseAll told, there were fifteen ingredients. Six of them could be plucked from the pantry of the Boyarsky at any time of the year. Another five were readily available in season. The nut of the problem was that, despite the overall improvement in the general availability of goods, the last four ingredients remained relatively rare.

From the outset, it was agreed that there would be no skimping — no shortcuts or substitutions. It was the symphony of silence. So the Triumvirate would have to be patient and watchful. They would have to be willing to beg, barter, collude and if necessary, resort to chicanery. Three times the dream had been within their grasp, only to be snatched away at the last moment by unforeseen circumstances (once by mishap, once by mold, and once by mice.)

But earlier this week, it seemed that the stars were wheeling into alignment once again. With nine elements already in Emile’s kitchen, four whole haddock and a basket of mussels meant for the National Hotel had been delivered to the Metropol by mistake.

. . . At one in the morning, the conspirators took their seats. On the table before them were a single candle, a loaf of bread, a bottle of rose, and three bowls of bouillabaisse.

. . . How to describe it? One first tastes the broth — that simmered distillation of fish bones, fennel, and tomatoes, with their hearty suggestions of Provence. One then savors the tender flakes of haddock and the briny resilience of the mussels, which have been purchased on the docks from the fisherman. One marvels at the boldness of the oranges arriving from Spain and the absinthe poured in the taverns. And all of these various impressions are somehow collected, composed, and brightened by the saffron — that essence of summer sun which, having been harvested in the hills of Greece and packed by mule to Athens, has been sailed across the Mediterranean in a felucca. In other words, with the very first spoonful one finds oneself transported to the port of Marseille — where the streets teem with sailors, thieves, and madonnas, with sunlight and summer, with languages and life.

MUSIC

There’s a bit of a running joke about the song, Yes, We Have No Bananas a tune first made popular in 1923.

Tchaikovsky is mentioned of course, and the Count’s adopted daughter masters Chopin and a Mozart variation or two.

Amor Towles’ website includes a playlist of classics if you want to go that route: http://www.amortowles.com/gentleman-moscow-amor-towles/gentleman-moscow-music/

But the passages that most caught my attention were those of the band rocking the Hotel’s bar with American jazz during the Cold War when foreign correspondents took turns telling tall tales to try to catch the attention of the KGB. Since Mr. Towles expressed a preference for 1950s jazz, that’s what I would play. It fits the celebratory air of A Gentleman in Moscow as well. Here’s a two hour track you can play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4N1KlyEbazo

MOVIE CASTING

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The Count: Ah, for Cary Grant to be alive to inhabit the shoes of Count Rostov. I can see Michael Fassbender in the role. Eddie Redmaybe. Jude Law. Andrew Garfield maybe?

Anna:  Again, I’m wishing for Rita Hayworth in a non-Rita Hayworth world. Marion Cotillard? Jessica Chastain?

Adult Nina: Emma Watson

The roles are numerous. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Jill had some great casting suggestions that I received via email this morning (1-30-17) and wanted to share: I too have been thinking about the casting for “A Gentleman in Moscow.” What do you think about Alexander (young count) and Stellan (older count) Skarsgård? Also Helen Mirren as the older Anna. I’d love to see the book dramatized as a limited series – like Masterpiece Theater or BBC (are you paying attention, Julian Fellowes?)”

Thanks Jill — great great ideas! I’ll tag Mr. Fellowes, here’s hoping he’s listening.

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Happy Reading!