Stuff and Nonsense: October 2012


Wordless Wednesday: The Mushroom Kingdom

Lots of mushrooms this autumn. No gnomes, though.

Rachel(ish) Grilled Cheese

I was in the mood for a grilled cheese sandwich this morning, but wanted something more than just cheese. I'd stocked up on Boar's Head sandwich meat, including turkey, over the weekend so I ended up making a sort-of Rachel sandwich with the turkey, sauerkraut, and ajvar (a Serbian spread made of red bell peppers, eggplant, and garlic). It came out really well and I think I prefer the smoky-sweet flavor of ajvar to the gooey sweetness of thousand island dressing.

Ah, delicious beige-ness!
How did I make this sandwich? Smeared the outsides of two slices of bakery bread with yoghurt-butter spread. Smeared the insides with ajvar. Placed a slice in a hot nonstick skillet and topped with a little sauerkraut. (My sauerkraut came from the Connecticut Garlic and Harvest Festival and is, probably, the Best Sauerkraut Ever).

Building Grilled Cheese
Buttered bread, ajvar, sauerkraut ... yum
Topped with turkey and and a slice of monterey jack (I warmed my turkey for a few seconds in the microwave, because I didn't want a sandwich with a cold center) and then fried until beautifully brown on one side and then flip and fried the other side.

Grilled Rachel(ish) Cheese

Sliced in half, admired for a few seconds, and then scarfed down. Omnomnom! I should have made two!


The Moonstone & Sergeant Disraeli

I don't know what you do during a hurricane, but I watch period dramas. While howling winds and driving rain are more suited to something like Wuthering Heights, I decided to finally watch the 1996 BBC production of The Moonstone I interlibrary-loaned through my library *cough* months *cough* ago.

Before I start nit-picking about The Things That Were Different, I just want to stress how very much I enjoyed this production. The sets, the costumes, the selection of actors themselves are all very pleasing and I would say that, overall, the film is well done. I regret no second of the 120 minutes I spent watching this film and I would happily watch it again.

That said, as with any film adaptation, there were Things That Were Different:

The Moonstone is the size of a large chicken egg, is perfectly clear, and looks a bit like a fancy prism you'd hang in a window to make rainbows. Nothing like a plover's egg and nothing near as ... awfully seductive ... as Collins' diamond: "When you looked down into the stone, you looked into a yellow deep that drew your eyes into it so that they saw nothing else. It seemed unfathomable; this jewel, that you could hold between your finger and thumb, seemed unfathomable as the heavens themselves. We set it in the sun, and then shut the light out of the room, and it shone awfully out of the depths of its own brightness, with a moony gleam, in the dark."

Gone are The Bouncers and Mr. Murthwaite. I presume The Bouncers were chucked because they're not very important to the story (although I found them rather amusing characters in the novel). Mr. Murthwaite is rolled up into the character of Mr. Candy and that blew my mind a little as here was the slightly daffy doc talking very knowledgeably about Hindoo lore and mischief. I think, if you'd never read the novel, this worked fine. But I had read the novel, and was taken aback every time Mr. Candy said something especially prescient about the stone. He still gets a fever and loses his mind, so there's that.

Sadly, there is absolutely nothing of interest in Mr. Jennings appearance. Indeed, I was Extremely Disappointed by the film's treatment of Jennings -- there's no real explanation why he's disliked by everyone in the area except that he's dying and addicted to opium which should surely cause people to pity, rather than revile, him? The friendship that blossomed between Jennings and Franklin is not apparent in the film at all.  No Moonstone brohood, here.

It's clear, in the film, that everyone wears very different nightgowns. I bring this up, because we talked a lot (too much?) about nightgowns during the readalong.

Penelope is not Betteredge's daughter!

Betteredge, The Man Who Was No-One's Dad
The painted door is quite handsome. Much less busy and much more professional-looking than I had imagined. But still a blatantly transparent excuse for Franklin to spend "special time" with Rachel.

Oh, baby, let me help you load your paintbrush.
Clack is much younger-looking than I had imagined, but just as pious. The scene where she attempts to press "Satan Among the Sofa Cushion" upon Lady Verinder just had me in stitches. The actress who plays Clack, Kacey Ainsworth, plays her as rather sweetly earnest and essentially harmless and I found her more endearing than the Clack the novel.

I kept thinking the actor who plays Sergeant Cruf, Antony Sher, looked like Disraeli ... and then I realized that was probably because I'd seen him play Disraeli in Mrs Brown! It was very confusing -- every time he appeared I'd think "Look! There's Disraeli!" and wonder why he was investigating The Moonstone. Also, the actor had this unnerving habit of opening his eyes extra wide for emphasis, which made him look a bit like a madman and diluted the sheer awesomeness that ought to be Sergeant Cruf.

However, Limping Lucy was a delight! As spirited as I'd imagined! But the lesbian subtext was sadly lacking. Silly BBC.

Admit I only watched the first episode of The Moonstone: 1972 Masterpiece Theater Version, but that was quite enough. The first scene? Where the diamond is taken? I was ready to stop watching right then. The acting is TERRIBLE (so terrible I briefly hoped the terribleness was somehow intention but NO) and while the moonstone is a yellow diamond it's not decorating the head of a Hindoo deity. No. It's in the hilt of a dagger. The rest of the episode had absolutely no redeeming qualities.

tl;dr: Stick to the 1996 BBC production, my loves.

Pheasant Pie ... Tastes A Lot Like Chicken

So, waylongtimeago, I bought a pair of pheasants. Why? Because I'd never cooked pheasant before, so why not? Of course, I panicked once they were actually in my kitchen and ended up stuffing them in the back of our chest freezer until I could figure out how to not wreck them.

Sunday, I did haphazarded kitchen purge and made Taste of Home's "Pheasant Potpie" with the thawed pheasants, whiskery carrots, limp celery, and pearl onions frozen last Thanksgiving.

I put the celery, onion, and garlic (4 whole cloves) at the bottom of the Dutch/French oven, then nestled the pheasants together on top. Rather than using just water, I replaced half the water with low-sodium chicken broth. I also chucked in a bay leaf for kicks.

Taste of Home's recipe was pretty simple to follow and made a really nice potpie! I did omit the pimientos and added a liberal shake of Bell's Seasoning so my potpie tasted a lot like Thanksgiving dinner. And that was okay with us, really!

(Lacking pheasant, I'm sure a Cornish game hen or small chicken would work just as well).


Seasonal Reads: The 13 Nights of Halloween

The 13 Nights of Halloween written & illus. by Guy Vasilovich (HarperCollins, 2011)

A very clever and amusing rewrite of that holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with thirsty vampires, icky eyeballs, and caroling corpses replacing the traditional items. And, seriously, who wouldn’t prefer eight marching mutants to eight maids a-milking? Unless they were mutant milkmaids! That would be awesome, yes?

The ghoulish illustrations are quite gorgeous -- it’s like looking at stills from an animated film -- and consistently manage to be both creepy and cute. Indeed, our wee witchy girl with her big eyes and bat-beribboned pigtails is so adorable that I wanted to put her in my pocket and carry her around with me! I’m pretty sure her mummy wouldn’t be pleased, though.


Good-bye, bananas! Hello, banana bread!

Oh, sweet banana-y goodness in my oven and so much less banana-y goodness in my freezer! There had been too many bananas in my freezer and I was becoming quite annoyed with their propensity for leaping from the freezer whenever I opened the door to fall upon my poor toes. Yes, I could easily have rearranged the contents of the freezer, but baking banana bread seemed easier. Also, it got rid of half the bananas and that is a good thing as the freezer is not for Infinite Banana Storage.

My go-to banana bread recipe is for "Blueberry Banana Bread" from the defunct Genesis of A Cook. I have very real fears the originating blog will just up and vanish one day, so I'm posting my version of the recipe below.

Blueberry Banana Bread

You'll see I've omitted the streusel topping in my version and that's just a time-saving move on my part. Also, the streusel topping is good, but the cake stands up well on its own and doesn't really need the extra bling.

To get 1 cup of banana, I used 6 thawed frozen organic baby bananas. I just let the frozen bananas sit on the kitchen side for about on hour, then snipped the ends off each banana and squeezed the fruit out like toothpaste from a tube.
Blueberry Banana Bread


2 cups plus 1 Tbsp white whole wheat flour
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tsp Penzeys baking spice blend
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
½ cup low-fat buttermilk
1 capful Penzeys Mexican vanilla
6 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and drained, or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl or baggie, gently toss the blueberries with 1 tablespoon of flour.

In a medium bowl, blend flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and baking spice. In a large bowl, stir mashed bananas, buttermilk, butter, vanilla, and egg together. Stir flour mixture into banana mixture just until evenly moistened; the batter will be very thick. Gently stir in blueberry mixture.

Glop batter into a greased 8-cup bundt pan or 9x5 loaf pan. Bake bread in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Let bread cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and turn over onto rack to cool completely, about 45 minutes.
Best served warm with a big mug of tea.


Top 10 Tuesday: Books To Get In The Halloween Spirit

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the ghastly Broke & Bookish, we discuss our top ten books to get in the Halloween spirit. Some of my picks are quite scary ... others, not so much.
  1. Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca (très creepy)
  2. Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child (not every child is a blessing)
  3. H.P. Lovecraft's Dreams of Terror and Death (best read at midnight in a creepy, poorly lit basement)
  4. Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (oh, the madness)
  5. James & Deborah Howe’s Bunnicula (not scary, but fun)
  6. Joe Hill's Horns (Rev)
  7. Joe Pimienta's A Friendly Game (Rev)
  8. Sarah Water's The Little Stranger (who's haunting whom?)
  9. Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (Rev)
  10. Stephen King's Tommyknockers (scared the pants off me when I was in high school)
It's a short story, but Philip K. Dick's "Roog" still gives me the chills whenever I think about it and I haven't read it in five years. Ostensibly, it's about a dog and some garbage men, but it felt much darker and more sinister.


Italian Homework: Chicken Marsala

I just completed “Lesson 8: Meat, Chicken, and Fish” for my online Italian cooking class and you know what that means, right? It means I've four lessons to go! I'm that much closer to pie-making!

(Unsurprisingly, I am totes winning at failing Weight Watchers).

For this lesson, I chose to make chicken marsala as The Husband and I are really partial to anything that involves chicken, wine, and mushrooms. And by partial I mean, there can never been too much wine, chicken, and mushrooms. Especially, the mushrooms.

Chicken Marsala
Alas, so much brown! Delicious, yes. But so brown.
The instructor's recipe made a good, but very basic marsala lacking the richness and perfection of, say, Cook's Illustrated's chicken marsala. If I made this version again, I'd be sure to cook lots of garlic and chopped red onion with the mushrooms. And I'd probably serve the marsala with mashed potatoes, because all that good wine sauce deserves garlicky mashed potatoes. (The Husband said it would be better served with chips, but then those British people like fries with everything ... which is awesome, by the way).
Beginner's Chicken Marsala
Yield: 4 Servings

¼ C flour
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded ½ inch thick
4 T butter [I used 2]
4+ T olive oil [I used 2]
2 cups sliced mushrooms [I used 1 pound]
½ cup Marsala wine 
¼ cup chicken broth or stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb of pasta such as linguine, if desired [I used fettuccine]

Pat the chicken dry. Mix the flour, salt and pepper in a large baggie. Add chicken to the baggie. Shake until all pieces are coated well. Pour oil into a large pan and add butter, heat until butter is melted.

Place chicken in the pan, and brown lightly on both sides. Remove chicken pieces and set aside. Add mushrooms to the pan with a little more olive oil if needed. Brown mushrooms and let their liquid cook off.

Add wine and stock, stir well, scraping up brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Put the chicken back on top of the mushrooms and heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Cook your pasta while the chicken is finishing so that they are done together.

Serve chicken over pasta with mushrooms and sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley and freshly grated cheese, if desired.
(And, if you don't have any marsala wine, a good sherry works fine. Really!)


Graphic Novel: Northanger Abbey

Marvel Classic's Northanger Abbey adapted by Nancy Butler & illus. Janet Lee (Marvel, 2012)

Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite romances (and John Tilney is definitely the only man I would widow myself over), so I was very glad to get my hands on Butler's adaptation.

Oh, I just want to wrap my arms around this graphic adaptation and hug it and squeeze it ... and then read it again. It's beautifully illustrated and the adaptation was lovingly done, with careful selection of the novel's best elements so that Austen's wit shines clearly.

In this adaptation, as in the novel, Catherine Morland is a completely relatable heroine. She's very young (only seventeen at the start of the novel) and rather naive. Expecting the best of people and taking new acquaintances on face value, she makes some bad friends and gets tangled up in situations an older, surer Catherine would have known to avoid. (I do blame Mrs. Allen for some of Catherine's distress -- she was a poor chaperone and that's shown pretty clearly early in this adaptation).

Lee's done an excellent job illustrating Isabella's duplicitous ways -- her words are very seemly (on the surface, anyway), but her expression and body language gives the game away. Indeed, in a way, the illustrations made Isabella's betrayal of the Morlands more palatable, because she became the character I loved to hate. (Oh, wicked, fortune-hunting Isabella! I pitied her a bit, too, as what future would she have if she didn't get a fortune?).


Improv Challenge: Oatmeal & Raisins

October's Improv Challenge ingredients, oatmeal and raisins, are a traditional combination and can be combined in many delicious ways. Being on an oatmeal-for-breakfast kick, I decided to make Sunset's "Aloha Oatmeal" which uses steel-cut oats, golden raisins, flaked coconut, sliced almonds, pineapple, and banana. It's a tropical flavor explosion and perfect for giving good belly cheer on a wet, grey October morning when leaving a warm bed to go to the dentist just seems unbearable.

Aloha, Oatmeal!

I omitted the honey from this recipe as the fruit and coconut provided enough sweetness. I also omitted the extra milk/water the original recipe suggested stirring in at the end because this oatmeal was already plenty creamy for me and I don't like porridge-y oatmeal.

This was good with steel-cut oats, but I don't see why you couldn't use whatever kind of oats you prefer or have on hand. I happened to have both old-fashioned and steel-cut oats as I use the old-fashioned quite a lot and keep buying the steel-cut out of some kind of misquided cookery guilt -- "I should prefer steel-cut oats! They're so good for me! The extra time is worth it! The tin is so pretty!"
Aloha Oatmeal
Adapted from a recipe by Sunset

1 cup Irish steel-cut oats
3 oz golden raisins
1 tsp canola oil
1 pinch sea salt

1 cup chopped banana
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
½ cup toasted sliced almonds
½ cup toasted sweetened coconut


Cook oats according to package instructions, but adding ½ cup more water. As soon as the oats come to a boil, add the raisins, oil, and salt. Continue to cook as directed.

When the oats are done, divide between four bowls and top with banana, pineapple, almonds, and coconut.
(I toasted the coconut and almonds by heating a nonstick skillet up and then stirring the coconut and almonds around for about 5 minutes).


Fun With Furniture Pads

So the little rubber feet on my MacBook Pro have been falling off one by one. I usually use my MacBook on my lap, not at a table, so don't really notice the loss except when I pick it up and carry it, open, around the house. Then my fingers invariably find the empty sockets and can't stop touching them.

New Feet For Old

I looked into replacing the feet, but my MacBook is old now and well out of warranty. Being a rebel (or simply parsimonious), I don't have AppleCare. Replacement feet cost $12.95 (+ shipping) for a set of four and installing them involves unscrewing the bottom of my MacBook case and doing things with adhesive. As I am to be trusted neither with screwdrivers nor with adhesive, I went the caveman DYI route and bought some felt furniture pads.

New Laptop Feets

While I was only missing two feet, I slapped the pads over all the feet (or empty sockets) for uniformity's sake. The back, which still had the original feet, is now slightly elevated above the front, but it doesn't bother me. I don't know if these feet will stay on, but they've survived the first week just fine. Anyway, at $5 for 48, I don't really care that much.

New Feet For Old

(I know this is a ridiculous thing to be proud of, but I can't help feeling mighty pleased with myself).


Eating the Alphabet: S is for Spinach

October's Eating the Alphabet Challenge is S and/or T ingredients. Being pressed for time, I rolled the Alphabet Challenge up with homework for my online Italian cooking class and made "Stracciatella" (Italian egg-drop soup with spinach). I only began appreciating spinach once I reached adulthood and, even as recently has three years ago, I would only eat it raw in salads. Now I love it prepared pretty much anyway imaginable!

Indeed, I've grown to love leafy greens of all kinds and can only shake my head at childhood me who would only eat lettuces and cabbage for leafy greens.

Of course, childhood me would be appalled by many of the things I eat now.

Italian Egg-Drop Soup (Stracciatella)

Beginners Stracciatella

10 cups chicken broth or stock [I used half broth, half stock]
1 bag fresh baby spinach
2 large eggs beaten with ½ cup of cold water
¼ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
⅛ tsp ground nutmeg [I used mace]
1 cup orzo, uncooked

Heat chicken broth in a large pot over medium/low heat until simmering, add pasta and cook for five minutes, lower heat. Sauté garlic with the olive oil over low heat in a skillet until garlic is fragrant.

Coarsely chop spinach and add to broth. Add the garlic & oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the pot. Stir well. Make sure the broth is hot, but not boiling. Slowly drizzle the beaten egg into the soup as you briskly whisk it so that thin ribbons of egg form. Cook and stir for one minute. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Serves 4 generously.
Peppery and rich, this soup will definitely chase your Monday blahs away!


Flying Under Bridges by Sandi Toksvig

I’m fairly desperate to read Toksvig’s brand-new novel, Valentine Grey (The Boer War! Victorian Homosexuals! Cross-dressing!), but I have no idea when it will be available in the US. I interlibrary-loaned Toksvig’s Flying Under Bridges a few weeks ago to see what her writing’s like as it is her only adult novel available through the state-wide library interlibrary-loan system.

(Dear Birthday Fairies, send me an package? Kthxbai)

Anyway, I found Flying Under Bridges an extremely enjoyable read. It’s chockfull of black comedy, social satire, and just sheer absurdity. Oh, there’s also bleakness and tragedy -- if you stray from the norm, clichéd twee 1990s(?) English villages aren’t as nice as they look -- and the characters can too often sound like lecturers on gay and women’s rights. But then, why shouldn’t they be? They’re women. They’re gay. They’re really the only ones who have the right to talk about it.

Which doesn’t stop all the nice, understanding heterosexual men from giving helpful advice to these women or trying to manage them (for their own good, of course, the poor misguided dears). So it’s no surprise our protagonist, Eve Marshall of Edenford, eventually ups and kills one of them. I’m not giving anything away by telling you this, as it has already happened by the time the novel begins.

Eve, now in prison and awaiting trial, writes letters to her old school friend, Inge Holbrook, recently returned to the village after a glamorous life as a sports star and BBC presenter. The letters explain how this nice middle-aged, middle-class, middlebrow housewife came to kill her daughter's fiancé, that nice John Antrobus. We also learn a fair bit about Inge and the secret she has so carefully kept from the world.

Racism, feminism, homophobia, misogyny, hypocrisy, charity, friendship, motherhood, revolution -- Flying Under Bridges has it all in spades. It can be a bit of an exhausting gallop at points, but well worth the effort. I only wish the novel went on a bit longer. What does happen to Eve, Inge, Tom, and Shirley? Do they get the futures they deserve? And what of the nice, helpful, understanding men? Do they ever realize what condescending asshats they are?

[I’m not actually sure when Flying Under Bridges is set. Telling myself it is set in the 1990s allows me to believe some of the wickedness that happened in the novel happened just far back enough that I can distance myself from my anger a little bit. But I don’t know what The Gay Situation is in England today -- you all might just be as screwed up as here and the things that happened to Inge might well still be happening.

Oh. Good. Now I want to set something on fire. Again.

My car is in fine kip, though. And I don’t know anyone quite as wicked as that nice John Antrobus].

Flying Under Bridges written & read by Sandi Toksvig (Recorded Books, 2001)


Wordless Wednesday: If You Give A Cat A Quilt

If You Give A Cat A Quilt ...
I'm sure Hedwig thinks that, if I really loved her, I'd make her a kitty quilt.
Wait ... that's all my quilts, already.


Top 10 Tuesday: Rewind

This week's Top 10 Tuesday is a rewind -- we pick a past topic that we've missed or want to repeat. I went with “Top Ten Favorite Book Quotes,” because it brings back fond memories of my nerdy girlhood when I would inscribe my favorite quotes in purple ink in a spiral notebook especially chosen for that purpose and carefully kept secret, because No-One Else Properly Appreciated Literature.

*pities her parents and teachers*
  1. “And he went on eating his marmalade as though everything were natural.”― Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
  2. “Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps ... perhaps ... love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath. ” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
  3. “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
  4. “Roses are for love. Not silly sweet-hearts' love but the love that makes you and keeps you whole, love that gets you through the worst your life'll give you and that pours out of you when you're given the best instead.” ― Robin McKinley, Rose Daughter
  5. “She had always suffered from a vague restlessness, a longing for adventure that she told herself severely was the result of reading too many novels when she was a small child.” ― Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword
  6. “She should have done science, not spent all her time with her head in novels. Novels gave you a completely false idea about life, they told lies and they implied there were endings when in reality there were no endings, everything just went on and on and on.” — Kate Atkinson, Case Histories
  7. “The odd thing about people who had many books was how they always wanted more.” ― Patricia A. McKillip, The Bell at Sealey Head
  8. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
  9. “We have a name for your disease. We call it a hyper-aesthetic one. You have been encouraged to over-indulge yourself in literature; and have inflamed your organs of fancy.” ― Sarah Waters, Fingersmith [bold is mine, because I just love that phrase so very much]
  10. “Words, he decided, were inadequate at best, impossible at worst. They meant too many things. Or they meant nothing at all.” ― Patricia A. McKillip, In The Forests of Serre


Can't Stop Picking On Hard Times

Way back when I was still complaining my way through Dickens' Hard Times, one of my coworkers loaned me her DVD set of the 1977 Granada Television production with Patrick Allan and Timothy West. I put off watching it until I'd finished the novel and then ... I just put off watching it. Because, you know, Hard Times.

But then it was Columbus Day weekend and I didn't have anything better to do, so I watched it. All 203 blessed minutes of it. And, you know, 203 minutes spread over four episodes just wasn't enough. The story is heavily abridged and some of the novel's best scenes and key characters (imho) are left out.

We never meet Bounderby's mother, for example, and so Bounderby's hypocrisy is never revealed. Bounderby's self-mythologizing is left to run on. I had every reason, watching this production, to believe he'd live happily ever after in Coketown with Mrs. Sparsit as his housekeeper and Bitzer as his Chief Clerk.

No, Mrs. Sparsit doesn't call him any names and leave him ... at least, I don't think so, but my attention might have wandered at that point, because I couldn't stop trying to analyze Mrs. Sparsit's makeup. She frequently looked as if her face was painted on -- a moon-white mask with coal-dark slashes for eyebrows and a tiny prune of a mouth. I kept waiting for her to turn into a bat and fly up the chimney.

But it was not that kind of film.

Also, and this is The Big Issue: the ending is completely different from the book. It ends at the circus, but Bitzer doesn't show up to (nearly) ruin Tom's escape. Indeed, as a viewer, I had every reason to believe Tom successfully escapes to the Continent and lives dissolutely ever after. As to what befalls Louisa and Jupe and Mr Gradgrind ... the film ends with Louisa smiling at some random, dirty child riding a pony at the circus as Jupe and Mr Gradgrind approach.

And that's it.


I know I complained a lot about the novel, Hard Times, but I wouldn’t have complained if I didn’t have strong feelings about it. I would have just said “Hard Times? Meh” and left it at that. I cared very strongly about Sissy, Louisa, Stephen, and Rachel. I wanted them to have better lives. I resented that Dickens treated them as stock characters in a morality play rather than living, breathing people. It’s an excellent criticism of the industrial period, but it is sorely lacking as a novel.

I hoped the film would flesh out the characters and turn them into real people worthy of empathy. Instead, I found I cared for Film Louisa even less than Novel Louisa and I couldn't feel anything for Film Bounderby or Tom. They're even more caricatures of themselves than they are in the novel.

So, no, I wouldn't recommend this film.

Would I read Hard Times, again? I don’t know. There are certainly portions I would listen to, again.

I supplemented my reading of Hard Times with the 2008 Tantor recording read by Simon Prebble and, wow, did he do a bang-up job. His adept reading, as well as skilled use of accent and speech patterns, brings greater depth to the characters than mere text could. Every character is instantly recognizable so that, even when I came back to it after a few days away, I never lost track of who was speaking. And the speeches given in strong dialect? The ones that looked like this, abusing my eyes with apostrophes and non-standard spellings?
‘My friends,’ Stephen began, in the midst of a dead calm; ‘I ha’ hed what’s been spok’n o’ me, and ’tis lickly that I shan’t mend it. But I’d liefer you’d hearn the truth concernin myseln, fro my lips than fro onny other man’s, though I never cud’n speak afore so monny, wi’out bein moydert and muddled.’
They made perfect sense when Prebble read them. Yay for reading books out loud.

And that's another thing that annoyed me about the film! There are no distinct class or regional accents. Aside from speaking deferentially, Old Stephen Blackpool sounds as much a gentleman as Mr Gradgrind. And no-one sounds like they're from the North of England.

It's film! Didn't anyone think: "Let's pretend we live in a Northern English mill-town during the reign of Victoria and put on funny regional and class accents. What fun it will be! How much more believable the story will seem!"

I must admit, that whenever Mr Bounderby started running on about his Terrible Childhood and how he became a Self-made Man, this Monty Python sketch ran through my head:


Top 10 Tuesday: Unforgettable Oldies

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the inestimable Broke & Bookish, we talk about all those unforgettable "oldies." Some of my oldies are quite old, but others are just out-of-print and, therefore, off many readers' maps:
  1. Moonraker's Bride by Madeleine Brent -- Delicious Gothic full of daring-do, romance, and humor! Some parts Bronte, some parts Dickens, and all parts fantastic.
  2. Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle -- Wonderful retelling of the Genesis flood narrative through the eyes of two contemporary boys on the cusp of adulthood.
  3. Work: A Story by Louisa May Alcott -- A bookish young woman goes out into the world to seek her fortune and encounters hardship and joy, romance and tragedy.
  4. Lord of The Far Island by Patricia Holt -- another delicious Gothic romance with dramatic plot twists, a sympathetic heroine, and the classic dark/brooding/mesmerizing antihero all Gothic romances require.
  5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov -- Full of the most beautiful descriptions and cunning phrases that I would almost forget what horror Humbert Humbert was describing.
  6. Lolly Willowes or the Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner -- Darkly humorous and bitingly sharp story with a protagonist it is impossible not to cheer for (even when she's making pacts with the Devil).
  7. Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson -- I'm a sucker for Thompson's homey, rural descriptions even though I know she has, in many ways, dressed poverty up in pretty ribbons. The tweeness overrides common sense.
  8. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter -- A charming tangle of love, family, and environmentalism in 1900s Indiana.
  9. & 10. You tell me!