Stuff and Nonsense: September 2013


Now, Voyager by Olive Higgins Prouty

"Oh, well, naturally I've read a few novels. I confess to have a slight book-knowledge about the facts of life. And then, too," she went on, her self-derision crescendoing, "there are broad plays and musical shows and moving pictures for giving information to inexperienced but curious spinsters like me."

Until a few weeks ago, I was completely unaware the film Now, Voyager was based on a novel of the same name. But, it is and, oh my, what a read! Admittedly, it took a little while for Prouty's Charlotte Vale to firmly overwrite Bette Davis' in my head, but once that happened I was completely sold on the novel.

Here we have Charlotte, "the child of her mother's old age," who has been raised to believe she is unattractive and undesirable. Ruthlessly dominated by her mother, mocked and teased by younger, prettier family members ... is it any wonder she has a breakdown? But the breakdown turns out to be a good thing as Charlotte gets the psychological help she so desperately needs. Add a makeover, a new wardrobe, a trip to Europe, and a brief love affair with a married man and, well, here's a woman transformed.

And, I know, the whole-ugly-nobody-gets-a-makeover-and-becomes-a-real-woman schtick has been done to death, but Now, Voyager is no fluffy bit of nonsense. Charlotte finds the strength to chart her own course, choosing independence and self-awareness over the traditional female roles expected of her. I mean, for the 1930s, this is quite a radical work! Marriage is not necessary for happiness, men are ultimately dispensable, and a mother is the one who loves you.

Now, Voyager is the third in a series of five novels Prouty wrote about the Vale family. My library system only owns one other book in the series, Fabia, which is about Charlotte's young niece -- a girl with a knack for loving the wrong men. I'd much rather read more about Tina, but Prouty doesn't seem to have carried her story any further than Now, Voyager.

Now, Voyager by Olive Higgins Prouty (Sun Dial Press, 1943)


Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, & Birutė Galdikas

Primates is a graphic nonfiction recounting the experiences of three great primatologists -- Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas. I admit I was completely unfamiliar with Galdikas' work with orangutans, which is deeply embarrassing as orangutans are some of my favorite primates (and not just because of the Librarian).

Wicks' illustrations are lovely -- clean and uncluttered, but rich in emotional depth and nuance. One of my favorite illustrated moments was when Fossey sees mountain gorillas for the first time. Wicks' handling of such an emotionally charged moment is perfect.

I was, however, a bit disappointed by the text as Primates felt much too short and moved much too quickly, leaving out a lot of detail about the women's lives and research. Indeed, Primates sometimes felt like there was too much Leakey and not enough Goodall, Fossey, and Goldikas. I understand Leakey made a good linking character as he helped them all start out, but (considering the length of the book) he just seemed to get in the way of their stories and interrupt the rhythm of the book. Or, maybe, it's just that I didn't think much of Leakey.

(I shared Primates with The Husband and he said "It was cute! But, you know, very 'read this and learn stuff'").

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas written by Jim Ottaviani with illus. by Maris Wicks (First Second, 2013)


Wordless Wednesday: Fences & Filters

Fences & Filters
Whenever I go walking at lunch, I'm tempted to photograph this fence ... so I did.


Mariana by Monica Dickens

I've fallen into one of those moods where, while I'm gobbling up books as if they were warm oatmeal cookies, I don't feel like talking about them. Last month I could probably have written screens-worth of love to Monica Dickens' Mariana, but the best I can say now is "It was a sweet book and I enjoyed it very much. It didn’t hold much in the way of surprises, but that was fine." And, yet, I loved the novel as I was reading it and think anyone who enjoys quiet, pre-World War II "women's" novels or films would also love Mariana. There's comedy and romance and family drama and a beloved country house and Paris before the Nazis and, oh, it's just grand.

Mariana is, essentially, a quiet book about growing up. We begin nearly at the end and then quickly move back to Mariana's childhood before slowly moving forward again. It was a little dangerous, I thought, of Dickens to begin the book at its end as it gave a bit of child Mariana's future away. I knew, for example, that the grown-up Mariana couldn't possibly end up with Pierre or in France at all, for that matter. So that was a third of the novel I could have easily skimmed ... but I didn't, because Dickens knows how to write.

Indeed, one of my favorite sections was in the third I could have skimmed. Mariana brought Pierre home to her family and very quickly realized he "wouldn't suit," but felt that there was nothing she could do about that and so would just have to learn to get on (there's a good reason why she feels she must marry Pierre so don't get judgy). It was a sudden and rather bleak growing-up to go through and other heroines might have descended into crying jags or the vapors or cried off, but Mariana was made of sterner stuff. Possibly, she's just very British?

She could not conceive of the sort of marriage that seemed to appeal to some people, based on violent quarrels and exciting reconciliations, but there were so many things in herself she would have to suppress. She suddenly felt old, as if she had finished with her youth, which was unreasonable, since she was going to marry someone essentially young and gay.

(Of course, Mariana isn't a tragedy, doesn't settle for Pierre, and the novel ends on a happier note).

Mariana by Monica Dickens (Persephone Books, 2008)


Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Wild Strawberries is one of those seemingly cozy, genteelly comfortable novels, set in the British countryside back in the near mythic day when an upper-class family needn't worry for funds or servants. It's the second book in a long series call The Barsetshire Novels (after Trollope’s The Chronicles of Barsetshire -- yet another Victorian TBR) and they’re all, on the surface, about genteel county families doing genteel county family things. I didn’t read the first novel in the series, High Rising, but that didn't interfere with the pure pleasure I experienced reading Wild Strawberries.

The plot in a nutshell: Agnes's niece, Mary, is come down to Rushwater House for a long visit and falls for the charming lay-about David (who takes her attraction as his due), while his older brother John (a widower) slowly falls for her. Meanwhile, Lady Emily's grandson Martin has fallen in with a family of French Royalists staying at the vicarage for the summer.

Now you've read that you probably believe Wild Strawberries is a comical romance, but it is not really. Although it has strong romantic and comedic themes, it also has elements of sharp satire and drama. Regardless, it is hilariously entertaining and I really wish the BBC would turn it into a television miniseries as it's the kind of thing which would appeal to many different kinds of readers/viewers. Also, I keep seeing Imelda Staunton as Lady Emily.

I know Lady Emily, if she were a real person, would drive me up the wall. But, as a fictional character, she was a delight. She was so ... managing ... but always most ineffectively and the cloud of chaos that followed her about (in the form of trailing shawls, misplaced spectacles, errant footstools, yarn, embroidery, and anything else that happens to be in her orbit) was just a hoot. I loved that her resigned (but not unloving) family would come along behind her, collecting all the bits she dropped or left behind.

While I really enjoyed Wild Strawberries and recommend it, the novel is still clearly a product of the 1930s and not without startling moments of racism. Even though I reminded myself such things were (probably) perfectly common in their time, the "nigger touch" scene was still a complete shock and hard to shake. Which can either be blamed on my own naiveté as a reader of historical fiction or on Thirkell's skill at creating characters that seemed real enough that I expected them to behave like my contemporaries.

Virago is republishing many of Thirkell's works as Virago Modern Classics and they are just lovely to look at. If you're more a book buyer than a borrower, those are the editions I'd recommend you get. Heck, High Rising and Wild Strawberries even come with introductions by Alexander McCall Smith.

Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell (Carroll & Graf, 1989)


Improv Challenge: Pasta & Cheese

My participation in the 2013 Improv Challenge has, sadly, been a bit sporadic. Many of the 2013 ingredient pairings have struck me as more sweet than savory and I just haven't been in the mood for sweet. Happily, September's ingredients are "Pasta and Cheese." Other than a lokshen kugel (noodle pudding), I don't know how pasta and cheese could be anything but savory! (Prove me wrong, Improv-ers).

Because we are supposed to be eating more healthfully here at Chez Savory Tart, I did not whip up a beautiful bacon-wrapped meatloaf stuffed with macaroni and cheese, but made a pretty (and decidedly more healthful) warm pasta salad using whole wheat pasta, blue cheese, beets, arugula, and pecans.

Warm Pasta & Arugula Salad

While I recommend using a mild blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola or Danish Blue, feel free to substitute fresh goat cheese if even the merest thought of blue cheese gives you the horrors.

If you don't have flax seed oil, olive oil will do fine. I just find flax seed oil gives greens a lovely nuttiness.

And, yes, feel free to go Martha and roast your own beets!
Warm Pasta and Blue Cheese Salad
Serves 2

4 oz whole wheat penne
3 oz fresh arugula
1 oz mild blue cheese, crumbled
[Gorgonzola or Danish blue]
Half 8 oz pkg cooked beets, drained and diced [Melissa's or Love Beets]
1 oz pecans, crushed
1 Tbsp flax seed oil [Barlean's]
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Put the arugula in a large bowl and set aside.

Cook pasta until al dente (or however you like your pasta). Drain pasta and pour, still hot, over arugula. Toss until arugula wilts a bit. (If your arugula looks like it isn't wilting, cover the bowl with a tea towel and go away for a few minutes).

Add blue cheese, beets, pecans, olive oil and balsamic, and toss again.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide between two plates. Nom.

Warm Pasta & Arugula Salad


Top 10 Tuesday: Autumn TBR

I've done two TBR lists, now, for Top Ten Tuesday and consistently failed to read from them so I kind of feel like this is a bad idea, but here's my Autumn 2013 TBR list:
  1. Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
  2. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  3. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink (audio, probably)
  4. Help for the Haunted by John Searles
  5. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened... by Allie Brosh
  6. The Lord of Opium by Nancy Farmer
  7. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
  8. More Than This by Patrick Ness
  9. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  10. Shadows by Robin McKinley


Eating the Alphabet: R is for Rutabaga

For September's Eating the Alphabet, we're cooking with ingredients starting with the letter P, Q, or R. Since it's really starting to feel like autumn and autumn makes my little heart yearn for root vegetables, I decided to go with rutabaga. Or, as Stop and Shop labeled them, "yellow turnips." Or, as my British mother-in-law calls them, "swedes."

Our Friend, The Rutabaga

While I wanted to make something like the mashed rutabaga my mother serves at Thanksgiving, I also wanted to incorporate some of the monstrously huge carrots still lurking in my vegetable garden. I hoped the carrots would offset the rutabaga's distinctive flavor and make the vegetable more palatable for The Husband. For while I enjoy rutabaga, The Husband does not. Indeed, he seems to view my mother's Thanksgiving mashed rutabaga as some kind of trap, meant to misdirect him from the mashed potatoes.

Whipped Rutabaga & Carrot

While The Husband ate a small scoop of whipped rutabaga and carrots, he pronounced it "not his favorite." I nommed up two big scoops, so clearly I liked it. It's s simple dish with a mild, slightly sweet, flavor -- much milder than my mom's straight-forward mash, but still pretty strongly rutabaga for non-rutabaga lovin' folk.
Whipped Rutabaga & Carrots

2 pounds peeled and chopped carrots
2 pounds peeled and chopped rutabaga
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 oz can fat-free evaporated milk, warmed
Salt-free fat-free chicken broth, as needed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Dried parsley, as desired.

Put vegetables in a slow cooker and just barely cover with broth. Cook on Low for 6-8 hours or until vegetables are tender. Drain well, reserving broth for a later use (soup). Whip in your stand mixer (or mash by hand) w/ melted butter, salt, pepper, warmed evaporated milk, and parsley.

Whipping the Rutabaga & Carrots

Or place rutabagas, carrots and enough broth to cover in French/Dutch oven. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until tender. Drain and whip as above.
If you want to eliminate the dairy, just mash the vegetables with their broth. I prefer the sweet creaminess dairy brings and, since I'm using fat-free evaporated milk, I'm not worried about the fat the butter adds.


Wordless Wednesday: Adorable Eggplant

My First Eggplant!
Eggplant "Fairy Tale" are totally adorabs ... and delicious!


Top 10 Tuesday: Books I Would Love To See As A Movie/TV Show

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the Broke & Bookish, we discuss the top ten books we'd love to see as a film or television show ... if we lived in a perfect world, where books didn't get ruined on their way to the screen.
  1. Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson: Would be fine a fine Hallmark Hall of Fame/made-for-television movie -- woman confronting her past to embrace her future. Yes, there’s murder, but it’s not gory.
  2. A Bad Day for Pretty (A Bad Day series) by Sophie Littlefield: A series I think would adapt well into a regular television program ala True Blood or Rizzoli and Isles, but better because Stella Hardesty is awesome.
  3. Cardboard by Doug TenNapel: It read like a screenplay, so why not? Unfortunately, I don’t know what studio would take it on without trying to make it "lighter" and more "fun."
  4. The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon: If only to make up for the lack of women in sensible armor on TV and the big screen. It’d have to be a trilogy, but the Harry Potter/LOR/Hobbit movies have "normalized" serializations so it might work.
  5. Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova: This is the teen drama I needed in high school instead of 90210 and Saved by the Bell. I needed anime and cosplay and lurve. Would be first in line at the opening.
  6. Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith: PLEASE! It’s based on true events -- black woman passes as white to fly supply planes during World War Two. It’s just all kinds of awesome.
  7. The Invisible Man and/or The Time Machine by H.G. Wells: These have been done, but never well. If someone would just stick to the original stories and refrain from contemporizing them or adding new characters or massive special effects … well, I’d watch them.
  8. Magyk (Septimus Heap series) by Angie Sage: The movie would be visually stunning -- the Marshes! The Castle! The Port! The Badlands! I imagine an intro similar to the clockwork map at the start of the Game of Thrones.
  9. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness: Ditto Magyk … and all the ways The Noise could be presented! Ruddy marvelous!
  10. Zombie Blondes by Brian James: It’s a sloppy novel, but would work well as a quirky comedy-horror ala The Worlds End.


Waffled Cinnamon-Raisin French Toast Banana Cream Cheese Fandango

Hey, waffle iron! It's been a few months, hasn't it? I know! Let's use you to waffle French toast! And let's make that French toast a sandwich!

Waffled Cinnamon-Raisin French Toast Cream Cheese Banana Fandango

Waffled Cinnamon-Raisin French Toast Breakfast Sandwich

3 Tbsp liquid egg whites (or 1 egg)
1 Tbsp 1% milk
½ Tbsp packed brown sugar (or equivalent amount brown sugar substitute)
2 slices whole wheat cinnamon-raisin bread
1 small banana, sliced thinly
1 triangle Laughing Cow Smooth Sensations Cinnamon Cream Cheese Spread (or similar cream cheese product)
Cinnamon sugar, if desired

Preheat your waffle iron.

Whisk together egg, milk, and brown sugar in a shallow dish.

Divide cream cheese between both slices of bread. Arrange banana slices over one cream cheese-ed slice (you will have more banana than you need). Top with remaining piece of bread. Press down to smoosh the sandwich together (you don't want it to fall apart while dipping in the egg mixture).

Banana 'wich

Dip sandwich into egg white mixture.

Place in waffle iron, close iron and press down. You may want/need to put a heavy weight on top to smoosh all that goodness together.

Impromptu Press

Waffle until golden and baked through, about 3 minutes. Eat the extra banana while you wait.

Cut waffled sandwich into pieces and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if desired. Nom!

I'm going to try this with cinnamon almond butter, next.


Wordless Wednesday: Fairy Bower

Gazebo & Roses
Elizabeth Park, West Hartford. Bedeck it with fireflies and it would be a bower fit for the fairy queen.


Top 10 Tuesday: Books to be Taught

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, we have a choice between "Top 10 Contemporary Books That Would Be Great Paired With A Required Reading Book" or "Top Ten Books That You Wish Were Taught In Schools." I went with the latter because I'm not really sure what the kids are required to read these days.

(Also, I am suspicious of required reading. As someone who watched unhappy students wander around the library all summer, looking for the one book on their required reading list that wasn't already checked out to someone else, I'm well aware that many students actively resent summer reading. I don't want anyone to resent reading).

I've included a few graphic novels for kicks and, knowing the idea of graphic novels in the classroom still makes some people uncomfortable, paired them with "real" novels.

And, yes, I see there are only eight books on my list. Surely you can recommend two more?

  1. American Born Chinese by Gene Yang (Pair with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian)
  2. The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon
  3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Kossini (also its GN)
  4. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Pair with Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Volume 1)
  5. Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman (Pair with Elie Wiesel's Night)
  6. Persepolis (Pair with Reading Lolita in Tehran)
  7. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon
  8. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson