We Are All Baking in Quarantine

On my latest dangerous mission to my local grocery store, armed with a face mask and rubber gloves, I was expecting some empty shelves, but not devoid of flour and sugar, and even vanilla extract.  The only item left was a large bag of confectioner’s sugar, and, of course, I grabbed it.  The fresh greens were surrounded by ladies not practicing safe social distance, so I took the celery on the aisle and quickly wheeled over to the frozen foods, thinking frozen vegetables might be a good alternative.

No crowds surrounded the frozen bins because they were empty. Only a sad looking package of chopped cauliflower sat alone inside.  Of course, I took it.

What else could I not find?  My favorite mozzarella cheese sticks and chocolate fudge bars – then I stopped looking, not able to bear further disappointment.

Last night I happened to hear Ina Garten, known as the Barefoot Contessa, talking from her home kitchen with a PBS interviewer.  She opened a stocked freezer with homemade chicken stock, tomato sauce, cookie dough, and more, as she explained she usually tried not to go into her stash.  She offered her solution to ingredients not available or not worth the trip to the store these days:  Substitute ginger for garlic, onion for scallions; be creative and you might start a new dish you like better than the old.  I don’t think Ina would advocate reversing the order and substituting garlic, of which I seem to have an abundance, for ginger in my cupcakes, but maybe it would be worth a try.

The interview inspired me to find her cookbooks on my shelf, and have hope that confectioner’s sugar could substitute for granulated sugar. (It can.)

You can see the interview here.  

And read about how her Instagram page is saving the sanity of many erstwhile cooks in an Atlantic article – Ina Gartens’s Quarantine Playbook

And read my review for How Easy Is That?    It has a recipe for my bag of cauliflower.

Revisiting Arthur and George

MV5BMjA2OTg4NjQ4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzE3Mjk5NDE@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_Julian Barnes’ novel used a famous early twentieth century case of a man sent to prison for mutilating animals as inspiration; the resulting historical novel – Arthur and George – was recently aired as a three-part series on the American Public Broadcasting channel (PBS).  Barnes fictionalized some of the story and PBS gave its own spin, but the historical basis in both was true and still shockingly relevant.

Although Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character, his creator Arthur Conan Doyle shared many of his talents.  When George Edalji, the 27-year-old son of the vicar of Great Wyrley, wrote to Holmes asking for help, it was Doyle who took up his case and ultimately proved him innocent.

George’s father, a man of Parsee ancestry, married an Englishwoman, converted to Christianity, and ultimately became the Anglican minister of a small town in Staffordshire and the target of cruel prejudice. When George was 16 years old, the Edaljis began receiving threatening letters in the post, and other Staffordshire clergymen received abusive letters over Edalji’s forged signature. George shared in the family’s troubles, but eventually became a successful solicitor.

Following several incidents of animal mutilation throughout Great Wyrley, the police received anonymous letters accusing George Edalji of the crimes. The local Chief Constable decided – with no evidence – that George had written the mysterious correspondence himself and has now escalated to killing animals.  George Edalji was tried on 20th October, 1903, found guilty, and sentenced to seven years in jail; the verdict effectively destroyed his law career.  Released after three years, Edalji wrote his own version of the incident, which was published in the papers. He posted a clipping of the article to Arthur Conan Doyle, asking for his help to clear his name.

The novel and the televised series follow Doyle as he pursues the case, ultimately proving Georg’e innocence.  The real culprit was never prosecuted, but PBS satisfyingly kills him off, after revealing a surprise connection to George.

I reposted my review of Arthur and George.  Barnes’ version of the story has the notes and wording of the famous Man Booker winner, and the themes of intolerance and bigotry still ring true. In addition, the story is a great mystery thriller.  Have you read the book?

Review: Arthur and George



PBS Inspired Books

Sunday night viewing is getting better on PBS – a reprieve from the long wait for the return of Downton Abbey.  And unlike the Maggie Smith driven saga created by Julian Fellowes for television, two PBS televised series follow real books, published and available: Poldark and Grantchester.

Poldark-umbrella-icon,-675x290-scale-2000x2000Poldark – the newest addition from the BBC for Masterpiece theater – is based on a series of twelve books by Winston Graham.  After reading Stephen Brunwell’s review – What Merits a Remake?   – with his promise of “a wealth of back stories missing from the televised versions,” I found the newly reissued books and plan to immerse myself in the Cornwall saga of a Revolutionary war hero who returns to find his land in disrepair, and his former love lost to another man.

Grantchester – sadly appearing only briefly on PBS, with the second series not Grantchester-675X290-scale-2000x2000available until 2016 – follows a series of books by James Runcie.  The handsome, erudite Canon Sydney Chambers is the clergyman/detective solving crimes with his sidekick, local police officer—Inspector Geordie Keating, in a small village near Cambridge in the 1960s.

The books are available through public libraries and in paperback.  If you want to follow the stories in order, Poldark begins with Ross Poldark (1945), followed by Demelza (1946).  To continue reading, find the list and a few free downloads at  NLS Minibibliographies.

The Grantchester Mysteries begin with Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, published in 2012.  Muncie has been churning out a book a year, with the latest, Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins (2015).

Comfortable and comforting – cozy with romance and mystery – just what I need right now.


Émile Zola’s “Paradise” – The Ladies’ Delight

9780143124702_p0_v1_s260x420The new cover of  Émile Zola’s classic – Au Bonheur Des Dames (The Ladies’ Delight) has a familiar face from the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) series – “The Paradise.”  The televised series focuses on the melodrama, with cliffhangers at the end of each episode, using  Zola’s idea of French shoppers in the nineteenth century, and offering behind the scenes tales of the sales team and the driven aggressive shop owner.  I bought the book to catch up with the story, but did not expect to fall under Zola’s spell. He paints each scene so clearly, you can imagine you are in the midst of lush fabric and frenzied shoppers.

The young virginal Denise stars in both the book and the series, but PBS 9780140447835conveniently left out her two younger brothers, and recast her unforgiving uncle, the small store owner, as a willing conspirator.  Zola’s book includes the romance and the anguish of the television drama, but they are clearly asides to the marvel of those times – the first large department store with clever marketing, enticing sales, and the harbinger of the future of shopping.  Small shop owners could not compete with retail on a large scale, and the stark comparison of the very rich to the poor working class sets a harsher scene than the televised series.  Zola’s descriptions of those 13 hour work days, cell-like housing, and putrid food are conveniently left out.  Zola, of course, was the crusader (remember the Dreyfus Affair); through Denise, his heroine, he champions the woman’s new role as independent entrepreneur, and creates better working conditions for the sales team – the seed of future union labor.

Émile Zola

Émile Zola

The PBS series is a charming and engaging period drama,  conveniently focusing on the simmering romance between Denise and Mouret, the innovative store owner.  While “Paradise,”  the PBS version of upstairs/downstairs in the marketplace includes the happy romantic ending that Zola provided in his book,  the novel includes more information on the effects of the new big box store as it destroys small shop owners and their way of life.

If you are looking for the Readers’ Digest adaptation with a few Hollywood embellishments, you will probably find the televised series more enjoyable – a good preface to the upcoming season of Downton Abbey.  But if you are willing to take the time to examine social motivations and immerse yourself in another era, Zola’s The Ladies’ Delight combines history with Zola’s unique perspective and descriptive language.  I liked both.

Call the Midwife

9780143123255_p0_v2_s260x420As a fan of British drama, the Public Broadcasting System’s replaying of “Call the Midwife” in preparation for the new season, inspired me to read Jennifer Worth’s well-written memoir of the twenty-two year old British nurse from a privileged background who challenges herself serving as midwife to the poor and underprivileged in London’s 1950’s East End.  A friendly librarian lent me her paperback copy, and reading the book has added so much to my viewing.

Meeting Chummy, Sister Julienne, Trixie,  Cynthia, and Jennifer again – but for the first time in print – as well as all those pregnant women – has me appreciating their heroism and grit even more.  If you’ve followed the series on television or video, the book is an added pleasure, and reading it won’t spoil the plot of new episodes.