Monday, January 31, 2011

RED HOOK ROAD, by Ayelet Waldman

By Ayelet Waldman

Available here on Amazon.

I found RED HOOK ROAD a poignant novel. Like Waldman's earlier work, LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS (FFT review here), her latest book also deals with relationships, heart wrenching loss, profound grief, and unexpected healing.

Our sorrows and wounds are healed
only when we touch them with compassion.

Class and cultural divides provide the fundamental basis for the characters of this book. The Copakens are Jewish, privileged, and summer residents. The Tetherlys are Protestant, blue-collar, and Maine natives. The story spans four years of summers spent in a typical small coastal town of Maine. Both families, stricken with unbearable grief, find themselves awkwardly charting the course of their intertwined lives after a fatal car accident takes the lives of their newlywed children.

The mother of the bride, Iris, whose family has summered in Maine for three generations, is a sophisticated New Yorker, a professor, and daughter of a renown classical violinist. Jane, mother of the groom, is a native Mainer who cleans houses for a living. Both strong women, the reader is taken close to the heart of a mother's loss of a child.

The wedding rehearsal dinner, an occasion of exquisite joy, was held the evening of July 4th at the Copaken summer home on the Maine shore. Now a painful year later, the bride's younger sister, Ruthie, wants to repeat that joyful evening with a 4th of July picnic complete with fireworks just as they had done the night before the fateful accident. "A celebration?" Yes, a celebration of Becca and John. We'd all be together and celebrate their lives." Frozen in grief, few others can muster enthusiasm for Ruthie's attempt to heal her broken heart and find a way to honor the memory of the deceased young couple.

Once Iris agrees to Ruthie's idea, she must take on the matter of convincing Jane to agree to attend the party. In an attempt to persuade Jane, Iris bakes one of her famous bundt cakes and arrives at Jane's kitchen with cake in hand. Food for Thought was abundant in this book, but with the dichotomy of the class and cultural differences it seemed appropriate to focus on the diverse offerings from the kitchens of Iris and Jane.

"Iris baked a lime pound cake. It was her most impressive cake; she used a Bundt pan embossed with a complicated pattern of grape clusters and vines. The cake baked up tall and golden brown, and the lime sugar glaze crackled tangy and sweet when you bit into it."

In stark contrast, Jane's cooking moment is her yearly 4th of July contribution of Nilla wafer pudding.

"Jane peeled back the plastic wrap from the Nilla wafer pudding. She had actually been looking forward to not being obliged to make the damn pudding this year, but then, when she had decided to come, she seemed to be unable to prevent herself. And so once again she had found herself standing in her kitchen, slicing four dozen bananas while staring at a sampler her mother-in-law had embroidered for her as a first anniversary gift, with its homely saying that had struck Jane, then as now, as an ironic if not overtly hostile comment on Jane's skill in the kitchen. "Bake a little love into every bite," it read, in letters once bright red and now faded to a murky pink. But the subsequent improvement in Jane's cooking had little to do with love. Baking was no different than anything else; there was a right and a wrong way to do it, and no room for forgiveness of one's mistakes. While she had waited for the meringue to brown in the oven, she had wondered if the bile, fury, and scorn she was baking into every bit of this particular Nilla wafer pudding would manage to affect its flavor."

Nilla wafer pudding was prominent in several passages of this book so it the seemed the most appropriate food connection.

Nilla wafer pudding brought back memories of my own childhood growing up in a small community. I don't recall that my mother ever made anything as exotic as a meringue topping on the banana puddings from her kitchen, but they were delicious.

I found the original Nabisco recipe for Nilla Banana Pudding here. It 's easy to make, and I have to say there was something refreshing about watching the pudding thicken as it cooked over the double boiler.

The meringue topping was definitely

the crowning glory for my taste buds!

Try it!

I'm not a voracious reader like most who share at FFT, and I'm ashamed to admit that this book lingered on my bedside table far too long before I opened its covers. Waldman is a master at character development and gives her readers an intimate look into the lives of those who fill the pages of her books. Her stories are love stories woven with honesty and the pain that many encounter when one loves deeply. A favorite quote I'll long remember from this work: "A long marriage, like a classic wooden boat, could be a thing of grace, but only if great effort was devoted to its maintenance."

Though RED HOOK ROAD is a story of tragic death, complicated relationships, and the painful journey of two families who must learn to cope with unbearable loss, don't be reluctant to read this one. Ayelet Waldman's writing offers up beautiful lessons to be gained, and there's plenty of Nilla wafer pudding in the offering.

Coastal Maine has long held a bit of mystique for me. It seems to be a far away world of rugged coastlines, wooden boats, lobster boils, and clam bakes. Perhaps a 4th of July spent at a summer house on the coast of Maine would be a nice change for this Texas girl.

Click here for more Edible Book Reviews at Food For Thought, a delicious blog for readers with an appetite for the written word.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ann Estelle Ready to Ring in The Year of the Rabbit

With cold winter days and evenings, I find myself wanting to curl up under a quilt with a cup of hot tea and a good magazine. Sadly one of my favorite magazines, Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion, is no longer in publication. Fortunately I'm a pack rat who saves back issues of favorite magazines.

As a child of the 50s, I spent many an hour with paper dolls. My sister and I would spread a quilt out on the lawn, open up our paper doll collections, and disappear into a fantasy world all our own. Betsy McCall, the paper doll of magazine fame, was one of our favorites. When Mary Engelbreit introduced her own Ann Estelle paper doll series, it brought back a rush of sweet memories. I've left the paper doll pages in tack within my archives of HOME COMPANION, but recently while reading HOME COMPANION, February & March 2003, I decided it was time to take out the scissors and let Ann Estelle come to life. In honor of M. E. Monday and the upcoming Chinese New Year which begins February 3, here's Ann Estelle in her best Chinese dress ready to twirl her pretty little parasol.

In addition to the paper doll feature in each issue of HOME COMPANION, Mary offered readers the opportunity to purchase limited edition lithographs of exclusive illustrations that she created for each month's issue of HOME COMPANION. Each issue also included the illustration in a smaller version printed on card stock with a perforated edge so one could carefully remove it and pop it into a frame all its own.

Entitled "Chinese New Year", the February March 2003 lithograph featured two sisters ready to ring in the Year of the Sheep. Notice Ann Estelle, dressed in her best Chinese dress, has her own parasol ready to join in the celebration. I think this charming illustration looks beautiful in its mother of pearl frame and is the perfect touch for my desk as I bring in 2011 Year of the Rabbit. "Thank you, M. E."

Mandarin oranges represent luck and good fortune. They are often given to friends and family who visit during the New Year celebration. Ann Estelle has a mandarin orange just for you and "thanks you from the bottom of her heart" for your visit today.

Click here to see a list of others who are sharing for M. E. Monday this week.

Celebrating the Year of the Rabbit later in the week.

Click here for a look back at HFTS's celebration of The Year of the Tiger, 2010.

Also joining

A Look Back @ The Year of the Tiger

With the "Year of the Tiger" on its way out, join me for a look back at last year's Chinese New Year celebration here at HFTS. I'm joining Sunday Favorites with Chari @ Happy to Design , The Tablescaper for Seasonal Sundays, and Tablescape Thursday @ BNOTP.

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Envelopes of red to celebrate Chinese New Year

The Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year began on February 14 this year. Red, an auspicious color, is the predominant color for the New Year celebration because it is a symbol of joy, virtue, truth, and sincerity. The red envelopes called "Ang Pow" are given out during the New Year celebrations. The elderly and married couples give the red envelopes to the children and single young adults. It is customary for the red envelopes to contain money. The amount in the envelopes should be an even number, and the number eight, which is associated with wealth, is considered to be very lucky. These red envelopes were filled with chocolate coins covered in gold foil.

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Exchanging small gifts of food or

sweets with friends and relatives

During the celebration of the Chinese New Year the practice of "New Year Visits" takes place. Families and friends visit one another, and in addition to the envelopes of red, gifts of fruit and some various types of sweets are given when friends and family visit each other's homes. Mandarin oranges are one of our favorite fruits here at HFTS this time of year. They are also one of the most popular fruits during this celebration. These fruits represent luck and good fortune.

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Egg Drop Soup

The Chinese New Year is also known as the Spring Festival, as this is a time for Chinese families to clean their homes (as in spring cleaning) and to welcome the coming season of spring. Toward the end of the fifteen day celebration it is tradition to serve Egg Drop Soup. The ribbons of eggs in this tasty soup represent fertility.

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2010 is "The Year of the Tiger". Those born in the "Year of the Tiger" are said to be engaging, lucky, and brave.

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Entertaining to celebrate the 

 Year of the Tiger

Gung Hay Fat Choy

Congratulations and be prosperous!

Check back this weekend for a "Year of the Rabbit" celebration.

You can read about the Chinese New Year celebration in detail here at Wikipedia.

Be sure to stop by
Sunday Favorites with Chari @ Happy to Design, The Tablescaper for Seasonal Sundays, and Tablescape Thursday @ BNOTP.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Checkered Past

Sharing a Checkered Past Today
~Last year's Valentine's Day Tablescape~
Set with favorite things!

Courtly Check balls 
filled a silver bowl,

and Courtly Check 
bows were abundant.

I wanted to change things up a bit
so just for fun each place setting was different.

A black woven mat below
a pewter charger anchors this setting.

Layers of red mix between
the black and white checked pieces,

and are topped with a spongeware heart shaped bowl and a 
crown themed cloth held by a checked ring
 by Round Top Collection.
Flatware is vintage.

The color block mat holds a
Courtly Check charger by MacKenzie-Childs

and is topped with layers of red
mixed with black and white checks.

Red and white flatware 
is from Pottery Barn.

A small square decoupaged plate holds
a Round Top Collection jar of red hot hearts.

This perky little Courtly Check rooster, along with
the CC balls and hearts are the work of talented blogger, 
Linda @ My Shabby Rose Cottage.

More of the crown 
themed textiles anchor this setting. 
 A white charger in 
Vintage Garden from Ambiance Collection 
holds the stack of red pottery mixed  
with the checked pieces. 
 Flatware is Sir Christopher by Wallace.

Layers of red and white with a
touch of the black and white check.

The footed bowl is from
Crate and Barrel's 2010 Christmas pottery.

A square woven mat, 
a gold charger from Home Essentials and Beyond, 
and a red square Waechtersbach plate from Germany 
contrasts with the round checkered pieces.

The squares are topped with layers 
of plates in the Queen's Rooster from Neiman Marcus 
and Royal Stafford's black and white checked. 
Christophe flatware is in the Talisman pattern.

A small checked heart from
Round Top Collection holds a cloth napkin.

Sweetheart topiary 
ivy take center stage . . .

along with 
this key to my heart,

this spiffy red shoe . . .

and a little mercury glass.

Checking off the days 
till Valentine's Day 2011.