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A month ago I spent at weekend at the Washington coast with the girls I lived with senior year of college – we get together at least once or twice a year, and a beach weekend is our new tradition.  I finally uploaded my photos and I’m feeling nostalgic.

The weather was surprisingly gorgeous for February – or really any time of year in the northwest.  We had a sunny day that made us squint in the picture.  We went barefoot until our toes got numb.

It was wonderful.  I can’t wait to go back.

A Room Made of WindowsA Room Made of Windows by Eleanor Cameron

It’s a remarkable sensation to go back to a book that meant a lot to you as a child and wonder if the story and characters helped shape you in some way, or if you were already that way and it simply resonated with who you were then. I’m not sure which it was, but I know I read this several times, and as many of the other Julia Redfern books as I could get my hands on. The Private Worlds of Julia Redfern was another favorite – probably because these two are about the adolescent Julia, and I seem to remember finding her during middle school.

Cameron’s style is a combination of details and impressions – the mood of the moment, with delicious descriptions of things like meals or homes alongside the descriptions of impressions and thoughts and characters. Definitely not for the reader who likes action and drama, but perfectly suited to the more introspective, character-driven reader. This time around I loved Julia for her imperfections, the ways in which she’s blind to other people’s feelings, as well as her enthusiasms. Like L.M. Montgomery’s books, Cameron’s stories make me want a lovely house to live and write in, with a view of something natural and beautiful.

Copy from my library system (although I wish I owned it).

Oh, and how could I forget to mention Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations?  I love everything she did, and I’m sure I’ve picked up books just based on the fact that she illustrated the cover.

Previously: my review of The Court of the Stone Children.
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Goodness, it’s felt like a long week.  Probably because last weekend wasn’t exactly relaxing, but I can’t really complain.  Friday night was the funeral of one of our dear priests, and Saturday morning was the memorial liturgy, followed by the burial and a meal.  All of that gives you plenty of time to grieve and remember and sing – first church music, then the meal and remembrances ended up feeling dominated by music, which is perfectly fine with me.  Apparently, once you’ve been through all those services with a group of people, standing in the church basement in a circle holding hands and singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Amazing Grace” is no longer a hokey thing to do.  And no matter how solemn and sad the occasion, fourteen or so priests coming out of the altar like out of a clown car will always be funny.  Memory eternal, Fr. David.

And now we must get on with Lent.  I’m trying to go to at least one extra service each week.  We were discussing how to observe Lent during kindergarten Sunday School a few weeks ago (as in, trying to prod the younguns to think about it for five minutes) and talking about things you could do or things your family does.  Answers ranged from “going to church more” to “not eating yogurt” (although one young man was hilariously upset about the lack of cheeseburgers during Lent) to “praying for people.”  I think they got it.  It reminded me, though, that I end to focus on the fasting and let other things slip – I do go to more services, but sometimes it’s just so much easier to come home and relax and eat some rice and beans.

Like the dork that I am, I was poking around in my own archives and found a few things that still rang true about Lent – there’s one about fasting (was that really five years ago?) that I still like, and I think the joy thing comes bit by bit, year by year.  A little more each time.  It’s not easy, but I still want to see it through.

This year I noticed two times that we sing Easter/Paschal music outside of that season – there’s Forgiveness Vespers, which kickstart Lent, where the choir sings some of (I think) the Paschal matins as we all go around begging forgiveness, and some of the same music at the funeral, with a few rounds of “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death” as we finish the funeral procession.  There’s some music that you just associate so much with a certain mood (whatever that music or mood is) and then hearing it in different contexts can put a different spin on it.  I love that.

Back to books & recipes before too long.

(Photos from two previous years – the church after Agape Vespers and the remains of a red egg.)

Sir Charlie ChaplinSir Charlie Chaplin by Sid Fleischman

Sid Fleischman wrote some of the most entertaining biographies I’ve read – The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West and Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini were both highly entertaining, managing to get me interesting in people I didn’t realize I would find fascinating – and he continues in the same vein here with Charlie Chaplin. I know I saw a few Chaplin films as a kid, but I only have a vague memory of them and know Chaplin more for his Little Tramp image than anything else. Fleischman’s style is as entertaining as ever, and Chaplin certainly had a full, messy life that gives plenty of material to a biographer. I thought the strongest points in the book were those covering his childhood and rise to stardom – after that, there was more a sense of the material being edited to suit the audience. While that’s certainly appropriate, I found the material covering his adult life enlivened more by Fleischman’s style than by the details of Chaplin’s life.

I’m always pressing Fleischman’s other biographies on kids who need one for a school project, and I’ll throw this one into the mix, but I still think the Mark Twain bio is the best of the bunch.

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Forge (Seeds of America, #2)Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

Although I found Chains underwhelming, perhaps due to all the hype, I found myself much more engrossed with Forge, the companion/sequel. The point of view shifts from Isabel to Curzon and follows, naturally, his time spent with the Continental Army at Valley Forge. The story manages to give a sense of the bigger picture of what’s happening to the army – Curzon is recaptured by his master for a time, serving officers of the army and allowing both he and the reader to glean information. But Anderson also keeps the story personal in its details, with Curzon’s interactions with other soldiers, his sense of conscience at shooting and killing, the struggle to find and keep shoes during the winter, the pitiful meals, and so on. We also get another perspective on Isabel, and of course things are set up for a third book. Recommended to fans of grittier historical fiction (it might be a nice companion to Woods Runner, although the character development is stronger in Forge) or readers interested in the Revolutionary War.

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Whoa!  I just did the unthinkable.  I got up an hour early on a Monday morning in order to make more delicious steel-cut oats.  Two reasons: I polished off the first batch last week, and this week my in-the-house, read-to-eat options were cut down to…toast.  Or getting up early in pursuit of steel-cut goodness.  So up I got, and I toasted the oats, then boiled them, then let them simmer for half an hour, then sat down with a bowl and some maple syrup and a cup of coffee without cream. The recipe, naturally, came from Good to the Grain.

So getting up an hour early is the first unthinkable thing (I have problems leaving the house on time in the morning).  Taking pictures (although yes, the bowl is already empty – steel-cut oats just aren’t that photogenic without some attractive fruit on top) and immediately uploading them onto my computer is the second unthinkable thing.  The third is actually presenting them here before I even finished my second cup of coffee.  And as of this typing, I’m not yet running late for work.  You know, this is the way I used to blog.  I kind of miss it.

Clean Monday is off to a good start.  And tomorrow I can reheat leftovers and sleep a bit longer.  Although (shh, don’t tell) I’m enjoying this more relaxed morning routine.

Here’s an ‘adventures at the grocery store’ Long Distance Kitchen recipe, assigned last August and made sometime shortly after I moved in September -Orecchiette with Rapini and Goat Cheese.  The recipe comes from Saveur and is fairly simple and straightforward, once you’ve managed to identify rapini at the grocery store (I double-checked with a store employee who confirmed my diagnosis, and then had to tell the cashier what it was – glad I’m not the only one!)  According to the note in the recipe, it’s also known as broccoli rabe.  What I ended up with looked more like greens than broccoli, unlike Bronwen’s and Saveur’s, but it was slightly bitter and quite tasty in the recipe, so it all worked out.

Goat cheese is one of the things I love in this world, so I appreciate any opportunity to dollop it onto a meal, and the cheese and greens made a great contrast.  The garlic and red pepper flakes also did something nice in my mouth.  There are a lot of strong flavors going on, and it sort of took me a few bites to fall for it, but I ended up enjoying it and polishing off the leftovers with enthusiasm.  A good kicky pasta recipe to keep handy (I served mine with chicken thighs cooked according to a recipe from How to Cook Everything where you cook it in butter in the oven and sprinkle it with fresh parsley from time to time – it’s made me a chicken-parts convert).

Verdict: a keeper, but probably not for everyone.

Once upon a time, in an apartment on the other side of the river, I made Honey-Peach Ice Cream as a Long Distance Kitchen recipe.  It was August, and I’m sure the weather was pretty much the opposite of a cold, rainy March day, and something cold and sweet and peach-flavored was just the thing.  I made it at the same time as the Banoffi Pie, as you can see in the pictures.

Apparently I tend to make desserts in clusters.  Feast or famine!  The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking, and you can also see Bronwen’s results here.

Here’s the method: you chop up half of your peaches and cook them with honey, then puree them once they get soft.  You do a pretty standard ice cream custard with milk, cream, sugar and egg yolks, then stir in your puree.  Once the whole thing has chilled, you do the ice cream maker thing and you dice the remaining peaches.  When the ice cream is just about done, toss in the peach chunks.

I used nectarines, which Dorie mentions in her “playing around” tips as not needing to be peeled (I’m lazy, and they might have been riper than the peaches when I went to the store).  They were pretty tasty but they weren’t amazing, and that might make a difference.  Another thing is your preference for smooth ice cream versus fruit chunks – I’m more of a smooth gal, so if I made this again I might puree ALL the fruit.  As Bronwen noted, it did get a little frosty – there was a sort of distinct textural difference between the icier bits and the heavy feel of the cream on your tongue.  Tasty, but not lick-your-bowl amazing.

(Please note that I have a bias towards chocolately ice creams and was trying to extend myself by introducing more fruit to my ice cream maker – I haven’t made one yet that won me over from the chocolate camp).

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