Tag Archives: Jack Beck

Cooking the Books

 

Jack’s weekly guest post continues the Indian theme and re-visits the problem of which books he puts in the store

 

Regular readers probably know, by now, that I’m a devotee of Indian food – curries, papadums, somosas and badjhies (we don’t need no stinking badjhies, as Bogart’s Mexican adversary famously said in ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’).

 

So when Wendy produced my five Indian cookbooks yesterday and asked me innocently if it was time for them to go into the shop I was momentarily flummoxed. Should they? They have been my pride and joy for years!

 

But had I ever actually used them in a practical way? Had I propped them open and followed their every word?

 

Well, actually, no! What I had done is gathered a lot of experience over many years and ended up making two or three regular things.

 

1) Fry finely chopped onions in vegetable oil until just browned; push them aside and fry three tablespoons of Mike Ward’s famous curry powder mix in the same oil; dump in a jar of plain tomato pasta sauce and all the vegetables (peppers, golden raisins and mushrooms, usually); add a similar amount of plain yoghurt bit by bit; simmer for a few hours.

 

2) Exactly the same as 1) except miss out Mike’s FCP and add three tablespoons of Patak’s hot curry paste at the end.

 

I also sometimes do a prawn/shrimp or chicken tikka. Make up a mix of onion, yoghurt and tandoori spice mix and marinade the shrimp or chicken overnight in the fridge. Next day remove the shrimp or chicken and clean most of the marinade off. Grill until crisp, then serve with the heated marinade on the side.

 

I shouldn’t forget Wendy’s home-made chutney made from our own fruit and vegetables – but that’s her closely guarded personal recipe!

 

I’m delighted to say that our local supermarket now carries a very good selection of Indian spices, sauces, papadums and naan breads, so it’s now easier to come up with the goods.

 

The five books? You’ll find them in the cook-books section, proudly displayed together.

 

(But I did enjoy reading them and imagining all the dishes – every one of them!).

 

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What, Me Worry?

Dont-Worry1Jack’s weekly guest post

Like Eeyore, I’m a born worrier and always have been.

But I’ve been pondering that lately, and trying hard to be much more relaxed about things.

Of course what triggered this latest bout was the atrocious weather we’ve been experiencing, coupled with a bad moment from last year. Around this time last year I was stupid enough to leave the well pump switched on at our cabin (Wendy’s writing getaway out in the TN woods) with no background heat in the place. Result – a $700 bill for repairs after a burst water pipe.

This year I reckoned the power bill for background heat would be worth it to avoid another burst and I switched off the pump. But we haven’t been there since before Christmas and in February we had temperatures down to minus 15 Fahrenheit . So one of my dark clouds began to hover as I constructed horrible scenarios in my head….

Last Saturday we dropped in at the cabin on the way home from the Rose Glen Literary Festival in Sevierville, where Wendy was the keynote address. I didn’t want to do it, so convinced as I that it would be exactly as I’d imagined. But Wendy was a bit… adamant that we face the situation.

The road up to the cabin area was covered in hard packed snow and the last 1/4 mile is up a steep hill. We negotiated that with me becoming increasingly Eeyorish all the way. Wendy’s eyes rolled back in her head as I described faucets that would run without water, gushing pipes in the house’s foundation…

And when we got there, everything was fine. EVERY THING WAS FINE!! I couldn’t believe it!!!

Back when I was Head of Department in a Scottish college I often used to lie awake at night worrying about something that was likely to happen next day, only to find it had completely evaporated by the time I got there. Conversely, I’d sail in without a care in the world and something totally unexpected would wallop me. It’s never what you’d expect that catches you, is it? I’m sure you can all relate to this.

And I must admit, with two weeks of snow shutting down the entire county, followed by floods tonight as the snow begins to melt, and freezing rain predicted to make the roads a mess tomorrow, well, even in the midst of it all, the roof is still over our heads, and we’ve adopted out five of ten foster cats. Which we did NOT expect in this weather.

A fellow business in town did not fare so well. A variety store called Judy’s Hodge Podge has been condemned after a crack appeared in the building. It’s the end of an era, as Judy was the grande dame of local businesses. Her building had an antique Coca-cola mural on it.

And here we sit, warm and cozy, with Kelley’s good soups flowing around us and people still popping in to buy books an adopt cats. Perhaps, rather than counting cares, I should count blessings.

Or, as Alfred E. Neumann famously used to say “What, me worry?”

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

It’SNOW Fair

Jack’s weekly guest post examines bookstore weather issues –

snow_day_008You would think that, coming from Scotland, I’d be used to wintry weather, but actually I lived in the lowlands, where the sub-zero temperatures made snow fairly rare. (One of the great ironies of winter weather isn’t it? In Scotland it’s too cold to snow!)

It was only when Wendy and I lived near St Andrews, by the sea and pretty high up, that we experienced the ‘February week long village cut-off’ and I thought I’d left even that behind when we moved to Appalachia.

But for the second year in a row we’re down near zero Fahrenheit and this time it’s been accompanied by a blizzard. Our front steps and path had to be dug clear on Tuesday morning and our cordon-bleu chef Kelley has been stuck in her house for three days, unable to get here to open The Second Story Cafe.

All this has put us into emergency mode; it’s days like this we’re glad we live as well as work here!

Yesterday we were able to offer free hot coffee and shortbread to hard-pressed town employees (or anyone else that had to be out and about) and we had a few takers (including a neighbor who very kindly cleared the snow of all the vehicles parked out front). Today I’ve prepared my signature veggie curry in case we have any desperate ‘lunchers’ willing to chance it.snow_day_004

For anyone who’s interested – onions, green and red peppers, carrots, mushrooms and golden raisins in a tomato sauce with Patak’s hot curry paste. Onions fried in olive oil, then everything else in and simmer for a couple of hours!

Among the other businesses close by is the local ABC store (Alcoholic Beverage Control – where you buy your liquor) and it’s been closed as well except for a brief spell yesterday afternoon – when it did a roaring trade. The rest of the time there were lots of disappointed folk – who probably headed to the supermarket for the strongest fortified wine they could find as an alternative.

But right now it’s snowing again – – –

I bought my whiskey Saturday, knowing what was coming. And judging by the brisk business we did Saturday before the blizzard started, a lot of smart people did the same with reading material. :]

Go by, mad snowstorm.DSCN1410

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The Monday Book – A YEAR IN THE MERDE by Stephen Clarke

Jack offers the Monday Book review this week!

I’m not sure which used book store we bought this in but I’m sure glad we did!

Stephen Clarke’s hero, Paul West, is an Englishman working on contract in Paris for a company planning to open a chain of tea-rooms in France. The interlingual puns and description of the absurd cultural clashes are hilarious.

I admit to being an enormous Francophile myself, having toured there many times with my old buddies in ‘Heritage’ and would cheerfully live there if necessary with no difficulty. But Paris is another thing – in many ways it is just like any other enormous city! So my preference would be the rural South.

The parts of Clarke’s book that depict him trying to speak French while his employers try to use English are hysterical, full of the verbal equivalent of slapstick.

Having said that, I once hitch-hiked from Scotland to Paris with a friend (back when hitch-hiking was still legal). We camped in the Bois de Boulogne and enjoyed breakfasts of paine chocolat and enormous bowls of coffee in sidewalk cafes.

Getting back to the book – I am a big fan of Peter Mayle and his series of books about an Englishman in France. Clarke takes things into another dimension and mixes corporate mischief, questionable morals, advice for tourists and a mischievous take on French chauvinism into a very worthy addition to the genre created by Mayle.I heartily recommend it to anyone who has visited, or is planning to visit Paris.

If I were a Parisian and read this book, I’d find it funny. If I were a Frenchman, I just might be insulted. This is a cheeky, irreverent look at a city people are used to treating with dignity; Clarke dances on thin ice and stops just short of blowing a rude gesture at the French.

I loved it. :]

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Filed under bad writing, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing

A Return to Normalcy? HA!

normal12Jack’s Wednesday blog tackles a big question

For years now I’ve pondered on what ‘normal’ means. I can identify various times in my life when it meant very different things for me – my early life running a painting and decorating business, my 20 year career as an educator in a community college, my parallel life as a singer and musician in Scotland, and then my life in the US as a bookstore owner. Believe me, when you work retail, normal is just a setting on a dryer.

But that’s fairly superficial and applies to most folk as we get older, I’d imagine.

No – what I’m interested in is maybe more fundamental. It’s what we consider normal behavior or a normal lifestyle when we look at other people around us. It’s how we judge these things and place values on folk, placing them somewhere on a continuum that’s based around our definition of ‘normal’. In a small town bookstore, we find that some books just won’t sell, and we think it’s because the norms of the area don’t uphold those lifestyles or needs. People asking for some books wait until the shop is empty, or phone ahead anonymously.

The society we live in obviously has a bearing on this, and that’s society with both a small and large S. On my monthly visits to the local Federal prison I’m painfully aware that we incarcerate people for failing to conform to our norms. While some of that non-conformity is understandably so extreme that keeping those people from harming others is essential, a good deal of it is simply inconvenient or unfashionable.

Possession of items as opposed to the committing of violence to get them is one example–wouldn’t treatment be a better option? However, I don’t want to get political. It’s interesting to look back in history and observe how different activities have been classified as crimes and/or insanity. It’s not so long since unmarried mothers or kids we’d now classify as autistic were locked up and treated pretty much as if they were in prison.

It’s very easy to look at other people, or other places, and be critical of how they treat different sections of society, not to mention individual non-conformists. If we turned this same critical eye on ourselves, would we look any different? Does thinking about this make me any more tolerant of other ‘normalities’?

I am not sure it does, but since I live in a glass house and am concerned with the mote in my own eye, I really don’t have time to judge others. :]

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Home Sweet Bookstore

What with our Chile vacation, log cabin Christmas and then my unexpected trip to Scotland for the funeral of my old friend Davy, I haven’t had a great deal of time in the bookstore over the last couple of months.

But now I’m back in harness it’s like slipping on a well worn pair of favorite slippers. The routine we’ve established over the last seven years (I know it’s that long because our local newspaper had us on a special tribute page to much loved and established downtown businesses last week) covers, of course, much more than just selling books. There’s keeping the place clean, looking after the cats and dogs, liaising with Kelley and ‘The Second Story Cafe’, sorting the daily influx of traded books and writing weekly guest blog posts like this one.

On top of that I need to keep up with my weekly radio show ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’, and contribute to the various Facebook accounts that relate in one way or another to us or Tales of the Lonesome Pine.

I remember some years ago, when I was still working in a community college in Scotland, meeting a recently retired colleague in the street and asking how he was enjoying his retirement. “Jack” he said “it was made for a younger man than me!” Although I can sympathize with his sentiment, I wouldn’t want anyone reading this to think I regret anything about my current workload. In fact I positively relish it and I feel sorry for folk who spend their retirement either pining for their former job or wandering aimlessly.

There’s an old Scots saying – East, West, hame’s best. I think for me it should be – North, South, East, West, the little bookstore hame’s best!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

WHY THIS BOOKSELLER LOVES THE NET

Jack’s weekly guest blog is back – and so is he!

 

the_internet_it_crowdI often hear people complaining about various aspects of the Internet including spam emails, intrusive Facebook and the lost art of letter writing.

But, to be honest, I have no complaints at all! I find it hard to remember what life was like before we had the Worldwide Web. If I try I can recall when the college where I worked just had an intranet and I had a dial up connection at home, but before that I suppose I must have used the telephone a lot (and wrote letters).

What brought this to mind is the last ten days I spent back in Scotland for the funeral of Davy Lockhart. The start was me trying to book flights at short notice with no success and getting a phone call in the middle from a kind lady at the agency whose website I was on. She went the extra mile for me when I explained I had to go to Scotland to attend an old friend’s funeral. A few days later I was being treated like royalty all the way from Knoxville to Edinburgh – agents waiting at gates to whisk me to timely connections, fast-tracked through customs, the works.

Facebook became the easiest way for all Davy’s scattered friends to find out what had happened, too, and what the arrangements were. I’m quite sure the reason the Church was packed out was partly because of that. While there I stayed partly with my friends Mike and Harry Ward and the rest of the time with another old friend Colin Stuart. These friendships, like many others are also kept alive partly through easy communication via the internet.

Now that most airports have wireless networks I was able to keep everyone on both sides of the Atlantic up to date with my progress, and through a Twitter friendship with Blackwell’s Bookshop in Edinburgh was able to pre-order a book that Wendy lusted after and pick it up when I was there.

Meanwhile I have, over the last few years, re-established contact with many old friends almost by accident through serendipitous ‘crossroads’ on Facebook.

So – for an old curmudgeon and an avid book reader – I am an unapologetic champion of that interwebby thing.

Lang may its lum reek!

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch