Tag Archives: Wendy Welch

Food for Thought

Jack’s weekly guest post homes in on gastronomic reminders –

It’s sometimes surprising the connections that can be made in our local supermarket, and I don’t mean the people you bump into.

Our Good Chef Kelley, owner of The Second Story Cafe here above the bookstore, often shops for us when she’s getting in her cafe provisions, and sometimes surprises us with something she thought we’d specially like. Imagine our astonishment when she triumphantly ploncked down two packs of Mull of Kintyre mature cheese in front of us a few weeks ago. – Mull of Kintyre, for goodness sake!

The Mull of Kintyre is a hard-to-get-to promontory in the Southwest of Scotland, within sight of the North of Ireland. It’s most famous for two things: it was part of the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada, which composed the SW of Scotland and Antrim in Ireland as well as the sea between; and Paul McCartney (remember him?) who owns a house there and wrote what is probably his worst ever song about the place!

Paul’s song is affectionately known as ‘Mulligan’s Tire’ in Scotland, so the label on the cheese is rather clever and subtle (do you get it?)

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And then there’s the San Daniele Prosciutto Wendy came home with from a business trip to Abingdon (a wealthy town about an hour away) last week, which immediately took me back to Friuli in NE Italy where my old group Heritage had such great times playing at FolkEst back in the eighties. We were based in San Daniele and looked after royally by the lovely guy who’s family owned the most respected prosciutto place in town. I love the stuff and was gob smacked when Wendy handed me the packet.

There’s our long-running search for Romanian Pinot Noir, which we fell in love with when we were both working there temporarily, way back in 2002. We were delighted to find when we got back to Scotland that the local Tesco supermarket not only stocked it but it was the very same brand – Prahova Valley. Since moving to Virginia we’ve spent years trying to persuade the local supermarket – – –

I didn’t mention Patak’s hot curry paste, or elderflower presse, or McVittie’s plain chocolate digestives, or, or, – – –

Something about food just transports us back to special places and times, doesn’t it? The good news is, with the exception of the Romanian Pinot, our sweet little local Food City (owned by KVAT) has mostly managed to get in these items. They also try to buy produce from local farmers, regionally specific to each of their stores.

Here’s to supporting the local guys! We really need to send them a bottle of the Prahova Valley next time we find it online…..

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The Green Green Grass of Home – – –

In Jack’s weekly guest post he continues to complain – whit’s he like?

One of the things I’ve never really got used to living here, is the rate that everything suddenly starts growing once the temperature rises and the summer thunderstorms hit. I mean grass, weeds and things that might or might not be weeds. One of our regular customers paused to admire some mint that’s taking over part of the front yard and asked if she could volunteer her daughters to ‘tidy up’. Please, please I said!

Between running the bookstore, an annual tour of Scotland, an annual Celtic festival, a weekly radio show and trying to keep on top of the upkeep of a 1903 building, there’s little time left for gardening.

The irony, of course, is that even if we had the time and inclination, we are actually completely useless gardeners. We grow tomato plants from seed and then plant them out where they quickly die – same with most other things – potatoes, peas, brussel sprouts, peppers – – -. We rarely even keep house-plants going for any time.

Meanwhile that pesky grass needs mowing, and the weeds need whacking – assuming I don’t expire trying to get the mower and weed-whacker started!

But wait! “What light through yonder window breaks – – – -”

So yes – Sunshine is good and so is the lack of snow, not to mention longer days and tee-shirt temperatures. I’ll fly into Edinburgh this Monday morning and will be reminded of that quite forcibly I suspect! So I can’t complain can I?

“Sumer is icumen in – – – -“

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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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Si Me Ven: Los Penguinos!

So it’s Si Me Ven, not si me ren, but we’re still doing a lot of walking! And what’s really cool is, so were the penguins. My friend and I went on an ecoturismo excursion to the three islands off the northern part of Chile, near La Serena, called the Humboldt Penguin Preserve. They house 80% of the world’s Humboldt Penguin population.

(I don’t know the difference between a Humboldt and the others.)

Here are the photos of our day driving north, going out on the boat, seeing the penguins, and then, because (as the guide said) some of us must have been living right, we also saw a sea otter, nursing sea lion pups, a sea lion fight between father and son (well, I am a Quaker, so that didn’t feel so lucky, but there you go) and two humpback whales.

As the guide said, “This has been an exceptional day.”

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It’s kind of annoying that Cami looks adorable no matter what she wears – including, in this case, a crocheted skull cap and a life vest. But then, we’ve been friends a long time, so I accept this.

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I had no idea that sea gulls nested in sand. Her husband stood nearby, honking at us in an unfriendly way, so I only snatched one shot. I didn’t want to stress him out too much.

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It is called Camel Rock – well, yes.

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That is a sea otter swimming. At first we thought it might be the only wildlife we saw besides cormorants and sea gulls, but the guides knew what they were doing. You can walk on only one of the three islands that make up the preserve. They give you an hour to walk around, then take you to see the penguins and stuff. So everyone on the island was getting all bummed out at not seeing anything much, and then got happy from being taken to the best viewing spots. Good strategy! Isla del Damas 036

Pretty view of the cliffs, pretty view of the cliffs. and then…..?????????? Isla del Damas 046

“Hola! Que pasa?” The guide said he was a teenager. ?????????? ?????????? ??????????Then came the boobies. Yes, that’s what they are called. They were still nesting, didn’t have babies yet.

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And then, penguins, penguins, and more penguins!??????????

We rounded the corner, and there was a mama with her two baby sea lions. The one below is nursing. She was lying down, but as we came around the corner she lifted her head and then stroked the baby, as if saying, “This is my daughter; isn’t she lovely? Say hello to the nice tourists, dear.”?????????? ?????????? ??????????

And more penguins. My first time seeing them in the wild. I was enchanted.??????????

They took us in this cave to show us the minerals and coral.??????????

It is very hard to photograph coral in the dark in a moving boat. They’d asked us not to use flash with the wildlife because it startled them, so I forgot to use it in the cave. This coral was about the size of my head.??????????

Cormorants, and that white stuff is cormorant crap. (Guana, they calls it, and they use it to build their nests. It is about 20 degrees warmer in the nest than outside because of the guano. A mother’s love… but still, guano is crap. I dunno….)??????????

We rounded the corner and were snapping shots of another mama and baby when the guide at the back of the boat started laughing and said something in Spanish. The guide at the front said in English, “There is a sea otter below the lions. This is very unusual. And it is being exceptionally cute.” It was on its back pawing the air at first. You have to look pretty hard to see it in these photos.

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This is her preparing to slip back into the water. The boat made her a little nervous.Isla del Damas 110

I could not stop being charmed by the penguins. Suddenly they were everywhere. Isla del Damas 121

This is “Big Daddy” of the next harem of sea lions.Isla del Damas 125

And this is “Big Daddy” explaining to his son why he would be moving out soon, according to our guide. Apparently son was getting a little too big for his britches.Isla del Damas 131

And just when we thought it couldn’t get nicer, this happened. This is when the guide said, “Someone on this boat has been living right.” Humpback WhaleIsla del Damas 139

The guide didn’t want to get too close to keep from stressing him out. That’s his tale just as he flipped it at us. He stayed a good five minutes.Isla del Damas 144

And then we went home and had a glass of wine. Does it get any better?!Isla del Damas 146

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The Monday Book: MY NAME IS ASHER LEV by Chaim Potok

I discovered Potok in high school, and entered a world very different from my own. (And isn’t that part of why we read, to find the places where things are so very different, yet common threads run through them?) Hasidic Judaism and big cities are neither one familiar to me, and yet the points on which this story turns are accessible because they’re based on human connections. What I read as lovely background, people from other communities and cities would read as familiarity; perhaps Potok’s genius lies in depicting a world so well, people from both sides of the window can see it without distortion.

Potok has a lovely way of just telling his story, and letting you think what you will. He almost writes like a literary television: here is the scene. What, you don’t understand the facial expression on the protagonist? Well, figure it out.

I really, really like writing that gives the reader his/her own sovereignty. Asher Lev is about a brilliant kid who, if you want to put it in simple terms, was kind of born into the wrong family. Except he wasn’t. They love him, but he’s… wrong for their way of life. He’s a very gifted artist in a family that doesn’t even have pictures in the house because of strict beliefs. His genius leads him to create a division in his family that causes all sorts of things, including a betrayal of his religious identity and, ultimately, his parents. He betrays his father by painting his mother, while his whole life is one long, slow betrayal of her, as she stood between the two of them and helped her son achieve greatness. In doing so, she gave him the tools to cut his father to the core. It’s an amazing story.

But the whole story is told from Asher’s point of view, much of it as a child, so it flows past in the background while he concentrates on making art. He’s something between a straight shooter and an unreliable narrator. When his parents won’t buy him paint, he takes him mother’s coffee and cigarette ashes and uses them with pencil to create a color effect, without recognizing what his father sees, watching him do that. Did you see the scene in the film Billy Elliot, where the dad–opposed to his son’s dancing all this time–watches him break into dance in their kitchen, and gives up?

Asher is a sickly kid, but his mom is pursuing a PhD at the behest of the Reb, and his father is deeply involved in politics and even some clandestine missions on behalf of the community. None of which this child cares about. He’s painting. It makes an interesting read, and a conflicting experience as to whether Asher is a heroic protagonist or not.

The story reminds me a little bit of an essay called “The Monster,” about what a horrible person Wagner was and how incredible his music is. Asher Lev is a book sort of like Vanity Fair, one of my other favorites. It has many heroes and none.

 

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A Sad Cautionary Tail–er, Tale…..

Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as by the latter. –Paxton Hood

This guest blog was written by some of Wendy’s close friends, who appeal to all of you out there for help.

You all know that Wendy and Jack rescue cats in their bookstore. And most of you who read the blog regularly or keep up with Tales of the Lonesome Pine/Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap on Facebook will know that they recently passed 100 cat adoptions from their fine facility.

Yes. Huzzah. In fact, they are now up to 108, because last week brought an unprecedented six adoptions. Double huzzah.

But amidst the celebration we who love them must pause to consider the wisdom of the quotation above–and that all that time spent with the feline population has had an effect on Wendy. As her friends, we are …. concerned. Wendy has always been a big crocheter, so when she turned her needle art to the purpose of paying for feral and foster spays and neuters, we thought it an excellent plan.

Now, we’re not so sure….. see for yourself.

wendy cat scarf

We just worry that maybe, somewhere, things have gotten the wee bit out of hand? What can we do to help her?

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The Monday Book: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Paula McLain’s novel about Ernest Hemingway’s wife Hadley was one of those books I let go in and out of the shop while it was bestselling, but had on my “as soon as it slows down, I’m taking it downstairs to read” list.

I guess I missed the window. Out of state recently in a thrift store, I found it lying on a neglected shelf of musty, curling books for a quarter. Although we typically eschew buying books for cash, there seemed only one course of action….

I admit that Hemingway’s Missing Suitcase of Work (if you’re not familiar with this cautionary tale, google it) has fascinated me for years, sorta like the Bermuda Triangle. So I anticipated really enjoying this book.

While I liked it, I didn’t love it, and that’s mostly down to how well McLain describes her characters. They don’t come off as nice people, the Stein/Fitzgerald/Anderson glitterati set inhabiting Paris between the wars. They come off as vapid and aggressive. Which means McLean is a really good writer.

She doesn’t try to sound like Hemingway. Hadley, as first person narrator of the book–and Hemingway’s first wife if not his first love–sounds like a lot of women trying to be their own person and also satisfy a guy.

McLain deals well with the added tensions of artistic competitiveness, both within the marriage and between the glittering members of the lit set. If you know a lot about Hemingway’s life, seeing these events from a close-but-not-the-same point of view is interesting–particularly the lost suitcase, a pivotal yet fairly quiet event just after the novel’s middle. It has the feel of just another day in the life, as McLain has written it–a bad day, but not coming out of the writing’s character to trumpet “And from that moment to this….!” There is no literary anachronism in this book.

I am glad I got to read it, but it won’t go down in history as a favorite. It turned out to be more interesting to me in relation to the Paris writing yuppies than as its own work. Which is likely why many people read it. It doesn’t disappoint, and I think it’s odd that the thing that shows what a good writer McLean is, is the thing that consigned the book to “meh” for me: that she shows the character and flawed core of all those literary heroes.

She did such a good job, I didn’t like them, or her book. But I liked her writing. Go figger. :]

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