Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Greasy Pole Walkers Pay Their Respects To St Peter Video

This video is from our buddy Joe Ciaramitaro at GoodMorningGloucester.org. In it you'll see several of the guys who are in my photos posted on Monday. This is, basically, what I heard all weekend! Today is technically the feast of St. Peter so Viva San Pietro!

Music on the Boulevard July 3

Boulevard Extravaganza presents free live music before and after the Horribles Parade

Boulevard Extravaganza Presents free live music on the Boulevard (near the Blynman drawbridge) in Gloucester, MA on Saturday, July 3 starting at 5pm.

Safety - Gloucester's best 80s band will kick things off with a rockin' set at 5pm - awesome hair, awesome tunes. http://www.myspace.com/safetygloucester

Horribles Parade starts at 6pm.

Immediately following the parade, Henri Smith New Orleans Friends and Flavours plays jazz, blues and New Orleans favorites. http://www.gimmesound.com/HenriSmith/

Runaround - Gloucester's favorite ska band follows.

Fireworks begin at 10pm.

Don't leave after the fireworks. Stick around for a very special surprise.

For more details and to preview some of the music visit http://www.gimmesound.com/Venue.cfm?vID=163.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Fiesta Out Of My Window

Fiesta is, ultimately, all about family and since I live on a street where several families celebrate with enthusiasm and joy, I get to enjoy that aspect of it even when I don't go to the seine boat races and greasy pole and carnival. Yesterday the whole street was one big party and St. Peter got plenty of "Vivas" through out the day. The Discovery Channel had a video station on the corner and everyone was having fun. I snapped this from my living room window before going to join the party. It was great!

Viva San Pietro!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Creole Whiskey Peaches, Pickled Oysters, Peris in Syrippe and Wyne...

In my linen closet there is a box of curtains that I haven't used in years but recently I dug it out searching for some ivory sheers I wanted. In the box I discovered a cookbook that belonged to my mother – why it was in there we can only guess. The book was printed in 1955 and is called Pickles and Preserves by Marion Brown (the link is to a 2001 reprint). In the fall this was my mother's bible and it is one of those highly readable cookbooks filled with stories and anecdotes that are delightful. It is also chock full of newspaper clippings and recipe cards, some in my mother's handwriting.

What makes this cookbook particularly enjoyable is the variety of strange and fascinating recipes. Some are quick and easy to be made in small batches. A few are labeled “Career Girl” recipes and are made from frozen fruits and vegetables so busy “career girls” (a popular term in the 50s) could hurry home from their “girl Friday” jobs and whip up a batch of salad pickles that tasted like she had slaved in the kitchen for hours.

I love some of the very old-fashioned sounding chapters. Crystallized Fruits & Flowers has detailed instructions for crystallizing everything from strawberries to violets and tons of recipes including Honey & Rose-Petal Preserves and Glacéd Wine Figs. There is a chapter on Conserves, which I happen to be partial to, including Rhubarb (Pie Plant) Conserve and Red Beet Conserve. The rather lengthy Meats and Sea Food chapter includes all Venison Mincemeat, Pickled Oysters, instructions for brining, corning, and pickling meat, a variety of meat pastes, sausages and scrapples and “Easy Brined Shrimp”.

Marion Brown's section on Preserves is testimony to the fact that early cooks could figure out a way to preserve darn near anything and includes quaint recipes like Sun-Cooked Strawberry Preserves, Pumpkin Chips, and Cantalope Preserves.

Perhaps the most unique recipe in the book is one she copied from a fifteenth century cookbook for “Peris in Syrippe and Wyne”:

Take warden and cast hem in a fair potte. And boile hem til hei ben tendre; and take hem vppe, and pare hem in ij. or in iij. And take powder of canell, a good quantite, and caste hit in gode red wyne, and cast sugur thereto, and put hit in an earthen potte. And let hit boile; And then cast the peis thereto, And late hen boile togidre awhile, take powder of gingre, and a litell saffron to coloure hit with, and loke that hit be poyante and also Doucet.

She adds 2 interpretations of that, her own and a variation by a friend which adds orange slices. I love the idea of adding saffron.

I don't know if this cookbook can be found anywhere anymore but if you need a recipe for Lime Relish, English Mint Chutney or Creole Whiskey Peaches just let me know. I love this book, I'll be re-reading it cover-to-cover this week.

All is quiet out back this morning:

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Viva San Pietro! Vive Jean-Baptiste!

Today marks the beginning of Fiesta here in Gloucester, our annual celebration in honor of St. Peter, the Patron Saint of Fishermen and Mariners. I've lived here for fifteen years now and have a mixed feeling about Fiesta. On the one hand I love the religious and traditional aspect of the festival. In my neighborhood there are homes where novenas are held and parties go on and my young neighbor next door walked the Greasy Pole for the very first time last year. That is a coming of age ritual among the seafaring folk who live here. Joe went to one of the Greasy Pole heroes of years past, Peter Black, and asked him to bless his feet so he would walk well. And he did. I hope he walks again this year.

Today is also the feast day of St. John the Baptist and in some parts of the world, especially Brittany and along the northern coast of France, it is Jean-Baptiste who is honored by mariners with feasting. When I was writing The Old Mermaid's Tale whose hero, Baptiste, was once a Breton fisherman, I did a lot of research on the customs surrounding this celebration. Lucky for me I had met two wonderful, elderly Frenchmen who had grown up near Saint Malo where they had fished with their father as boys. They loved talking about the customs of their people and provided me with valuable descriptions of the festivities on this day in their villages.

I have since been told that there is another interesting tradition practiced by Breton fishermen on this day. In the evening just at twilight all the fishing boats at sea fill a barrel with old clothes and hoist it up to the highest point on their boat and light the cloth on fire so that all across the water the fires burn brightly into the night. I assume this was back in the days when men fished from barquentines and schooners.

One of my sources, also named Jean, told me that when a baby boy was born in his village the women would line the child's cradle with seashells so he would become accustomed to being among the denizens of the sea. I used that in creating my character, Baptiste, along with a lot of other of Jean's stories. So, in honor of the feast day of my Baptiste's patron saint, I give you his description of the tradition he grew up with in his own words. From chapter 70 of The Old Mermaid's Tale:
I thought about the time he told me how happy he had always been that he was born on the feast day of Jean-Baptiste, the patron saint of the sailors of the Côtes du Norde.
“It was a great feast day, cher,” he said. “The women would rise early in the morning to bake loaves of sweet bread filled with raisins and cherries and apple brandy. They would use the salt that was blessed on Easter Sunday and they would shape them into three long rolls to represent the Holy Trinity and then they braided them together.
“The young girls would gather flowers from the fields and weave them into necklaces. All the seamen—the fishermen, the young mousse, the captains and mates of ships, even those old corsairs who had not been to sea in many years, would dress in their best clothing but would wear no shoes. Jean-Baptiste was a humble man and so we would wear no shoes.
“We carried his statue covered with garlands of flowers on our shoulders as we walked in procession along the quay. And some men, to show their gratitude, would throw themselves into the sea and then walk dripping wet to the church for Mass. The girls would put flowers around our necks as we walked and there would be a great feast.
“Oh, cher,” he said. “I wish you could have seen how beautiful it was!”
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Aldous Snow: The Reincarnation of Alan Swann?

Last night I spent a fair amount of time cruising YouTube for videos of the recently released movie Get Him To The Greek starring Jonah Hill and Russell Brand. I had seen a couple of trailers for this movie and was struck by the similarity to one of my all time favorite movies, My Favorite Year (1982), starring Mark Linn Baker and Peter O'Toole. I've seen My Favorite Year several times, I have not yet seen Get Him To The Greek but may have to.

The storyline of both movies is basically the same: Sweet, slightly-goofy, nerdy entertainment-business underling is given the assignment of shepherding very-famous, devastatingly-sexy performer with a long history of substance abuse and bad behavior to an important performance. Along the way the gorgeous, screwed-up famous guy gets the naïve, nerdy nobody guy into all kinds of trouble but a rather charming friendship emerges and, ultimately, the sweetness of the nerdy guy helps the famous guy realize he needs to clean up his act. That's about it but the simplicity of that summation takes nothing away from the charm of the story.

What struck me was the similarity of the characters Aldous Snow, played by tall (6'2”), gorgeous, funny, incredibly sexy Englishman Russell Brand and Alan Swan, played by tall (6'2”), gorgeous, funny, incredibly sexy Irishman Peter O'Toole. To begin with both actors are perfectly cast. Peter O'Toole was better known as a dramatic actor (Lawrence of Arabia, The Lion in Winter) when he made this movie but his gift for comedy is delightful and he has a wonderful capacity to be funny, alluring, and maddening all at the same time. Alan Swann can turn on the charm and then be a complete jerk in a nano-second. There is one scene that I absolutely love in a restaurant when an older man tells him that his wife loves his work and would he say hello to her. Swann asks the lady, a plump, middle-aged matron, to dance but then uses the occasion, with some help from his side-kick, Baker, to pick up the glamorous girlfriend of a mobster. But when he is dancing with the older lady, looking into her eyes and sweeping her elegantly about the dance floor, how can any woman not swoon?

Russell Brand, as I mentioned in a previous blog post, is better known as a stand-up comic. He's known for his cockney accent, rapid-fire wit, no small amount of intelligence with an impressive vocabulary and knowledge of just about everything. Oh, and let's not forget the fact that he is both gorgeous and mind-numbingly sexy. He first created Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall which would have been a tedious film were it not for his hilarious but brilliant over-sexed, demented rock star Aldous Snow. In fact, Aldous Snow was so popular the producers decided he deserved his own movie thus we have Get Him To The Greek. Aldous Snow may be the greatest make-believe rock star on film. The scenee in these videos are from the movie:

So, the question is: Is Aldous Snow the reincarnation of Alan Swann? They're both tall, delicious, depraved, screwed-up, brilliant stars who need a dumpy, idealistic, naïve kid who worships them to show them the errors of their ways. Like I said, I haven't seen Get Him to the Greek yet but I'm pretty convinced I'm on to something here. As for Peter O'Toole and Russell Brand, neither of them needs me to tell you how amazing they are. I can't think of a better actor than Russell Brand to reincarnate a character created by Peter O'Toole.

What do you suppose he could do with Henry II?

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Easy Peach, Passionfruit & Honey Cobbler

Recently I was talking to my 12 year old nephew Patrick on the phone and I mentioned it was National Strawberry Shortcake Day. Patrick thought that was a wonderful holiday and later his mother told me he insisted they go to the store and get the stuff to make one. Good for Patrick! In my opinion fruit, especially the fruits of summer, is the best food there is. My personal preference for most fruit is to eat it fresh from the bush/vine/tree/etc. But there are some outrageously good recipes out there for using fruit.

Our friend Tinky Weisblat recently posted a recipe for dark chocolate and rhubarb brownies on her blog. That sounds utterly outrageously delicious to me! And the King Arthur Flour blog featured a recipe for peach, dried apricot and raspberry pie. OMG! What an idea!

It's hard to go wrong with peaches. They combine deliciously with nearly any fruit. One of my favorite combinations is peaches, blackberries and rhubarb. I once made a pandowdy similar to the Caramel Peachy-Pear Pandowdy in my cookbook substituting 3 c. of rhubarb and blackberries for the pears and it was delicious.

If you want a little bit of heaven pick up 2 passionfruits the next time you buy fresh peaches. Passionfruit combines deliciously with fresh peaches and no one will forget the taste of this:

Peach, Passionfruit & Honey Cobbler
You will need a package of puff pastry, 3 lbs. of peaches, and 2 passionfruits.

Peel and slice 3 lbs of fresh peaches. Toss peaches with ¼ c. cornstarch and 2 tbsp. quick-cooking tapioca. Split open the 2 passionfruits and scoop out the fruit. Add it to the peaches. Place the fruit in a deep, square casserole dish.
In a heavy saucepan place 2/3 c. sugar, 1/3 c. good butter and 2 tbsp. honey. Simmer together until well blended and smooth. Pour over the peaches.
Cover with puff pastry. Drizzle another tablespoon of honey over the pastry.
Bake at 450° for 15 mins. then reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 40-45 mins.

Monday, June 21, 2010

An "AttaGirl" for The Mermaid Shawl!

One of the first things any writer has to accept is that once their book is in the public eye you will get criticism. There is an old axiom that no matter how many "atta girls" you get from people who like what you do, one "you suck" can wipe all of them out. It's true too. Despite the fact that of the people who have taken the time to review any of my books the vast majority have been favorable, there have been negative reviews and, like anyone who puts herself out there for public scrutiny, it's hard to take. 

I remember when I took a workshop with Julia Cameron some years back she told a story about her ex-husband Martin Scorsese. He had just had a failure with a project and she called him up to offer her sympathies and ask how he was doing. While they were talking she asked, "How do you handle rejection?" and he replied, "Mostly I sit in a chair and sulk." So, if the brilliant Martin Scorsese can sulk, who are we not to follow suit?

Some months ago someone named Carolyn Headon posted a very critical review of my book The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties on Amazon. I admit I was a little miffed especially because a few of the things she said were completely untrue. For several of the shawls I DO give exact yardages. Plus she used her review of my book as an opportunity to promote someone else's book, which makes one a little suspicious.

Now, I don't check my Amazon book pages all that often so I sometimes miss it when a new review is posted which is why it has taken me a few weeks to see the rebuttal comment posted to Ms. Headon's review. This was posted on May 25 by someone named Patricia A Martinez. Let me say I don't know either of these women but I loved and very much appreciated Ms. Martinez's comments. She really caught the spirit of the book. She wrote:

The book /does/ make a point of explaining that it is for teaching the knitter to make changes, improvise, change things around, and learn to modify. If I want precise yarn amounts, I reference Ravelry. If I want to make beautiful shawls, I go to this book. A middle road between something like /Crazy Lace/, with it's disregard for pattern entirely, and /A Gathering of Lace/, with it's follow-these-instructions-exactly traditional route, This book is one where the author is not afraid to be honest, thrifty, and a teacher. And teachers often have to give students that little nudge into the deep end. I, personally, enjoyed that she admitted to her yarn source (and was not afraid to include the item because of that source! Many designers are.), adhered to the copyright of others, included inspiring work, and gave that little push toward improvisation and modification.

I agree that if you want hand-holding through the pattern, you should go elsewhere. However, this book never claims to do that. 

So thank you very much, Ms. Martinez, wherever you are. Not only did you understand the point of the book but you made me feel very, very good. Bless you.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Another Lovely Surprise!

I love Google Alerts! They let me know when my books are mentioned on the web so I can see what people have to say. This morning I received an alert for a blog called Lobly Arts Studio informing me that its author wrote about The Mermaid Shawl and other beauties today.

The author of the blog is an incredible knitter! She just finished making the Aeolian Shawl, which I have also downloaded the pattern to and plan to make some day. The picture at left is her photo of her shawl and there are lots more pictures on her blog. Check them out!

Anyway, the author said that she had purchased my book nd this is what she had to say about it: 

The first one is called “The Mermaid Shawl & other Beauties” by Kathleen Valentine. It arrived last week and is just the best read. She is a woman after my own heart - ie if there is a pattern, then change it around and adapt it and don't really follow it anyway. It is not about careful pattern following - rather it is about taking an idea and developing it. It has the most lovely photos, with “real” people as models - her friends and family. And it has a little story slotted into the middle of the book. It took until the end to realise that she is actually a novelist who is nuts about knitting - hence this amazingly readable knitting book!

How kind of her to write such nice words! Actually, several people have told me that they loved just reading the book which gives me an idea. I am presently working on the third in a series of scarves/shawls made from a combination of lace and cable techniques in DK weight merino. It occurs to me that it might be fun to make up a story about each one of them and publish a combination pattern/story book with these gorgeous designs. I ordered a book from Amazon called Casting Off which is a novel based on Aran knitting pattern designs but a friend who read it said she thought the author didn't really know much about knitting which is too bad. Well, it's just a thought.

So, I'd like to thank the author of Lobly Arts Studio Blog. She lives in Australia and has some awfully cute pictures of kangaroos and koala bears on her blog, too. She has a baby wallaby named Santana! How can I not love someone who names their pet after my favorite musician???

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Super Easy Stovetop Cabbage Rolls - Yum!

There was a beautiful head of cabbage in my kitchen just begging to be used and, because I had just purchased some ground round, I decided to make Cabbage Rolls for dinner the other night. When I was a kid we always called these Pigs-In-A-Blanket but now that term seems to apply to hot dogs wrapped in biscuit dough or sausages wrapped in pancakes. However you call them, though, they are delicious. 

For this recipe I decided to cook them in a heavy Dutch oven on top of the stove so I didn't parboil the cabbage --- it cooks well enough in the juices when it is done this way. This is a different recipe from the three found in my cookbook!

Clean the cabbage and separate leaves. Allow them to soak in salted hot water while you mix the filling.


1 1/2 lbs. good ground round 
1/2 c. chopped onions
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated cheese (I use grated Parmesan cheese instead of rice because I'm always trying to cut carbs)
2-3 finely chopped cloves of garlic
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. black pepper

Blend by hand until well mixed and then form into small loaves. Rinse the cabbage leaves and wrap one leaf around each little loaf. You can secure the leaves with a toothpick if you like but I didn't. Stack them in a heavy pot with a secure-fitting lid.

Combine 1 large can crushed tomatoes in puree, 1 can of cream of mushroom soup, 1 c. water. Mix well and pour over the cabbage rolls. (I chopped up the rest of the cabbage and added it to the pot.) Cover the pot and bring the liquid to a boil. Allow it to boil for five minutes then reduce heat to a low simmer and let cook for 45-60 mins or until the beef is cooked through.

Serve cabbage rolls in a bowl with lots of broth and salt and pepper to taste. These are even better when they are reheated the next day!

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

James Lee Burke & The Gothic Novel

There is something delicious to me about the gothic novel when it is done well. Traditionally the gothic novel was associated with the paranormal and always contained crumbling castles and ghosts, werewolves, vampires and other such creatures. But in contemporary literature a new form of gothic writing has emerged which is subtle, mysterious, and very, very intriguing when it is done well. I am not talking about the current glut of vampire/werewolf novels but rather stories in which the characters are people we could know, people we could be and yet there is just that hint of something amiss, something not quite explainable, the sense that there is something else going on here.

One of the best of these is Donna Tartt's 1992 novel The Secret History which is set in an elite ivy-league college in rural Vermont. While the story is improbable it is no less intriguing and the gothic undertones provided by the dark nature of some characters, the beautifully described settings, and the hint of time-travel and communing with mythical creatures weaves a wonderful spell. I wish Ms. Tartt would do it again but so far she has not equaled this story.

Jim Harrison is another writer I admire who is adept at weaving mystery, atmosphere and mythology into a sort of gothic mist. I've written here before about how much I  love Ron Hansen's Mariette in Ecstasy. Valerie Martin's A Recent Martyr and Barry Unsworth's The Stone Virgin are other novels I recommend if you love this sort of writing. But when it comes to blending story, atmosphere, mystery, seductive characters and a hint of the paranormal nobody beats James Lee Burke.

Last night I finished re-reading his Jolie Blon's Bounce and I think I loved it better this time than I did when I first read it five years ago. It is part of his terrific Dave Robicheaux series set in New Iberia, Louisiana and it seethes with atmosphere from alligators peering through Spanish moss hung trees to the ominous dark clouds laced with lightning hovering over the Gulf of Mexico but not coming ashore to relieve the relentless drought and heat. Dave Robicheaux may be one of the most interesting characters in American literature, a tormented cop with a history of addiction and bad luck with women. James Lee Burke may be one of the best writers in American literature with a gift for description, of both characters and settings, that is so finely-tuned you are rarely aware of the writing you get so lost in the story.

So the last few evenings I've been deep into New Iberia amid a cast of zydeco musicians, gangsters, Cajun fishermen, corrupt cops, good cops battling personal demons, and the offspring of plantation slaves. Two of the characters in particular, the relentlessly evil Cajun plantation overseer Legion Guidry and the mysterious Vietnam vet Sal Angelo, may not even be of this world. The ending is a little unsettling because we still aren't quite sure what happened but for me, that's good stuff. I've never been a fan of too-neat endings.

I am a reader who is very particular about the writing technique of the author. If an author's style is so noticeable that it distracts from the story I have a hard time sticking with the story. When I read fiction I want to get lost, totally lost with no distracting reminder that this is a story written by someone who has some stylistic quirks. That never happens with James Lee Burke.

So I'm off to Amazon to see which Burke novels I've missed --- I know there are a lot to choose from. And while I have a lot of respect for writers of contemporary gothic novels with lots of creepy creatures, like Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer, I can't get enough of those writers who can weave a spell that sucks me into a dark and mysterious world, dazzles my imagination, and leaves me a little unsure of what just happened. I want to write like that.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New Review: Of Angels, Love, and Miracles

I got a wonderful surprise today via a review posted on Amazon for my novel, Each Angel Burns. The review was excellent and doubly appreciate because it was posted by author/novelist/poet Barry Yelton. This is what he said:

5.0 out of 5 stars Of Angels, Love, and Miracles, June 16, 2010
This review is from: Each Angel Burns (Paperback)
Kathleen Valentine is an author with a vivid eye for detail and a knack for telling a good story. This one is exceptionally well told. It is the story of a tormented priest and an abused wife, along with a cast of believable and capitivating characters. Throw in a mysterious old abbey with a storied past, a string of murders, and a globe-trotting villain and you have an engaging and entertaining read.

Ms. Valentine has a gift for description and her often lyrical prose brings the story depth and texture. Describing the view of the ocean from the crumbling abbey she writes, "Silver light from a full Snow Moon rising out of the Atlantic just beyond Owls Head sweeps across the frigid black waters like a trail of angel's wings and shimmers through the frozen night." She paints such vivid pictures that the reader can easily visualize the scenes and the characters in them.

The story pulls you along with surprising twists and turns, and an unexpected ending.

This is one of the best independent novels I have read. Highly recommended.

I "met" Barry (in the cyber sense) a couple years ago when I read his book Scarecrow in Gray which is a beautifully written novel about the Civil War based on the experiences of one of his ancestors. While the story is told against the background of the Civil War it is really something of a morality story about what happens to a good and decent man who is forced to be party to terrible things. I wrote an Amazon review for his book and he wrote to tell me it was his favorite review. I was flattered.

So I want to thank Barry for his kind words and encourage you to check out his book. In some senses his hero, Francis Yelton, and Father Peter Black in my book have much in common. Though Francis is a married farmer and Fr. Black is, well, a priest, both are good, decent, moral men with great integrity who are, through circumstances they had no choice in, thrust into impossible situations in which they have to act in ways they never thought themselves capable of.

There is a conventional wisdom in literature that the most interesting of all characters are the ones with secrets. That's all I'll say about that.....

Thanks for reading, and thank you, Barry Yelton.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kind Words & Some “Catholic” Questions

Since being on Facebook and Twitter* I've noticed that a lot of very distinguished and reputable writers post comments from letters/emails they receive from readers of their books. This is something I've always been self-conscious about doing because I'm really terrible at self-promotion and always feel like I am being “pushy”. But I'm trying to be better about that. I got a lovely message from “Evie in Iowa” via GoodReads who had just finished reading Each Angel Burns and she said, Loved this book, Kathleen. I started reading your blog as I am a fellow knitter. Then decided to read your book and I was enthralled. Thanks for the journey. She gave it four stars and posted the following in the Review section: I really enjoyed this book. Great mystery with a tender love story, long-lasting friendships and true faith.

I thought that was very sweet of her to write and I was moved by her kindness in telling me she liked my book. Plus it reminded me that I've received other emails from readers of that book. Some of them ask questions and, while I answer the emails personally answering their questions, I really ought to post the questions and their answers for others.

Marjorie in Troy, New York wrote, I'm a fellow Catholic and loved this book and all the background on parts of our Faith I didn't know about. It was a great mystery and a beautiful love story but also educational. The stuff about Heloise and Abelard was so interesting I wanted to know more. But I have a question. The story revolved around a statue of the Angel Gabriel by Giovanni Dupré. I know he was a real sculptor because I looked him up but I wondered if the statue was real.

That's a very good question and I'm happy that Marjorie “looked him up”. Dupré did quite a lot of religious statuary but as far as I know he did not sculpt a Gabriel. He did, however, sculpt the statue of the Archangel Michael that Fr. Flynn mentions in the book. The face of that statue (left) is on the cover of Each Angel Burns.

Irene in Erie, PA wrote, I bought Each Angel Burns because I loved The Old Mermaid's Tale, especially the parts about the way the sailors in Brittany celebrate the Feast of John the Baptist. There are so few positive portrayals of Catholic traditions in books that yours are refreshing. I loved your beautiful and devout Father Black and how you handled what happened to him except I wonder how you feel about your books having so much Catholic faith in them but also pretty much extra-marital sex and violence. Don't you feel conflicted writing the way you do?

The answer to that is easy, no, I don't feel conflicted at all. Sex and violence are parts of life and our Faith is what gets us through tough times. I also think that there is a very sensuous component to many Catholic rituals and traditions (like the Festival of John the Baptist) that appeals to the sort of people who may be inclined to extreme behavior. To me much of the appeal of traditional religions like Catholicism and Judaism is the lush beauty of rituals that engage both the mind and the body, through the senses --- beautiful art and music, fragrances of flowers and incense, ritual foods, etc.

So, those are a couple of the very sweet, kind letters I've received. I hope my answers were helpful. Thanks so much for writing and, as ever, thanks for reading.
* Can I just say a word about how enjoyable I am finding Twitter and Facebook -- especially now that I have TweetDeck so can have them open all day on my desktop? I've met so many great people and re-connected with lots of friends and family from long ago. Plus I've made some wonderful connections. Many thanks to all of you who are mking these two platforms so delightful.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

"Prat Peddling" Rhubarb Crisp

For years the only person in the media who regularly talked about rhubarb was Garrison Keillor but in recent years with the ascendancy of irreverant, hilarious British comedian Russell Brand the word rhubarb has begun to be bandied about quite --- well --- irreverently. In a column in The Sun, a newspaper Brand loves to use in his standup routines, he referred to a BBC commentator as "a prat-peddling rhubarb" among other choice phrases.

Recently Tinky Weisblat in her excellent food blog, Our Grandmother's Kitchens, featured a recipe for Rhubarb Upside Down Cake that looked wonderful. So between Tinky and Russell Brand (there's a combination for you) I've been thinking about rhubarb and decided to post this recipe from my cookbook, Fry Bacon. Add Onions. It's a delicious treat which I'm sure you'll enjoy --- whether you choose to peddle prat with it or not.

Chop cleaned rhubarb into ½” pieces and toss with cornstarch to lightly coat. Place in casserole dish to within 1½” of the top. Add 2 c. sugar, ½ c. flour, and several pats of butter. Crumble together 1 c. dry oatmeal, 1 stick butter, ½ c. brown sugar, ½ tsp. salt.

Crumble over the top of the rhubarb and bake at 350° for 1 hour. Apples may be added if there is not enough rhubarb.
This same recipe can be used with fresh peaches or fresh cherries. Reduce sugar to 1¼ cups.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 11, 2010

In Love With Tools

I love tools and I come by that honestly. If you ever saw my Dad's shop you would know what I mean. His shop, which was on the first floor of our house, was huge and jam-packed with tools, machines, gizmos, widgets, and thingamabobs --- and he knew what all of them were used for.

As you know I've been doing a lot of sewing lately. I just love being in my sewing room and even when I am just puttering round and organizing things it makes me happy. Recently I was sorting through my notions and making a list of stuff I needed to stock up on. I placed an order with Sew True for their 1100 yard spools of Gutermann thread and another order with Gone Sewing for notions. The package arrived yesterday and, among other things, contained these nifty items:
Since I have been sewing a lot with pure silk and with rayon jersey seam binding is invaluable. The Hug Snug seam binding is woven rayon, extremely silky, soft and stable and wonderful to work with. I recently made two rayon jersey tops with a v-neck and button placket and I used seam binding stitched along the shoulder seam, around the armholes and along the neckline. In the past when I made tops from rayon jersey --- which is one of the nicest fabrics imaginable for summer because it is so soft and light --- they became very stretched out with a few washings but the seam binding fixes that problem. In fact, I liked these two tops so much (I had aqua and magenta) I ordered fabric for two more (wedgewood and deep rose) from Fashion Fabric Club.

Marking tools have gotten so much better in recent years. The tailor's chalk that was once invaluable is still good for sturdier fabrics but for lightweight summery fabrics there are marking pens with ink that either fades in a couple hours or can be washed out. Sewing glue sticks are another treasure. When you are trying to get a tricky seam to stay put before sewing a little dab of sewers glue can hold the fabric better than any pin can without damaging the fabric or mucking up your machine. And fusible sewing tape is another treasure. It comes on rolls of various sizes and can be tucked in to narrow spaces and pressed to make collars, plackets, and cuffs easy and neat.

So those are a few of my favorite new tools. Having a decent supply on hand makes sewing much more fun and efficient.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

12,000 Year-Old Find in Keene, New Hampshire

This is pretty cool:

A 12,000-year-old find in Keene

Union Leader Correspondent 

Just beyond the grind of machinery and trucks working to build a state of the art middle school in Keene lays the remnants of the life that used to be there. Before machines, before planes and cars, before the first settlers from strange lands, people were here. They built fires and carved tools, had families, and most of all, existed.

"The history of Keene says that Native Americans never lived here," said Robert Goodby, a Stoddard Archeologist studying the historic finds at the site of the new Keene Middle School off of Maple Avenue. "And here we have evidence of them living here 12,000 years ago. ... It's significant because of its age, that it's so undisturbed and the fact that you can stand here 12,000 years later and speculate that this was someone's home for a short period of time based on where the artifacts are coming from."

Goodby is leading a team of archeologists excavating four areas on the site of the new Middle School. The site in only one of two this old known in Cheshire County -- the other was discovered in the late 1970s in Swanzey -- and only one of 15 of this age in the state. The exact location of the dig is being kept secret to prevent looters from desecrating the sites and to preserve the team's own painstaking work which has continued seven days a week for months.

Goodby was first hired by the Keene School District to examine the historic significance of the site as part of the permitting process to build near a wetland. 

And it was good they did, since the team has discovered bits of history dating between 12,000 and 13,000 years old.

"Not very much at all is known about these people," Goodby said. "What is very special about this site is that this is one of the very early sites. These were some of the first people to come into this area and the end of the ice age."

Through digging deep soil test cores all across the flat and wet land area at the site, a geologist was able to get an historical picture of what the area looked like when the first people arrived in what was not yet Keene. 

"He was able to determine that the site originally had small streams coming across it from the melting glacier and (the streams) were depositing the sand and creating this level surface," Goodby said. "By the time the first people got here, (the terrace) was exactly where it is now."

He went on to say that at the time the Ashuelot River was also much closer to the site, making it an ideal spot to set up camp, Goodby said. 

"It's a nice level sandy terrace right next to a huge wetland. You know there's all sorts of good things to eat and a lot of natural resources there," he said.

Click below to view a slideshow by New Hampshire Union Leader photographer Bob LaPree about the project:

The archeologists started out digging in small test areas last fall. Where they found chips of stone, likely from tools, they opened up the area for further exploration. Moving in a methodically slow fashion, the excavators dug one meter squares. They divided those squares into four quarters, each about 50 cm. They then dug down, 5 cm at a time.

"Everything that we find is very precisely located, because, to make sense of what people were doing here, we need an accurate map of where every tool was found," Goodby said. "That's one of the critical things about archeology. A lot of people think, ‘oh archeology means finding lots of cool stuff.' Yeah it does, but what we're really trying to do here is learn about what the people were doing. And we can only do that if we recover the tools scientifically."

So far the artifacts have been found in oval clusters. Goodby speculates that these areas were where the people pitched tents or other shelters.

Primarily, the explorers have found a variety of stone tools that would have been used for processing animal hides, such as scraping tools. They've also found tools for making things out of bone and antlers as well as tools for engraving and splitting. But what's even more significant is what the stone tells the archeologists about the people who used them.

"We're learning for one thing that they had connections that extended all over Northern New England," Goodby said. "They were getting their stone from quarries as far away as northern Maine. And from sources in far north New Hampshire." He said there's evidence some of the stone may have come from Berlin and Jefferson.

He said they may have gotten this by following the caribou migratory routes, as that was their main game animal. He also said it may indicate that they were connected to other bands of people at this time so the stone moved from family to family.

Goodby also believes the type of stone they are finding in Keene as compared to the stone found in Swanzey in the 1970s, will ultimately prove the Keene site is even older than the Swanzey site.

Another exciting find was a stone fireplace that still had remnants of burnt fire wood in it. Next to the hearth, the archeologists also discovered what they believe to be burnt caribou bone. Goodby said testing will be done on the bone to determine the animal and the wood to determine what species of trees were in the area when these people lived there.

Goodby said he has two more weeks to gather what he can from the sites before construction on that part of the property continues on the middle school.

However, the significance of the site will not be lost once the areas are covered over with the new school, said William Gurney, Co-Superintendent of SAU 29.

He said school officials will be building the finds into the curriculum so that students will understand the importance of the history right there in their backyard. He also said replicas of the stone tools will be on permanent display inside the school.

"The curriculum has been a little bit lacking when it comes to the original inhabitants in New England," Gurney said. "Now the students will be able to hold replicas of the actual artifacts in their hands and see exactly what the real tools looked like and touch and hold them…. It's just great."

Further, the school district will receive a comprehensive report on the findings and Goodby also expects to give lectures and publish his findings at some point. Though a scientist through and through, Goodby can't hide his excitement for what they are discovering.

"To put it in context, I have been doing archeology for 25 years," he said. "And this is the neatest site I've ever seen. This is really a very important site."

Another Picture of Sweaters

The picture of my Dad's sweater the other day reminded me of this one. My sister Lisa took it years ago of four of us wearing sweaters I knit:
On the far left is my sister Chris wearing an Aran-style sweater I made for her in a pretty peach-colored yarn. I think the yarn was something acrylic because, at the time, I wasn't very sure of myself as a knitter. But the sweater turned out pretty good.

Next to her is my brother Jack wearing a sweater knit from Lamb's Pride Wool/Mohair. I charted that pattern myself. Jack told me when he was going through chemo that sweater was the only thing that kept him warm. I still get weepy when I think of that.

The third one is my sweater knit from Ballybrae wool in a design I made up after three Viking ships landed in Boston and I went to see them. The design includes Norse runes, Nordic symbols including the ships and the names of the ships knitted into the border. I still have the sweater and sometimes wear it when it is really cold.
On the far-right is sister Anne in an Icelandic ski sweater I knit from Lamb's Pride. Actually, I knit the sweater with Lisa in mind but it fit Anne better so she snagged it. I knit a Faire Isle-style cardigan for Lisa to replace it. I should get a picture of her in that.

So, those are a few of my sweater creations. More will be coming one of these days.

Thaanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A Great Mention in the Gloucester Daily Times

Heather Atwood, the cooking columnist for The Gloucester Daily Times, has a terrific column today on Cookbooks, Alive and Well. She mentions my cookbook, Fry Bacon. Add Onions and says: 

Kathleen Valentine has written a cookbook and memoir titled, "Fry Bacon. Add Onions." The Valentine Family & Friends Cookbook, says of cookbooks, "I use them, I wrote one, and I love reading them in bed or out." The book on her nightstand right now is "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker," by Beth Hensperger. The Amazon review lists "more than a dozen oatmeals and porridges, ranging from Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal to Cream Cornmeal Porridge...Twenty-four types of baked beans are mere prelude for the 14 chili options..." "If you want to be really sinful," Kathleen adds, "get 'Seduced By Bacon: Recipes & Lore about America's Favorite Indulgence,' by Joanna Pruess, and try their Caramel Bacon Ice Cream."

For those of us who love cookbooks there are lots of good suggestions in her column. Give it a read at: Heather Atwood's "Food for Thought".

Which brings up a thought, why don't newspapers have sewing/knitting/crocheting columnists?

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Dad's Fisherman's Sweater

I came across this photo recently of my Dad wearing a fisherman's sweater that I knit for him one year for Christmas. This must be about 20 years ago because I was still living in Salem when I made it. The photo was taken in my parent's living room on Christmas morning.

I really love the picture and am glad I found it. At the time I was knitting fishermen sweaters I was making all of them more or less the sme but varying the stitch patterns. I can't remember the names of all the stitches in this sweater but I bet they are all from The Complete Book of Traditional Aran Knitting by Shelagh Hollingworth which was my Bible back then. Either that or Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys, and Arans: Fishermen's Sweaters from the British Isles by Gladys Thompson which is still one of my favorite knitting books. I highly recommend it.

Also notice the crocheted afghan on the back of the couch behind Dad. I think my sister Chris crocheted that for my mother. Busy hands are happy hands.

Thanks for reading.