The Salt Path

If savouring the majesty of the great outdoors is not your thing, you would be well-advised to steer clear of The Salt Path. However, if you are in need of a  meandering hike on Britain’s sea-swept South West Coast Path, you will will find this wilderness romp a satisfying way to spend a winter weekend.

In The Salt Path, Raynor Winn begins this heart-breaking story by revealing that she and her husband Moth are about to lose their home as a result of an investment in a friend’s business having gone awry. After years in financially ruinous litigation to save their beloved home, the court’s final decision is a ruling not in their favour. As they huddle in a cupboard under the stairs while they listen to the bailiffs pounding on the door, they are withered by the reality that their family’s dream life is irrevocably coming to an end.

As if that isn’t enough burden to bear, they also learn that the chronic pain that Moth has been experiencing in his upper back for the last six years is actually the result of a rare disease called corticobasal degeneration which will begin to further destroy Moth’s body and mental acuity resulting in a slow and agonizing death. Losing the love of her life is a burden too onerous for Raynor to bear and she simply believes that the doctors have got it wrong.

Knowing that they have nothing left to lose, they embark on a 630 mile walk of the Southwest Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset. Their decision to wild camp along the way is borne from the fact that they have no money except for the 40 pounds the government will deposit into their account each month. Food wins over comfort and, with only the bare essentials of life in their backpacks, they begin their journey.

a1o3bibuohlTheir constant companion on the trip is a guidebook of the trail hike written by the much fitter and more experienced Paddy Dillon. They quickly come to understand that there is no chance of completing the walk within the same time parameters that Dillon did. This release of their preconceived expectations is just the beginning of the emotional and spiritual journey they both experience as their need to survive ellipses all other previous concerns that have burdened them.  The power of nature is a force that they eventually learn to stop fighting. In letting go they find that their struggle with their financial and emotional impoverishment falls away.

The Salt Path is a story of the power of love and the recognition of the interconnectedness of all things. It is a story of survival in the darkest of times and the joy of opening one’s eyes to seeing the world in a whole new way.

— Nancy C.

That’s Epic!

When a friend heard I was planning to go to Hawaii, she gushed, “Oh, you have to read James Michener’s book! It will give you such perspective on the history and culture!”

I had already known that James Michener’s Hawaii was long (I had shelved his books early in my library career) but when I discovered how long (937 pages!!), I dug in my heels. I’m an avid reader and often have several books on the go at once, but almost a thousand pages? And in such small print? No way.

I resisted. I even avoided my friend for a while, or at least avoided sharing my reluctance. Finally, I checked out the book and began the first section, which dealt with the geological forces that created the Hawaiian Islands millions of years ago. Written in 1959 with that overly descriptive John Steinbeck style, blah, blah, blah. I guess it’s okay if you like that sort of thing. I do not.

But following that we get into the story of the Polynesian people who set forth to find a new land. The reasons, the dangers, the omens and superstitions. My friend was right; it gets fascinating!

The Polynesians settle, they follow their ancient traditions, they impact the land. Eventually they are followed by missionaries from America who have heard about the heathen people and are moved to leave friends and families and all that they know to bring Christianity to the pagan shores. Though their intentions may be good, some of their attitudes and methods are questionable. Some positive changes are wrought, but there’s also hostility and suspicion.

The Chinese are brought in as labourers for the sugar plantations. The Japanese then come to work the pineapple fields. The Second World War arises and Pearl Harbour is struck. With each new section, Michener introduces the reader to new characters, contexts, historical realities and outcomes. It really is a wonderful initiation for anyone who would visit these isles.

It took me a while to get through (about two months of intermittent reading, actually), but apart from the first section, it was time well spent. In a way, I almost don’t need to go now – I feel like I know Hawaii and it’s not like the trip is cheap.

Ah, who am I kidding? Michener only informed me up to the 1950s. I need to find out what happened next and experience the spirit of aloha for myself!

Other work I read set in Hawaii

The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Jack London in Paradise by Paul Malmont
Roughing It by Mark Twain (confession: I only read the Hawaiian sections)

Movies and Television Shows I Watched

The Descendants
From Here to Eternity (years ago)
Hawaii Five-0 (if you want to be looking over your shoulder all the time)
Soul Surfer

And if you like epic novels, I highly recommend The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (a former One Book, One Community selection) with settings in Africa, the United States and Canada.

— Susan B.

Have You Met The Durrells?

You know how bookstores have ‘Staff Picks”?  Well I think we should have ‘WPL Customer Picks’.  Or maybe when customers return a popular DVD or book we could keep a tally of who is reporting that it is good/bad/worth the trouble and then post it at the returns desk with a little image of a thumbs up or thumbs down.  The opinions of our neighbours should be more important than the reviews we read in the Globe & Mail or the New York Times, and I would rather watch a DVD that a WPL customer recommends rather than one that gets a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  In fact, I find that material suggested to me by WPL customers is a guaranteed good read or good watch.  Thumbs up!

A favourite customer ‘gifted’ me with the television miniseries The Durrells in Corfu recently and I was as smitten with the series as she so confidently said I would be.  In fact, when I placed my hold on Season One she told me that I should place a hold on season two right away as I would be sure to want to watch Season Two as well.  She was right – it was that good (I have since thanked her for her sage advice, not to worry).  The miniseries originally aired on the British television network ITV and was picked up by PBS as part of their Masterpiece series.  We are fortunate to have both seasons at WPL and when the third season is encased in plastic on our shelves I will be faithfully waiting for it to arrive.  I will have a cup of tea ready to go and might even break out a festive meal in celebration.

The television show is an adaptation of the trilogy of books that Gerald Durrell wrote about the years his family spent on the island of Corfu.  He is at the centre of the books My Family and Other Animals, Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods but the screenwriters have chosen to make his mother, Louisa, the focus of their stories.  This was a great decision on their part – it gives the series a bit of snap that might be missing if the stories all centred on a young boy.  I’m sure that it would have been lovely but not quite the masterpiece we now have to enjoy.  It is fabulous.

After struggling to raise four willful children alone on a widow’s pension in gloomy England, Louisa decides to move them to a sunny Greek paradise.  Well, Louisa decides with the enthusiastic prompting of her eldest, Larry, who is determined to be a successful novelist (and becomes one – renowned author Lawrence Durrell ). The reaction of the other three is mixed at best. The chemistry between the family members is just magical.

When Louisa, Larry, next oldest son Leslie, only daughter Margo and young Gerald arrive on the island they are warmly welcomed by a taxi driver named Spiros who becomes their interpreter, protector and negotiator for everything – a villa, furniture, and the release of their funds from the bank.  While the family waits for their money to arrive they must ‘forage’ for something to eat and this is the first of many opportunities to see the different ways that the Durrells cope with adversity.  Larry flat out refuses to help, saying that he is busy writing.  Margo says that she is looking for a job and does so by sitting on their sundrenched patio in a bikini.  Leslie, always keen to help his mother, goes out with one of his many rifles and shoots some of the local wildlife while Gerald hunts for berries but ends up eating many, feeding some to their dog, and letting the remainder spoil while he is distracted by a neighbour who offers him a puppy.  Oh, the glorious little puppies.

Gerald Durrell’s passion for animals started when began keeping local wildlife as pets. They pile up so quickly that I can’t remember them all.  He had many species of birds, several types of mice, a number of insects, plus scorpions (!), turtles, otters, tortoises, snakes. In one lovely episode he wanted a goat so, so much.  The classic W. C. Fields quote about not working with children or animals does not apply in this series because actor Milo Parker, who plays Gerald, is top-notch and the furry and feathery supporting actors are sublime.  Animals and children are everywhere and make the show that much more enjoyable.  If you were to play this series without sound you would enjoy watching it for the visuals alone.

The three older children of the Durrell family also play their parts to perfection.  Larry is an aspiring novelist who spends every day wearing his underclothes and a polka-dotted robe while he types away in his room and when forced to provide encouragement or advice to his siblings he grudgingly does so but there is love behind the snide remarks.  Poor Leslie stomps about trying to find his place in their family, on the island, in the world and says “maybe I’m not the sort who is meant to be happy” but when Larry wonders if it might be time for him to return to England and they have a real brotherly conversation it is as if the two actors have really grown up together.  There is great chemistry there.  And Margo is sublime.  I’m sure that this young actor, Daisy Waterstone, is meant for great things.  She delivers every line – comic or dramatic – with such flair.  When she confesses to a local countess, played by the exquisite Leslie Caron, “I’m a bit dim”, there is really nothing more delightful.  It is so hard to choose a favourite among this cast of wonderful actors.

Each episode finds the family getting to know their new neighbours, the culture of the island, and finding their way to a happiness that they did not have in England.  It’s not an easy journey for them, thankfully, or the series would end and it would seem far too effortless.  It’s because life is a struggle for Louisa and her children that you keep watching, you become invested in their success, whether it be in Leslie’s love life, Margo’s quest for employment, or Larry’s constant pecking away at the typewriter.  And they are doing all of this while the sun is shining, they are wearing the most colourful clothes (well, Larry is usually wearing a dressing gown) and eating glorious meals on their patio which overlooks the Ionian Sea.  What more can you ask of a miniseries?  I read some terrific news online (there are spoilers about Louisa’s romantic prospects in this article so tread carefully) which tells us that ITV has committed to making a fourth season of The Durrells and that many key figures are returning to produce, direct and act in the show.

Besides Season One and Season Two on DVD,  we have many, many books written by Gerald and Lawrence in the collection.  Rosy is My Relative is a fabulous pick if you wanted something to read aloud on a car journey – it is sure to please everyone in your family.   You will find endless information about all of the Durrells on the Internet including wonderful content about Gerald’s conservation efforts and his Wildlife Conservation Trust.

It’s possible that after enjoying this miniseries you might be inspired to cook like Louisa, dress like Margo or plan a trip of your own to Greece.  The Durrells will keep you busy all through the summer with the help of the staff here at WPL.  And, if you are inspired to adopt a goat or a turtle then that’s entirely on Gerald.

— Penny M.

Beautiful coffee table books

Did you know that we have fantastic, monster-sized books that you can check out to take home and admire? This is not the technical name for the books, in fact, we tend to call them ‘oversize’ books around here because they don’t fit on the regular shelves very easily. We actually put them on special shelves that you can browse when you are in the mood to look at spectacular books like these – convenient! These books are gorgeous works of art and can feature a wide range of topics, like worldwide travel in Destinations of a Lifetime, lavish photographs and recipes in Thai Street Food: Authentic Recipes, Vibrant Traditions or contain amazing photographs of the galaxy in Cosmos. Don’t forget we also have an amazing assortment of huge atlases that you can take home to spend some time with when you are planning your next adventure or just reminiscing about one from the past. These books are beautiful ways to connect with the world, using your library card.

In the old days we would call this kind of book a coffee table book because people would leave them scattered about on their coffee tables so that when someone would visit their home would look extra impressive. I do know, from the world of Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram, that decorating with books has become a sensitive topic lately. Many, many librarians and bibliophiles that I follow online took to picking on poor ‘Lauren’ because of an image that circulated indicating that ‘she’ shelved her books with the spines facing inwards. This, naturally, would make it very hard to find the book anyone wanted on a shelf, but it seems it had a uniform look that suited her decor. Well, people were not kind to Lauren online and the hashtag of #backwardsbooks was born and I spent a fair bit of time looking at the funny comments and articles. Here is the original image of ‘Lauren’s shelves that I scooped from someone I follow on Twitter.  I don’t think she would be able to find anything in a hurry.

Neutral bookshelf

I just purchased a wonderful new coffee table book after being swept away by one we have in the collection here at work. Actually, it isn’t the first time I’ve fallen for a book on this topic or even the first time I’ve written a blog post about the topic either, because my beautiful oversized book is about Barack Obama. Other books I have loved about him include his own – Dreams from My Father: A story of race and inheritance (I loved hearing about his early years as a community organizer) – one from his former deputy chief of staff Alyssa Mastromonaco called Who thought this was a good idea? : And other questions you should have answers to when you work at the White House and Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years which was written by a chief speech writer who never truly won me over but I did find his behind-the-scenes access riveting.  So, why would I break down and actually purchase a book when I can just take one from the shelves of this grand public institution whenever I like (well, as long as the book isn’t currently checked out by another customer)? Well, Obama: An Intimate Portrait is, page after page, an inspiring look at eight years of moments that inspired and changed the world. The author, Pete Souza, was the official White House photographer and had access to every moment of this incredible presidency. He was present for each of the hills and valleys that Obama, his staff and family were living through. It’s a time capsule his time in office – of the situation room, the Rose garden, the Oval office, landmark meetings with international leaders – but it is also filled with personal moments and small kindnesses. When we had the library’s copy at home we would pore over each page and look at it like a photo album (which is really what it is) with lovely captions written by a man who was there, by Obama’s side, every day. We would say things like “I remember this!” or “Hey, come look at this one!” and then look at the photographs together. So, I think it’s worth spending the money to have this book on our coffee table because as decorative as it may be it is also inspiring and extraordinary. You can be sure that we won’t be displaying it with the spine facing in.

-Penny M.

 

To Buy or Not to Buy

I very rarely buy books.  Why ever would I? Every book I want to read is here in the library so I just check it out or put it on hold and then check it out.  When my loan period is up I bring it back to the library for safekeeping and I know I can come and get it again when I need it.  It’s just the best system ever.

I am occasionally tempted to buy a book though if it is particularly beautiful to hold in my hands.  For example, just a few weeks ago there was a fantastic book about the history of card catalogues, called The Card Catalog : books, cards and literary treasures, published with a foreword by Carla Hayden (you should really check out her Twitter account – she is @LibnofCongress – it will make your day), and I so enjoyed reading that book and then flipping through the gorgeous pages again that it seemed like it might be worth having to keep.  But, I didn’t buy it.

Once in a while I find a book so charming that I check it out of the library more than once and then I think that it might just be worth it to buy a copy to save myself the trouble of coming in to check it out over and over again.  Then I remember that it isn’t really that much trouble.  It’s fun to come and find it on the shelves again and really, since I am reading it for the second or third time, is it really a rush job anyway?  No.  So I don’t buy that book even though it meant so much to me. This has happened a few times, especially with novels written about books or booksellers.  Like with Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry or Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  Really sensational books.

Well, in this summer’s list of Featured Titles I have found a book that is making me think I might change my ways.  This might be the beginning of a whole new me.  Feast: recipes & stories from a Canadian road trip is an outrageously beautiful cookbook that extends beyond that genre into coffee table book-style with photography that will knock your socks off.  Maybe you will put it in your kitchen or maybe you will leave it artfully displayed in your living room to impress visitors?  It is that stunning.  The authors, Lindsay Anderson and Dana VanVeller, decided that they would spend the summer of 2015 traveling across our country to write about Canada’s food, culture and the wonderful people they would meet.  They have done this in a way that includes recipes, of course, but also has a warmth and sense of spirit that you don’t expect in a cookbook.  The idea of ‘road trip’ comes across just as strongly as the food does.  They are in love with our country and they write about it with such passion.

downloadThe recipes in Feast are wonderful, of course, and are broken down into regions and also into sections like “grazing” and “cheers”, and the instructions included with each one are very clear.  I like clear directions with my recipes and they have done so every time.  It’s comforting and encouraging, it’s absolute perfection.  They photograph each recipe and also include images from the places that they visited to source those foods and that is where the true beauty of our country shines.  This is one of the rare cookbooks where you won’t skip a single page.  Say you find that an individual recipe doesn’t suit your family, maybe you are vegetarians and you won’t be interested in the Slow Cooker Moose Stroganoff, but you will want to read all about how they came to meet chef Roary MacPherson, who gave them that recipe.  It’s 304 pages of great reading and it just happens to have beautiful photographs and incredible recipes.

I brought the book home, slowly turned the pages and called out to my family about the things that caught my eye like “bannock!”, “sausage rolls!”, “come look at these chickens!”, “holy cow, they went to Churchill and had apple fritters!”  Generally my kids don’t love it when I do this but I did wear them down and they had to come to see what these two cookbook authors were up to.  It’s beautiful from the first page, from the cover.  You can, by the way, read the whole story of how they got to the final decision on the cover of their book on the website that they maintained as they traveled across the country.  Check it out at edibleroadtrip.com

Their adventure began on their blog and they continue to update it with lovely posts about food and travel.  It’s inspiring, vibrant writing and a wonderful way to get to know more about the two women who created this incredible book.  I’ve seen many Canadian-themed cookbooks before, as I am sure so many WPL customers have, but this one stands out because they aren’t just talking about food, they are talking about our country with humour and cheer.  They cover many of the foods that you think that someone might in a typically Canadian cookbook and introduce you to people in bakeries, restaurants and communities across the nation while they do it.  I’m going to buy my copy and return this one for the shelves now.  I hope that this doesn’t start a new personal trend and I just keep buying more books for my home.  Perhaps I should start looking at bookshelf designs? I know that we have some great books on that topic (one nice choice that I’ve found on the shelves is called Bookshelves & Cabinets) if I do.

— Penny M.

 

Only in Naples

What is it about Italy?  I am not Italian nor do I have any Italian blood in my ancestry but like millions of others, I enjoy preparing Italian dishes to savour, dream of visiting Italy (especially when shovelling the driveway again after the snow plow rumbles through), contemplate trying to learn the language online (free through Mango Languages with your library membership, by the way) and love to read about those travelling or relocating to Italia.

So, when I spied “Only in Naples” by Katherine Wilson on the new books display at the Main Library, it was a no brainer. Charming cover, combination foodie memoir and travelogue, set in ITALY.  Yes, this was a book for me.

American Katherine Wilson, a Princeton graduate from a privileged family, travelled to Italy on an unpaid internship. Through reaching out to a local contact, she meets Salvatore Avallone and his family. She quickly falls in love with one while being completely and warmly embraced by the other.

This memoir is light and humourous with Wilson sharing embarrassing moments and charming ones. And she also shares very important facts with her readers. For example, “Never eat the crust of a pizza first.” This is a major faux pas in Naples, the home of pizza.  Apparently pizza originally was a dish only enjoyed by the poor but soon became widely accepted, especially after the visit of Queen Margherita of Savoy. Yes, that Margherita pizza you enjoy at Famoso in UpTown Waterloo was first made in Naples.

Through the close relationship she forms with her future mother-in-law, Raffaella, Wilson learns about the culture and traditions of the Neapolitan people.  She is guided through the “do’s and don’ts” of her adopted homeland. She is also painstakingly taken through the careful preparation of dishes which Raffaella swears her Salvatore will not be able to live without!  Not that he’d have to since the newlyweds end up setting up house in the same apartment complex as the parents.  And, you guessed it, Raffaella sends some of her “famous” dishes (which Katherine struggles to duplicate exactly) to them daily via the elevator. Now that’s takeaway with a personal touch!

“Only in Naples” is a heartwarming book and I did enjoy it although I have to admit the smattering of Italian words and phrases started to feel a bit affected by halfway through the book.  Recipes are included but I wasn’t enticed enough to try them.  The descriptions of the food, the sauces, the cooking methods, will send you scurrying to Vincenzo’s for provisions as soon as you can!

I have been lucky enough to visit Italy and yes, it was a wonderful as I imagined, and yes, you should go if you ever have the opportunity. We visited northern Italy for an all-too-brief time, lingering in Milan and at Lake Como and having the most incredible and memorable meal of our lives.  (my husband still says the best pizza he ever had was in Innsbruck, Austria but that’s another story) Oh, and YES, we definitely plan to return to Italy and explore many other regions.

I don’t have a traditional, Neapolitan recipe to share from my own collection at this time so another favourite Italian recipe will simply have to do!

— Sandi H.

Chicken Marsala

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut crosswise into 3 pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tblsp butter
1 onion, chopped
15 cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 tblsp minced garlic
1 c Marsala wine
3/4 c mascarpone cheese
2 tblsp Dijon mustard
2 tblsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
Fettucine or mashed potatoes

Instructions

Heat olive oil in heavy, large skillet.

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Cook until just brown, then remove to a plate and cool slightly

While the chicken cools, melt 2 tblsp of the butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute 2 minutes or until tender.  Add mushrooms and garlic. Saute 12 minute or until mushroom juices evaporate. Add wine and simmer 4 minutes or until the sauce reduces by half. Stir in mascarpone and mustard.

Cut the chicken into 1/3″ thick slices. Return to the skillet and coat with sauce. Cook for 2 minutes over medium-low heat until chicken is completely cooked through. Stir in parsley. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with buttered fettucine noodles or mashed potatoes. Smells divine and tastes even better! If serving with potato, I recommend roasted carrots as a side dish.

Let’s Hear It For Tartan!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since 1990 you have probably heard of Diana Gabaldon’s hugely popular “Outlander” series of time-travelling books featuring strong-willed, ex-Army nurse Clare Randall and Highland warrior, Jamie Fraser.  If somehow those 8 large novels (and the series isn’t wrapped up yet!) escaped your attention, maybe the current “Outlander” TV show has caught your eye.

Between the incredible historical detail (thanks to Gabaldon’s exhaustive amount of research), a cast of intriguing characters and the stunning backdrop of the Scottish Highlands, these books have gripped the imaginations of millions of men and women around the world.

Confession time.  I have never read these books. Over the years, many WPL customers have raved about them to me, encouraging me to give the series a try. Colleagues too have recommended them as the “perfect book for you”.  Yes, with my Irish family plus Scottish and English roots, my reading tastes are decidedly slanted to contemporary British authors and books set in the UK and Ireland. So, I have tried on 3 separate occasions to read “Outlander” and each time didn’t make it past the first couple of chapters. I don’t know why but the books don’t hold my attention.

They did catch Canadian author KC Dyer’s attention, though, and she has written a very cute, funny, charming book called “Finding Fraser”.  This book I read over a weekend.  Actually, I read most of it sitting in the sun on the deck of my favourite coffee shop in Stratford, Balzac’s, but I digress.

“Finding Fraser” is the story of 29-year old Emma Sheridan, a HUGE fan of Diana Gabaldon’s books and great admirer of the fictional character, Jamie Fraser. Emma’s life in Chicago isn’t going so well.  The only job she has done well at and managed to hold onto is coffee shop waitress. Her love life, well, it (like Jamie Fraser) doesn’t exist.

Frustrated and perhaps a bit desperate, Emma decides to sell all of her worldly possession, which are few, quit her job and travel to Scotland. Perhaps in Scotland life will make more sense, will come together, and maybe she’ll even find a real-life Jamie Fraser of her own. In an attempt to make the trip seem more focused than frivolous, she decides to blog about her highland adventure.

“Finding Fraser” is a light, fun, fast read which actually made me quite literally LOL in a few places. Emma’s adventures in Scotland are fairly comedic and I felt in turn sorry for her and, yes, even a little envious at moments.  Fans of the “Outlander” series will enjoy it (and the book does have Gabaldon’s blessing) but, as I have proven, it’s not a prerequisite.

Now, deciding what recipe to share this time round was easy.  It must be shortbread!  I usually make a very traditional shortbread with white sugar, butter and flour. However, one of my favourite shortbread recipes is one shared by a former WPL colleague and is a little different. Warning. It is soooo delicious (especially warm from the oven) and you will not be able to stop at eating just one piece.

Brown Sugar Shortbread

½ lb. butter, softened
½ c. brown sugar, packed
2 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
White sugar (for sprinkling)

Preheat oven to 300F.

Lightly grease a cookie sheet and set aside.  Lightly flour a baking board and rolling pin. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add half the flour. Combine. Add the remaining flour. Stir to combine. Using your hands, gather the dough into a bowl.  Transfer dough to floured baking board.

Knead gently for 3 minutes or until the dough forms a smooth ball.  Pat down, then roll out til the dough is in a rectangular shape measuring 11” x 8” (approx. 1/3” thick).

Using a sharp knife, slice into fingers, approximately 1” x 3”.  Place on baking sheet.  Prick each shortbread finger 3 times with a fork.  Sprinkle each cookie with a tiny amount of white (granulated) sugar.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, depending on the power of your oven. The bottom of the cookies should be slightly golden.

Cool 5 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to cooling racks. Store in an air tight container.

The Food of Love Cookery School

The cover says “A novel to make your mouth water and your heart miss a beat.” I agree with the former but not exactly the latter.

This book, about four strangers who travel to Sicily on a cookery tour, definitely will make you want to visit Italy (if you didn’t already), perhaps try your hand at making pasta from scratch (if you haven’t already) and dream of “amore”.

By coincidence, the host and teacher at the school was called Luca Amore. But don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a romance novel (not that there’s anything wrong with those if that’s your “thing”). Far from it. But these women aren’t travelling to Italy looking for love or to be swept off their feet.

Moll, Tricia, Valerie and Poppy (two Brits, and American and an Aussie) each are there with their own reasons and agendas. One is searching out her Italian roots while another is fulfilling a lifelong, foodie dream; ticking one thing off the bucket list. Someone escaping sadness; another one there as a result of a slightly misguided gift.

Is there love and romance in this book? Yes, but it most definitely takes a backseat to the food and the stories of friendships made and life appreciated.

The characters from Luca to his friends in the mountain village of Favio to his guests, are flawed, likeable, real. The author’s love and appreciation of cooking and food is obvious and she has shared a few recipes at the end of the book.

To learn more, visit Nicky Pellegrino’s website or follower her on Twitter @nickypellegrino

Also Reads: Delicious and Recipe for Life by Nicky Pellegrino.

As for me, I’m sharing a favourite recipe of mine. Buon appetito!

— Sandi H.

Stracoto with Porcini Mushrooms

1.9kg pot roast
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
2 onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 c dry red wine
1 ¾ c beef broth
½ oz dried porcini mushrooms
1 tsp dried rosemary

Preheat oven to 350F.

Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper. Heat oil in roasting pan. Brown beef on all sides; will take approx 15 min.

Remove beef from pan. Add more oil. Cook onions until tender, about 5 min. Add garlic. Cook for a minute. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Add wine, broth and mushrooms. Return beef to pan. Cover.

Roast for 1 ½ hours. Turn beef over in pan. Roast for another 1 ½ hr or until fork tender.

Transfer beef to cutting board. Cover with foil to rest. Transfer juices and vegetables to blender. Blend til smooth. Add salt, pepper, rosemary to season. Keep this gravy warm in saucepan until ready to serve.

Stracoto means “overcooked”. This roast always turns out perfect, tender, juicy. Guinness can also be used instead of the red wine and is equally delicious.

100 Nature Hot Spots

100  nature hot spots

Summer’s coming! (Or at least it’s supposed to be, but frankly I’m starting to wonder.)

So time to dream about and plan for summer vacations and outings. I’ve just checked out the book 100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario by Chris Earley and Tracy C. Read and it’s jam packed with lots of cool places to visit.

I’m a nature fan, I think we should all be nature fans. It’s so beneficial—and healing, too — to take time out of our busy, stressful lives to immerse ourselves in nature. And we do our kids a huge favour when we introduce them to nature.

Some of the places listed in the book are favourites of mine. For instance, I love the Guelph arboretum. And there is something magical about Point Pelee, that long, long spit of land that narrows to a point. I’ve always wanted to visit Pelee Island as well, but haven’t made it yet (I’ll put in on a bucket list). Or a visit to the waterfalls in the Hamilton area (Felker’s Falls and Devil’s Punchbowl are listed in the book) makes for a great day’s outing. BTW, did you know there are about 100 waterfalls in the Hamilton area–amazing! I’ve also got a soft spot for the beaches of Prince Edward County (Sandbanks and Presqu’ile) as I grew up nearby.

But a couple of personal favourites didn’t make the cut. Like the Thousand Islands, a place that I absolutely love. And also Petroglyphs Provincial Park (near Peterborough) which has over 900 petroglyphs (First Nations rock carvings)–turtles, snakes, birds, humans and more. It is truly wondrous. (There is another Ontario site for petroglyphs that is listed in the book, though it has a much smaller number of them. That’s Bon Echo Provincial Park in eastern Ontario. I have seen those as well, they are well worth a look.)

So go ahead and have a look at this book. Then start planning some fun outings.

— Penny D.