Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

Reviewed by Elspeth Young

The Enchanted April is as magical as its name implies.  Not merely a description of an idyllic Easter vacation in a medieval castle (San Salvatore), the work's pace, its poetic language, and its cleverness create a rest cure for the reader as well as its heroines.  Von Arnim transplants four women, sporting archetypal women's woes, from their dreary London existence, between the wars, to a little stay in Heaven.

The reader meets self-righteous Rose Arbuthnot, who has sought wearisome toil as a means of compensating for lack of conjugal felicity; socially awkward Lottie Wilkins, whose love of beauty has been all but smothered by her gloomy Hampstead life; wealthy and widowed Mrs. Fisher, who lives only for the past (riddled with disappointments); and the titled and breathtakingly beautiful socialite Lady Caroline Dester, who is pained by the discovery that her fashionable existence has been merely "a noise all about nothing."

Lottie is the first to “get her Celestial legs,” as she puts it.  She is a visionary from page one, whose goodness and innocence enable her to be San Salvatore's angel, guiding the others to happiness.  She is the first to feel free from grinding pressures, the first to give without thought of reward, the first to feel true joy, and, I might add, the first to invite her husband to come for a visit and stay.  Her manners--an embarrassment and encumbrance in Hampstead--seem perfect for Heaven.  Her selflessness soon starts to thaw the others (including her husband) and, one by one, each character heals from his or her own weaknesses and mistrust.  There's a happy ending for everyone, including Mr. and Mrs. Arbuthnot, for whom hope seemed lost.  Even Thomas Briggs, the owner of San Salvatore and an orphan in every sense, is a contented man by the end of the novel.

Lest it sound as though the book is only a series of love stories, The Enchanted April overflows with wit and humor.  Just like the weather in this perfect Italian spring, each paragraph is as fresh, delightful, cheering, and surprisingly topical as when Von Arnim penned the story in 1922.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim is featured in Vol 14 No 3 of The Storybook Home Journal.

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

Reviewed by Elspeth Young

If you love Jane Austen, read Framley Parsonage.  Its principal heroine, Lucy Robarts, is as witty, winning, and utterly lovable as Elizabeth Bennett, and on a scale of one to Mr. Darcy, the male romantic lead, Lord Lufton, rates at least a solid nine.

Set in Trollope's West Barsetshire, this fourth book in the Barsetshire Chronicles is my personal favorite.  Readers watch the rise and fall (and rise again) of Framley's young parson, Mark Robarts, and rejoice in the constancy of his beloved wife and best champion, Fanny.  We laugh at the vapid--though breathtakingly beautiful--Griselda Grantly, the belle of her first London season.  And we come to sympathize with and eventually love the gently tyrannical patroness of Framley and mother of the most eligible bachelor in Barset, Lady Lufton.

Readers also enjoy revisiting old friends from The Warden and Barchester Towers as Mark Robarts mingles with old clerical friends before stepping into the ensnaring and worldly company of the powers-that-be in Barsetshire's political arena.  There's even something for Doctor Thorne fans, like myself, who wonder about the destiny of the Doctor's heart and Miss Dunstable's vast fortune.

Accoutered with the wit and courage of Lucy Robarts--hailed even by the Calvinistic-ally and self-sacrificing Hogglestock clergyman, Josiah Crawly, as an angel of mercy and the epitome of womanly goodness--Framley Parsonage is a must-read for any who love drama, heroism, and happy endings.

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope is featured in Vol 13 No 3 of The Storybook Home Journal.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

82nd issue of The Storybook Home Journal now available

Penelope Travels Abroad
The Penelope Travels Abroad issue of The Storybook Home Journal is now available from Al Young Studios.  This issue features these regular sections:

Gardening - Beautiful As Italy
Hearth - The Three Lovliest Models
Kitchen - Tea In The Bay Window
Music Box - Such Stirring Melodies
Storybook Decorating - On The Canvas Of Your Heart
Workshops - Cunning Fingered Elves
The Writer's Garret - Pack Your Bags for a Beaver

In these pages, we traipse about behind
Penelope, Salemina, and Francesca
learning lessons about how to paint any
spaces we inhabit onto the canvas of
our hearts, and make them as enchanting,
satisfying, and reassuring as they can
possibly be. The eight lessons that
follow make it possible for anyone to
bring home the charm of Penelope\'s
travels and incorporate it into daily
life.
-- Photograph by Elspeth Young
Penelope Travels Abroad is the 82nd issue of the Journal, published bi-monthly since November 2000.  All 82 issues remain in print and are available individually or in customer-defined groups directly from Al Young Studios.
    These are the issues of the Journal that feature the works of Kate Douglas Wiggin.  They are for sale at www.alyoung.com, exclusive retail outlet for the artworks and publications of the Artists and Writers of Al Young Studios:

Mother Carey's Chickens (vol. 1 no. 2)
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (vol. 3 no. 5)
A Quillcote Christmas (vol. 8 no. 1)
Summer with Kate Douglas Wiggin (vol. 12 no. 5)
Penelope Travels Abroad (vol. 14 no. 4)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

81st issue now available

The Enchanted April
The Enchanted April issue of The Storybook Home Journal is now available from Al Young Studios.  This issue features these regular sections:

Gardening - Wisteria And Sunshine
Hearth - If She Doesn't Paint
Kitchen - An Excellent Cook
Storybook Decorating - Next Door To Heaven
Workshops - A Net Over Her Bed
The Writer's Garret - Being My Own Whiskers

Beauty is an international language that speaks
directly to the heart. As is clear in the story
of what happens to the guests at San Salvatore,
different people comprehend it in varying
depths and in differing shades of nuance, but
beauty is still there to be viewed, contemplated,
explored, and wrapped-up in. In this
installment of Storybook Decorating, we glean
ideas from both the simple and exquisite rooms
in the story for the purpose of making any
home feel as if it’s next door to heaven.
-- Image courtesy of cc-by-sa, Sailko
The Enchanted April is the 81st issue of the Journal, published bi-monthly since November 2000.  All 81 issues remain in print and are available individually or in groups directly from Al Young Studios.
     These are other issues of the Journal that feature things Italian (check issue summaries at the following links for detail because some issues may contain only one article focused on Italy while another issue may be entirely devoted to the subject). All issues are for sale at www.alyoung.com, exclusive retail outlet for the artworks and publications of the artists and writers of Al Young Studios:

Little Dorrit (vol. 13 no. 6)
Betsy And The Great World (vol. 11 no. 2)
What Katy Did Next (vol. 5 no. 2)
I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) (vol. 4 no. 6)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

From an Enchanted April on to May

By Nancy Young
Photographs by Elspeth Young

Yet again, our May Day flower phantom caught us napping and surprised us with a delightful little bouquet--this year a bouquet of Gerber daisies. Thank you whoever you are!

The first of May bouquet (along with a long line of ads) reminds me that Mother's Day is closer at hand than I'd like to believe--especially since The Enchanted April issue has only been in circulation for a couple of weeks. Currently we're traveling with Kate Douglas Wiggin as our guide through Penelope's multiple tours, tales, and experiences. Naturally, because Kate's so deliciously and wickedly observant, we're having a marvelous time and, of course, wish you were here.

A copy of any one of Penelope's various "experiences" would make a memorable Mother's Day gift, as would a visit with another New Englander as witty and fun and worthwhile a companion as Kate Douglas Wiggin--her name is Louise Andrews Kent aka "Mrs. Appleyard." Before there was Erma Bombeck, Elizabeth David, or Julia Childs, and about the same time Betty Crocker made her debut, Mrs. Appleyard was writing and cooking away in her kitchen, and having much more than a soupçon of fun with the joy of cooking. There's a revised edition of Mrs. Appleyard's Kitchen available beginning at about the price of a nice greeting card--if you buy it used. I confess, however, that I've never read the new edition so I can't comment on any changes that might have been made to it. I'm very enamored of my cloth-covered hardback first edition full of velvety velum pages and the occasional penciled-in note from a former owner. Similar copies are also available at reasonable sums online. While it's true that a good many of Mrs. Appleyard's recipes have become somewhat outmoded, her humor is as clever and fresh as ever. And there's just enough sentiment to make it perfect as a gift for any reading mother--as this endearing excerpt from the last pages of the 1942 edition demonstrate:
"Now just one more question, Mrs. Appleyard" the Editor said hoping she would break another cooky. "I've heard it said that well-known painter when asked what he mixed his paints with, said "With brains." Now do you feel that--to sum up what you told me--people should cook with brains? May I quote you?"
Mrs. Appleyard put another batch of cookies into the oven.
'Brains aren't enough," she said. 'You have to like things: the dishes you cook with, the people you buy the butter from, the field where the crows fly over the corn and the wind that blows through their wings. You have to like the table you put the food on, and the people who sit around it. Yes, even when they tip back in your Hitchcock chairs, you have to like them. You don't just like how food tastes--you like how it looks and smells and how the egg-beater sounds. You like the rhythm of chopping and the throb of the teakettle lid. You like to test the frying-pan with water and see it run around like quicksilver. You like the shadows in pewter and the soft gleam of silver and the sharp flash of glass. You like the feel of Damask napkins and the shadows of flowers on a white cloth. You like people eating in their best clothes in candlelight, and in their dungarees on a beach in the broiling sun, or under a pine tree in the rain.
'You like the last moment before a meal is served when the Hollandaise thickens, the steak comes sputtering out of the broiler, the cream is cooked into the potatoes and the last drop of water is cooked out of the peas.' Here she was silent long enough to take the correctly lacy and golden cookies off the pan. 'Not with brains,' she repeated, putting down the spatula. 'With love.'
We send our love, as well, and wishes for a wonderful Mother's Day from The Storybook Home Journal.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Oops!

Painting by Thomas Lawrence
We've discovered a printing error in the Northanger Abbey issue of The Storybook Home Journal:

On page 20 under the "Sally Lunn" recipe, it should read:
"1 1/4 cups milk" instead of "1/4 cups milk." 

Reprints of this issue will include the correction.  We apologize for the inconvenience and wish you happy baking!

And for those enjoying part two of Elspeth's art lessons for children, which also appears in Northanger Abbey, click here to access the list of art lesson resources we mention in the article.  There's something for everyone: little ones, students, and adults.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

80th issue now available

Northanger Abbey
The Northanger Abbey issue of The Storybook Home Journal is now available from Al Young Studios.  This issue features these regular sections:

Gardening - To Love A Hyacinth
Hearth - A Notion Of Drawing
Kitchen - In Quest of Pastry, Millinery, and Young Men
Storybook Decorating - The Breakfast Room
Workshops - A Campaign Breakfast Table
The Writer's Garret - A Journey Into The Wilderness

Shop windows along the streets of Bath,
beckoning passersby to sample confection-
ery delights, was the inspiration for this
installment of The Kitchen. Recipes in-
clude the Bath treats traditionally known
as Sally Lunns. Other recipes feature
Raspberry and Candied Almond Tart, a
2-minute tart dough that simplifies a
savory delicacy like Eggs and Bacon Tart,
a sweet version of the dough, and,
finally, York Hotel Soup.
-- Photograph by Elspeth Young
Northanger Abbey is the 80th issue of the Journal, published bi-monthly since November 2000.  All 80 issues remain in print and are available individually or in groups directly from Al Young Studios.
     These are the issues of the Journal that feature the works of Jane Austen. They are for sale at www.alyoung.com, exclusive retail outlet for the artworks and publications of the artists and writers of Al Young Studios:

Pride and Prejudice (vol. 3 no. 2)
Persuasion (vol. 6 no. 2)
Emma (vol. 8 no. 5)
Austen In Autumn (vol. 10 no. 6)
Mansfield Park (vol. 12 no. 3)
Sense and Sensibility (vol. 13 no. 4)
Northanger Abbey (vol. 14 no. 2)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Leave Winter Without Leaving the House

by Nancy Young
with photographs by Tanner Young and Elspeth Young

Painting by Nikiforos Lystras
If you dream of some peak at the sun or ache for a long weekend of warmth, you know you live in northern climes and it's winter. But if a ticket to Crete, Corsica, or Cannes wasn't  one of your stocking stuffers on Christmas morning, spend a leisurely breakfast with a large bowl of sunshiny oranges, clementines, or mangoes, some rosewater-scented honey, and one of the slightly indulgent delicacies described here. Then dream away.

Koulouri (aka Simit, etc., etc.) is a Mediterranean tretat that's been around long enough to have a different name in half a dozen languages and scores of secret recipes. Crusty, circular, and topped with sesame seeds is the basic common denominator, but there are many fine variations and recipes available. This is our contribution--slightly sweet, slightly rich, rather wonderful.  Most recipes call for white flour exclusively, but we like a touch of wholegrain to lend a little Old World rusticity--all white will make for a lighter bread, however. We used black sesame seeds, but traditional sesame is more common. (If you're sesame-challenged, poppy seeds are a good alternative.) Start it before heading to bed and enjoy it fresh at brunch. The rolls can be generous--about 4 ounces each--or a smaller 2-ounce size. This recipe makes 10 to 12 large rolls and about twice that many small ones. The recipe can easily be cut in half.

Koulouri

Dough:

2 1/4 cups lukewarm water
3/4 teaspoon yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup olive oil
Up to 6 1/2 cups flour--as much as 1 cup of which may be whole wheat
1 tablespoon salt

Topping:
2 tablespoons honey mixed with 2 tablespoons water
2 to 3 ounces sesame seeds

Place the water in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer and sprinkle-in the yeast. Add the honey and stir--the yeast should look creamy within a few minutes. Stir-in the oil, 5 cups of flour, and the salt. Mix well using the dough hook, then add the balance of the flour(s) a half-cup at a time until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Mix for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, and then remove the dough hook, cover the mixing bowl, and allow to rise overnight--or for 6 to 8 hours. When fully risen, deflate the dough and divide into 1- or 2-ounce pieces. On a lightly floured board, roll them into cylinders, let them rest for a few moments, then roll them out farther. (The resting of the dough makes them roll into longer, more even ropes.)
Twist two together and then tuck the ends together to form a circle, as shown here. Place the sesame seeds in a shallow bowl, brush the top of each wreath with the honey mixture, then face-plant it into the sesame seeds--replenishing the seeds as necessary.  Place the rolls on silicone- or parchment-covered baking sheets, and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Allow them to rise until doubled--about 45 minutes--then place them in the oven. Bake until lightly golden--about 12 to 15 minutes for 2-ounce rolls and 15 to 18 minutes for the 4-ounce rolls. Cool on wire racks.

Choreki (aka Tsoureki)

One of the great mysteries of my childhood was black licorice. Not how it was made or when it was invented--but why anyone would eat it. My father had a "secret" snack drawer (is any drawer full of sweets ever hidden from the industrious child?) in his home office and it contained an expensive and elite brand of black licorice. For this he needed no hiding place. From my sister, yes. From me, never. I assumed licorice could only be explained as a relic from some bygone and benighted era before real candy was invented. The box was very handsome, and enticed me once or twice, but however refined the licorice, it still made for a tell-tale black tongue redolent of anise-flavored dissatisfaction and a residual yearning for some genuine treat like chocolate.

My palate has grown up since then. I can taste the bitter alongside the sweet; but I still don't like licorice--though I do love Choreki, an anise-spiked festive bread from Greece. While it's largely associated with the Eastertide, I like Choreki as a winter treat when visiting some white-washed village under azure skies overlooking pristine sands and turquoise seas seems particularly appealing--but is also particularly unaffordable.

This recipe makes four large wreaths (braids are actually a more common form, if you prefer; but I use the shape of Koulouri loaves instead.) This recipe is a variation on the Lucia Loaves from last month with the following changes: Substitute 1 3/4 cups milk for the 2 cups milk, 3/4 cup sugar for the 1/2 cup, and 2 teaspoons ground anise for the cardamom. Adjust the topping in the following manner: Use 1 egg yolk beaten with 1/2 teaspoon water, and then sprinkle the loaves with ground, sliced, or chopped almonds, some sesame seeds, and a sprinkling of sugar.

Continue to follow the recipe, but shape the loaves as shown here. Then follow the second rise and baking instructions for Lucia Loaves.
If your yen for the Mediterranean leans to the other side of the Ionian and Adriatic Seas, try our Zaletti Cake. We recently baked it in a pound-cake form and liked it even more than usual.

In any event, happy travels!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

After-Christmas Gift Exchange: Taking Back Some Stuffed Shirts – Holiday and The Late George Apley

by Nancy Young

Holiday (1938)
 In the post-Christmas and early January days of eating, shopping, and watching bowl games and parades, two films are well worth chancing after your favorite team has been knocked out of contention or the computation of how many daisies, roses, and gardenias went into making barge-sized parade floats just doesn't hold your interest. Both films are holiday-ish, without being overtly so, and therefore tuck very neatly into the after-Christmas days—particularly since they're all about happiness being more important than money (something it's good to remember when all the funds vanished under the Christmas tree). They're also about hollowness of social standing (something it's good to keep in mind when you still can't afford that BMW, no matter how good the year-end lease arrangements might sound). Holiday (1938) begins on Christmas and ends in the first days of January. The Late George Apley (1947) begins at Thanksgiving and ends in June. Both are adaptations of very fine plays; and each is just over an hour and a half long, so neither need cramp too many lingering holiday festivities.

Holiday tells the tale of the love-at-first-sight and the instantaneous engagement of two twenty-plus-somethings (played by Cary Grant and Doris Nolan) while on on holiday at Lake Placid. The holiday is quickly over, however, as Grant discovers that his bride-to-be is the second daughter in one of America's fully-stuffed-shirt "sixty families." And in the family, all that wealth and influence cannot be handed over to a man—no matter how dashing and self-made—without an effectual struggle, particular in view of the fact that his "mother was not even a whoozits." However, at the culmination of a successful stock deal, Grant comes to be deemed fully acceptable to his manipulative fiancée and her domineering dad (Henry Kolker). But the elder daughter (Katherine Hepburn) likes him with or without funds, and heartily approves of his plan to take his earnings and enjoy an extended holiday in order to find out who he really is and what he really wants out of life. Some distress, some fun, and the remainder of the film ensues.
Holiday is one of several films that match-up Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in starring roles, although it's less touted than Bringing Up Baby or Philadelphia Story. Holiday lacks the performing finesse of either star, showcased, for example, in Philadelphia Story—they recite many of their lines as though the film were still on-stage and they had to project their feelings to the back row (perhaps, in part, because Hepburn understudied the role of Linda Seton in the original play)but there are still some wonderful lines and delightful deliveries that more than compensate. On hand, and very loveable, are Jean Dixon and Edward Everett Horton as Grant's dearest friends; and also on hand, though tragically loveable, is Lew Ayres as Hepburn's younger should-have-been-a-musician-but-instead-is-an-alcoholic brother. Don't be frightened: this is a comedy, after all, and some great repartee and true love win out in the end.

The Late George Apley (1947)
In the midst of the fame and fortune resulting from his iconic "Mr. Moto" novels, John P. Marquand paused long enough to write a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel satirizing Boston's uppercrust: The Late George Apley. Apparently already uncomfortable with looking on while the term "loosely based" modified his Moto books into film, Marquand collaborated with fellow Pulitizer-winner, George S. Kaufman, to transform his largely epistolary novel into a play. Kaufman brought a large measure of his genius to bear in the very clever dialogue, and the themes and characters remained fairly intact. Critics were mystified, however, when the 1947 Hollywood film version appeared and moved farther away from both novel and play. I admit to being something of a novel-to-film purist, but since the list of people who have either read the novel or seen the film is relatively slim, I can say—even though Marquand would roll over in his grave—I really love this film for its own sake. Of course, like Holiday, it suffers some from the are-we-making-a-film-or-filming-a-play dilemma, but I don't mind a bit being charmed and having a good laugh into the bargain.
Percy Waram, who reprized his role from the original Broadway play, steals the show, but everyone, especially Mildred Natwick as his haughtily silly wife, seems to be having fun. Dapper Ronald Coleman, who plays the title character, makes an unexpectedly delightful curmudgeon; and I rather enjoy the fact that he learns to remove a good deal of starch from his stuffed-shirt persona during the course of the film—however contrary to the novel the change might be. British-born actress, Peggy Cummins, arguably has too much of the nineteen-forties in her dress and demeanor to be believable as a turn-of-the-century belle, but her endearing voice quality and enunciation make up for it. 

So, if you want a cerebral satire, read the novel. If you want to laugh and relax at the end of the holidays, watch the film. And since neither have a whole lot to do with each other, you can readily do both without much harm to either, let alone yourself.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sweet and Bright: St.Lucia Day


Painting by Francisco de Zurbaran
Photograph by Al R. Young
My husband Al's two years in Scandinavia when a young man provided him, among other things, with three imperishable predilections: a love of  light, of warmth and of cardamom.  So St. Lucia's Day, when light wins out over darkness and the warmth of flame re-emerges--and almost as important, when there's cardamom-spiked bread for breakfast--we like to take advantage of the concept.

When Elspeth was young (pictured right), we dressed her in full Lucia regalia and made the more traditional saffron-scented "Lucia Cats," sometimes even taking them about the neighborhood; but now we observe the tradition by making loaf-sized Lucias, use the slightly less traditional cardamom flavoring, and gobble them up all day long.
Painting by Carl Larsson

Today we have particular reasons to feel bright and warm--the Christmas Journal is finally done and on its way!  And we hope that it brightens up your world when it arrives at your home.  Meanwhile, here's our recipe for the Lucia Loaves shown here.  It's a large recipe, but it's easily cut in half--just substitute 2 eggs and one egg white for the egg measurement below, so that you don't have to think too hard about how to get one-half of an egg white.
Photograph by Elspeth Young

Lucia Loaves by Nancy Young


2 cups lukewarm milk
1 tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup softened butter
4 eggs, plus one egg white
1 tablespoon salt
Up to 2 tablespoons cardamom, according to taste
About 6 cups flour
Topping:
1 egg yolk beaten with a little cream or milk
Some unrefined cane or turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Place the warm milk in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, and stir-in the yeast and sugar.  Allow the yeast to proof for about 5 minutes. Stir-in the butter, eggs, salt, and cardamom along with 5 cups of flour. Using the kneading attachment, beat the dough for about 3 minutes. Check the dough. If it seems too slack, add more  flour, a half cup at a time, until dough is soft and velvety.

Photograph by Elspeth Young
Remove dough from attachment, cover and allow dough to rise until doubled—about 60 minutes. When dough is fully risen, deflate and cut into four equal pieces.  Roll them into yard-long ropes and shape into 'S' shapes using the instructions from the Pane Siciliano.  Place loaves on baking sheets, brush with the egg glaze, and allow loaves to rise until doubled again—30 to 60 minutes.   Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Once braids have risen, brush once more with egg glaze and sprinkle lightly with sugar.  Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown—about 35 minutes.  Cool on wire racks for half an hour before slicing.   This makes large, golden loaves that freeze well, so it's a perfect bread for enjoying throughout the holidays or for giving away to anyone who needs a bit of sweet brightening in their lives.