Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lingering at the Beach

Life seems strange to me at times, or at least mildly interesting, in the juxtaposition of realities--there's the world of books that I inhabit intensively when I read and the daily currents of my very ordinary life.  Tonight I resided part of the evening in a mouldy castle with a young heroine and ghosts of memories, a gothic world I don't often seek out.  I'm not totally comfortable there, me with my healthy sense of normalcy. 

I often feel strangely disoriented when I step out of an alternate reality in the cottage where I've been reading into the kitchen of our main house, where tonight I absentmindedly nibble a newly ripe grape tomato from the Early Head Start garden, experiencing the crunch of the outside skin followed by the sweet juiciness of the tomato's pulp.  My mind moves on to thoughts of making okra, tomatoes and corn tomorrow, using the fruits of the garden.  I wonder about what new zucchini dish to try next, then fret momentarily about getting the house clean enough for some young friends from New Orleans to shoot scenes for a Louisiana Film Prize film here over the Fourth of July. 

Last weekend I rarely emerged from my fictional world when I holed up and read four books, one right after the other.  In this alternate Universe, before I arrived at the castle, I was at the beach:

An Appetite for Murder: a Key West Food Critic Mystery, by Lucy Burdette. New York: New American Library (a division of Penguin Group). 2012

Hayley Snow wants to remain in Key West where she currently resides in a small bedroom on the house boat of her former college roommate, but she needs a job.  Hayley moved to Key West to live with a new man in her life, but after a few months, he has dumped her.  Hayley is dismayed to discover the new woman in her ex's life, Kristin Faulkner, is also the person who would be her boss at the Key West style magazine where Hayley has applied to be the food critic.  When Kristin is murdered, Hayley becomes a prime suspect, and she must clear her name if she has a chance of landing her dream job. 

Hayley, as amateur detective, turns out to be a trouble magnet, but her exploits are entertaining for me, the perfect genre mystery--strong setting; interesting, idiosyncratic heroine; and fast moving plot.  I really enjoyed this mystery and look forward to the next book in this new series, Death in Four Courses, coming in September.  This book was a Kindle download for our Florida vacation, but I never got around to reading it at the beach.  It was perhaps even more enjoyable to visit this wet corner of Florida after our return to hot, parched Louisiana.
Author Robert Isleib aka Lucy Burdette
This mystery was doubly fun because it also counts toward the Foodie Reads 2 Reading Challenge.  The book is full of food facts, with a few recipes included at the end of the Kindle version.

Author Lucy Burdette is the pen name for clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib who writes two other mystery series under her own name--the Advice Column Mystery series and Golf Lover's Mystery series.  Isleib has been nominated for various awards for mystery authors and is a past-president of Sisters in Crime.

A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman, by Joan Anderson. New York: Doubleday. 1999.

My next trip to the beach was with author Joan Anderson as I read her non-fiction account of a year spent alone in her family's rustic Cape Cod cottage, where she searches for answers about her life and her marriage. This journey of self-discovery is interesting to me because of the setting, the people she meets and the jobs she holds.  The book, another Kindle download, is adequately written but doesn't contain the beauty of writing and depth of self-reflection of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea, for example.

Anderson, according to her blog, began her writing career as a stringer for Gannett newspaper chain, moved on to creating essays for children's photo books, and finally to the genre of memoir writing and a career helping other women "find themselves" through retreats she leads for women at Cape Cod or other locales in across the country.  Anderson apparently gained fame and popularity through appearances on Oprah and other television shows.  Anderson has written five memoirs in all.  While I don't rule out reading another of her books, I wouldn't seek them out.

Author Joan Anderson

After my extended visit to the beach, I head back to Indian territory with Walt Longmire, plus a new mystery series set on Indian reservation.  More about that tomorrow....

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Next? Zucchini Corn Bread!

This week has flown by and there seemed to be no time or energy for blogging.  One night we attended a going-away party for one of my husband's colleagues, another night I had one of my neighborhood association board meetings, plus the preparations for the meeting. I've worked every day and worked out, too.  Before I knew it, the week was coming to an end and the weekend was beckoning! :-) 

However, you probably won't be surprised to learn that I still managed to try out a new zucchini dish this week--zucchini corn bread.  I'm a country girl, and I do love my corn bread with the Farmer's Market fresh green beans.  I found the recipe in my hometown Big Brothers/Big Sisters cookbook, and several of my sister's friends had submitted it, so that was enough endorsement for me.  Comfort food from home...

So, here's the recipe....

Zucchini Corn Bread

3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup self-rising corn meal
1/4 cup self-rising flour
1 1/2 sticks of margarine, melted
3/4 cup cottage cheese
2 cups shredded zucchini

Combine all ingredients.  Pour into greased pan.  Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes.
Batter looks like this
Baked corn bread detail
The corn bread was moist and delicious.  This would make a good foundation for a hearty Mexican corn bread.

Fortunately, last weekend I had time to read so I have four more "beach" reads to share with you tomorrow. These are all Kindle downloads--two selected because they do have beach settings, and I spent last summer reading about France so this year I guess my focus is the beach. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Geronimo's Next-to-Last Stand: Fort Pickens

One of our excursions while in Pensacola Beach was to visit Fort Pickens, a harbor fort that for 100 years protected Pensacola Bay and the naval yard there.  The building of the fort was begun in 1829, completed in 1834 and used until 1947 when airplanes, missiles and bombs made the fort obsolete. 

Masonry walls were strong enough to support heavy cannon on top and allow for space for cannons below, too.

According to our self-guided tour, over 21.5 million locally-made bricks were used in the building of Fort Pickens, and skilled slaves from New Orleans were brought to Pensacola Island to construct the fort.  Ironically the only time the fort saw action was during the Civil War when the Union forces held this fort (that the US government built using slave labor) during the entire war as they faced off with Confederate forces on the mainland. 

Three acres of open ground in the center of the fort once provided space to quarter and drill troops. About 850 men from the 3rd Infantry and 1st and 2nd Artillery regiments camped here in September, 1861, according to the literature we received. 

Parts of the old fort appear to be built into bluffs with look-out areas on top of the outside walls.  The other three folks in my group scrambled eagerly to the top of the walls where they took advantage of photo opportunities.

Patty and Dave at Fort Pickens

Me with my feet firmly planted on Mother Earth peering at tunnels through fort.

View of one section of the fort from high vantage point
Ricky climbed a lookout tower manned by a Park Service employee in order to get this great view.

To read more about Fort Pickens, click Here.

Fort Pickens is also famous for being one of the forts where Apache tribal members were held, including the Apache warrior, Geronimo, in 1887. 

Born in 1829, Geronimo lived in western New Mexico when this region was still a part of Mexico. Geronimo was a Bedonkohe Apache that married into the Chiricahuas. The murder of his mother, wife and children by soldiers from Mexico in 1858 forever changed his life and the lives of settlers in the southwest. He vowed at this point to kill as many white men as possible and spent the next thirty years making good on that promise.

Geronimo was a medicine man and not a chief of the Apache. However, his visions made him indispensable to the Apache chiefs and gave him a position of prominence with the tribe.

In the mid 1870's the government moved Native Americans onto reservations, and Geronimo rebelled against this forced removal and fled with a band of followers. He spent the next 10 years on reservations and raiding with his band. They raided across New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico. His exploits became highly chronicled by the press and he became the most feared Apache.

Geronimo and his band were eventually captured at Skeleton Canyon in 1886. These Apache were then shipped by rail to Florida.  All of Geronimo's band was to be sent to Fort Marion in St. Augustine. However, a few business leaders in Pensacola, Florida petitioned the government to have Geronimo himself sent to Fort Pickens.

They claimed that Geronimo and his men would be better guarded at Fort Pickens than at the overcrowded Fort Marion. However, an editorial in a local newspaper congratulated a congressman for bringing such a great tourist attraction to the city.

On October 25, 1886, 15 Apache warriors arrived at Fort Pickens. Geronimo and his warriors spent many days working hard labor at the fort in direct violation of the agreements made at Skeleton Canyon. Eventually the families of Geronimo's band were returned to them at Fort Pickens, and then they all moved on to other places of incarceration.

The city of Pensacola was sad to see Geronimo the tourist attraction leave. In one day he had over 459 visitors with an average of 20 a day during the duration of his captivity at Fort Pickens.

Unfortunately, the proud Geronimo was reduced to a sideshow spectacle. He lived the rest of his days as a prisoner. He visited the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 and made money signing autographs and pictures.  Geronimo eventually died in 1909 at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

(Source of above information about Geronimo: Geronimo and Fort Pickens: An Unwilling Tourist Attraction, by Martin Kelly, Guide)  Click here for original article.

"I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures."

                                                                                     ~ Geronimo

Monday, June 18, 2012

More pics from the beach

Ricky and I missed the 20" rainfall that Pensacola Beach had the day before our arrival, but we did experience this rainbow while we were there.
rainbow at Pensacola Beach

We spend quite a bit of time in vacation mode, vegetating in the living room, or eating our vegetables--artichoke dip munchies on the deck.

heron in sea oats
a walk on the beach in stormy seas

Contemplation of a tranquil sea

We took a pontoon boat out one afternoon for a mini-adventure and fishing excursion for our lone fisherman.

Back Seat Driver Dave

Watermelon Break

Caught one!

Sunset at Pensacola Beach

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What Else I Did on My Summer Vacation

Our house on the beach with first level and second level decks
Though my last post made it sound like all I did was read books while I was at the beach, that was a bit of hyperbole.  While it was a leisurely week, we had fun and various enjoyable activities were going on all the time.  Ricky and I were listing our favorite things about the week as we drove home, trying to stay awake. 

We agreed that the best part was ten of his family being together for the week.  Because of the number in our party, we ate many meals at the beach house, all seated at the table for ten in front of wall of glass overlooking the Gulf.  Ricky's brother-in-law made gumbo one night, while Ricky contributed his shrimp pasta one night and ham and spinach frittatas for a couple of brunches.  We had homemade zucchini bread  and chocolate chip cookies.  Patty, Ricky's sister, and Monica, the wife of Ricky's nephew, made sure we always had something good to munch on. 

Patty in kitchen at beach house
Patty was also in charge of games.  Four of us laughed and squabbled through a spirited game of Buzzword, while others enjoyed Dominoes and Bananagram.  The teenage girls rarely lifted their heads from their electronic devices when they weren't outside sunbathing, hanging out on the beach or in the hot tub.  I'm not sure we adults were much better as Iphones, lap top computers and DVD players were much in evidence.
Ricky and the girls enjoy the cool waters of the "hot tub"

There are various ways you can categorize those of us on this trip:
Family Units:
Ricky's nephew Neil, wife Monica and their two children plus a friend from Nicaragua.

Neil's family jumping for joy

Ricky's sister Patty, her husband Dave, and their son, Michael, all from Colorado where the most destructive fire in Colorado history rages in their absence, blanketing their town with smoke so bad that people and pets have to stay inside.
Michael, Patty, Dave & kite in background

Ricky and me during the mandatory photo op on boardwalk leading to the beach.

You could also classify us as those who tan and those who don't:

Ricky and Patty ended up with sun poisoning, I ended up as white as the day I was born except for a few more freckles or age spots!  The other guys--Dave, Michael and Neil--had various degrees of tan and pinkness as they exercised some restraint in their hours in the sun.  And then there was the Latino contingent, those with Nicaraguan blood...brown as nuts with tans worthy of old Coppertone ads.
Those with beautiful tans

As usual, Ricky is the photographer documenting another great trip.  More pics from our beach adventure will follow in subsequent posts if anyone is interested.

Friday, June 15, 2012

More Beach Reads

It turns out that Ricky's family are shell collectors extraordinaire, so every day they walk the beach, eyes frequently cast downward and troll the waters, net in hand, to capture the best sea shells.  There are piles and bags of shells occupying tables and stuck in corners ready to head back inland with various family members.

Each morning family members take long walks along the beach, which sounds heavenly but I soon found out my right knee did not like the slipping and sliding of walking in the sand.  Swimming in the ocean is another favorite activity of everyone, except me--so I--well, I watch the  waves and read.

Benny & Shrimp, by Katarina Mazetti. New York: Penguin Books, 2009 (US publication)

This Swedish novel published initially in 1998, was translated into English and published in UK in 2008 and made its way to US in 2009.   Loaned to my by my sister, the novel has made the rounds in my family, and Benny and Shrimp has currently found its way to the beach with me.  The book garnered positive reviews, and I enjoyed it, although not as much as some of the other reader reviewers.

Katarina Mazetti

 Shrimp, the diminutive Desiree Wallin, is a thirty-something, young widow with a ticking biological clock who meets Benny, a shy milk farmer,  at the cemetery.  Desiree is there to visit the grave of her deceased husband in order to understand her marriage and process her grief.  Benny visits his mother's grave out of familial duty and a sense of propriety, though he would not characterize it as such.

Benny and Desiree are initially repulsed by each other, then captivated by each other's smiles, and finally each other's bodies, although they appear to have little in common otherwise.  This is their story, told by them, the two main characters in alternating chapters.  There aren't many other characters to capture your interest except for the crazy librarian, Inez Lundmark.  If Inez had Facebook, she wouldn't have needed the rows of file cabinets where she amassed and cataloged data about the lives of people who crossed her path.  This is the story of Benny and Shrimp's courtship.  How it ends is left to the reader of this book.  Apparently Mazetti has written a sequel in Swedish that hasn't been published in English.

Act of Betrayal, by Edna Buchanan.  New York: Hyperion, 1996.

Author Edna Buchanan
My beach read mystery is Edna Buchanan's Act of Betrayal, a book I found here at the cottage.  I know I've read some of Buchanan's books in the past, but this one was new to me.

Set in Miami and featuring crime reporter Britt Montero, Buchanan crafts a good tale.  Because of the Florida connection it seems right to read it here at the beach.  Of course Miami is a different world from the Gulf Coast.

Buchanan describes the newspaper life that is fast disappearing.  The New Orleans Times Picayune just fired half its staff and is going to three-day-a-week publication schedule.  I find the demise of newspapers and the savvy reporters of yesteryear to be a tragedy, so it is doubly enjoyable for me to read about the newspaper life of past decades.  Buchanan herself earned her stripes in the trenches, covered the Miami police beat for 18 years and won a Pulitzer Prize for general news reporting.  

Buchanan features Cuban exiles and their fanatical desire to regain their island from Castro in this Miami tale.  Crime reporter Britt Montero, half Cuban herself, is pursuing a story and trying to help parents find their missing sons, some missing for years, and she suspects it is the work of a serial killer.  However, she is just as intent as finding the key to her own past, her dead father's missing journal.  The mystery part of this book was easy to figure out, so I found it difficult to believe it wasn't obvious to a seasoned crime reporter.  However, I still consider this to have been an enjoyable beach read, 16 years after its initial publication.

The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.  
New York: Ballentine Trade paperback, 2012.

Given to me by my friend, Beth, this book was another enjoyable beach read.  The most recent publication of the books that I brought with me to the beach, The Language of Flowers is a critically acclaimed book, popular with book clubs.  The topic is a serious one--the fate of older foster children.

Victoria is a foster child who is emancipated at age 18 after a life in foster care and a long history of unsuccessful attempts at adoption.  She is a difficult child whose one placement that would have given her happiness didn't quite work out.  Her foster mother, Elizabeth, had issues of her own that contributed to the failure of the placement and doomed Victoria to another 8 years of tough group homes.  The last group of girls tried to set Victoria's mattress on fire, but Victoria was no helpless victim.  She, too, communicated through violence.

The plot is believable once you immerse yourself in Victoria's world.  The book is written with chapters that often alternate between past and present.  Besides engaging characters that kept me reading--Grant who reappeared in Victoria's life from an earlier time; Elizabeth who ultimately failed Victoria and herself during the year Victoria lived with her; Renata, the florist who hires the 18-year- old Victoria; Renata's mother Marina and sister Natalya.  The other main characters are the flowers that the Victorians used to communicate messages, because flowers form the centerpiece of the novel.

Happily, the book provides a satisfactory ending to a rather horrific set of life circumstances. The author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh is a foster parent who has formed a foundation to help the foster kids who age out of the system.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Siege of Salt Cove, by Anthony Weller

The Siege of Salt Cove, by Anthony Weller.
New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004

I thought I would read The Siege of Salt Cove, by Anthony Weller given to me by my sister-in-law while I was at the beach, you know "salt cove"/ "beach."  They seemed related to me.  A beach read.  And I did read it at and on the beach--I read the first part while laying on the bed in our beach cottage during the red flags of turbulent tides and finished the book while sitting on the beach when the flags turned to yellow, indicating you could swim if you use caution.

This novel is written from the perspectives of multiple folks who in live in Salt Cove, Massachusetts, during the  siege of their small fishing village, a pitched battle over the preservation of an old wooden bridge.

The primary voice is town secretary, Jessica Stoddard, a 70-something year old woman who records the events for posterity and has some adventures of her own during the siege.  It is a classic tale of big government run amuck over small town folk who just won't lay down and say "uncle."  They are willing to die to preserve their way of life, and unfortunately before it's over, some do make the ultimate sacrifice.

I really couldn't relate that well to the characters and their plight, despite my interest in historic preservation.  I also had trouble with the author's style of writing-- it didn't sound natural to my ears.  I think the problem is more mine than Weller's, however.  The book is unusual and probably not easily forgotten.  Others may enjoy it more than I did.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Making Zucchini Bread

During the summer in Southwestern Virginia where I grew up, I daresay many folks have a loaf or two of zucchini bread stored in their freezer as a way to preserve the plentiful squash, as a sweet treat with coffee on a cool mountain morning, or for that occasion calling for a gift of food--"bread and butter" token if you are visiting someone over night, a bereavement, new neighbor or an elderly person who no longer bakes for themselves.  I love zucchini bread so that's what I have been doing lately--baking the golden loaves. 

I recently sent a loaf with my husband to work, and it was a hit.  The doctors hail from many countries, so they weren't familiar with zucchini bread but now I've made converts.  I think the doctor from Peru and the one from Panama vied for most pieces eaten.

Every cookbook from my hometown has a recipe for zucchini bread, but they are all essentially the same.  I'm using the basic recipe here.  So, are you ready to make some zucchini bread?


3 cups flour                                   1 cup each chopped nuts and raisins (optional)
1 1/2 cups sugar                            1 cup oil
1 tsp. cinnamon                             3 eggs, slightly beaten 
1 tsp. baking powder                      2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 tsp. baking soda                       2 Tbsp. applesauce (my sister's secret
2 cups shredded zucchini                    ingredient)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Grate 2 cups of zucchini.

In large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking power, baking soda, zucchini (and nuts and raisins--I don't add these because not all people like them.)

Dry mixture without zucchini added.
In another bowl beat eggs, oil--add vanilla.

Pour the wet mixture in with the dry mixture, which will have zucchini added to it. Add applesauce and stir until moistened.  Pour into two greased loaf pans.  Bake at 325 degrees for one hour.  Don't overbake.  Cool in pans for 10 minutes.

Now I'm going to make some more zucchini bread to take on vacation with us, so we can enjoy a slice with coffee while we bask in sweet sea breezes!

P.S.  My bread never takes an hour, my latest batch was done in 40-45 minutes. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Views of the Cottage Patio

There are many spots in our house, and even in our outdoor spaces, where I can curl up with a good book.  My environment conspires against my productivity if productivity is measured by chores completed, tasks accomplished.  It is too easy to find oneself sitting down with a book, Kindle, magazine, newspaper--fill in the blank--and wile away more than a few minutes. 

I read while I ride the exercise bike early in the mornings, feeling quite virtuous about exercising, and experiencing no guilt about reading for pleasure before breakfast.  So far, so good.  However, when I exit my tiny exercise room, I am on the patio.  It is cool (relatively speaking, we are in Louisiana after all).  The fountains are merrily splashing, the wind chimes are tinkling softly, the Blue Jays are calling out noisily and the patio flowers are looking more lush and inviting as they become established.  The cats lounge around in companionable silence and various lethargic poses.

A table and a chair occupy center stage on the patio, inviting me to sit down with my coffee and continue reading until the sun hits the patio and the heat of the day begins in earnest.  Thus, the problem. . . . .

The fountain area of the patio is starting to look more lush.

The plants on the cottage patio make it attractive place to relax

Door to my workout/potting shed area

Shady bed beside the exercise room might as well grab a cup of coffee, too, and join us for a few decadent minutes....

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Death Without Company: a Walt Longmire mystery, by Craig Johnson

Now that I've started reading Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series, I can't stop.  Love the characters, the plots keep me turning pages to see how he is going to get himself into or out of the dangerous situation of the moment.  Johnson still has some abrupt transitions that interrupt the time sequence for me in a disconcerting manner, but then again it's his story to tell as he chooses.

Former Sheriff Lucian Connally is sure a murder has been committed at the Durant Home for Assisted Living when a Basque woman Mari Baroja, a new resident at the home and the woman Lucian has loved all his life, is found dead in her bed.  Lucian persuades his friend and current sheriff, Walt Longmire, to go out of a limb and request a autopsy and when Lucian's suspicions are confirmed, the body count starts to increase.  As usual, Walt and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, are in the line of fire, and the Baroja family has a treasure trove of skeletons in the closet, so there is no shortage of suspects.

The Wyoming setting is key to this series--the rugged terrain, the unforgiving weather, the machismo of the Western male, the geographic and social isolation and the mix of cultures. In addition to the various Indian tribes (Crow and Cheyenne), Johnson explains how a significant contingent of Basque families settled in Wyoming, initially brought over to herd sheep. 

Johnson does for Wyoming what James Lee Burke does for South Louisiana (though Burke has moved West in some of his later books) and Sharyn McCrumb does for Southern Appalachia--and many other mystery authors, for whom setting is a key element, are able to do.  These authors live and breathe their settings, the milieu of their stories, so the reader does, too. Because these authors' voices are authentic, they are able to conjure up unique locales through words, which makes me doubly appreciate their books.

The Longmire series debuts on A & E channel tonight, 9:00 pm central, and I am interested to see how the characters make the leap from page to television.  To read my reviews of other Longmire mysteries, click here for Another Man's Moccasins or here for The Cold Dish.

Australian Robert Taylor is the actor playing Longmire in A & E series