Monday, May 10, 2010

Book Review

For any Anglophile, THE BOLTER, is a delicious read. Most of us are curious about the relatives in our past, so it was not unusual for English author Frances Osborne to write about her infamous great grandmother. Idina Sackville of the socially impeccable Sackvilles of Great Britain. However, it is to be noted their behavior was not always impeccable, just their lineage. The home place was Knole, that incredible estate in England, and where master gardener/garden writer/novelist Vita Sackville West lived during her childhood. Idina's father, deserted his wife and 3 children, when Idina was 4. Being a leader in the Woman's Suffrage Society, her mother seemingly was a good role model. However she seemed to have emotionally abandoned her daughter when Idina entered her teens. Perhaps that was the only way the mother, Mrs. George Lansbury, could cope with her female offspring. Her behavior was constantly outlandish and she was always in the papers. Sadly, Idina was an amoral wastrel...and she never experienced a tad of guilt.

England had its own Jazz Age in the 1920's and Idina Sackville was one of the leaders. Promiscuous behavior was agreed upon with her mates before each of her five marriages and her many, many liaisons. Alcohol, drugs and nymphomania were the recreational ways to pass one's time in a certain set of wealthy British young people. Of course, they scandalized all the rest of Britain, and Idina loved it all. The resulting publicity and gossip about her behavior, such as receiving her guests in her green onyx bathtub filled with champagne, and then dressing in front of her many guests, was the stuff for legend and for The Tatler. She was not conventionally pretty, having a pronounced sloping chin, but she dressed with great style; money was not a problem, and she certainly was a tolerant person, which in her case, was a questionable attribute.

A biography about a wealthy shallow silly uneducated woman, living a life of discontent is not everyone's cup of Darjeeling tea. However, Idina's life, which is carefully documented and objectively written by her great granddaughter, (who is married to the Chancellor of the Exchecquer and quite conventional herself) is immensely readable and one does keep wondering, 'when will Idina grow up?' Alas, she doesn't.

Still, her story is haunting and Osborne's writing about Africa is lyrical. There is a wealth of photography to further enhance our understanding of a very complex English woman living during a very chaotic time in her privileged African society. Her behavior was not common, however, it wasn't quite uncommon either. Happy Vally in Africa had more than its share of marital discord. The participants all put on a happy face about it. For awhile. Until the murder....

Idina flitted from London to Paris, to Kenya to Newport many times, always accompanied by lovers, and sometimes the current uncomplaining husband, with the current uncomplaining lover in tow.

However Africa was her one true love (it never rejected her), and she was a very important player in the infamous Happy Valley. Finally returning there to live until her death, in 1955, from cancer, she entertained like there was no tomorrow. She had 2 sons from her fist marriage, whom she was not permitted to see when she divorced their father. A daughter, by another husband lived with her as a child, but in adulthood completely rejected Idina. She loved children, but she loved her own personal lifestyle more. Still, she was known to be bright: her personal library was immense and she loaned books to everyone. Considered to be a loyal friend, and when motivated, she was incredibly hard working.....toiling daily, side by side in the fields with the Africaners.

Another older book WHITE MISCHIEF, by James Fox was written about the murder of her third husband, Josslyn Hay in 1941, and it was also about Idina, for she was the Queen of the Happy Valley group. That book is not for the faint of heart; umm, it is entertaining. She knew, of course, Karen Blixen and Denys Finch-Hatton, and of course, Beryl Markham. They were all good friends.

There was a grassed runway close to her house so she could fly away anytime she wanted. She was a bolter in more ways than one.

Certainly she was bored. Being intelligent as she was, one wonders why she was so clueless about why her life of dissatisfaction clung to her always. Mostly she tried to be "happy" and this included long safaris several times a year into the African countryside, where she felt most comfortable as a human being.

Happiness eluded her, in spite of wealth, possessions, and peerage. In the great American novel, THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes people who were much like Idina and her circle. They were confused self-indulgent people who "smashed up thins and creatures, then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together." alas, we all unfortunately have encountered some of these people--their range is vast. And toxic.

THE BOLTER is a jolly good read for those who like to know the inside stories about the upper class British folk; they have entertained us for centuries, and obviously will continue to do so.

Friday, March 19, 2010

April 2010

Everyday the mailbox is filled with new garden catalogs. I am crazy for them, I'll admit. Last year's perennial border--it's second season--certainly provided armloads of cut flowers all summer long. As always some plants, like certain acquaintances, did not live up to my expectation. Umm, so out they go....Last year's selections of hardy asters fell well below my expectations. I am yearning for powder blue tall mounds of color; and again, I am stuck with lopy lavender lumps. and the little blooms do not lend themselves well to arranging. So off with their heads.

I am going to substitute European Monkshood (aconitum napellus), for the sprawly weak asters. Monkshoold is a statey 4 to 5 feet tall, with indigo blue flowers; it's been around since the 16th century and has a good track record. It is available through Forestfarm, 990 Tehtrow Road, Williams, OR 97544 or This is a great reference catalog with a broad selection of unusual things and the plants arrive in perfect condition.

In Indiana, we have experienced a harsh winter, quite a bit of snow cover, and very low temperatures. I belong to the school that thinks our climate is changing, with longer and harsher winters that I remember from my childhood on the farm. Thus far, not a single blade of daffodil foliage has risked its nose above ground.

I plan to entertain in May for The Women in Red, a fund raising support group within the Heart Association. Having had a successful Heart Transplant nine years ago, this charity is one I support with enthusiasm. so looking ahead to that, it's important the gardens are groomed and strutting their stuff. This will be during peak daffodil time; Beth and I planted 200 more from White Flower Farms, from The Works collection, which is still the best bargain around. To paraphrase the Duchess of Windsor, "One can't have too many daffodils or too much money."

Friday, March 12, 2010


SHRIMP TRUFFLES (makes 3 dozen hors d'oeuvres')

When I questioned my mother about what was served at my parent's wedding (this was when she was over ninety years old), she couldn't remember. I would have so loved to have known. Just in case anyone is interested in what I served at my wedding, I should say it was my husband's and my second wedding, we each had a son, and it was a small family wedding with the reception held at our house-to-be. There was a wedding cake with not only a bride and groom on top, but 2 small boys as well. With this, I served champagne, a non-alcoholic fruit punch for the children, and assorted hors d'oeuvers', including this one. And I made everything myself. Oh yes, I carried creamy white gardenias to match my street length silk dress.

1 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 cup chopped, cooked and chilled shrimp
2 teaspoons finely minced parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely minced onion
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 drops hot red pepper sauce
speck of salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups toasted finely chopped pecans

In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the nuts. Refrigerate overnight. Place the nuts in a shallow dish, then form the cheese mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the nuts and refrigerate until serving time.


We have many requests for my cookbooks, some of which are out of print, or hard to find. When ever I can I buy them. I do so, so that I can offer them for resale. All are $26, plus $3 for postage and handling, total $28. There might be a waiting period, for I buy them when I find them...which I do!

Here are the available titles:


*RECIPES REMEMBERED is a fill-in cookbook of your own favorite recipes to save for future generations, plus a few of my own.
**The last two books are journals (and recipes, all new) written about my successful heart transplant. These are very limited and in paperback.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


I returned from the garden this morning with a trug basket brimming over with daffodils. What bliss! Scattering around several arrangements of the daff's combined with early forsythia, I will see these happy flowers everywhere, all day long. My "host of golden daffodils" tells me that winter is over and the gardening season is about to begin again. 'Again' is the operative word here. The joy of gardening is we can always start over, again, every year Full of enthusiasm when wallowing about in the garden catalogs, I always try at least three new things in the perennial border each season. Some are successful, some are not. And I have learned a lot, I must say. Gardening is always grand adventure.

The daffodils and forsythia tell me it is time to plant lettuce, radishes and green onions. I happily paw over the garden seeds packets, having ordered them in January, to find Claytonia, also called Miner's Lettuce or Winter Purslane. This northwest US native can tolerate bit of frost and it should be ready to harvest in 60 days. Growing in green tufts with delicate edible white flowers in each leave's center, the packet assures me that Claytonia's leaves will bring a rich creaminess to delicate spring salads. We'll see; watch this space for a later report on this salad green. I will have recipes for both a tossed green salad with an unusual dressing in a later column.

Preparing a perennial border with ongoing solid color the whole season is every gardener's dream. For a beginning gardener, a good plan is give the border its backbone by planting five very dependable groups: Flowering bulbs, peonies, daylilies, phlox and mums. The rest of the things we plant in around the basics are luxurious fillers and permit us to be truly creative.

Since this is not the season to plant bulbs or peonies, let's start with daylilies, or hemerocallis, which comes from the Greek, meaning "beauty for a day." The individual blooms do indeed last just one day. Daylilies came to us form China and Japan, where they were used as food and medicine. Traders eventually brought them to Europe (along with rhubarb) and the intrepid plant found its way to the Colonies. A very popular garden addition, they soon escaped from flower patches and flourished along the roadside. They are now as much of America as that other popular import, apple pie. Deep orange in color, the colonists called them tiger lilies. We still see these tenacious flowers along our Hoosier roadsides today. With their tight root system, they effectively hold small banks in place, and in late summer when we drive down country roads, these determined wild orange daylilies provide handsome color in our wild landscape.

Daylilies are easy to grow and only need average soil. Their arching foliage is handsome and eventually the mature plants can act as a trouble-free ground cover. They never need spraying, and flourish with little attention, though I do give them a shot of Miracle Gro in mid spring. They ought to be divided every 3 or 4 years, a simple dig and slice procedure. Deadheading every other day improves their appearance, but not everyone does this, just the obsessive-compulsive gardeners such as myself.

I mainly grow tetraploid dayliles, which have 48 chromosomes, instead of the original varieties which are called diploids. They have 24 chromosomes. Tetraploids, or tets, as they are generally called, are bigger, stronger, and have intensely colored large blooms. Since my garden is mostly viewed fro a distance, tets are ideal for me. But, of course, I also have some favorite diploids too, that I couldn't be without.

Some varieties that I especially like include 'Barbara Mitchell,' a diploid of pale lavender pink with a green throat. Midseason Rebloomer, 20" tall; "Chicago "Blackout', tetraploid, a deep blackberry color with a small yellow eye. Midseason, 30"; 'El Desperado,' tetraploid, medium yellow flowers with wine-purple throat. Late blooming, 28"; 'Joan Senior' remains my all time favorite. Nearly white with a lime green eye, it has a high bud count. Midseason 25"; 'Pardon Me' is one of the best reds because of its length of bloom time. Midseason with rebloom, 22-28"; 'Ruby Throat,' tetraploid, a stinging vibrant red, with a velvety color finish. Midseason, 21"; 'Ruffled Apricot,' lightly ruffled apricot color, 7" blooms with an intense golden throat. It is also
fragrant and a vigorous grower. Midseason, 28"; 'Happy Returns' is a short light yellow fragrant daylily that blooms all season long. I urge you to plant this little daylily instead of the ever-present over planted 'Stella d'Oro.' Popular because it does indeed bloom itself silly, 'Stella's color is an offensively muddy goldish shade that is difficult to combine with other flower tones in a border. If you need/want a short yellow daylily, do plant 'Happy Returns.'

Since daylilies are edible, I have experimented with serving them fresh, stuffed with Boursin cheese and fresh herbs, and also lightly breaded in panko crumbs and deep-fried. It pains me to report both appetizers were viewed with suspicion, were barely touched, and no one wanted the recipes. Oh, well.

My favorite way to use daylilies is to go into the garden a little before 5 P.M. or at cocktail time, with a handsome antique platter or silver tray and simply pluck off the blooms, which by this time will be fully out. Arranging them on the tray interspersed with a bit of chartreuse lady's mantle or other light greenery creates a quick and handsome centerpiece. I must warn you, however, the next morning, the elegant arrangement, rather like Cinderella, has disappeared. Left on the platter will be gooey yucky stuff. These "beauty for a day" flowers were appropriately named.

Here is a list of catalogs from which you can order the above items: Bluestone Perennials
1-800-852-5243; Busse Gardens Perennials 1-800-544-3192; Heirloom Select Seeds
1-800-684-0395 and John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds 1-800-567-6086.

Friday, April 10, 2009


Since currently there is nothing to prepare from the garden, I want to share with you an absolutely sublime bread pudding recipe. I have been looking for this version of bread pudding for years, and finally found it last week in my mother's favorite cookbook, of course, that black and orange tome, THE HOUSEHOLD SEARCHLIGHT COOKBOOK, published by the Household Magazines with the original copyright being 1931. If you have one, hold onto it; they have become quite valuable.

This bread pudding is not heavy and weighted down with too much bread as bread puddings are now. Instead, the bread part is about the top one-inch of the pudding and underneath is perfect golden yellow quivering custard. I substituted craisins--dried cranberries--for the traditional black raisins, though you could also use currants or yellow raisins.

Use a good artisan style bread if you can, or leftover cinnamon sweet rolls, scraping off the frosting and nuts and discarding. The commercial puffy white bread is not ideal for this recipe.


1 to 1 1/2 cups bread cubes (no crust) or sweet roll pieces about 1 to 2 inches in size
3 tablespoons cherry-flavored cranberries--craisins
2 cups milk, scalded, set aside to cool
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cinnamon
pinch of salt
garnish; modest drift of ground mace

Place a flat pan of hot water in the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Treat a 4-5 cup deep dish (a one-quart souffle dish is ideal) with release spray and set aside. Prepare the bread pieces and set aside. Measure out the craisins in a Pyrex cup, cover with water and microwave for 30 seconds; set aside.

You are now ready to begin. By preparing everything you need in advance, you will save lots of time. The French call this mise en place.

In a small saucepan, over medium heat, heat the milk until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan; remove from the heat. Add the butter and allow the mixture to cool.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs slightly, or until broken up. Whisk in the sugar, nutmeg, vanilla and salt; blend, but not enthusiastically. You don't want a froth, just a mass.

Drain the craisins. Gradually whisk in the milk and butter mixture, then the bread and craisins. Transfer to the treated baking dish. Drift a bit of mace on top of the pudding. Lower the dish into the hot water bath. Bake for 1 hour, or until the top of the pudding is firm when touched with your fingertip and it holds together when lightly shaken. Immediately remove from the bath to a rack to cool. Can be served warm or cold, with or without a pitcher of cream..
Essen Gut! Eat Good!