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.