Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Sea was our Village by Miles Smeeton

I wrote a review of Jonathan Raban's "Passage to Juneau" last week and I've already followed up on one of his reading recommendations. Early in the book Jonathan purposefully sails past a tiny cove on Salt Spring Island named Musgrave Landing. Since my own Mother was raised on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, I immediately perked to attention.

It turns out he was investigating the old farm of Miles and Beryl Smeeton and the cove where they anchored their yacht, Tzu Hang. Miles wrote several books about their yachting adventures that Jonathan keeps in his library aboard his sail boat. One of the books mentioned was "The Sea Was Our Village." In answer to my query King County Library Systems responded that they did indeed have a copy of this book at their Vashon Island branch and in due time the book was sent to my own branch for pick up by yours truly.

I just finished it this afternoon. What a page turner! In a fortunate turn of events the first book KCLS could get their hands on for me is also the book that chronicles the Smeeton's very first voyages. Even though the couple had zero sailing experience and minimal boating experience they also apparently had enough gumption for twenty normal mortals. Their plan, if you can believe it, was to fly to their native England, buy a boat and then sail it back to Salt Spring Island via the Panama Canal. My husband and I have been sailing a few years and I would never consider doing something like this in a million years.

The book captures my imagination immediately because of the way Miles describes their search for a boat. My husband and I occasionally like to go to boat shows or shop online for them and it is always very personal for us. It was also so for the Smeetons. The boat had to speak to them on some level and when they saw Tzu Hang they fell immediately in love. It turns out to have been a match made in heaven as the big boat eventually transported them all across our oceans.

From my research this book does not have the drama of some of their later voyages. It lacks in incredibly horrible things happening to them but that doesn't mean it doesn't open a window of adventure that is wonderful to look through. The title of the book reflects the many people they met during their sail. I have witnessed the camaraderie that is often apparent among boat people, although sail and motor tend to go their own way, but what I have witnessed is nothing in comparison to what it used to be. Fellow sailors and harbour dwellers went out of their way to meet and greet the Smeetons.

As a reader it is great to be in a front row seat as the Smeetons approach the Hawaiian Islands of the 1950's. Since I was just there a month ago, I can assure you that it has changed dramatically from the lightly inhabited Islands of the past. They were met by natives in original boats going out fishing and the town of Lahaina was small and cute, complete with the still standing Banyan tree, and in Miles opinion, somewhat of a declining village due to the end of the whaling trade. My husband and I were despairing of how touristy it has gotten just since the late 80's. The Smeeton's would be shocked at what has become of Lahaina except for the still beautiful Banyan tree.

The Smeeton's are adventurous almost to a fault. From climbing mountains without trails, circumventing islands, and swimming to underground caves Miles, Beryl and Clio do it all. In the course of their travels they meet sailors like themselves, fisherman, and natives all of whom enrich their travel experience and our reading experience. This book is an adventurous tale told by the crusty adventurer himself. Truly a wonderful read and I can't wait to try another. Next: "Once is Enough."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Clementine Paddleford a Pioneer of Food Writing

I just finished reading "Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate" by Kelly Alexander and Cynthia Harris. The story started as an article for Saveur magazine with the same title and won a James Beard award for journalism. This along with the encouragement of friends and colleagues are what motivated Alexander and Harris to turn the article into a book.

Alexander had been a food writer for many years and was a highly placed Editor at Saveur. Harris on the other hand was a Kansas State archivist who had spent many thankless months going through Clementine Paddleford's extensive papers that had been rotting at the Dept. of Special Collections at Kansas State University. Between the two of them they manage to bring back to life this amazing, and trailblazing food writer.

Paddleford wrote for the New York Herald as food editor from 1936 to 1966. She was best known though for her weekly column in This Week magazine which was a Sunday supplement that was distributed all over the country. Her national exposure gained her fame and allowed her to travel the country as a well-respected food writer. Clementine was a bold traveller and that included visiting a nuclear submarine where she reported on what the sailors ate on the USS Shipjack. I'd like to see Rachel Ray do that!

I enjoyed the early chapters of the book where Alexander and Harris write about her childhood with her Mother Jennie. If you are like me then you will find a lot to admire in Jennie Paddleford's world. A great anecdote in the book recalls how her father insisted on building the hog run within eye shot of their big front porch. Unable to dissuade him Jennie proceeds to dig up sod, turn soil, and plant an enormous hedge of lilacs between her porch and the hogs. She then says to Clementine; "Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be." Now those are some words to live by. In memory of Clementine and her Mother Jennie here is one of Jennie's favorite recipes.


3 cups all purpose flour
5 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 cup sugar, plus more to taste
1/2 cup plus 2 T cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup whole milk
3 quarts fresh strawberries from the fields
1 pint whipping cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Sift together flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt, and 1/2 cup of the sugar into a large bowl. Combine with the 1/2 cup butter in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal with lumps the size of small peas. Transfer dough to bowl. Make a well and add to it the egg and milk. Word dough very gently with fingertips or pastry spatula; knead until it just holds together, about 10 seconds. Dots of butter should be visible; do not overwork dough. Generously flour work surface, then roll dough out to form two circles that are 1/2 inch thick and 8 to 10 inches in diameter. Wrap the disks tightly and chill.

Set aside 16 of the best looking berries. Hull the rest, then halve and place in a bowl with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar or more, depending on the sweetness and ripeness of the fruit. Let strawberries macerate for at least 15 minutes but no more than 45 minutes.

Remove dough disks from refrigerator. On 2 ungreased sheet pans, bake dough rounds 12 to 15 minutes, until golden on the outside and just cooked through in the center. Remove from oven and cool 10 to 15 minutes.

Slather the remaining 2 T of butter evenly on each disk. Transfer large disk to a plate that will accommodate it and the juicy berries running off it. Pile macerated berries on top and then cover with the other disk. Garnish with reserved whole berries and serve with whipped cream if desired. Yield: 8 servings.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Vanity Fair's March Issue is Great

I used to work in the magazine business and I still receive a passel of subscriptions from Conde Nast. I have been watching as successful magazine's have become smaller and smaller due to lack of advertising. It is sad and I suspect we are going to see some titles disappear in the near future. I just hope it's not any of the good one's like Vanity Fair.

Vanity Fair was originally published in the United States in 1914. It celebrated the lives of the rich and famous. During the depression years a magazine devoted to such frivolous topics did not do well and the magazine finally closed it's doors in 1936 just 7 years after the stock market crash. Then in 1984 the magazine was resurrected and once again focused on the rich and famous in the era of Reagan.

The success of this magazine, in my opinion, lies not completely within its subject matter but with its plethora of gifted writers and photographers. Annie Leibovitz is an icon in her field of photography and in this issue she takes some great ones of our new President and his cabinet (including an unfortunate one of Tom Daschle.)

My favorite stories in the March issue are "Glamour Begins at Home" by Matt Tyrnauer and "Children of Paradise" by Todd S Purdum. "Glamour" is about architect and interior decorator John Woolf who practiced in Hollywood in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. It delves respectfully into the unique relationship John had with his partner, lover and eventual adopted son. The story has all the glitter of that period and includes wonderful pictures of some of the homes he built.

"Children" is similar in that it is about the older Hollywood that no longer exists. Purdum interviews some of the children growing up in Beverly Hills during the 40's, 50's, and 60's to find out how it was then. He describes a more innocent time where your every move wasn't monitored by a pack of paparazzi. Not that it made all of their lives perfect. Purdum also talks about the troubled families like the Crawfords (i.e. coat hanger girl), and the Crosbys.

The writer also reminded me of a great book that I read as a young woman called "Haywire" by Brooke Hayward. She is the daughter of Leland Hayward and actress Margaret Sullavan and describes in intimate detail the tragedy of her families life. Now that Vanity Fair has brought all of this up for me I've decided I must read it again. The book would be a great read for anybody interested in this period in Hollywood.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban

I have been away for a while visiting the lovely island of Maui. I know it is a difficult job having to hang out in the sunshine in the Hawaiian Islands but I was happy to do it. We rented a condominium in Maalaea that was to die for! Not exactly inexpensive in the high season, $295.00 a night, but when compared to prices at Kaanapali and Lahaina it is very reasonable especially considering the quality of the condo. It is the Milowai Ocean Penthouse, #407. You can check out pictures of the condo at http://www.mauibayview.com.

Now that I have made everybody sick with the news of my very nice vacation we can go ahead and move on. Of course, you cannot go on a vacation without a great book to read. In my case I was able to kill two birds with one stone - please honey and have a book for Hawaii. My husband recommended that I read "A Passage to Juneau" a couple of months ago. We are amateur sailors and the book is about a man who sails his 34 foot sailboat from Seattle to Juneau, Alaska. My husband loved it and promised that I would too.

Well, he was right. The book is great. It was so riveting for me that sometimes it actually managed to draw my attention from the humpback whales playing in the bay in front of our condo, and that is saying something. Jonathan is an interesting fellow with a vocabulary that will make you wish you were carrying your dictionary with you. Try this one - cthonian.

The forest was the least of it. Above and beyond the treeline, Alaska looked like the work of a megalomaniac confectioner. In any other light but this freakish sunshine, its snowy barrenness would have appeared intimidating and oppressive. These were the forbidden mountains of Indian stories---a chthonian region to which unfortunate humans were occasionally abducted by terrible powers.

For the bewildered among us the definition of chthonian is "dwelling beneath the surface of the earth - nether regions" or "being of the underworld - infernal regions" according to freedictionary.com. Jonathan is saying that for the Indians the mountains were not beautiful but frightening and liable to kill you if you gave them a chance.

This book works for me on many levels as a reader. I majored in History in college and Jonathan intertwines the narrative of his journey with a lot of great historical stuff. He utilizes Captain George Vancouver's "Voyages" that describes the Pacific Northwest coast as it looked to the officers and sailors aboard the Discovery and Chatham in 1792. He also seriously explores Northwest Pacific Coast Indian lore. Jonathan at first seems harsh and overly critical in regard to white people's long held beliefs about the Indians and their traditions. But the author manages to squash and/or modify many of my previous assumptions in a way that is not negative to his subject.

The book is also chock full of scientific information. The author is clearly a renaissance man who takes an interest in everything around him. (If you need any further proof of that please note that he carries a microscope on board just so he can eyeball the tiny creatures who live in the water of the Puget Sound). He is fascinated with the way water moves, the way Dahl dolphins swim with the boat, and the depth of the sea underneath him to name just a few of his curiosities. The beauty of his writing is that he will make you interested in these things too.

And, of course, the author does not leave his own personal narrative out. During his trip his family is hit by a personal tragedy that calls him away for a few months. It also forces him to confront his own issues about growing up and the relationship he has with his parents. I sensed from his writing that he was less comfortable in this subject than in any other but that he still speaks in a sincere voice.

On a whole other level the book is great for me because I've actually sailed on some of these waters. I've woken up in a secluded bay in the San Juans to watch the sun rise, and viewed the dolphins race through the waves alongside the boat. I've sailed through the turbulent waters of Deception Pass and been scared witless even though we did fine. And I have enjoyed a glass of wine at sunset gunkholing in Shallow Bay on Sucia Island. These are fine things.

So whatever your interest whether it be sailing, Alaska, Indian lore, or the history of discovery, you will find something in this book for you. I'm notorious for reading books more then once and I'm pretty sure I'll be reading this one again. Hopefully by the light of a lantern rocking slowly in a cozy saloon somewhere out on the waters of the Pacific Northwest.