National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. I used to ignore this–as I ignored most such days and months of observation, deeming them occasions invented for the sake of selling advertising space rather than designed to promote the actual value of the thing being celebrated–until a few years ago. When I lived in Edinburgh I started to think about International Women’s Day and the point of having an entire month dedicated to the acknowledgment of women’s struggle for equality; eventually this pondering extended to the other things that have been nominated for celebration in the West. Some of these are undoubtedly commercially motivated–do we need a national chocolate chip cookie day? (Isn’t that, like, every day? Does one really need an excuse to make chocolate chip cookies, beyond the smell and taste of them when they’re just out of the oven? I thought not.) Poetry, on the other hand, very much needs all the promotion it can get.

I didn’t like poetry much when I was a kid. I grew up surrounded by books and have been an avid reader since before I could talk, but rarely did anyone steer me toward a particular writer or work. I studied the poems I was assigned in school, with varying degrees of success. It wasn’t until seeing Eric Stoltz recite some of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry in what was otherwise a fairly poor film (as I recall it, it’s been a while) when I was fifteen that I really appreciated the beauty of a poem. It had never occurred to me that poetry sounded different, could carry so much more meaning, when read out loud by someone with a good ear. (I am not such a performer, unhappily.)

After that, while I remained a hit-or-miss student as far as my assignments were concerned, my personal love of the form snowballed. I read as much of the Romantic poets as I could get my hands on, and started looking for recordings of poems as well as printed volumes. My only request for a high school graduation gift was the then just-released Fourth Edition of the Norton Anthology of Poetry, which my mother was kind enough to get for me. A friend gave me a copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of selections from Rilke before I left for university, and I spent most of the plane journey to Scotland devouring the book (it remains my favourite poetry, bar none). Margaret introduced me to so many poems and poets I can’t list them all here–Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Federico Garcia Lorca, Denise Levertov, Saul Williams. I trawled the university library shelves (and my treasured Norton Anthology), coming up with Hart Crane, Jorie Graham, Audre Lorde, W. H. Auden, Alexander Pope, Rupert Brooke.

Despite all this, I was in my late twenties before I could shake the notion that poetry, while still something people did, and did well, was not the art form it had once been, and not relevant to the way we live now. I felt like most of the great poets of the English language were gone. I liked the work of some of the living poets I knew of, but I didn’t find the same vitality and depth in them that I valued in the work of the older poetry I valued.

It took me some time to realize that this was because I wasn’t making an effort to look up the work of up-and-coming poets, not because it didn’t exist. If this ever does become true for us as a culture, it will be because too many of us have given up looking for poetry that speaks to us, and those with the promise of being great poets have given up in despair. (I hope we never make it to such a sorry state.) I do hear frequent comments about how culture is dead because of e-readers and rap music and [insert modern trend or convenience or bug-bear of your choice]. Because we don’t speak and relate to each other in the way that people did when Shakespeare and Wordsworth and Walt Whitman were writing; because all these new things and our own materialism are devouring us. The thing is, that argument has been going around for centuries; before it was video games it was motorcars and electric lighting and movies with sound; dancehalls and vaudeville, cosmetics and women’s clothing that could be bought ready-made; and so on, back to Gutenberg’s Bible and the fear that once anyone could read what they wanted, they’d soon be able to analyze it for themselves, and then it would be so much harder to control the masses. (Well, the doom-sayers were right on that score.) As for the rest of it–each new form that has arisen has given us new ways of telling stories. We lose when try to erase parts of our history, when we single out minority groups for persecution, denigration, and worse, not when we read an old text on an electronic screen or learn about the American Revolution in a show that incorporates rap music and a multi-ethnic cast.

National Poetry Month is important because it draws the attention of a few more people than might otherwise notice to the vibrant spoken and printed poetry being produced every year–and, like Banned Books Week, because it’s a good excuse to read more. I used to type up a poem I liked to post on Facebook every day in April, but my schedule no longer allows me such an indulgence; there are also copyright issues to consider. I will post a few poems and links during the course of the month–to start with, here’s a link to Ben Whishaw reciting John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, from the end of the film Bright Star. It would also be great to hear from others about poems / poets you like. So help a girl out, point me to some new stuff I might not have come across yet. What poetry do you like?

The Friday Fave: Rabih the Divine

About ten years ago I tried to read one of Sebastian Faulks’ novels–Birdsong, I think. I got about fifty pages into it and then gave up in disgust, bored to tears. A few weeks later I came across some interview with him in a paper wherein he was asked why he thought his novels appealed so much to women; his answer, if I recall correctly, was something along the lines of ‘I think women like my novels because I write from their perspective and in order to do this you have to really, really love them.’ This is patent nonsense. You can love a thing (or a person) to distraction and not have the faintest clue how they work inside. As far as I could tell from my attempt at reading his work, Sebastian Faulks’ novels are popular with women because they are romance novels in the line of Anya Seton and Daphne du Maurier; better written than your average pulp/Harlequin nonsense but often relying on the same tired damsel-in-distress motif to model a plot on. (Perhaps I do an injustice to Seton and du Maurier; from what I’ve read of them their damsels do have a bit of gumption and don’t–always–rely on a man to save them. Perhaps I do an injustice to Faulks–Charlotte Grey seemed like she might be a more interesting heroine. However, there are so many other writers whose work does not make me want to throw the book across the room in irritation that I have no intention of reading more of Faulks to find out.)

So anyway. This is not a post about Sebastian Faulks. This question of how well writers of one gender can write from the perspective of another is forever popping up in literary journalism, and it’s one I’ve always been interested in, mostly because I think it’s not actually that difficult to do if one can separate what makes a person human and from the boxes and labels that social prejudice has trained us to fix onto whatever is “other” to us, be that gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc. Alameddine excels in this regard, and has a particular gift for rendering characters of extraordinary quiet human grace.

The first of his works I read (well, listened to as an audiobook) was An Unnecessary Woman, in one of my sporadic attempts to keep up with novels when they’re published, rather than ten years afterwards (I still kick myself for having waited so long to read The Blind Assassin). I loved it and intend to read it again–as a paper book, this time–but it was that level of enjoyment that makes me seek out another of the writer’s books (in no great hurry) rather than immediately place that work on the shelf of my very favourites.

A few months later I decided to listen to I, the Divine, because it kept popping up on my Amazon and Goodreads recommendations and I loved the cover. Once in a while a publisher does give a book a cover as gorgeous as the story within. (I didn’t set out to consume all of his novels as audiobooks, it was kind of an accident of circumstance.) About an hour in I started finding excuses to keep listening–I get so much more housework done when there’s an audiobook I’m desperate to finish–and wondering why it had not won *all* the awards when it was published. Did its publisher not submit it for prize consideration? Did people just not read it? Why? Once I’d finished the novel, I sort of understood why didn’t win all the awards, but I maintain that it should have won some and it deserves to be much better known. Upon Googling the book, I found a handful of reviews, but there wasn’t a huge amount of press–his more recent novels have happily garnered more attention. I’m glad An Unnecessary Woman and The Hakawati got all the attention that they did, but I, the Divine, is every bit as good. I suspect Koolaids will be as well–that’s next on my list.

I, the Divine is the story of Sarah and her rather large collection of parents, step- and grandparents, siblings, half-siblings, ex-husbands and lovers, at various points across their lives in Lebanon and the U.S. Each chapter is the “first”, approaching Sarah’s story from a new perspective, moving backward and forward in time until a full picture finally emerges. It is not a story about achieving a grand understanding, or how a single event shapes one life, or a number of lives; it is about one person learning to understand herself, and a group of people learning to understand each other, shaped by a series of events and relationships that not all of those involved are aware of, even as they are affected by the consequences. If you prefer straightforward, linear narratives, then this is not the novel for you, but if experimental and unusual narrative forms are to your taste, give it a try. It is variously wickedly funny, moving, and heartbreaking. It is about a large family in Lebanon and their experience during the war there; it is about living as a foreigner in the United States; it is about being a woman in two different cultures where women are still seen as less capable, and whose value is ultimately measured in terms of how well they fulfill the roles of wife, mother, and sex object, regardless of their other talents and accomplishments; and, like most good novels, it is an insight into how we can be damaged by events and actions we have no control over, how we try our best to conceal and grow past those traumas, and don’t always succeed. There is also a foul-mouthed parrot named Cookie whose few scenes would be worth reading the novel for even if the rest of the story was dull. (Trigger warnings: There is a lot of swearing, not least of which is the parrot’s x-rated commentary during his few appearances; there is also a fairly graphic description of a sexual assault. This is not a novel for young teenagers.)

I, the Divine made Alameddine one of my favourite writers, so like all objects of my hero-worship I started looking up everything I could find on him. He was a successful artist before publishing his first novel, and he maintains an active and interesting presence on social media. His blog, The Art Divas, is full of gorgeous poetry and visual arts, and he announces his presence on Twitter every morning with a spate of the funniest, most random, or just plain strangest gifs on offer on a given day. He also posts poetry from other writers on his Facebook page on a regular basis, and has excellent taste. I very much understand why some writers eschew social media altogether, but I love how he uses his presence to promote the things he loves and believes worthy of more attention, and I wish more artists did the same (Janelle Monae and Lin-Manuel Miranda do similar things, but we need more in this vein, I think).

A few related links worth checking out:

If you haven’t read any of Rabih Alameddine’s novels, do yourself a favor and pick one up the next time you’re in a decently stocked bookstore, or order one from Powell’s or Amazon or wherever. His next novel, The Angel of History, is out next October, and I can’t wait.


Sunday dinner and chocolate roulade

This past weekend was the first one in several weeks wherein I have been both at home and without an editing deadline breathing down my neck, so I celebrated by spending much of it in the kitchen. My back is not best pleased with me for this choice.

I cleaned out the refrigerator, disposing of the last of the jars and pots of condiments that we hadn’t used in years–in over a decade, in some cases–but which my mother would never permit me to get rid of, along with a very small volume of food that was no longer edible. (I’ve been trying very hard to stop wasting food for a number of reasons, primary among these being the amount that gets wasted in the U.S. every year; this has gotten easier as I’ve been replacing ready-made foods with simple ingredients and home-made things, but I did come across half a packet of hotdogs that I thought my father had consumed one week when I was away, but which had instead slipped down behind a drawer and really doesn’t bear thinking about…)

After that, I cooked. I did a batch of wheat bread, which turned out disappointingly soft–despite being baked all the way through, proved first by a thermometer and later by slicing through a loaf, as it cooled it began to sink under the weight of the top crust, so both loaves have sort of a squashed, rounded shape where they should be tall and crisp at the sides. I think I’m using water that’s too warm for the sponge. I did a batch of blueberry muffins, also disappointing–there was nothing wrong with the bake, but the recipe did not yield the results I was looking for. I like a cakey, dense blueberry muffin; these taste good, but they’re very airy and didn’t rise very well, just sort of spread out a bit over the top of the muffin cup and stayed flat. Also, the blueberries turned the batter entirely violet, despite being rolled in flour and added at the very end. (Both the wheat sandwich bread and classic blueberry muffin recipes can be found at the America’s Test Kitchen website, I also made some tuna salad to go with the bread, but there’s nothing particularly exciting about your average tuna salad. A friend of mine does a delicious version with diced apple and walnuts–if I can get the recipe from her, I’ll post a picture of that some time.

Sunday is usually my big baking day, as I am insisting on reviving the tradition of the Sunday Dinner in my household, and I have started doing a fancy-ish dessert to go with it. This week I also woke up to find that we were out of the Mary B’s biscuits we usually have on a Sunday morning, so I made a batch of quick cream biscuits (also from ATK). They were good (and they keep well), but not as good as proper buttermilk biscuits.


I made a large batch of tabbouleh for the coming week–it looked much the same as my last batch, so I did not photograph it–then I got started on the dinner and dessert.

I used this recipe to start from for my Somerset pork, but all the recipes I looked at being so wildly different (and none of them matching my memory of the dish), I used it more as a guideline than a set of instructions. I used cubed pork tenderloin, floured and seared in a pan before baking, and one thinly-sliced onion, similarly (briefly) sauteed before adding to the casserole dish. I then added two cups of hard cider, about a teaspoon of dried thyme leaves, two tablespoons of cream, and about 3/4 a cup of flour (including what had been used for the pork) to whisk into a sauce. This was a little too much flour, I think, even though it was thinned out in the process of baking; 1/2 a cup would have done. Finally, I peeled and chopped two granny smith apples and stirred them in with the pork and onions before pouring the sauce over and putting into a 350 degree oven for an hour. It turned out quite well; I did roasted potatoes and carrots and creamed spinach to go with it. (The creamed spinach was supposed to be a spinach souffle, but under no circumstances could what I ended up with be described as a souffle–I didn’t chop the spinach up finely enough, and there was too little of it.)






Then came the chocolate roulade, which I actually had to work on in stages throughout the day. I used a Mary Berry recipe, which can be found here.

It went smoothly enough in the beginning. I let my eggs come to room temperature during the morning, and I measured the solid chocolate using a a scale and melted it exactly as the instructions said to, instead of being lazy and just putting it into a saucepan on low heat.

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It was all very pretty until I put it into bake, and found after 25 minutes that the batter was still very much batter. As I’ve mentioned before, I do have a talent for silly cock-ups. I realized later that when I had glanced at the required temperature, I had screened out the “C” in my mind and just assumed it read “F”–I’m used to using recipes designed for UK kitchens, but when I see a set of conversions I tend to assume the highest temperature given is the U.S. one, instead of reading it properly as I would if I were working. When I found my batter still wet, I increased the temperature to 300F and baked it another 25 minutes. This was not a good thing.

The end resulted tasted quite good, but did not qualify as a roulade by any stretch of the imagination. The heat should have been 350F, and I suspect 20 minutes will do rather than 25, next time. I managed to persuade it into something slightly resembling a log–at least Mary Berry said that the cracks would be “part of its charm”. This one turned out extremely charming by the time I was finished. It wasn’t so much light as a feather as rather dense, and the specified amount of cream was at least a third more than I needed, so there was plenty left over for my hot chocolate this morning. It did look a good deal more appetizing when sliced and accompanied by fresh raspberries, although still clumsy.





The Friday Fave: Hot Chocolate

I’ve always liked hot chocolate–I imagine there are few people who don’t. When I was growing up we always had packets of instant Swiss Miss mixes in the winter, and if we’d been to England to visit family, Cadbury’s cocoa or Drinking Chocolate. I discovered Droste cocoa when I was a teenager, and they finally started importing Cadbury’s products to Atlanta, and we stopped buying anything else.

I couldn’t shake the idea that I was missing something, though. In the children’s novel Calico Captive by Elizabeth George Speare, set during the Seven Year’s War, there’s a reference to two of the characters getting cups of hot chocolate from a stall or a shop. This tiny detail bothered me deeply when I first read the book–I think I was eight–because I couldn’t reconcile the idea of the watery sweet stuff I was used to being consumed in the eighteenth century. I knew what the characters in the story were drinking had to be very different from what I was used to, but I couldn’t convince my mother to let me melt a bar of solid chocolate into a cup of milk to get an idea of what I was missing.

Later on I came across more detailed descriptions, such as the number of people (4, I think) and the steps required to prepare and serve Louis XVI his morning chocolate. Experimenting with Droste cocoa I tried to make something that resembled what I read about in books, but invariably I ended up with something that was much too sweet and badly mixed. (I did try to make a paste, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me to start with the cocoa and add the milk gradually; I started with milk–always a little too much–and ended up with a cup that still had clots of unmixed powder in it. I stopped trying for a few years, as for a long time during and after university I couldn’t often afford good cocoa powder.

I resumed my efforts when I developed an intolerance for caffeine. (Long story–if you use or have ever considered using caffeine tablets, just say no, they really aren’t worth it.) Once in a while I’ll try a few sips of regular coffee and not have hours-long bouts of heart palpitations, but the intolerance always resurfaces weeks or months later. Sometimes I can manage decaf coffee and tea, but the rest of the time I have hot chocolate instead. I usually have to avoid eating any other chocolate during the day, but I don’t mind this so much.

When I lived in Edinburgh there were a number of places where I could get a very nice cup of hot chocolate. There was a place called Chocolate Soup (now sadly defunct) that was pretty awesome, but their confections were more like consuming an incredibly rich dessert than anything suitable for a morning drink. The Elephant House on George IV Bridge served very good hot chocolate when I lived there (I can’t verify that this is still true, but fingers crossed), and there’s a shop in Bruntsfield called Coco Chocolatier ( whose rose and black pepper hot chocolate is still my gold standard for the perfect cup. If you are ever in the area, try some of their chocolate. You won’t regret it. I have tried to replicate this several times since I left, but my versions are poor substitutes. I’m lucky enough to have friends who send and/or bring me some once in a while (Thank you Caroline!)

When I lived in New York City, there was a cafe in Union Square that I relied on for my hot chocolate–although I was able to drink coffee again by that point–but that place closed down, and now I can’t actually recall the name. Back in Atlanta, I hit a dead end. There are plenty of places to go for good chocolate confections, but hot chocolate just isn’t a trend, at least in my neck of the woods. I’ve tried Starbuck’s, but it’s too sweet and not really strong on the chocolate flavor. I relied on Cadbury’s drinking chocolate and the Mexican-style chocolate that comes in discs (several brands; Taza’s are the best, in my opinion), but I find these either too sweet now or difficult to blend into the milk smoothly. After much experimentation, I settled on a favourite recipe. I hope it bears some resemblance to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century cups of chocolate that Wedgwood, Limoges, and other makers of fine china created such lovely pots for, but I need to do more research to find out if this is actually so.

My recipe for the perfect hot chocolate:

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons demerara (turbinado) or coconut sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 tablespoons cream

1 cup milk (low-fat or skim)


Put the milk on the stove to heat. I have a small cast-iron pot for this–it’s actually designed to heat up barbecue sauce on a grill, but I couldn’t find the kind of copper pot I was looking for at the time. This isn’t really necessary; I know every good kitchen should have a dedicated milk pan which is never used for anything else, but I don’t have the storage space for such a thing. I sometimes heat the milk in the microwave when I’m in a rush. Next, mix a bit of the milk (five or six large spoonfuls should do it) into the powder to make a paste. When the milk is just starting to simmer (you should be able to see the steam coming off the surface, and signs of tiny bubbles in the center), pour it into the cup with the paste and stir until thoroughly mixed.


If you’re using whole milk, probably best to leave out the cream. Also, I like my hot chocolate just barely sweet, so you may find more sugar necessary, it’s up to you. You could replace the cardamom with cinnamon and/or nutmeg, or a pinch of ancho chili powder, or add a drop of food-grade lavender or rose oil. Sometimes I a little battery-powered cappuccino whisk to mix the milk into the cocoa, which makes a nice froth when you pour in the rest of the milk, but most of the time I just use a spoon, it requires less clean-up. If you have any cash to spare for kitchen staples and you like chocolate, I recommend investing in a high-quality cocoa powder; it really does taste better than your average Hershey’s stuff, whether you’re making hot chocolate or using it for baked goods. I like Callebaut and Valrhona, but there are several good brands. The drink is rich, but for me this is generally a breakfast in itself. I like this so much I actually look forward to getting up in the morning now.


P.S. Suggestions for chocolate shops in other cities are always welcome–I haven’t done much traveling lately, but I have plans. If you have a favourite place, post a message and let me know!

Apple Rosemary Upside-Down Cake

This was my second attempt at apple-rosemary cake, but I don’t think I documented the results that time (it’s been a while). On my first attempt, I followed this recipe to the letter: and while I liked the topping, I found the cake too dry and lacking in flavour, so this time I made some changes.

I kept the topping pretty much as is–I tend to use a bit less salt than most recipes call for, and I used two apples this time, because the first time they shrank so much that they looked skimpy on the finished cake. I used honeycrisp apples, as the recipe calls for, although I noticed that most other similar recipes specify granny smith. For the cake, I used the America’s Test Kitchen recipe for plain apple upside-down cake. (ATK is strict with access to their recipes if you don’t have one of their cookbooks, but you can find the one I used here, if you’re willing to do a free trial or you already have a subscription: It suited my taste perfectly–a little like a pound cake in texture, although a bit lighter, and soaked up the caramel topping. It was a bit too soft in the middle, but this was the result of either because I didn’t cook the apples beforehand–the PBS recipe says not to, the ATK recipe says do–or because I didn’t leave it in the oven quite long enough. This is actually a common issue with my oven, and I find that many of my projects require 10 to 15 minutes longer than the recipe specifies. (I have no idea whether this is because of some issue such as altitude or humidity, or if it’s just that my oven is is a bit crap.)

Here are most of my ingredients. I got to use fresh rosemary from the garden, which always makes me feel sophisticated even though where I am our rosemary grows like a weed and requires little care. (Although it does have to be cleaned and checked for gremlins before use, unlike store-bought herbs.) The jar on the left-hand side contains light brown sugar–I should have opened it.


For future reference, I will rarely include flour in any picture of ingredients, because I keep my all-purpose flour in a massive 2-gallon jar in a corner and it’s usually too heavy to move about.


I used a 9-inch cast iron skillet to bake the cake in, because it allowed me to make the caramel and then just layer the apples and pour the batter on; the PBS recipe allows for the use of a cake pan, if you prefer it, and the ATK recipe actually specifies that. The recipe(s) involve a few steps, but none of them are particularly tricky. Here’s the caramel:


The apples go straight in over the caramel. I like putting them in a pinwheel pattern, but this is by no means necessary. The batter went straight over them–the batter barely covered the top of the apples, and I actually had to smooth it over with a spatula a few time to make sure the apples were all coated properly. The cake rose enough so that the apples were still more towards the top of the cake when it was turned out onto a plate. The finished cake reached just about to the top of the pan, but the only overflow was a little bit of the caramel that bubbled up near the handle.


The completed cake, before turning it out onto a plate and after. I let it cool in the pan about 15 minutes before turning it out.

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This is definitely becoming one of my go-to desserts; it’s easy, relatively quick, requires little clean-up, and I really like the hint of savoury from the rosemary and salt. My father will not say that he liked it, but he had two large slices and asked what it was called, which is usually a sign that he’ll ask for me to make another one at some point.

The Friday Fave: Belle



I am addicted to British costume dramas. My earliest memory of television is of watching a rerun of the original Poldark when I was in England one Christmas when I was three or four years old (a show I still love, despite the dreadful costumes and occasionally poor acting). I usually watch a film in the cinema or on television before deciding to spend money on it, but I missed Belle when it was showing; when I found it in Costco for $10 I went ahead and bought it, thinking it couldn’t be too bad, given its cast.

Oh was I ever glad I did. It’s one of my go-to films for those evenings when I’m stressed or frustrated or depressed: simultaneously sumptuous eye-candy and a celebration of one of the tiny steps British society made towards equality despite the rigidity of prevailing social rules regarding race and class at the time. It’s also a reminder that there were people writing and arguing in support of equal rights—although they wouldn’t have called it that—when the slave trade was at its most lucrative, even though their voices would continue to be drowned out by the preference for the status quo, mercantile interests, and the prevailing social bigotry for roughly two hundred years to come. (Some of the writings of Thomas Day, 1748–1789, are interesting in this regard, if you’re looking for further reading—Dido is reading one of his works in one scene in the film.)

Much of the story is heavily fictionalized, partly for the sake of telling a compelling story, but mostly, I think, because there is so little documentation of Dido Belle’s life aside from who her parents were, her position at Kenwood House, her great-uncle’s love for her, and her marriage to John Davinier. She actually married Davinier after her uncle’s death; whether they were in love is anyone’s guess, but I’d like to think that at least he must have loved her, to be willing to place principle over social prejudice, rather than just for the sake of her money (I’m not sure if her inheritance was as grand as is stated in the film, but she did get enough for a comfortable life). She had more to do with the running of the estate than is really portrayed in the film, John Davinier was not actually a law student, and the Ashford brothers are an invention for the story.

It’s still a great story, and so much better in almost every way than a number of the other films that got more attention that year. I like the balance Misan Sagay’s screenplay strikes between history, politics, and personal relationships–there is little in the way of Oscar-bait speeches because the issues the film deals with are framed not solely in terms of the significant historical event the characters are involved in (the Zong lawsuit), but in how the characters relate to and perceive one another. Most of the reviews I’ve come across, before and since, are good, and yet the film seemed vanish from the cinemas shortly after opening, and attracted only a small audience (in the U.S., at least). Gugu Mbatha-Raw is becoming one of my favourite actresses; even in her small role in the deliciously ridiculous Lost in Austen she steals every scene she appears in, and she’s got a number of big films coming out this year and the next. Sam Reid is also perfect for his role, and finally getting more exposure in other roles—he should have been the new Poldark, I thought, but hey ho. Everyone in it turns in a solid performance, even down to cousin Elizabeth, irritating character though she is. Amma Asante, the director, is also one to watch, I think—she has a new film coming out this year, A United Kingdom, and I can’t wait.



The Friday Fave: Uprooted

Friday Faves are an Internet fashion I’m particularly fond of, so this will be a regular feature for me. A few years ago I started a habit of beginning each journal entry (when I wrote in my journal, which was by no means every day) with something I loved and/or was grateful for, as an effort to pull myself out of or stave off bouts of depression. I haven’t touched my journal since my mother’s death, although I mean to resume the habit soon, but the habit of focusing on things I love, even the most trivial, has helped me work through the anxiety attacks I’ve been struggling with over the last year. Also, anyone who knows me knows my compulsion to rabbit on about any current enthusiasm I’m possessed by. Friday Faves posts will be a means of channeling that.


This week’s Friday Fave is the novel Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. This was one of the two best novels I read last year (I’ll discuss the other sometime soon). When I was a teenager I would be so enraptured by some books that I would start them over again as soon as I’d finished them. My last year as an undergraduate beat that out of me—having to get through the likes of Pamela, Joseph Andrews, The Latecomers, and all the attendant critical essays in the space of a week didn’t leave much time for re-reading anything. This novel brought that habit back to me; I read it straight through twice, and bought the audiobook (which was unfortunately a poor performance). I’ve re-read it again since. If you have any liking for fantasy at all, I can’t recommend this enough. It seems to have been marketed as a YA novel, which I can’t really understand; not that I wouldn’t recommend it to an older teen, but in no way did it strike me as a specifically teen-oriented book—it is just that the narrator is a girl in her late teens. (I would question giving it to anyone younger than maybe 16, but then I’m not in charge of anyone’s child, and knowing my own history it’s the sort of thing I was reading by 11 years old.)

In Stores Now: UPROOTED by Naomi Novik

Tabbouleh Season

I eat greens-based salads all year round, but I’ve always reserved cold salads such as tabbouleh for the Spring and Summer–as far as I’m concerned they must contain fresh tomatoes, and tomatoes grown over the winter in hothouses are pale, scentless, and tasteless. But now it is Spring (at least where I am), and the tomatoes are starting to have some flavour again, so I made tabbouleh for lunch–bulgar wheat, feta, garlic-stuffed green olives (courtesy of Trader Joe’s, I do not have the patience to do such things myself), red bell peppers, tomatoes, and a Meyer lemon Greek vinaigrette left over from a different salad. It was yummy.