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Margaret Ann Spence > BLOG > 2016 > November

Timed Out

By Barbara Lorna Hudson Driven Press, 2016 My writing mentor, Marylee MacDonald, (Montpelier Tomorrow, Bonds of Love & Blood) wrote in her blog recently about the challenges faced by authors over sixty. Though they may have had to put off writing until they had the time to do it, they’re disadvantaged in the publishing world. In part this is due to the fact that agents, usually young themselves, are interested in representing authors with whom they can build a career. Sometimes it is because the life experiences of an older person, transmuted into fiction, may not resonate with younger readers. For example, in the reading club notes at the back of the book, Landline, by Rainbow Rowell, readers are asked, “Are you old enough to remember talking on a landline?” Well, yes. After reading many books in which smart phones feature frequently, I was relieved to find a book about a real issue: how to find meaning and love in later years. Timed Out starts with the retirement party of Jane Lambert, an English academic. Suddenly faced with an empty calendar, Jane fills her time with visits to her widowed mother and self-improvement in the form of a gym membership, manicures and hair styling, and volunteering at a charity shop. Jane, divorced thirty years before, has never since met Mr. Right. She has good friends, but without a life companion, seeks one. She tries online dating. This has some frightening results, but Jane finds several partners over a period of about a dozen years. I don’t think this is a spoiler alert, because the book bills itself as about matchmaking for the over-sixties. However, that label undersells this book. Really, it is about how we go forward as we age and our familiar supports are removed through retirement and the death of loved ones. Timed Out is written in a linear fashion, and reads at times, especially in scenes of travel, like excerpts from Ms. Hudson’s diary. The dialogue is natural, and the character’s academic inclination to ask students to “discuss” is humorously noted several times in the story. What is never explored by the protagonist is why, over and over again, she is blind-sided when her lovers leave her. (As her husband did.) There seems to be a lack of insight here, which is odd in a social worker, Jane’s former profession. Jane also has little tolerance for those who have different political or religious beliefs from her own. Because the book is episodic rather than plotted, Jane never resolves these issues. She’s so astute about other matters that I wanted Jane to think about this. I felt myself in a conversation with Jane, and this is a tribute to good writing! Once I began this book, I found it hard to put down. Barbara Lorna Hudson is too savvy to make this story simply about a woman seeking love. The book is about the search for meaning and how to live a life without regrets. Despite the novel’s bittersweet title, never saying “It’s too late!” is the lesson here.

Comfort Cookies

cookies-1I think we can all agree that the anxieties of the past week have fueled a need for comfort food. So I spent Sunday afternoon baking cookies. With the holiday season around the corner, I’m experimenting with ginger. In particular, ginger cookies. A little spice and all things nice. The Joy of Cooking  was my baking guide in earlier years. But I’ve come to love a lesser known cookie, the Cornish Fairing, from England. Classic ginger cookies call for up to 3 3/4 cups of flour, two eggs, 1 1/2 sticks of butter, as well as molasses, sugar and spices. I tried these. They turned out floury and unappetizing. Sunday, I tried a batch with less flour, but still, they didn’t have the pizazz I was looking for. Then I found my old recipe for Cornish Fairings. These eggless, light-as-a-feather cookies baked up beautifully. The Cornish Fairing is from Cornwall, where the sweet “biscuits” were sold at fairs. They can be whipped up quickly without the need for an electric mixer. The recipe calls for less than a cup and a half of flour and spices, a cup of sugar, a half stick of butter, and a cup of ginger syrup. American ginger cookie recipes use molasses to provide a rich dark sweetness to the dough. The English recipe is lighter. Traditional recipes call for “golden syrup”. If using, use 3 tsp. ground ginger in the recipe. If you use ginger syrup, use 1 tsp. ground ginger. * Cornish Fairings Adapted from a traditional English recipe. This recipe has no eggs. 4 oz butter 4 oz light brown cane sugar. Could even use a little less sugar if you like. 4 oz ginger syrup or golden syrup 12 oz plus a little bit more of all purpose flour 2 tsp baking soda 2 tsp baking powder 1 tsp. mixed spice or pumpkin pie spice 1 tsp cinnamon ½ tsp salt 1 tsp ground ginger if using ginger syrup, 2 tsp. if using golden syrup. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix up the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Sieve or whisk to bring up the air in the bowl. Meanwhile, heat the stick of butter, the sugar and the syrup in a saucepan until melted. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix. Then, working quickly with floured hands, shape dough into balls about the size of a walnut. If you need more flour, add my tablespoon till the texture feels light yet not runny. Place on parchment sheets on cookie pans. Leave quite a bit of space between each biscuit as they flatten and spread.Press the back of a fork into the dough as it rests on the cookie sheet. Bake for 8 minutes, then move to lower shelf of oven and cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from oven, carefully bang the pan on the counter – this causes the cookie to crack attractively. (It is not really necessary to do this but the recipe says to.) Let cool and harden on the parchment in the pan before removing to a parchment paper lined plate to cool completely. *Both golden syrup and ginger syrup can be found at import stores. I get mine at Cost Plus.

News and Potatoes For Halloween

I have some exciting news. My novel, Lipstick On the Strawberry, has been contracted to be published by The Wild Rose Press. Can’t give a publication date yet, but I love working with the team at Wild Rose, so supportive and professional! With that in mind, I’m changing the focus of my blog. My heroine, Camilla, is a British- born caterer. Much maligned, British food has been re-invented in the past generation. As well it should, because the natural ingredients were always there. So watch this space for a new take on old foods, or a revival of some British food treasures. Potatoes For Halloween I’m making mashed potatoes for Halloween. Of course if costumed kids come to the door, they’ll get to scrabble in the big bowl of wrapped candies and chocolates and take as much as they like. But potatoes are actually a treat for us, full of carbs as they are. In fact, they are a pretty nutritious food, which is why, in Ireland, where they grow so well in the cool damp climate, the people came to rely on them as their major source of sustenance. In the 1840s a fungus attacked the crop, with disastrous results. I have three Irish great-great grandmothers. They all emigrated during the Great Famine. In honor of them, I will eat the potato dish “Champ” this Halloween. It’s an old Irish tradition. In ancient Ireland, all the potatoes and other crops were gathered as deep fall set in. The New Year was set to start on November 1, and on its eve, the Celtic people lit huge fires. Praying for survival through the long winter, the Druid priests made sacrifices, possibly even human sacrifices. It seems to have been a night of some terror. On October 31, the souls of the departed left their graves, it was believed, and haunted the living. The people wore costumes (maybe animal heads in the beginning, later more elaborate), to try to trick the ghosts or to disguise their own nasty deeds. The next morning the Celts scraped up of the ashes of the fire and the Druid priests lit new ones to bring in the New Year, Samhain. Feasts were part of Samhain, and on its eve the fairies needed to be fed too. So boiled potatoes were mixed with scallions, chives or parsley and mashed with milk and butter. A bowl of the delicious mash would be lain under a hawthorn bush for the sprites/spirits to devour. Champ is similar to Colcannon, another Irish dish. Colcannon swaps chopped cabbage for chives or scallions, but any way you make it, the creamy dish is perfect for a cold evening. Champ – to serve 4 2 1/2 lbs Russet potatoes 4 oz butter divided into two pieces. 1 cup whole milk or half and half (if making for company, why not go for the rich stuff?) 2 tsp salt 1 bunch scallions, chopped fine 2 tbs chopped parsley Place the scrubbed, unpeeled potatoes in a large pot and fill with cold water to a level just above the potatoes. Add 1 tsp. salt and bring the pot to the boil, covered. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the potatoes can be pierced with a knife. Now heat 2 oz butter in a small pot, and in another pot place the diced scallions and pour the milk over them. Bring to a simmer, but do not boil. Drain the potatoes, saving the water in case the milk is not quite enough for a good mash. Peel the potatoes. (Use gloves if they are too hot!) Put the potatoes back into the large pot and mix in the melted butter with a wooden spoon. Adding the butter before the milk allows it to bind to the potatoes, making them more flavorful. Gradually add the warmed scallions and milk and 1 tsp. salt, and mash. Toss in the chopped parsley. Traditionally champ is served in a large communal bowl. Make a well in the center and place the other 2 oz of butter in the middle. Absolutely yummy! Beats candy any time.