Margaret Ann Spence Coming Home

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos/The Scientist and the Forger

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
By Dominic Smith
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016

The Scientist and the Forger
By Jehane Ragai
Imperial College Press, 2015
Some books hook you so that, coming to the end, you try to prolong the experience, slowing down to inhale every last word. That’s how I felt when I read The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. Set in three time periods and places, the mid-sixteen hundreds in Holland, the mid -nineteen fifties in New York, and in Sydney in 2000, the novel’s central figure is Sara de Vos, a (fictional) painter who worked in the Dutch Golden Age, the time and place of Vermeer and Rembrandt. One of her paintings is inherited by Martjin de Groot, a New York lawyer. Ellie Shipley, a struggling fine arts graduate student who supports herself by restoring paintings, agrees to copy the painting for a shady art dealer. So clever is her forgery, done entirely from photographs, that after the original painting is stolen and the forgery put in its place, de Groot does not realize it for some time. When he does, he tracks down the forger and exacts his revenge. Last summer I lunched with Jehane Ragai, a professor of chemistry who has written a book on art forgery. The book, The Scientist and the Forger, shows how sophisticated – x-ray techniques and mass spectrometry can detect forgeries. Yet they continue. Jehane is fascinated by the mind of the forger. If someone is so highly skilled that they can execute a magnificent work of art, why would they not spend their energies on developing their own work? Jehane found in her research that money is not the main motivator. And in Dominic Smith’s novel the money is incidental. In fact, Shipley has trouble spending it. As in all good novels, the motivation for this character’s actions is buried deep in her past. One of Smith’s themes is misogyny and its persistence over the centuries. If women artists were overlooked, even denied the opportunity to paint certain subjects in the seventeenth century, they still faced severe career obstacles in the twentieth. De Vos and Shipley are central figures in this book but Rachel de Groot, Marty’s wife, deliberately shown only peripherally, is another victim of society’s contempt for women who fail to bear children. This theme of inheritance and its loss, for children who died, for children not born, for children not even conceived, reverberates through the novel. We imagine immortality through passing on our genes. But it is not the only way. Art, Dominic Smith shows us, survives blood lines. A painting, a physical object, can link us to another mind which lived long ago. Perhaps that is what really motivates the forger, the need to inhabit the brain of a true creator. That’s left unspoken in this novel. But the writing soars in its sections on Sara de Vos. She is a more fully fleshed and understandable character than de Groot or Shipley. And it is in the descriptions of Sara’s paintings and their effect on the viewer that Smith’s writing is at its finest. Recently, I heard Dominic Smith speak at a writers’ conference. I subsequently bought two of his books. I look forward to reading the next one – Bright and Distant Shores. This is a writer of prodigious gifts.

The Dying Beach

By Angela Savage Text Publishing 2013 Jayne Keeney is not your typical detective. As her author so deftly puts it on page 1 of this page-turning book, even her physical description defies the stereotype. Jayne, in her lover and partner Rajiv’s arms, has a moment of narcissistic pleasure when she thinks, “Being soft, white and fat had never felt so good.” People, place and purpose of the story are set in this first chapter. We learn that Jayne, a private investigator based in Thailand, has gone into business with her boyfriend, and they’re now on vacation in the resort area of Krabi, on the Andaman Sea. When they go to book a day trip with their favorite tour guide, they learn she is dead. Bodies pile up, the police aren’t interested, and Jayne’s relationship becomes frayed. That’s all classic detective drama, yet Savage keeps reminding us that Jayne is no typical private eye. With a nod to those of us who find expectations for female dress and behavior suffocating, even in fiction, this author gives us a wonderful picture of Jayne. A man named Paul “expected someone glamorous, not the frump who met him at the guesthouse reception desk…She couldn’t have been more than thirty-five, but her clothes were the sort his grandmother might wear.” Jayne isn’t the slightest bit interested in feminism, or its opposite, glamour, but just gets on with the job. One of the glories of Angela Savage’s writing is her gift for physical description. We see  dazzling beaches, snake farms, orchids, braziers sizzling with barbequed food, mosquito-deterring curtains of stringed shells. Dialogue is interspersed with Thai phrases whose meaning is apparent. Corruption and beauty intermingle. It was in her class on scene and setting that I met the delightful Angela Savage. She was visiting the U.S. for the very first time, she said, as a presenter at the Arizona State University’s Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference. (See Angela’s blog on the conference and shared on my Facebook post) Angela, a former community aid worker in Asia, started winning awards with her first book, Behind The Night Bazaar, before it was even published. The Dying Beach is her third novel. I hope there will be many more.

How Book Club Questions Can Help The Author As She Writes

My experience with book clubs has been enjoyable, but as guides to reading fiction, they’ve tended to go off the point. Depending on the quality of the food, or let’s just blame the wine (both always necessary!), the discussion meanders into participants' marital problems, politics, or neighborhood gossip. Great, bonding evenings. Many book groups have lasted for years. It matters little if participants like the book or pan it, the novel is often just the excuse for getting together. That’s all wonderful, and was for me, too, until a friend suggested me that being a writer must spoil the experience of reading, because it would become too analytical. Not true. I can get swept up in the power of good prose just as much as I ever did. It’s just that now I know that every sentence did not get there by magic – it was planned. Now that I review fiction and try to write it as well as I can, I’ve found that “book club questions” (for those that actually ask them) really help in thinking about a novel. I found these from a site called The most interesting thing for me as a writer, is that these questions sharpened my thinking about how to put a story together, or at an even earlier stage, how to pre-write a novel. questions 1, 4 and 7 are questions only the reader can answer. But as a writer I can see I have to ask questions 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 before I even put a word to paper. Do these questions help you in figuring out how a novel works? 1. How did you experience the book? Were you engaged immediately, or did it take you a while to “get into it”? How did you feel reading it—amused, sad, disturbed, confused, bored…? 2. Describe the main characters—personality traits, motivations, and inner qualities. • Why do characters do what they do? • Are their actions justified? • Describe the dynamics between characters (in a marriage, family, or friendship). • How has the past shaped their lives? • Do you admire or disapprove of them? • Do they remind you of people you know? 3. Are the main characters dynamic—changing or maturing by the end of the book? Do they learn about themselves, how the world works and their role in it? 4. Discuss the plot: • Is it engaging—do you find the story interesting? • Is this a plot-driven book—a fast-paced page-turner? • Does the plot unfold slowly with a focus on character? • Were you surprised by complications, twists & turns? • Did you find the plot predictable, even formulaic? 5. Talk about the book’s structure. • Is it a continuous story… or interlocking short stories? • Does the time-line move forward chronologically? • Does time shift back & forth from past to present? • Is there a single viewpoint or shifting viewpoints? • Why might the author have chosen to tell the story the way he or she did? • What difference does the structure make in the way  you read or understand the book? 6. What main ideas—themes—does the author explore? (Consider the title, often a clue to a theme.) Does the author use symbols to reinforce the main ideas? (See the free LitCourses on both Symbol and Theme.) 7. What passages strike you as insightful, even profound? Perhaps a bit of dialog that’s funny or poignant or that encapsulates a character? Maybe there’s a particular comment that states the book’s thematic concerns? 8. Is the ending satisfying? If so, why? If not, why not… and how would you change it? Thanks, for putting together this thoughtful list!

Two Novels About Slightly Eccentric Chefs

The Glass Kitchen: A Novel of Sisters by Linda Francis Lee St. Martin’s Press, 2014 Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter Penguin Books, 2008 Portia Cuthcart senses what other people will want to eat when faced with a life-changing decision. She’s compelled to buy the ingredients and cook the food even before the recipients show up. That’s the quirk that propels this delightful, slightly fantastic novel by Linda Francis Lee. Portia is the youngest of three sisters, and the only one with the “knowing” The Glass Kitchen is the name of her grandmother’s restaurant, and in the end Portia gets her prince, a wealthy businessman named Gabriel Kane. The allusions to the Cinderella story are clear, but this plot deviates from the expected. Portia and her sisters, we are told, grew up in a trailer in Texas, yet each moves easily now in the circles of financiers and politicians. The sisters are nice, not nasty. They all now live in Manhattan, and Portia makes her home in the basement of her late aunt’s brownstone. The other sisters sold their shares of the house to Gabriel Kane, who acts as though Portia should have departed as well. But he and she start an affair, and she can’t leave, basically because in addition to falling in love with the diffident Gabriel, she’s also attached to his twelve-year-old daughter, Ariel. Ariel is the true heart of this story. She’s a perceptive and intrepid little girl, desperate for love and stability following the death of her mother. Her older sister Miranda is rebellious and as unkind as teenagers can be. Ariel and Portia bond as youngest siblings whose mothers died young when Portia is hired as the Kane family cook. It’s Ariel who uncovers this family’s secrets. Lee shines in her ability to convey the world of a child on the edge of adolescence. We’re kept on tenterhooks as Ariel navigates the cabs and trains of New York on her own and secretly to get to the government department where birth records are kept. The book begins with Portia’s awareness of the family’s panic when one of her older sisters goes missing for a few hours, and this theme is continued in Francis’ description of Miranda Gabriel’s teenage behavior. How do we grow up and separate ourselves from our parents to be independent human beings, and how do we do that under the circumstances of a parent’s death, when that caretaker is no longer around? Chez Moi is a charming read. A French woman, Myriam, we learn over the opening pages of this book, is divorced or separated from her husband and son, has not seen them for six years, has lost her job and is penniless, and in desperation, takes out loans to start a restaurant. She’s so poor she sleeps on a banquette in the tiny dining room, bathes in the kitchen sink, and shops, because she has no car, in the mini-mart. From this unpromising position, she produces fabulous meals. At first no one comes to the restaurant. Not surprisingly, because she has been too busy and too poor to put up a sign. But then, two students appear and become regulars. They send her an assistant, a fellow student, Ben. As a novelistic creation Ben seems to have magic powers. He is kind, helpful, generous, takes no salary, and makes the restaurant a success. He seems to have no bad qualities. Normally this would be a set up for a betrayal but that’s not where this story goes. So is he really magical, or is this story about what happens when a woman comes out of a years-long depression caused by a terrible marriage and finds that ordinary people can be kind? There are no recipes in this book but the food descriptions are quite mouth-watering. I read this book in a single sitting.

Helen Garner

Everywhere I Look By Helen Garner Text Publishing Company, 2016 Joe Cinque’s Consolation By Helen Garner Picador, 2004 Wry observations on the damage aging can do to one’s self-esteem? Uncomfortably honest musings about human behavior? Gorgeous writing – masterly prose – even in a diary – that confirms the author’s reputation as one of Australia’s greatest contemporary writers? All these thoughts came to mind when I read Helen Garner’s latest collection of essays, Everywhere I Look. It’s a mélange of previously published pieces and diary entries, displaying Garner’s characteristic humor, self-deprecation and brutal self-examination. Garner burst to fame with her novel, Monkey Grip, a story about young people living in squalor and on drugs in inner-city Melbourne. What shocked readers was the realism of the prose (Garner later said the book was based on her diaries) and the fact that the squatters were not derelicts but were middle-class young people who had chosen this life as a slap in the face to convention. She went on to write other novels and several books of non-fiction. One of these, This House of Grief, was reviewed earlier in these pages. Accused by some of drawing too literally on her personal experience and her friends’ lives, Garner is unnervingly honest in her depiction of her own less-than- saintly states of mind. Because she shows her own faults she allows us to feel compassion for those she writes about and for humanity in general. In later years she’s become particularly interested in murderers. She invites us to consider that any one of us could be pushed to the edge to commit a terrible act. In Joe Cinque’s Consolation, her account of the murder trial of law student Anu Singh, who killed her boyfriend, Garner asks, “But didn’t the fascination, the terror of her story lie in the fact that she embodied a barbaric force in each of us that we must at all costs control?” This is the question that underlies all Garner’s work. That urge to murder lies dormant in all of us, she suggests. It’s roused in war. It’s the reason we revel in TV shows about detectives. Then she asks, “What is sin? Is it the inability to imagine the suffering of others?” In her later books Garner comes back again and again to this question. Unsparing of herself, in Everywhere I Look she admits shame for her own youthful actions. To what degree, she implies, is narcissism justified? The artist must seek truth and live authentically. This necessarily involves some pain to others – some not seeing of their suffering. Again and again, Garner confronts the reader with her honesty, nudging us towards our own looking inward – and then towards compassion to ourselves and others. How honest must authors be? And is emotional honesty the hallmark of great writing?

Christmas Traditions Observed or Ignored

The 26th December was Boxing Day. That is, the day after Christmas, and in the U.K and the Commonwealth countries, a public holiday. A sort of gathering-of- wits-after- the-madness day. Boxing Day’s origins go back hundreds of years. The word “boxing” allegedly refers to boxes of money or other gifts being given to those who perform various services throughout the year. But why call the day by a present participle – “Boxing” rather than the more active “Box”? Perhaps if the gifts were things rather than money, it would take a long time to pack them up and so a whole day was allowed for this. I can relate. We’re doing a renovation here, and in preparation, I’m packing and packing boxes and boxes and boxes. Books, clothing, Christmas lights and ornaments, and kitchen knickknacks have all gone to Goodwill. I did not inflict my Christmas cake on my family this year. I have given up. After years of trying and often failing to concoct this nutrition – filled fruit cake according to various family recipes, I decided enough was enough. It’s too time consuming. It’s too expensive. It’s too calorie-laden. And Americans hate fruit cake. Now that’s because they have never tasted the true British, alcohol-soaked, immensely satisfying cake. If you don’t have a family recipe, one of my favorites is Nigella Lawson’s from her book, Nigella Christmas (New York, Hyperion, 2009). But it’s too late for all that. Christmas cake must be prepared at least six weeks ahead so the liquor can drench the fruits and preserve its soft, dark richness. I think the problem with those store-bought cakes that everyone claims to hate is that the crystallized fruit stays hard as plastic and about as appetizing in a dry, light colored cake. No wonder it is shoved into the trash can. This year I made a pavlova. If you’re Australian, as I am, the pavlova is a favorite special occasion dessert. It’s rich but not too rich, and actually very easy to make. All you need is egg whites, whipping cream and red berries such as strawberries or raspberries or both. The colors fit the Christmas spirit. Pavlova 6-8 egg whites (depending on number of guests) 1 cup super fine sugar (make by whizzing granulated sugar in the blender) 1 tsp distilled white vinegar Filling 1 pint whipping cream 1 tbs confectioners’ sugar 3/4 lb fresh raspberries, blueberries, strawberries etc. washed and dried with a paper towel. I like to macerate the fruit in 2 tbs sugar for an hour or two before serving, but this is to taste. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Take a pizza pan or cookie sheet and line it with parchment paper. Cut the paper into a 9 inch circle. In your stand mixer, whip the egg whites to a froth, then till soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, beating constantly, then the vinegar. Whip it all up till the mixture stands up in stiff peaks. With a spatula, place a big glob of the egg white mixture onto the middle of the parchment circle. Spread it out and create a hilly circle with the rest of the egg whites around the circumference. (Because the whites have been so thoroughly whipped this won’t fall down.) Place on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Then without disturbing the pavlova, turn off the oven open the oven door a little bit and let the pavlova sit in the cooling oven for at least another 30 minutes. This means it’s quite okay to go away and forget it for a while. When ready to serve, whip cream with 1 tbs confectioners’ sugar until stiff. With a spatula, lay over the pavlova to the edges. It will look hilly. Then put your fruit in the middle of the cream and serve.

Cookbooks As Literature

South Wind Cooked South Wind Through The Kitchen: The Best of Elizabeth David Edited by Jill Norman The North Point Press, 1999 Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation By Michael Pollan The Penguin Press, 2013 Changing Hands, our wonderful local bookstore, exchanges gently used books for store credit. So imagine my thrill when this weekend, I lugged an overflowing box of books from the car to the store, and received in exchange almost $50 in new purchases. I bought two novels and two cookbooks. I read cookbooks. Yes, I really read them as narrative, not just as recipe holders. So it was with pleasure that I delved into the writing of Elizabeth David and Michael Pollan. My mother cooked from a battered and stained Penguin copy of the British writer Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking. Mrs. David’s chatty, unpretentious books on the cuisine of Southern Europe began to transform the English palate a generation before Alice Waters did the same for Americans. Then again, the English had a harder hill to climb. Returning to Britain from a wartime job in the Middle East in 1946, Elizabeth David was horrified at the deprivation, and the “bleak triumph, which amounted almost to a hatred of humanity” with which rationed food was prepared. She started to write her memories of the sun-drenched food of the Mediterranean. In a career lasting over forty years, Mrs. David wrote nine books and countless articles in a breezy, amusing style. In French Provincial Cooking, she describes “soups delicately colored like summer dresses, coral, ivory, or pale green.” It was in search of similar lively writing that I turned to Michael Pollan’s Cooked. The book follows Pollan’s signature method. A journalist, Pollan interviews people who work rigorously to capture the essence of cooking. Each of his bakers, cheese-makers and fermenters returns to the very basics in an effort to understand the biological and chemical processes by which raw ingredients are transformed into digestible and nutritious food. The recipes are less important here than the descriptions of the years-long apprenticeships that each of these creative individuals undertook. Each was determined to unlearn the time-saving contemporary processed food-ways to return to fundamentals. This is food preparation from scratch, literally, from capturing yeast in the air to allowing bacteria to collect on wooden cheese paddles. Bacteria, which allowed to accumulate, crowd out more harmful germs. This book is the beginning, hopefully, of Pollan’s further investigation into the world of microbes.

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.