“Five Quarters of the Orange” and Documenting Time

“Green-tomato jam. Cut green tomatoes into pieces,like apples,and weigh them. Place in a bowl with 1 kg. of sugar to the same weight of the fruit. Awoke at  three again this morning and went to find my pills. Forgot again that I’d none left. When the sugar is melted,stir with a wooden spoon. I keep thinking that if I go to Raphaël he might find another supplier. I daren’t go to the Germans again,not after what happened. I’d rather die first. Then add the tomatoes and boil gently stirring very frequently…”

An excerpt from Five Quarters of the Orange – Joanne Harris

And so the mystery evolves in this book by Joanne Harris (she also wrote Chocolat). The above passage was written in a recipe journal/album left to the main character, Framboise Dartigen by her mother, Mirabelle. She describes the album as “not a diary…there are almost no dates in the album,no precise order. Pages were inserted into it at random,loose leaves later bound together with small,obsessive stitches….My mother marked the events of her life with recipes,dishes of her own invention or interpretations of old favorites. Food was her nostalgia,her celebration,its nurture and preparation, the sole outlet for her creativity.” The album also contained secret messages encoded by her mother based on personal events and tragedies that took place in her village of Les Laveuses during the German Occupation of Paris.

I truly enjoyed reading this book –  it was my summer read. I found it intriguing that the character, Mirabelle Dartigen, who was a widow, chose this creative way to document such a hard time in her life. She struggled with personal demons during a turbulent time in history. She used food as a bridge between herself and her three children to keep them connected to her. But her children, especially nine-year old Framboise, had some special secrets of their own and so the story unfolds. Joanne Harris weaves this tale so beautifully with her descriptive words and imaginative plot.

So I started thinking about my travel journals,”reflective thoughts” journals, poetry journals, recipes scribbled onto scraps of paper journals, notes/photos/drawings/pressed leaves and pansies tucked into gardening books or art books, half-finished songs and stories in spiral-ringed exercise books just waiting for a stage and a scrapbook marked “Christmas” containing holiday cookies and  fruit cake recipes, music recitals and present lists. I’ve always felt good about writing things down on paper and  documenting movements of time,thoughts, moments and memories. Today we have technology to help with documenting time – hence the reason I also write a blog. It’s slightly different, yet somewhat the same – it’s meant for sharing, it’s meant to inspire.

© 2012 Ann Ivy Male

“The Paris Wife” meets at “Midnight in Paris”

                       “The Paris Wife” meets at “Midnight in Paris”

© 2012 Ann Ivy Male

       Three travelling clocks……Tick

       On the mantelpiece………Comma

       But the young man is starving.

       Earnest Hemingway ,1921

Ever wonder what Paris was like in the twenties? We’ve  all heard that it was a magical time for artists, writers and musicians. Every café, every street corner and every bar had its usual suspects scouring the joint for inspiration and intellectual stimulation. The music was lively, the champagne flowed and the extravagance of the “roaring twenties” seemed indulgent but with a price to be paid at the end of the decade. Wouldn’t it be intriguing to experience what that time period was really like? Well then it certainly was appropriate that both, director Woody Allan and author Paula McLain gave us just that opportunity in, respectively, the film- Midnight in Paris and the book –The Paris Wife.

In the movie, Midnight in Paris –  Gil, a successful screen writer, finds himself in Paris with his fiancée, Inez, and her parents. He, like many writers, feels restless and uninspired. He’s writing a book but is protective of it and is unsure of how good it really is. His fiancée seems to be in her own pretentious world, oblivious to Gil’s aspirations. She is distracted by an old friend, the arrogant and scholarly, Paul. Understandable, Gil doesn’t connect with Paul and is quick to disengage himself from the group. One particular evening, Gil is lost and wanders the streets of Paris and as the clock strikes midnight, a vintage car pulls up beside him and a smartly dressed couple inside the car motion for Gil to hop in. Moments later, he finds himself in a confused yet exciting state of time travel when he’s at a bar and is introduced to the likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter and Earnest Hemingway. Gil is baffled yet intensely intrigued by his fortunate situation.

In a casual conversation with Hemingway at the infamous restaurant, Le Polidor, Gil nervously talks about his book and invites Hemingway to critique it. In true “earnest” fashion, Hemingway is quick to turn down the offer stating -“If it’s bad, I’ll hate it. If it’s good, then I’ll be envious and hate it even more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.”  Instead he passes the book along to Gertrude Stein to read.

Now enter – The Paris Wife.  Paula McLain wrote this beautiful historical fiction from the perspective of Hadley Hemingway, Earnest Hemingway’s first wife. The pair married in September,1921 and a few months later set sail for Paris, on the Leopoldina. 

We are immediately immersed into Hadley’s world as the supportive and naïve lonely wife of the brilliant yet moody and insecure budding writer. “We fell into a routine, rising together each morning and washing without talking, because the work had already begun in his head. After breakfast, he’d go off in his worn jacket and the sneakers with the hole at the heel. He’d walk to his room and struggle all day with his sentences………I missed Earnest’s  company , but he didn’t seem to miss mine, not while there was work to be done….” (The Paris Wife)

And as the story unfolds – Hadley’s life with Hemingway is filled with nights out at cafés and bars, socializing with the same ex-pats that Gil, from the movie, encounters in his time travel. Her days are simple and that of  individual survival.  She is sometimes resentful but strongly supports her husband’s desire to become an aspiring writer. The couple travel around Europe and even settle in Toronto temporarily, where Hemingway takes a job as a reporter for The Star and Hadley gives birth to their son, Bumby. As time moves on, Hadley continues to live in the shadows of the writer, often putting her own aspirations aside.  Their relationship is compromised many times as they endure the dark journey the writer faces on his way to being respected and eventually accepted as a true artist and a writer for the common man.

Both The Paris Wife and Midnight in Paris are insightful, entertaining and thought-provoking stories. They offer a glimpse into the struggles and self-doubt that writers and other artists face when trying to create authentic work. Earnest Hemingway and Gil Pender eventually find their true calling in life however, in turn, they both lose something precious along that way. The saving grace for both men is that they shared a passion for Paris – the magical city that ignited inspiration, curiosity spontaneity, creative solace and a temporary escape from reality.

Caramel Cake and The Help

The Help
Kathryn Stockett, 2009
Penguin Group USA
464 pp.

Summary  from the Publisher
“Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

In pitch-perfect voices, Kathryn Stockett creates three extraordinary women whose determination to start a movement of their own forever changes a town, and the way women—mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends—view one another. A deeply moving novel filled with poignancy, humor, and hope, The Help is a timeless and universal story about the lines we abide by, and the ones we don’t. ”

Book Club

Last evening’s book club discussion was centered around the above-mentioned book  “The Help”, followed by a screening of the movie. Everyone agreed that both, the book and the movie, encourages you to reflect on a time and place in history that seemed so unimaginable by today’s standards of how black people were treated. In the past fifty years, some progress has been made but as a society we still have a ways to go. Teaching our children the importance of accepting all races and colours may seem easy enough by setting examples at home and through discussion but it’s real life experiences that appear to leave the greatest impression. As portrayed in The Help, children at a very young age instinctively know about acceptance through the love they feel from their caregivers, regardless of their colour –  Aibileen reinforced to Mae Mobley every day  –  “you is kind, you is smart, you is important.”

On a lighter note, it’s always special when food plays an important role in every story. In the book/movie we are amused by Minny and her now infamous “Chocolate Pie” and the many uses for Crisco-besides it being a great fat for frying chicken (although I’m not sure our health-care specialists would agree to that today). A beautiful table is set with a spiral ham, greens, vegetables and jellied salad lovingly prepared by Ms. Celia who was taught to cook by Minny. Lastly, a warm caramel cake makes an appearance every now and then in the book. I decided to look up a recipe for Caramel Cake to bring to our book club gathering and here is what I found from http://www.epicurious.com – it was an easy,quick cake to make and every bite was scrumptious.

Caramel Cake

Ingredients

For cake

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour (not self-rising; sift before measuring)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For caramel glaze

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preparation

Make cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter an 8-inch square cake pan and line with a square of parchment paper, then butter parchment.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture may look curdled). Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

Make glaze:
Bring cream, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil until glaze registers 210 to 212°F on thermometer, 12 to 14 minutes, then stir in vanilla.

Put rack with cake in a shallow baking pan and pour hot glaze over top of cake, allowing it to run down sides. Cool until glaze is set, about 30 minutes.

Cooks’ note: Cake (before glazing) can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature

© 2012 Ann Ivy Male