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July 2013

Then + Now: Longwood House

IMG_2515Is anyone else wishing for some snow right about now?

Keep Cool With a Scare From Your Childhood

Summer seems to be the perfect time for scary stories.  The sun is out longer, so there is less time spent in the dark.   The howling wind is replaced by the chirping of cicadas.  What’s more, you’re less likely to mistake seeing your own breath in the cold of winter with the presence of an unhappy ghost. And after weeks spent watching Doctor Who, which features a lot of stories that touch on childhood fears and makes them real, it seems like a good time to reflect on the scary books of my youth.

Cover of The Witches by Roald Dahl

This is a witch in human costume! Think about how she would look like once the wig, face, and gloves come off.

The Witches by Roald Dahl
The gist:  Witches are real and they are an evil entity out to destroy children.  One boy and his grandmother plan to stop them.
The scary:  You learn not only how the witches look like (claws, toeless feet, and blue spit under that human disguise), but what they do to children (trap them inside paintings and turn them into hot dogs so they would be eaten).  And just look at that cover!

Babysitters Club Mystery – Stacey and the Haunted Masquerade by Ann M.Martin
The gist:  Yes, this is a Babysitters Club book, but it is an unusually scary one.  Stacey is on the planning committee for her school’s masquerade, but someone is vandalizing all the decorations.  And it may have something to do with the last masquerade, almost 30 years ago, which ended tragically.
The scary:  It involves a school dance that ended badly.  How does it not sound like Carrie?  Okay, I suppose this may only be scary to those who watched Carrie at an inappropriately young age.

Cover of Dollhouse MurdersDollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright
The gist:  Amy finds a dollhouse in her great-grandparents’ attic.  Then strange things start happening in the dollhouse – unexpected noises, lights getting turned on, and dolls not being where she left them.
The scary: The dollhouse is a replica of her great-grandparents house, where Amy is staying at, and the dolls are acting out a murder scene.  Also, I find that dolls are creepy enough (I only had stuffed animals as a child) without imbuing them with supernatural elements.

Brothers Grimm Version of all the Fairy Tales (available)
The gist:  The Brothers Grimm destroy your childhood version of fairy tale reality. The Brothers Grimm were German linguists who collected folktales – most of which are dark and violent.
The scary:  Amputation, mutilation, and cannibalism of the characters.

Cover of down a dark hallDown a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan
The gist:  Kit is sent to the exclusive boarding school, Blackwood, where her strange, but eerily realistic, dreams have her questioning what exactly is going on behind-the-scenes at Blackwood.
The scary:  You have an old posh-sounding boarding school with only four students (what kind of school is that?), long hallways that seem to go on forever, a creepy set of secondary characters, and bedroom doors that only lock from the outside.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding  (available)
The gist:  A bunch of British boys are marooned on an island, where their sense of civilization, society, and morality are quickly hacked away by paranoia, violence, and irrational groupthink.
The scary:  It convinces you that there is nothing more scary and more capable of evil than humans.   Read some Harry Potter after this to see good win over evil.

What were some of the scary books from your childhood and teen years?

Getting Gatsby Parties Right: Part II

photoIn my last post, I discussed the lack of food references in The Great Gatsby, and relied on some historical menus to give me a sense of what West Eggers would have eaten at Gatsby’s lavish parties. In the course of completing that post, I got inspired to create one of the few food items that is mentioned in the book–Daisy’s favorite desert: lemon cake.

Originally I had not planned to cook anything for this post, so when lemon cake inspiration hit, I went with a simple mug version that I could make with the ingredients I already had on hand (which, I figured out later, are pretty much the same ingredients for a full on cake, so I guess if I’d had a little more patience I could have made that instead).



I borrowed my recipe for Lemon Mug Cake from here, with just a few swaps: I used almond milk rather than cow’s milk, olive oil instead of vegetable oil, and whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. (This last swap turned out to be a bit of a mistake–more on that later). I also added a TON of lemon zest, almost a tablespoon and a half. The recipe doesn’t specify an amount, so I just went for it–I wanted this thing as lemony as I could get it.

image[1]I put the ingredients in a ramekin (oh, another swap!) and whisked them up. The whole thing came together in about 5 minutes, and that includes getting the inspiration to make this recipe in the first place–super easy. I popped the cake in the microwave for about a minute, then added about 45 seconds on until the top of the cake was dry.

I could smell the lemon when I pulled the cake out of the microwave, but I could also tell that my texture wasn’t exactly the light and fluffy cake the recipe’s picture had me expecting. My first taste confirmed it–this cake was dense. A quick internet search revealed that my whole wheat flour swap was likely the culprit. While the taste wasn’t affected at all, I think next time I would strive for a lighter texture by either using the traditional all purpose, or going with half and half.

imageFrankly, I think it is likely that Daisy would have turned her nose up at this cake (who am I kidding, Gatsby would never have let her see it, he was too concerned with everything being perfect). That said, if you find yourself wanting a taste of Daisy Buchanan’s favorite dessert, this is a quick and easy way to satisfy your urge. Just watch out for that whole wheat flour!

Getting Gatsby Parties Right: Part I

The Aristocrat

From NYPL’s “What’s on the Menu” project

In the novel The Great Gatsby there are only 5 references to solid food (among plenty of references to champagne and other alcohols). Since the release of the new film adaptation of the book, it seems that people everywhere, from Martha Stewart to literally everyone on Pinterest, are giving out tips for throwing a Great Gatsby party. While lining up a cocktail menu is a no-brainer, it is significantly more difficult to determine what food to serve, given the lack a food references in the book. To find out what the glitterati of West Egg would have been eating, I did some historical digging in the New York Public Library’s amazing online archive of historical menus. The library (with help from volunteers) is transcribing historical menus dating back to the 1850s–and there are plenty of menus from the 1920s to help us get a clearer picture of what Jay Gatsby may have been serving.

I looked at 6 menus in particular, basing my choices solely on which names sounded the poshest–and therefore may have been the kind of food Gatsby would have tried to emulate at his lavish parties: Hotel Astor, Yale Club, Mandarin, Hotel Chelsea, The Waldorf Astoria and The Aristicrat.


Mmm, luxury

A few trends emerged looking through these menus from the early ‘20s. Four of the six restaurants offered celery as an appetizer. Which is weird. Also, a plate of celery cost $5 at the Yale Club and $2 at Hotel Astor, so Yale was clearly inflating their prices.

French dressing, Russian dressing and Mayonaise appeared as condiments on 5 menus, and on all 6 menus the proteins listed were also given names. Lobster Cardinal, Shrimp Newburg, Sweetbreads Montebello Style, Chicken Jeruselem, Chicken Maryland, Chicken Italienne, Chicken Raphael–if I didn’t know better I would think Bubba Gump wrote some of these menus. 

So, if you are planning to throw an historically accurate Great Gatsby party, be sure to serve some celery and Chicken (Insert Name Here) along with your champagne and gratuitous excess.

Check back next week for Part II of this post where I create my own version of Daisy Buchanan’s favorite dessert!