My Uncle Pete, nearing 90, has not been feeling like himself lately. We don’t get to see him often as he and my Aunty Inez live in San Diego. This Thanksgiving I thought it would be nice to make Inez’s famous Filipino/Irish potato rolls, which she used to make at least once a week. This way, they would both be with us, at least while we chawed down on the buttery flakiness that is this splendid bread. If anyone wants the recipe, e-mail me! I share. They make something like four dozen rolls and, while somewhat time-consuming, you will not find a better friend to ham, or butter…or both.
Every weekend we visited Aunty, Uncle and the five cousins in Vallejo. My mom needed to haul my three brothers up there so they could get some male discipline from Uncle (she was a single parent during those years) and so she could take a break from working and yelling and lay down somewhere with an aspirin and a cold washcloth (or maybe go out on a date, I can’t remember). One male discipline example: if anyone mouthed off they would be kneeling on raw rice for a while. Not too long, just enough time to reorganize priorities. His daughter and I were usually on kitchen duty; we wouldn’t get punished anyway. My girl cousin made sure she dished out some potent misery by ostracizing me with her straight hair and blonde friends. But my four male cousins would take turns snapping us up in rollaway beds to play “Meet the Press”… which really meant spinning us around while trapped in the beds. Good times. I was lucky enough to have my Nana, who always let me talk her into taking the Greyhound bus to Vallejo. Back then it was clean and civilized and I always got a Betty & Veronica comic book for the ride. Funny thing is, we all got along really well, despite the ruckus. And Aunty and Uncle loved us unconditionally, despite the very serious lines that must not be crossed.
I try to remember all these things while living here with the in-laws. Sometimes it’s hard because, for instance, my house very often smells like a combination of onions, clams and rose neroli oil. And it’s tough to bake away your depression when you cannot get into your own kitchen. Then my head tries to pop itself off my shoulders!
So, I read. And here’s what I’ve read this past week:
Chomp, by Carl Hiaason. A teen book, but awfully funny for adults. This is a great gift for your light-reading teen. Hiaason brings Florida to your doorstep while inserting some important environmental lessons. He writes about what he knows and he knows a lot about the wilds of Florida, and all the lovable, cagey eccentrics living there. His kids are normal, smart and independent. I can barely look at photos of reptiles but I was fascinated by all the snake and alligator facts. Warning: there is an abusive adult in the book, so this is for age 12 and up.
The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton. I really liked her other books, but you have to be patient with Kate. She’s not afraid to string you along, doling out tidbits of mystery like a cheap hostess at a cocktail party. She rewards you in the end, even if her revelations are not extraordinary; by the time you get to the end you’re swept up in the period and at least one or two of the characters. This time around it’s a 60 year-old-actress trying to solve the puzzle of her mom’s secret past. As a girl she witnessed her mother murder a stranger, but it was never spoken of again in her happy normal family. However, I do admire her for using an “older” protagonist who’s not romantically attached. And, if you’re looking for a serious escapist novel, this is a decent choice.
The Beautiful Mystery, by Louise Penny. I love her rock-solid Quebec-based Inspector Gamache and the town he seems to always be investigating; it has more quirkiness and convoluted murder plots than anything Inspector Morse could dish up. This latest entry brings you inside a remote monastery, where – surprise – a monk has been murdered. Not only does this upset the calm among the brethren (is it calm or is it sinister?) it ripples the waters of an already precarious relationship between Gamache and Beauvoir, his underling detective. Penny is a good writer – and I’m really fussy about mysteries – but this one was really sad. That said, I liked the monastery and monk life details and being inside the head of an addict, fiction though it is.
Sutton, by J. R. Moehringer. Written by the author of The Tender Bar, this is a great choice for the bio-loving friend who wants to dip his/her toe into fiction. Or the History Guy who knows too many facts about Prussia and wants to share. I haven’t even finished it yet and I love it. And I read biographies as often as I read computer manuals. Part gritty crime novel, part romance, it’s a fine period piece about a criminal and what his sole motivation might have been.