Arrived back at Joan’s just in time for dinner. To it came Doris Lessing (you know who she is, a best-selling English writer of the Angry Young school) . . . and, joy of joys, 12-year-old Peter Lessing, who had learned about Benjy’s arrival and has planned his whole Easter vacation around showing Benj London! Peter is a super-nice boy, and he and Benj became bosom friends immediately. He called for Benj early this morning, they got back at 6 p.m., having seen all the science museums, walked for miles all over London, ridden on top of innumerable buses, etc. Peter phoned here at one point to say he decided Benj should “see the West End,” so we thought they were probably having cocktails at the Savoy.”

– Jessica Mitford, in a 1959 letter to her husband.

I am currently working my way through the behemoth that is Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford. It’s a long process, but I’m enjoying it. If I had to choose my favourite Mitford, it’d probably be her so far.

Two major things keep jumping out at me:

1) She did a lot of civil rights work in the States, and – while there are of course major differences – her descriptions of police brutality and general mistreatment towards black Americans in the ’50s feel disturbingly current.

2) Books of letters are often my favourite form of biography. While they are necessarily one-sided (probably because they are one-sided), they can feel the most intimate. I wonder how long this kind of book will survive, considering our society’s almost-certain trudge toward electronic ways of keeping in touch. Of course I have sent “real” letters, but these days, as with millions of others, most of my communication takes place via email. Or worse. My brother and I Skype often, but outside from that we’ve started communicating primarily through the un-searchable, probably un-archived messaging feature in Words With Friends. Imagine someone making a book out of your Words With Friends messages? The HORROR.

I try to be a good emailer, to write an email with the same amount of care as I would a letter, but it doesn’t always happen. They are often shorter than a letter. And, of course, they feel temporary. How long will emailing remain popular? I’m thinking now of the stack of old floppy disks I have in storage in my basement. I no longer have any way to see what’s on those disks. When was the last time you saw an A: drive? That change happened before I even noticed it. I wonder how many of my most important emails will just slip away one day.

Last week, a couple of friends visiting from New Zealand let me tag along with them to Niagara Falls. I hadn’t been there in several years, and before that I swore off going ever again thanks to childhood overexposure. But this trip there was possibly the best one I’ve taken.

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The weather wasn’t very cold, but it was cold enough to freeze the mist from the Falls where it landed. It reminded me of last year’s ice storm, but without the danger.

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We weren’t the only ones enjoying the off-season views. And off-season views tend to be my favourite ones.

But then one day, you know, I suddenly realized with an absolute shock that there never was going to be a convenient time, and that if I didn’t make a beginning, I would be saying to my grandchildren, ‘What I really wanted to be was a writer.’ So I had to make time.

– PD James, interviewed on CBC’s Writers & Company

I’d never read anything by PD James. Even so, today I listened to an interview she did on the CBC’s Writers & Company, re-aired after her death. I found many things about her that I could relate to, especially the quote above.

I listened to the interview while I was making lunch (the time-consuming but delicious carrot soup with rice I’d posted about earlier), and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish I’d “discovered” her earlier.

The full interview is here.

nov17

One year ago today, my husband and I put in an offer on our house, the second one we ever looked at. We weren’t even expecting to buy anything that day; it was our first time house-hunting and we just wanted to see what was out there. We looked at four houses altogether, but we couldn’t stop thinking about this one. Nothing compared. I’d had my heart set on Dundas, and believed our perfect home would be there. I never expected to be so charmed and intrigued by Hamilton, and I never expected our house-hunting experience would be over within hours. I think we got three hours of sleep that night.

We had to wait two months before closing and before we could move in, and it felt like ages. Now it feels like all that was mere weeks ago. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year.

Since I last cooked from my c.1938 copy of Mrs Beeton’s Household Management, I’ve wanted to try another recipe. I marked out a few contenders that didn’t necessitate sourcing a pheasant or a sheep’s head, and today’s lunch was: Carrot Soup with Rice. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients – 2 pints of white second stock, 1 pint of milk, 5 large carrots, 1 onion, 1 strip of celery, 1 leek (the white part only), 1 1/2 ozs of butter, 1 tablespoonful of cornflour, 2 tablespoonfuls of cream, 2 tablespoonfuls of cooked rice, salt, pepper, sugar, nutmeg.

Method – Use only the outer red part of the carrots. Cut all the vegetables into small pieces, and cook them for 10 or 15 minutes in hot butter without browning. Add the stock and simmer until the vegetables are tender (about 40 minutes), then rub them through a fine sieve. Return to the stewpan, add the milk, salt, pepper, and a little nutmeg, and bring to the boil. Mix the cornflour with a small quantity of stock or milk, pour it into the soup and stir for a few minutes, then add a good pinch of sugar, the cream, and the rice (which should be nicely cooked, and dry), and serve.

Time – 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Seasonable at any time. Sufficient for 6 persons.

There were a few things I did differently: 1) I used chicken stock instead of “second stock;” 2) I used flour instead of cornflour/cornstarch; and 3) I used a blender instead of the fine sieve (I did try the sieve, but had no luck).

A little before and after:

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In the middle of this process was that incredible smell of veggies cooking in butter. There really isn’t anything better.