Wednesday, May 02, 2007

CAST NE'ER A CLOUT TIL MAY BE OUT so the old saying has it - well the hawthorn blossom has been well and truly out for ages, in fact those Darling Buds of May have bloomed and gone, along with my Irises, and some of my roses too....what will be left to bloom come the summer?


I’m a huge fan of Anne Tyler, so when a friend lent me a copy of her latest (her 17th) novel: Digging to America, it didn’t join the teetering pile of books waiting to be read, I dived in straight away. I wasn’t disappointed.

In 1997 two very different families meet at Baltimore airport. The Donaldsons are very much the quintessential middle American couple, and the Yazdans are Iranian-Americans. Both families are at the airport to receive their newly adopted baby daughters who are arriving from South Korea, and from this unlikely start, a strong friendship begins between them. Bitsy Donaldson is the earth mother type, a former yoga teacher and weaver, she is very sure of herself and how to bring up her new daughter. She and her husband retain the child’s Korean name Jin-Ho, dress her in Korean clothes on high days and holidays, read her Korean folk tales, Bitsy is determined to be culturally sensitive at all costs. Sami and Ziba Yazdan on the other hand are first generation born Iranian-Americans, they instantly change their daughter’s name to Susan, and do all they can to get her to be assimilated as a true American.

On the first anniversary of the babies’ arrival Bitsy throws an “Arrival Party” complete with a cake iced to look like the Stars and Stripes, a video of the scene at the airport, and a jolly anthem. The Yazdans are of course invited to the party as Jin Ho and Susan arrived on the same plane. The following year it is the Yazdans who hold the “Arrival Party” with the same video and song and a vast buffet of Iranian food. From then on, the two families host the party on alternate years as the girls grow up, and the description of the parties serves to point out how the Yazdan’s are becoming more and more American even as Bitsy is trying to keep her daughter culturally separate. As the book progresses, the main character emerges almost from the sidelines, Maryam Yazdan, the mother of Sami and adopted grandmother to Susan. Even after 35 years as an American citizen she feels herself to be an outsider, and stands aloof observing the cultural dislocation of the Iranians, and both admiring and being repelled by contemporary American life.

Lighter in tone than some of Tyler’s previous novels, it is a wonderful dissection of identity, both national and personal, and an often hilarious take on suburban middle America.

It was only after finishing the book that I discovered that Anne Tyler’s late husband was Iranian, and from him and his family she must have gained the insight into the yawning gaps that lie between the two cultures, just waiting to trip the unwary.

Rated 4.5*


What do all these pictures have in common? And why would the dreaded gauleiters of Dorset County Council's Trading Standards Department be on the case of one of them? No idea? Here's a clue. There are NO Shepherds used in the making of Shepherd's Pie.
There are NO 'dicks' - spotted or otherwise - used in the making of Spotted Dick.
There are NO toads used in the making of Toad-in-the-Hole.
We are all used to funny peculiar names for certain foods, they are part of our culinary tradition and we don't expect the name of the food to be an exact list of the actual
ingredients. We are not fools. Recently Val Temple who has run the Sgt Bub Bakery in Weymouth for almost 30 years was paid a visit by the local Trading Standards Inspectors who said that "someone" had made a complaint that the names of the cakes didn't relate to what was in them. What, you mean they had really thought that the Robin tarts, the Pig Tarts, (just like her Froggie tart pictured here) contained Robin and pork and that the Paradise Slice came from Paradise? Oh what baloney, I don't believe anyone complained at all, I think this was just some under-employed, thick as pig-shit, meddlesome little jobsworth in the Trading Standards department causing trouble.
Ivan Hancock, the county's trading standards manager, said: "The fact is that food needs to be properly described so that the consumer can tell what it is."
Oh, that's consumers from Outer Mongolia or Mars is it? the rest of us know fine well that when we buy a little jam sponge tart iced with the picture of a robin redabreast and called - logically - Robin Tart, that it has no real robins in it. Presumably if it DID have robins in it the Trading Standards w***kers would be satisfied, but then the Royal Society for the Protection
of Birds would be breathing down Mrs Temples neck before she could sing "Rockin' robin, tweet, tweet."
Don't these people (paid for by the great British public by the way) have better things to do, like sort out dodgy car dealers, Nigerian scamsters, and crooks selling counterfeit perfume? Renaming cakes at reputable local bakery is just ludicrous.
I bet they'll be round at the local Indian take-away having words about Bombay Duck in a day or two.


At this time of year the strawberries which are piled up in the supermarkets are all from abroad, and don't have the flavour that makes you want to eat them unadorned, however
they are ideal with other ingredients.
I had 10 for dinner last Saturday, and having seen some rather large Spanish strawberries (which were reduced in price) and the tail end of the fresh rhubarb, I decided to combine them in these individual tarts. Strawberries and rhubarb are a combination made in heaven; when I was first married, my late M-i-L told me her tip of adding a couple of tablespoons of strawberry jam to rhubarb when stewing it or making crumble - deeelish!
I originally spotted this recipe in an execellent food blog called Joy of Baking, and tried it out on the family who gave it the thumbs-up.


Makes 8 individual tarts

400g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 rounded tablespoon caster sugar
230g chilled butter cut into pieces
60ml cold water

500g rhubarb (only use the really pink/red sticks of rhubarb)
500g strawberries
50g plain flour
200g granulated sugar

Pulse the flour, salt and butter together in a food processor until it looks like white breadcrumbs (this only takes seconds, don’t overdo it). Add the sugar and whiz together briefly. With machine running add the water and process until it forms a smooth ball of pastry. Wrap in greaseproof paper and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. If you want, you can make the pastry the previous day to save time.

Wipe the sticks of rhubarb and cut off the green ends of the sticks; then cut into 2cm pieces. Hull the strawberries and if they are large cut them up so they are similar in size to the rhubarb. Mix together the flour and sugar. In a large bowl mix the rhubarb and strawberry pieces and then the flour+sugar mix; make sure all the pieces of fruit are well coated.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C

Take the chilled pastry and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece out to form a circle approx 18cms in diameter. Trim the edges. Line two baking trays with baking parchement. One by one place the pastry circles on the baking trays, filling each one with about ½ cup of the fruit mix which you spread out to within 4-5 cms of the edge and then fold the pastry up around the filling, pleating and pinching it together but leaving the central part of the tart open.
Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is soft and bubbling.
Remove from the oven onto a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or very slightly warm, with either some crème fraiche or a scoop of vanilla icecream.


Charlotte said...

I loved Digging to America and thanks to you I now know why she was able to describe cultural divides and the Iranian immigrant's point of view so aptly. Anne Tyler is my book club's favourite author, and this one was slightly less of a favourite than some of her others, but I thought it was wonderful. So many millions of Americans are immigrants. It was great to see a writer addressing how immigrants feel and their relationship to their new compatriots.

Les said...

Just a quick note to let you know I'm enjoying your blog! I see that The Kite Runner is listed in your favorite books. I just read an ARC of his new book (A Thousand Splendid Suns) and absolutely loved it!! There's a review on my blog, if you're interested. Now I'm off to fix another cup of coffee and settle in and read more of your 3Rs. :)

Bybee said...

I really love the way you've decided to organize your blog. I'm bookmarking it right now.
Have you read "Toast" a memoir by Nigel Slater?

I'm a big Anne Tyler fan as well. Great review.

Ash said...

I'm going to buy that book now. I just read the first book I've read in about 2 years - Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marissa Pessl - and I loved it!

From a person who used to read a book a day to reading nothing at all for so long ... it made me realise what I've been missing.

Now I need something new that I won't feel tempted to either put down or read the end of before I get halfway through (horrible habit I know!)

herschelian said...

Charlotte: What else is your book club reading? next up for us is Suite Francaise which I read and blogged about last year.

Les: 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is on my wish list; how I have the gall to have a wish list I don't know - my TBR pile is sky high and I should be working my way through it first!

Bybee: I listened to Nigel Slater reading 'Toast' on the BBC last year, and must admit his attitude to his father got right up my nose. He seemed to be sneering at him which I thought very unfair. I do like his recipes though.

Ash: I hope you'll enjoy the Tyler as much as I did; I know what it's like when one gets into a reading desert, it's not always simple to find your way out.

Jeanne said...

I was on the verge of buying Digging to America at the airport last week but ended up buying a foodie mag instead ;-) I will definitely get hold of it - I have really enjoyed the last 2 books featuring cultural dislocation that I have read (Kite Runner and Inheritance of Loss) - I think it's an expat thing ;-)

The trading standards story is just the silliest thing ever if yuo ask me. As yuo say - public funds are limited - why not spend them on more useful enterprises like tackling antisocial behaviour?

And I'm intrigued by the strawberry/rhubarb combo. This is the second recipe I've seen this week featuring it and I'm going to have to try it!