Hot from the oven, drizzled in corn syrup, bread pudding was one of his favorites. Suzanne Collin’s The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Bread pudding. Ahhh blessed bread pudding. The Kitchen here has been making it come cooler weather every year for at least one hundred and fifty years, according to a note from a visitor reprinted in The Sleeping Hedgehog that raved about it.
Now good bread pudding is not a matter of tossing together stale bread (Mrs. Ware disdains the idea of using it), adding cream and eggs, tossing in spicing, and baking off ’til ready to eat. So, it’s more complicated than that. So you need the right bread – something too light nor too heavy. The Estate version uses a brioche style bread that is fairly light and absorbs flavours well.
The other ingredients are just as crucial – eggs and whole milk, bittersweet chocolate, nutmeg and cinnamon. Yes, bittersweet chocolate. And Mrs. Ware, our current Head Cook, swears anything less than whole milk isn’t milk at all.
Now let’s check out this edition while the bread pudding is being baked off…
Camille liked just about everything about Jessica Reisman’s YA science fiction novel The Z Radiant except its cover, which she says is the worst ever. ‘Being swept along by The Z Radiant is like being swept along by a river with deep currents; sometimes you float along the warm surface amid the shimmer of light glancing from the shallows, and other times you feel the cold gripping your legs, leaving you gasping for breath.’
Craig compares and contrasts a novel and two biographies about the notorious bank robber Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd. ‘These three books – all mainly about the same subject and all written in vastly different manners – combine to paint a picture of a legendary figure. The two bios, while repeating much the same material, approached their subject from different points of view. Additionally, McMurtry and Ossana chose to exemplify Charley Floyd’s heroic status through the convention of fictionalized storytelling. I found the differing methods to be equally successful in portraying different aspects of the man who was Charles Arthur Floyd; and I found it very interesting that I was able to glean the authors’ opinions on their subject through their words.’
Donna was interested in the topic of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s The Age of Homespun but found the book frustrating. ‘Alas, I am not convinced that even an avid “textilian” — i.e., a textile historian — would find it terribly interesting or useful. The amount of historical detail is too great and simultaneously too chaotic for the book to pass muster as good scholarship.’
Gary continues his review of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle with the second book, The Confusion, which picks up shortly after Quicksilver ended: ‘As we enter the final decade of the 17th century, Eliza (now the Countess de la Zeur) is in the busy port town of Dunkirk; Jack Shaftoe, King of the Vagabonds, is enslaved by Ottomans in Algiers, and Daniel Waterhouse is dithering (as is his wont) in London, where he is supposed to be trying to get Isaac Newton out of his alchemical doldrums and back into the mainstream of the vast changes sweeping the world during what we now call the Enlightenment.’
Elizabeth had high hopes for David Stahler Jr.’s Truesight, a YA science fiction novel about a planet where everyone is blind. ‘I really wanted to enjoy this novel, but despite the original and creative concept, the execution was, sadly, very predictable. Anyone who has read Lois Lowry’s The Giver will recognize several similarities between the two books and will subsequently be able to determine what happens at the end without too much trouble.’
Jessica had good words for Alice Hoffman’s Green Angel, a post-apocalyptic novel aimed at the YA audience. ‘It was such a sad book, and the sadness was real. Hints of magic were woven so deftly into the world — which, as in fairytales, had places named what they were, like “the city” or “the village”— that they were real too. While it was a book about sad things, it’s important to note that it was not depressing. The conclusion was so natural (and yet, I didn’t really see it coming; not the way it did, anyway) that I closed the book immensely satisfied and wishing that I’d paused at each chapter, for air, instead of hurtling through the whole story like a bookworm on fifty pounds of coffee.’
Kate found herself adrift in Alice Hoffman’s Water Tales, so she turned to members of its target audience, her own kids. ‘It turns out that these short novels are indeed of interest to children, and considering the cheers that meet our daily revisiting of these characters, I would have to recommend the book. Perhaps I would not encourage an adult to seek a fulfilling read here, but I can say for sure that my kids will be passing it on to friends of their own.’
Nellie got a lot of information out of a book all about medicinal herbs by Shatoiya de la Tour. ‘Making medicines with Earth Mother Herbal is a simple and straightforward thing, taught with clear, concise directions. De la Tour provides a list of recommended tools, and ideas for setting up an herb room. She explains how to brew teas (there’s more to it than you might think), and shares her methods for formulating tinctures, oils, salves, capsules, pills, lozenges, compresses, poultices, and even suppositories, using dried and fresh herbs.’
Both of our culinary are of liquid nature this time, so let’s have Gary tell us about them.
He starts off with a loving look at Reid Mitenbuler’s Bourbon Empire which bears the subtitle of The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey: ‘If you enjoy reading about food and drink (and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t), or enjoy well-written popular history on any topic, you’ll like Bourbon Empire.’
Amy Stewart’s book might be a novel from its title but as he notes ‘No, it’s not a murder mystery or a light romantic comedy. The Drunken Botanist is a botanical exploration of “The plants that create the world’s great drinks,” as its subtitle says.’
Donna said she only had one complaint about the first season of the FX drama Sons of Anarchy on DVD was that ‘… it was so damn’ good I had a hard time getting engaged in any other series after we watched Episode Thirteen. Oh, I guess that’s not a complaint! That’s a compliment!’
April says Air: Letters from Lost Countries, by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker, is off to a promising start as a series. ‘The story is unpredictable, engaging and impossible to set aside. Blythe herself is simply marvelous. No shrinking violet, despite her crippling fear of the sky, she’s also not a stereotypical “plucky heroine.” She’s flawed, but also intelligent, resilient and someone readers can readily root for.’
Big Earl was favorably impressed by a compilation of Texas blues called From Hell To Gone And Back. ‘Compared to similar offerings by other labels, From Hell To Gone And Back: Texas Blues provides a pretty broad overview of the genre, and a fairly consistent one at that. In this era of the cheap-buck blues compilations, Vanguard’s Texas Blues sounds like a labour of love. Definitely worth the price.’
Christopher was lukewarm about an album from smallpipes player Dick Hensold. ‘Big Music for Northumbrian Smallpipes isn’t going to go down in my list of classic albums – the smallpipes remain a fairly brash instrument however skilfully they are played, and at times (like on Hensold’s variations on ‘My Ain Kind Dearie’) the album is more of a technical than a musical achievement. Nonetheless, this is recommended for open-minded music fans and a must for anyone with an interest in the smallpipes.’
Gary says one of his favorite songs of the season comes from the album Fiction and Folkore by the group Lakvar. ‘They’re a big ensemble of at least seven musicians from all over central and eastern Europe, based in Stuttgart, playing a rock-influenced version of Eastern European folk music.’ The music, he says, is ‘…rooted in folk traditions (“folklore”) but swept together from numerous sometimes disparate corners of Europe, vigorously stirred and shaken (“fiction”) by these musicians from different cultures, traditions, and genres.’
Gary also reviewed a big handful of folk rock releases from all over Russia and adjacent lands in this omnibus review. They include A Iz Pod Goroda (From the Town) by Narechie’s , who ‘specialize in the Russian style of polyphonic singing by male and female voices, accompanied by musical backing that ranges from gentle lilting folk rock to heavy, bluesy prog’; Galki, from Аratseya who ‘play Belarusian folk songs in a setting that combines traditional and modern elements, and also mixes traditional songs with modern rock and pop hits’; Elem’s Northern Spirituals by these St. Petersburg based fans of gothic Americana and noisy rock by the likes of Swans, PJ Harvey, Pink Floyd and Neil Young; Runara’s Way of the Sun: ‘The dozen songs on the album are a mix of acoustic folk and folk rock, built around themes and stories from folklore, fantasy, and the like’; and the neofolk Northstar by Aina, a singer from Tura, the capital city of Evenkia, who comes from a long line of reindeer herders who enjoyed singing and round dancing.
Gary found it a little hard to summarize Refrains of the Day Volume 1 by Pidgins. It employs percussion, synthesizers, and processed vocals and sounds as the soundtrack for videos cribbed together from stock sources, reimagining self-help and business jargon as modern mantras. ‘Percussionist Milo Tamez uses a wide variety of traditional hand and “talking” drums, to which he also adds gongs, rattles, chimes and more. Vocalist and sound manipulator Aaron With employs an even wider array of sounds including synthetically processed chants and (quoting from the one-sheet): Cristal Baschet, pitched cicadas, glass armonica, filter-tuned rainforest field recordings, metal resonances, circuit-bent Speak ‘N Spell, Laotian Kheng, Chinese Sheng, scraped m’biras, hurdy-gurdy, nightjars and owls, and torn cardboard.’
Gary also speaks highly of Fear of Falling Stars, the new album from Kristen Grainger & True North. ‘Every song is filled with little details that make big differences – in production, writing, playing, and singing. Grainger’s songwriting keeps getting more incisive and her singing more nuanced with each outing. Don’t miss this one if you enjoy acoustic Americana with a lot of heart, sharp songwriting, and, as Kristen puts it, “harmonies stacked like cordwood.” ‘
Jeff was highly impresed by an album called The Wilderness Years by Texas bluesman TW Henderson and his band The Blues of Cain. ‘My lasting impression is of a substantial, fully-realized return to the fold of a complex man. Older, sadder, and perhaps wiser, TW Henderson sings and plays from the heart. The entire recording has a powerful cinematic feel, and left me with a strong sense of his life and times. I cannot listen to this CD without seeing TW walking along a dusty Texas highway, Strat over his shoulder, leaning into the ever-present wind.’
Lenora learned to like Ingrid Heldt’s Love Matters, once she adjusted her expectations. ‘This is not modern folk music. It’s a lovely album in the style of pre-rock pop, influenced by some modern singers, but just as often influenced by jazz. Except for the electric nature of the background, most of the songs could have been recorded in the forties. Ingrid Heldt’s vocal style, too, while high and beautiful, has an old feel, as if someone had magically stripped the scratches and crackle from an ancient record.’
Mike was gobsmacked by Dorris Henderson’s only solo full-length release, Here I Go Again, with good reason. ‘Dorris Henderson is a little bit of Libba Cotton, a little bit of Tom Waits at his classier turn of growl, a little bit of Holly Near, and a whole lot of that deep smoky soul to which contemporary American folk music turns a deaf ear. Never mind that roots stuff. This CD is a study in the bedrock.’
Robert was won over by a classic performance by Jascha Heifetz and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra of the Brahms and Tchaikovsky violin concertos. ‘As has become habitual with this series from Sony, there is not much to be said about the performances that can be said in less than superlatives: two of the great orchestral works for the violin by two of Europe’s greatest composers of the nineteenth century, performed by one of the greatest violinists of the twentieth century with an orchestra and conductor who have, perhaps, been equaled but arguably never surpassed, at least at the time these recordings were made.’
Stephen dove deep into Liz Carroll’s Lake Effect and came up with a question. ‘It should go without saying that this is a very fine CD indeed, composed (in the main), by a towering musical talent and performed by a group of musicians, each of whom is among the very best on his or her instrument. For all that, there’ll still be folks who’ll castigate Carroll for showcasing innovation and technique over tradition and soul. Do they have a point?’ Read further for his thoughts on the matter.
Our What Not this outing is a Folkmanis Mouse with Cheese puppet that got overlooked when it came so Reynard gives it a review now: ‘I’ve no idea when it came in for review, nor do I know how it ended up in the room off the Estate Kitchen that houses the centuries-old collection of cookbooks, restaurant menus and other culinary related material, but I just noticed a very adorable white mouse puppet holding a wedge of cheese in its paws there. Somebody had placed it in a white teacup on the middle of the large table so I really couldn’t overlook it. ’
So let’s finish off with some choice music from Nightnoise, to wit ‘Toys, Not Ties’ which was performed at Teatro Calderón de la Barca, which is a theater in Valladolid, Spain, on the 23rd of April twenty-six years ago. For more on this superb sort of Celtic band, go read our career retrospective here. Nightnoise had its origins in members of the Bothy Band and Skara Brae, august bands indeed, and also included fiddler Johnny Cunningham for a while.