Digesting the Written Word

I love my local library.   The building itself is beautiful.  It’s an old Carnegie library with a modern addition on one end.  The original building was constructed in 1914 with funds from the Carnegie Foundation.  In 2003, the “great hall” of the Carnegie building was restored to its original grandeur.  There is nothing better than curling up with a good book on a wing chair in front of the fireplace in the Carnegie section of the library.

As lovely as the building is, however, my favourite thing about the library is its wonderful and ever-growing collection of books.  I feel like a kid in a candy store when I’m surrounded by all those volume-filled shelves.  And the very best part is I can borrow whatever I like…free!!  I visit the library at least twice a week.  I usually know what I’m looking for when I arrive (I find one book  leads me to another).  On the rare occasion when I arrive without a list of titles in hand, however, I head to the shelf reserved for new titles.  There typically aren’t any bestsellers on this shelf (the bestsellers are already checked out and usually have long waiting lists) but every once in a while I uncover a hidden gem.  My most recent read was Susan Vreeland’s latest novel, “Clara and Mr. Tiffany“.

“Clara and Mr. Tiffany” is fiction based on fact.  It tells the story of Clara Driscoll and her work for and with Louis Comfort Tiffany (Tiffany stained glass), son of Charles Lewis Tiffany (Tiffany Jewellers).  The story takes place at the beginning of the 20th Century in New York City.  The world was changing and so was the role of women in the world.  Through Clara we learn of the struggles of women to pursue and maintain a career.  We also learn of the significant contribution of Clara Driscoll and the “Tiffany girls” to the art of stained glass, in particular the development of the Tiffany lamp.  The Tiffany girls had to maintain a high moral standard both on and off the job.  Any deviation threatened the existence of the entire women’s department.  At one point in the novel, Clara discovers  that two of the women in her department have been spending time in the company of a married man after business hours.  If this serious indiscretion is discovered by the management of Tiffany Glass, Clara is certain the women’s department will be dissolved.  In order to have a private talk with the women in question, Clara arranges to take them out for lunch.  They enjoy a meal of “chicken hash” with applesauce and cornbread and ice cream and chocolate sauce for dessert.

I don’t know about you, but reading about food makes me hungry and when I read Clara’s description of her lunch-time meal I decided I wanted to recreate it.  Cornbread and applesauce were easy enough make.  Even the ice cream and chocolate sauce weren’t new (thanks to David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop).  I have noticed a lot of posts recently on Foodbuzz regarding “vintage” recipes.  Clara had enjoyed her chicken hash in the first decade of the 20th century.  That meant I definitely needed a vintage recipe.  I headed to my cookbook shelf and there nestled between Fannie Farmer and the St. Stanislaus Church cookbook was a notebook filled with recipes that were definitely vintage.  It was my mother’s high school notebook from her “Household Science” class, circa 1933-34.  In it I found the following recipe for “Brown Hash”.

Mom’s recipe provided me with the general idea for creating hash.  I modified it slightly to create a 21st century version of Clara’s chicken hash.  I took 2 cups of cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces.  I processed it for a few seconds in my food processor until it was roughly chopped.  I combined the chopped chicken with 2 cups of mashed potatoes (I mash my potatoes with a potato masher to leave them with a “mealy” consistency…the way my Irish grandfather said potatoes should be mashed), a bit of chopped onion and just enough gravy to give it a bit of flavour (about 1/4 cup).  I heated the mixture through in a frying pan sprayed with cooking spray and coated with a bit of olive oil.  I served it with carrots,  gravy, cornbread and applesauce.  It was yummy…and I thought of Clara the entire time I was enjoying it.

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Odds and sods

I haven’t been writing much lately.  My creative juices have been flowing in other directions.  I’ve been doing a lot of cooking lately, trying lots of new recipes.  That surprises even me.  I thought that domestic bent in my personality had disappeared long ago.  The following are a few of the creations I’ve concocted over the last couple of weeks.

Chick Pea and Rosemary SoupThe recipe for this Rosemary Chickpea Soup with Tomatoes and Barley came from a blog that I found when I followed a link in another blog to a link in a second blog and arrived at the blog belonging to Annie.  The soup was delicious and Annie provided excellent step-by-step instructions complete with pictures!  The recipe made a large batch.  Mike and I enjoyed it the day it was made and then I put what was left into one-litre mason jars (with a bit of head space, of course!) and stashed them in the freezer.   I’m hoping to thaw one of the jars this weekend and enjoy it again, this time with Soft Garlic Knots (recipe from Annie’s Eats…a different Annie). More