pen rainbow

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday—The Reading Corner: More of The Same

Currently reading—Blue Shoes and Happiness
The same being the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books & the HBO series!  

Since my last Reading Corner blog post two weeks ago, I've read 4 more books in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and watched the first 4 episodes in the HBO television production (< click for a schedule).  The shows are available On Demand until July 31.

You can also purchase the television episodes on iTunes and watch them on your laptop.  The cost is $2.99 per episode on iTunes or $20.93 for the entire 7-show series.  As with all HBO productions, everything about this series is enjoyable.

Here's where I'm at with the books.  Every one of them gets a 5-star rating!  

The Kalahari Typing School for Men (#4)  

The Full Cupboard of Life (#5)

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (#6)

Blue Shoes and Happiness (#7)

Seven down, five more to go in the series.  What makes these books so much fun to read?  Great characters, first of all.  But, I'm also starting to absorb some of the cultural aspects of the stories, like the language and certain customs.

The Language
"Ko-Ko!" means that you're about to enter someone's space, and you're announcing yourself before entering.  It's also asking for permission to enter.  In Africa, territories are respected.  Trespassing on a lion's patch of savanna may land you on the lion's lunch menu that afternoon.  It only follows that people show the same deference toward the home or workplace of one another.  "Ko-ko!" is a friendly verbal doorbell.

I love the way that they roll their r's for emphasis.  Mma Makutsi is especially prolific when it comes to rolling her r's.  The effect is to sharpen the focus of a statement.  It is also a demonstration of high regard toward an individual, as in "Rrrrrrrra Matekoni."  You'll have to watch the episodes to get a sense of this delicious linguistic expression.

The Food
Speaking of delicious...I have a craving for cooked pumpkin.  What can I say?  Mma Ramotswe loves a good pumpkin, and so do I.  And, fruitcake...gotta have a slice of fruitcake.

There is a companion cookbook distributed in the UK, available through Amazon from several different vendors.  I purchased a hardback version for $25.54 + $3.99 shipping, ordered online from  the_book_community, shipped from Oregon in the U.S.  

The title is, Mma Ramotswe's Cookbook, Nourishment for the traditionally built, written by Stuart Brown (charity worker, journalist, and former BBC producer); 144 pages; Polygon Press, November 1, 2009

It should be here by the end of the week!  Watch next week's Tuesday's Cupboard for my first attempt at traditional African cooking.

The Clothing
Since I started reading the books, I've been trying to picture the Speedy Motors coveralls.  Are they one-piece coveralls?  Are they grey, white, khaki, or denim?  Are they covered with axle grease?  And, what about Grace Makutsi's shoes?  The green ones with the sky blue lining featured in, Blue Shoes and Happiness, and her dancing shoes with the big, shiny buckles?  Alexander McCall Smith creates such vivid descriptions of the characters that it is hard to imagine that they could get any better.  Until you see the HBO episodes.

I'm in love with the vibrant mix-and-match shweshwe dresses and scarves!  Jo Katsaras, Emmy-nominated costume designer for the HBO series, and Zureta Shulz, wardrobe supervisor for the pilot episode, deserve all the credit for adding depth and richness to an already rich literary canvas.

Staying Power
Even I am surprised that I am still blogging about The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, but I've never really read anything like it.  With each book, there is something new, and the gentle progression of everyday human mysteries keeps me engaged.  I don't know how I missed out on the HBO series in 2009, but it was nominated for Emmys in 3 categories:  Outstanding Guest Actress In A Drama Series (The Boy With the African Heart); Outstanding Music Composition For A Series (Original Dramatic Score); and Outstanding Costumes For A Series.  It should have been nominated for acting and directing, as well, because this is a great production.

It's like a grown-up version of your favorite childhood summer book series.  It lasts a while, and you can't wait to start the next book.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wednesday—Good For You, Good For The Home: Sunprints

my seashell sunprint
A fun, easy, creative & fast summer craft!

I was browsing the West Elm website last month and came across this neat set of nature sun prints.  They reminded me of my '79-'80 college days when I was a lab assistant in the Biology Lab at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley (the best work-study job ever!).  

I googled "sun prints," and sure enough, it led me to the LHS Sunprint® website.  I've always loved making sunprints, so I ordered a pack of fifteen 8"x 12" sheets in the Super Sunprint Kit for $13.95 and a Super Sunprint Refill Kit for $9.95.  

All of the proceeds from the Sunprint® kits go toward the LHS science & math education programs.  I worked there for a year during my last year at Cal, and as happy as I was to finally graduate, I was sorry that my work-study program at LHS had to end.  I made some wonderful friends, and like these little Sunprint® kits, every day was full of fascinating and creative things.

The sheets come in 3 sizes:  4" x 4" — 8" x 12" — 24" x 36" and range in price from $4.95 (for the small kits & refills) to $13.95 (for the 8" x 12" kits).  

my starfish sunprint

How does it work?  
White paper is embedded with relatively non-toxic blue molecules that are sensitive to ultra-violet light (relatively, as in don't eat the paper or rub it all over your skin and eyes).  When the paper is exposed to sunlight, two kinds of molecules in the paper interact to form a brand new molecule.  This interaction is triggered by specific wavelengths of ultra-violet light.  

The blue molecules convert to a new colorless molecule, which allows the white in the paper to show through.  You'll see this happening very quickly, as soon as the paper is exposed to either direct or indirect sunlight.  The whole process shouldn't take any longer than 2 to 5 minutes in full sunlight.  Indirect sunlight (in a sunny room or outside on a cloudy day) will take longer, 5 - 20 minutes depending on how much sunlight there is.  The non-exposed blue molecules covered by the objects will retain their original chemical composition, whereas all of the molecules exposed to sunlight will change into the colorless compound.  

11" x 14" frames with 8" x 12" mats
When the paper is rinsed in cool water, the water-soluble blue molecules wash away leaving the shape of the objects in white.  Partial exposure caused by ambient light around the edges of an object will cause a partial reaction and a faded blue effect, like an x-ray.  The newly produced colorless molecules react again to the water.  After a minute of rinsing, the water causes the colorless molecules to oxidize into a beautiful turquoise blue.  As the paper dries, oxidation continues and eventually ends in a deep indigo blue background.  Don't worry about a few wrinkles in the paper as it dries.  They barely show when framed.  

Fun Things to Do
It is a truly amazing effect and a great way to use the power of the summer sun to create unique & beautiful art!  You can get the same effect using enlarged black & white photo negatives, since the variations of dark and light areas on the negative will produce a range of shades and a precise image of the photograph.  How cool is that?!  Be sure to check out how to use wrinkled Sunprint® papers to create special mosaic-style fx.  

Click here to see the Sunprint® gallery.  There are a bunch of different ways to apply your creative and scientific sensibilities to this project.  

This is serious fun for all ages, and you'll love the results!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tuesday's Cupboard — i ❤ Rhubarb

cleaned fresh organic rhubarb
Summer Canning Series:  Rhubarb Conserve

I am one of the rhubarb people.  Rhubarb people find one another in line at the farmers' market.  We notice when the hand of a canning comrade reaches for the last few stalks of organic rhubarb on the top shelf at Whole Foods.  A stack of those elegant red & green stalks is an open invitation for canners and pie makers to start a conversation.

"First batch of the season?"  
"Are you from the Midwest?"  
"What are you going to make?"

When I was a kid growing up in Omaha, everybody had a backyard garden, and pretty much every garden had a few large clumps of rhubarb growing in it.  Rhubarb was a mystery to me, though, because my mom never cooked with it.  I think that she may have been scared off by the leaves which are toxic when ingested in large amounts.  Even in small amounts, the possibility of being poisoned was enough to convince me that there were safer plants to grow in my garden.  

That is, until a Midwestern relative served me a slice of warm strawberry-rhubarb pie.  I think it was the Summer Of The Pies when we went back to the Midwest to meet my new husband's Illinois relatives.  Steve's grandmother made pies that surpassed culinary description.  They were a spiritual experience.  It may have been the humidity and the Ancient Ancient Age talking, but Ethel's grape pie, peach pie, blackberry pie, cherry pie, and rhubarb pie were exquisite.

That reminds me of one of my favorite movies of all time...WAITRESS, the greatest movie ever made about pies!

"Pregnant, miserable, self-pitying, loser pie...flambĂ©, of course."  

LOL—A great summer vid!
Anyway, I've cranked out two rhubarb canning projects so far this season, and here are the pix & the recipe for Rhubarb Conserve with oranges & lemon, raisins, dates, and walnuts.  This can be served on toast, with oven-baked chicken or roasted pork, or over homemade vanilla ice cream.

TO PRINT THIS RECIPE:  Copy the url; go to printfriendly; paste the url, edit & print!

Rhubarb Conserve 
from Sunset's, Canning, Freezing & Drying, Lane Publishing Co., Menlo Park, California ©1981

Makes 10 half-pints

This is an overnight recipe...

  • 2-1/2 lbs. fresh, organic rhubarb
  • 5-1/2 cups fine baker's sugar
  • 2 fresh medium-sized oranges
  • 1 fresh lemon
  • 1-1/2 cups each plump seedless raisins & chopped dates
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
The Night Before
Wash rhubarb; cut off leaf and root ends; dice to make 4 cups.
Place rhubarb in a 5-quart pot & stir in sugar until well blended.  The sugar mixture will be somewhat cloudy even after it is thoroughly stirred.  It will start to clear up the next day.  Cover & let stand at room temp overnight.

Canning Day

Getting Ready—Prepare The Jars
Before you start cooking the rhubarb, prepare 10 half-pint canning jars:  (If you've never done this, get a good canning book to instruct you on the basics:  Sunset's Canning, Freezing & Drying or Putting Food By)  

Get out clean canning jars, lids & ring bands.  (I always run my canning jars, lids & rings through the dishwasher before I sterilize them.)  Check jar rims; discard any jars with nicks or cracks.  Gently run your fingertip around the top of the jar to make sure that there are no small nicks.  Discard rusted or bent ring bands.  Use new lids.  I always add an extra jar or two in case my recipe goes over the expected amount.  If I just have a little bit left over, I refrigerate it in a working glass.    

Sterilize jars by immersing them in water (at least an inch above the jars) and boil them in a covered canning kettle with the lid just slightly tipped for 15 minutes.  Turn the heat down to simmering.  Keep them immersed in the canning kettle on simmer until ready to fill.  In a separate pot, cover lids & ring bands with hot water.  Bring to a boil; turn the heat down to simmer and let the lids & rings scald in hot water until ready to use.

  • 3 clean dish towels (one to put the hot jars onto when filling; one to hold hot jars with when screwing on the lids; one to set the hot jars on to cool)
  • jar lifter
  • kitchen tongs for grabbing lids & rings
  • wide-mouth funnel for jars
  • spoon rest for funnel & measuring cup
  • 1/2 c. metal measuring cup for scooping & filling jars
  • dinner knife
  • clean dishcloth for wiping rims
  • hot pad for lifting the canning kettle lid
  • pad & pencil for writing down times to remove jars from the kettle
  • clock for timing jars in the canning kettle
  • canning kettle  

Make The Conserve
The next day, thoroughly wash and clean the rinds of the oranges and the lemon.  Cut unpeeled oranges and lemon into thin slices; remove seeds & cut each slice into small, even pieces.
Fresh, seeded oranges & lemon with peels
Whole walnuts waiting to be chopped
Rhubarb, citrus, raisins & dates in the pot — Add walnuts
during last 5 minutes of cooking

Add the chopped citrus, dates & raisins to the rhubarb-sugar mixture & stir to combine.  Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat & simmer uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.  5 minutes before removing from the heat, stir in chopped walnuts.

Ready-to-eat delicious conserve
Canning & Processing
Proceed according to your usual canning method, filling jars to within 1/8 inch of rims.  Gently run a dinner knife around the edges to eliminate bubbles.  Clean rims with a warm, wet washcloth before adding the lids and rings.  I always process conserves for 5 minutes in the kettle before I remove them from the kettle to cool.  This recipe does not call for it, but I do it, anyway.  This ensures an extra tight seal, and it gives the food a little more time to sterilize.

Monday—The Reading Corner: Alexander McCall Smith

(#2) Tears of the Giraffe

(#3) Morality for Beautiful Girls 

—by Alexander McCall Smith

The adventure continues!  These books get more & more interesting, and so does the author, Alexander McCall Smith.  First, check out Mr. McCall Smith's official website.  Be sure to listen to the catchy eclectic soundtrack by Jefferson Rabb & Greg O'Keeffe.  This joyful music totally fits with the style of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.  Uplifting, optimistic, and beautifully complex—like a leopard's spots.

Jump on over to the Multimedia section and check out the photo albums.  Look for the movie set pix and the two Speedy Motors apprentices.  Readers know that all they talk about is girls!

And, take a glance at the Botswana trip diary (also under Multimedia).  Ahhh, I want to have drinks by the pond and watch warthogs, lions, hippos, elephants, and crocs (see 13 July 2007)!

Mr. McCall Smith also talks about his inspiration for the star character, Precious Romotswe.  He explains how Mma Romotswe "walked onto the page."  Plus, you finally get to hear the correct pronunciation of her name.

I just finished the second and third books in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.  I'm currently working on (#4) The Kalahari Typing School For Men.  You can find links for all of the different series he's written by clicking the SERIES link in the top menu.    

I admit it...I couldn't resist starting a new series.  I can't wait to start the Corduroy Mansions series!  Yep, it's about a cute little dog who lives in a charming London neighborhood called, Pimlico.  ::: woof!  woof! ::: 


In addition to his university work as a medical law professor at the University of Edinburgh and his committee work in bioethics and human genetics research, Professor McCall Smith is also an animal advocate.  He is the patron for the Global Alliance for Rabies Control.  This important organization provides preventive vaccinations for dogs; implements educational programs in villages and settlements to prevent the transmission of rabies; and provides first exposure vaccine to individuals who have been bitten by rabid wild or domestic animals.

Of course, if you're interested in the HBO video series, the pilot airs next Monday, July 11, On Demand.  Or, you can buy individual episodes on iTunes.

Books or video...Curl up with your favorite cup of hot tea and enjoy these wonderful stories!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July

fun ✰  fireworks  ✰  freedom