Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase

The Book:

9780399169502Another WWII tale, this one was set in Lincolnshire, England, about Polish fighter pilots- a story I hadn’t heard before. The narrative is told from two perspectives: Dorothy, during the war, and later, Roberta, her granddaughter. We first meet Mrs. Albert Sinclair, Dorothy, who is estranged from her mother because of whom she met at her her aunt’s funeral and subsequently married. Dorothy remains in the cottage they shared after Albert took leave of her, taking care of a couple of girls from the Women’s Land Army, who have come to take over farming in the absence of all the men who were called away to fight in the war. Roberta works in a bookshop where she collects the things she finds between the pages of the used books they sell- the notes and pictures, letters and postcards. She carefully records the name of the book where the item was found, how much it sold for and the shelf on which it was filed. A book about a bookstore! What’s not to love? One day, Roberta’s father brought in a suitcase full of books that belonged to his mother, Dorothea, who Roberta calls “Babunia,” or grandmother in Polish. John had been gradually sorting through his mother’s things after she was put into a care home well into her hundreds. Roberta finds letters among these things that lead her to believe that her grandmother had some secrets. I figured out the main secret from the very first letter Roberta unearthed, but did not know how the details would eventually come together. So in addition to estrangement from family members, there are a couple of love stories in this debut novel.

The Beauty:

A Google search led me to Lincolnshire Wolds, which are chalk hills in an area known for wide open beauty, where people walk, bike, ride horses or go to the pubs. It is an AONB, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England, Wales or Northern Ireland which has been designated for conservation due to its significant landscape value. This led me to a comment by a visitor to the area recommending a drive on the ancient Bluestone Heath Road. This led me to the image I selected of a crop circle taken near Louth in Lincolnshire in June of 2011. The farmer who owned the land claimed that the circle had not been there the previous night. Weather conditions at the time of its making were reported to have been light rain.

crop-circles

The first crop circle was reported in 1966 in Tully, Australia, where a farmer reported seeing flying saucers that made an imprint in his field. It was more of an alien story than a crop circle report. The first real crop circles didn’t appear until the 1970s in the English countryside. The number and complexity of the circles increased dramatically, reaching a peak in the 1980s and 1990s when more elaborate circles were produced, including some illustrating complex mathematical equations. In order to appreciate the real beauty of these formations, from reports I’ve read about them, one has to experience them close up to see how the stalks are laid down. Perhaps I should this to my “Bucket List.” The whole topic of alien visitation is fascinating both to me and to my husband.

The Food:

Several times in the book Dorothea prepares a lunch of fish paste sandwiches. Some research revealed that it is a type of anchovy paste that is commercially available. There were several brands I found, including “Peck’s Gentlemen’s Relish,” “Shipham’s Salmon Paste,” and “Poacher’s Relish.” My recipe is based on that of an expat who grew up on Peck’s, but living abroad, was unwilling to pay 12 dollars for 4 oz. on Amazon, and so concocted the recipe herself.

Sardine and Anchovy Fish Paste  

2 x 3.75 oz tin of sardines in water (Bumblebee Sardines)
1 x 2 oz tin of anchovies  in olive oil (Reese’s Flat Fillets in olive oil)

Drain the water of the two sardines tins, and place the fish in the blender. Add the anchovies with oil to the blender and blend the ingredients together until smooth. The large blender didn’t work for me. I had to use a small food processor.

Substitution: Sardines come in different sauces such as mustard or hot sauce, so you can play around with the flavors of this recipe by substituting the sardines in water to sardines in hot sauce for instance. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for about 10 days.

Serving suggestions:
For a filling sandwich, spread some paste on whole wheat, top with a thin layer of cheese, and add some lettuce, tomato and cucumber.
For an appetizer, spread or pipe some paste on a piece of cucumber garnished with parsley or chopped chives.
For a quick snack add a little cheese to the fish paste on a cracker.
For a great dip mix it with some cream cheese. Serve with veggies like baby carrots and celery, or potato, corn or pita chips.

Full disclosure: While we enjoyed this unique sandwich spread, the next day when the novelty had worn off, my husband and I decided that fish paste was not a taste that we had acquired. I will not be making it again. So, unless you love, love, love the taste of anchovies and sardines, or have grown up with these flavors, this probably isn’t a recipe worth making.

 

 

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